By Jemi Ekunkunbor
Dabota Lawson is an entrepreneur, former beauty Queen and model. The native of Rivers state, left Nigeria at the age of 16, to go pursue college education in the UK.
She later followed with a degree in Financial Economics at the University of Leicester. Not done with education yet, she proceeded to the London School of Business and Finance, where she studied Accounting and Business.
And for this educational feats, she likes to describe herself as “beauty with brains”.
Lawson started modeling at five and won the Miss Nigeria United Kingdom Beauty Pageant in 2010. She has a world of experience in high fashion, runway/catwalk, illustrative, modeling competitions and pageants.
In 2010, Dabota, along with three of her friends, launched their PR, marketing and events management company, Diamond Inc.
In 2011, she moved back to Nigeria and like a serial entrepreneur, in 2015, the mother of one, went on to establish a multi million Naira cosmetic line named after her, as well as a cosmetic web store with close to a million following.
Last year, the beautiful Dabota, launched her own mall, “Two Six Mall” in Lekki, from where she is trying to turn her online platform into a billion Naira business empire.
Not many queens prepare for life after their reign. How did you prepare for that transition?
To be honest, there was no actual set plan. One thing I knew for sure was that I was going to take advantage of the platform. I had put in so much effort into the preparation that there was no way I was going to just end it there. Winning at that time felt so glorious because in my world, I had achieved what I’ve always wanted to be-A Queen!
My next plan was to go ahead and pursue my career in the financial industry as a Chartered Management Accountant. I got admission at the London School of Business and Finance to pursue my dreams as I started my CIMA course. Everything else came to me whilst I was in the UK studying after I had won the Miss Nigeria UK pageant. I started featuring in modeling gigs, magazine features, television shows and appearances at numerous events. It was only when I moved back to Nigeria that everything took a whole new approach.
Would you say that experience helped you when it was time to start a business?
My passion for the beauty industry like I’ve always said, started from a very young age. But coming from a strict African home, such ambitions were seen as a complete and utter waste of time. So in between pursing my career in finance, after years of simultaneously taking on active role involving fashion and beauty, there was no way I would have engaged my self in a business that didn’t fit my passion. So, yes of course, me being a beauty Queen and having that experience and exposure, helped when it came to starting my business.
How long did it take to decide on what line of business to enter?
Wow, this decision was one of the toughest decisions I had to make. Branching off on my own was not easy at all. We all know that thinking it is one thing, actually doing it involves a whole lot that at the time, I didn’t even have. However, being realistic and making serious research into a $445 billion industry that I’m passionate about, and what area I can I can thrive in, took me a little over three years.
What was the first step you took?
The first step was to create a business plan after doing research, just to make sure my product is not only required but necessary for my target market.
How did you raise money?
I started small: my initial capital came from my personal funds. I also leveraged heavily on my popularity being a beauty and a public figure to make quick sales and turnover. As I grew, I was then supported by my family.
What initial challenge did you face and did it include being looked on as beauty without brains?
Women finding success in beauty is nothing new. As early as the 1940’s women started building empires in the beauty industry that are worth billions of dollars today. So I wouldn’t say I had faced any major challenge because, people looked at me and thought “ she’s all beauty and no brain”. My educational background and work experience wouldn’t even allow that.
The cosmetics industry is so wide; narrowing down and identifying a niche for myself was one of my initial challenges. Making sure that I am able to develop good-quality products was another challenge. Also, keeping up with regulations and trends was also a very important aspect I had to deal with.
In starting a beauty line, what did you look out for to stand your company out from other make up lines?
As an adult, I began to be more conscious of what ingredient are in the products I use for my skin and makeup. I used to be a cosmetic collector, and would splurge heavily on anything that’s hot in the market. Many times, the result of doing that was me being left with damaged skin, because I have very sensitive skin. So I struggled with the horrors of acne for many years.
So when it came to starting Dabota cosmetics, making sure my product were being tested in a reputable laboratory was a major factor I had to put into consideration, to avoid negative feedbacks.
Now, I can confidently tell you that Dabota cosmetics stand out from other makeup brand because, most of our products are mineral based, oil free, allergy tested which is perfect for our weather condition here in Nigeria. The foundations have anti-aging ingredients and are infused with skin loving vitamins.
You studied and worked abroad. Why did you move back to start your business? Is it that Nigerians can’t run businesses abroad?
