My name is Shola Ladoja. I’m 31-Years-Old. Founder of Simply Green created on 29th of May, 2014.
I always had a passion for farming but I never thought that at this age, I would be farming. I thought maybe the older years like 50, I’d be chilling on the farm. But I had a chance to do that at a younger age. I think it started when I was 24.
I came back to Nigeria looking for a job. I just left Norton, where I was assistant institute engineer. That was in New York. There is this mentality that someone that comes from a certain family should not go out looking for a job. His father should just pick up the phone and call the boss. So basically, I seemed like a rebel. Because I was always going out looking for jobs.
The stepping stone was me going to a very good school – New York institute technology. I just thought to myself “I’m grown now. I just left the States, I had a good job there so why should I come back and fall on the family?” It just doesn’t make sense. So I went out looking for jobs like everyone should do instead of sitting back waiting for your dad and mum to do it. That’s not real life. I got some offers which did not match my standards if I should say that.
Then, one day my dad said to me; “just go round all my companies that have been closed.”
I went to this farm that was owned by an IOC, my dad bought it over in 1995. It is a very good farm, set up properly too. Silos, warehouses, machinery… but the farm was closed. When I got there, I really felt like this was a place I could stay.
I dropped a seed on the ground and three days after, I saw it growing. That just sparked something in me. I wanted to be a farmer at a more older age but I had a chance to do it and I decided to take the chance and I never looked back.
DANG: So this was how your company, Simple Green started? Just like that?
Shola Ladoja: Simply Green was not created to be a business. Simply Green was created because I wanted to drink juice. I was like if I wanted to drink orange juice, then there is somebody out there who also wants to drink juice. Now, it just became this full-blown business.
When you look at it, we are flying in products from France, Belgium and these are things that can grow in Nigeria. But what most Nigerians don’t understand is that what we buy, is the rejects from all these places. I just thought about it. If someone can grow all these products and can match their packaging or even make it better, and target it towards the Nigerian market, it would make sense. So that was what I decided to do. That was how I started the new company.
Simply Green is basically farm to table company. What we are trying to do is to take out the middlemen, meaning we grow things directly from the farm to the end users. We grow Lettuce, cucumbers, kale, carrot and lots more. For now, we are growing everything that goes into making juices apart from apples and pears and we supply some stores vegetables and fruits.
DANG: The road couldn’t have been all the way smooth?
Shola Ladoja: I quit a few times because I lost every single thing, made zero profit. In between all of these failures, I suffered tragedy. I have been through a lot of pain that I would not wish on anybody. I have lost the two closest persons to me. I lost my mum last year same time I was fighting for my life. Two years before, I lost my only brother in a car crash. These challenges were not all for nothing though, when you have to bury your brother and you have to bury your mother plus losing money in the business you put everything into, your view of life changes. What really matters to you is no more money. It is living, truly living, enjoying every moment and loving what you do.
At the time I quit, I had no responsibility whatsoever. So at that point, I would still get fed. But I went back because I really enjoyed farming. At some point, I knew this was what I was going to do for the rest of my life.
DANG: Modern farming needs re-inventing, how do you catch up with all the changes going on in Agric?
Shola Ladoja: Almost every three months, I leave the country, travel somewhere else, go and work on a farm for free. I go to small farms, not big ones. Why do I go there? So that I can learn how they have been able to make their own small farms work and come back to Nigeria to do the same thing.
Agriculture in Nigeria is not like anything I have seen. Most people don’t understand that where you make money in agriculture is not by growing produce. It is by adding value to those produces. Think about it, if a farmer is growing maize, he sends to breweries. Breweries are using it as a raw material so that means it is not really a cost to them. Breweries will then send your finished products where that makes maximum profit. So it means you are not adding value to what you are growing. Why should I make my finished product your raw materials?
It didn’t really make sense so I decided to try this new approach; adding value. I cut down the scale of what I was doing to like about 80 to 90% in size. But as I cut down, I was making around 90% of profit. It just made sense that this is the right thing to do. Since then, I just never looked back.
DANG: What do you grow on the farm?
Shola Ladoja: We grow Lettuce, cucumbers, kale, carrots…a lot. I can still grow up to probably 12 vegetables and more. We are growing everything that goes into making juices apart from apples and pears and we supply some stores vegetables and fruits.
DANG: As a CEO, what are the toughest decisions you have had to make?
Shola Ladoja: A lot of Nigerians I have come across want to earn money but they don’t want to work for it. You can’t earn money without working for it. If I really want to value your work, does it really make me what I am paying you? So, someone comes to me and says I want to be paid 250 thousand Naira. It is not because you are making me 250 thousand is why I will pay you that. You need to be making me 10 times that before I pay you 250 thousand Naira because the company has expenses too. Most people don’t really value work and as the CEO of the company, my job is to make sure that the company succeeds. There are some of my staffs that I like but I need to fire them because if I keep them, I am not doing my job as the CEO. So those kinds of things come into play sometimes. I don’t want to do it but I have to. You should be able to make a choice to say no, this is what is right for business and that’s it.
The only other sacrifice I can see will be maybe not having time to spend with your friends. You are with someone and they are complaining that you are too busy. But at the end of the day, this is your life. This is you. This is what makes you, you. The farming is what makes me Shola Oladoja.
DANG: People have said you’re lucky, that you’ve come this far because of your privileged background
Shola Ladoja: I am not sorry that I come from a privileged background. I have been able to use it to make something. They also have something, have they used it? You could look in front of you and see tons of people doing better than you and be like “oh I want to be like this person” but have you looked back? There are millions of people behind you.
Oh yes, I can talk. I have been given something and I used it. And I am using it well. The farm would still be dead if I had not used it. What have you been given? You must have been given a chance at some point in your life. Your chance is still better than somebody else’s. So mine is not the best. My father didn’t give me anything. He gave me a chance to do something and I decided to use it and said yes, this is what I am going to do and I did it. And I tell people, land is the simplest thing to get in Nigeria. Have you been to the villages?
DANG: What are your dreams for Simply Green Juice?
Shola Ladoja: Where I want to see simply green in the next few years, is that I want to be able to have a restaurant and you will know that whatever we have on the farm is what we will be having in the restaurant. I want you to be able to walk into stores and know that whatever you are buying is fresh and not imported but made in Nigeria. So you know exactly what you are taking.
What really drives me is, I just want these products to be out there. I just want to see it sit in stores. I enjoy seeing the results not the money. What motivates me is the fact that this is what gives me joy.