Before I left Nigeria to study in the UK, my intention was to gather knowledge and experience and come back to make great positive impact in my country. And that is exactly what I have done. Surely, everyone knows that Nigerians are extremely hardworking, and thrive in any society you find them. There are also so many successfully- owned Nigerian businesses all over the world.
What is the biggest lesson you have learnt as a business owner dealing with staff?
No matter how unique your ideas are in theory, it takes a team of people working together to bring that idea into reality. Surrounding yourself with competent people who are as driven, or even more driven and aggressive as yourself, is fundamental to growing a business.
There’s a quote by a popular motivational speaker, Trent Shelton which I love and apply to almost every area of my life. It says: “make sure everyone on your boat is rowing and not drilling holes”. When doing my monthly workers review, if I observe that a staff is drilling holes in the boat called, Dabota Cosmetics, then I know its time to let go.
Attention to detail is another area I make sure that my staffs are conscious of at all times, to avoid negative feedback, and less favorable situation in our business environment.
Finally, I understand that staffing is a challenge for everyone so, I allow a level of flexibility, rewarding hard work, and good behavior that would lead to overall success.
For one who produces beauty products, what’s your Favorite beauty item?
It’s hard to decide because when it comes to my makeup routine, I enjoy every bit of the process. However, there are two parts that excite me which is the part where I apply my illuminators especially the famous Dabota mineral icing sugar. It’s like magic when I apply it. Suddenly, my face is lit up with a luxe youthful glow. Because it gives out this mesmerizing radiance all day long, I can say its one of my favorite item in my product range.
What is the best part about owning your own business?
I would say the freedom to pursue my own dreams and vision is truly fulfilling. Being my own boss allows me to have control and flexibility with time. As an entrepreneur, I wear many hats. I learn and discover new things everyday. There are so many things I didn’t know that I now know even in non beauty areas. Gaining all these knowledge, enriches me as a person.
Dabota Cosmetics, WR beauty Studio, Two-SIX Mall are all me. I achieve the gains as much as I deal with the obstacles . If I was working for someone, chances are, even my bosses may take my success as theirs. But it’s not always about the financial gains, but the feeling of satisfaction knowing that you are able to do and achieve whatever you dream.
Image they say is everything. How do you like to dress?
If there’s one thing people know about me , it is that I do not follow trends. I love to dress to suit my body. I am a very tall and curvy girl, and my style is usually classy, chic and sexy. As a public figure and a business woman, it’s always important to create the right impression when you are seen. So I always make sure that when I step out, I leave a memory in the minds of those that see me. I am a lover of good things not necessarily big brand names. I wear African fabrics designed by African designers, just as much as I wear exciting and flattering clothes, shoes and bags from International brands. I’m also a lover of beautiful accessories especially, luxury time pieces.
My height does not restrict me from wearing high heels. Whenever I enter a room, I stand out and people are wowed by my presence.
Who inspires you in business?
This is one question I’m always excited to answer. When I think of women who have made ground- breaking accomplishment in my industry, I’m seriously inspired. When I read all their inspiring stories I can’t help but get excited for where I’m heading to. It gives me a stronger conviction that I’m in the right path. So in no particular order, some of my biggest icons in the beauty industry includes; Iman who is an international model, beauty icon and beauty entrepreneur. She is the owner of Iman cosmetics. Her startup story is truly inspiring and I used to use her products years ago. I loved them so much.
Pat McGrath is a makeup master and founder of Pat McGrath labs; a young black woman whose empire was recently found to be worth a billion dollars. I follow her closely on instagram, and I absolutely love her various presentation of her products especially her lip wares.
Late Mary Kay , founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics. I admire her approach to business, her business model and strategies, and the way she achieved results.
When you are not working, where do you like to go?
When I am not working, I like to spend time at home with my immediate family, rest and watch a movie. During the weekends, I love to hang out with close friends.
Do you have a business model that you admire?
I love the multi level marketing business model, because I strongly believe that word of mouth is still the best form of marketing. The Make-Up industry is all about selling an experience; and using the multi-level marketing model, we are able to achieve that. There is nothing like a good referral, this model was also used by MARY KAY ASH (Founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics) whose business is now worth 2.2 Billion Dollars.
At Dabota Cosmetics, this model allows us to keep up with our co-operate social responsibility and Empowerment Programs. Many people that already participate as distributors and dealers at Dabota Cosmetics, enjoy our business model as there is a high probability of growth and financial independence.