I didn’t have a choice but to embrace digital – Mrs. Modupe Jacob, CEO of Nifty Fingers

When and why did you establish Nifty Fingers?
When I left school, I have always had passion for food and cakes. I can’t explain how it came but when I left school, I just knew that I had to go into business and for me the first thing that came to my head was this cake thing; so I started out with cakes and from there, we moved into the food thing and for me, it has been challenging but it is because of my passion and that is what keeps me going. We have been in business for the past eight, going to nine years now.

How did the name Nifty Fingers come about?
I am somebody who does a lot of things. Before I started the cake business initially, I was making beads. I used to make beads. I was even selling it to people like O’Tudor and his wife and a lot of other people. At a point I just sat down and I was thinking that ok, what is next in this bead thing for me, it was bringing the kind of money that I wanted but I just felt that at point I couldn’t continue sitting down for hours making beads; and the cake thing came which has actually been my passion from day one, so I was trying to look for a name to actually give it and I knew that cake wasn’t going to be the last thing that I would do, because I know that I still had a lot of things written down in black and white that I could still do in years to come; so I was trying to look for a name to actually capture all, so that when I start adding other things, it won’t look like ok, she is doing this, she is doing that and that was how Nifty Fingers came about.
Nifty Fingers actually means, being creative, doing different things with your hands.

What distinguishes your company from other outfits in the hospitality industry?
I think it is the way that we attend to our customers because we try to make sure that every detail that our customers tell us, be it on foods, or cakes we ensure that we get it. I am so particular about details and how the presentation of the food or the cake comes out. I think that is what has given us a bit of an edge among our competitors. Again, I have put tremendous passion behind it because for me that is my main drive, I am not somebody that can just sit down in one place, and you know that quite naturally when you have been doing something that you have passion for and doing it consistently, you get better each and every day; and, moreover, I believe in setting very high standards and maintaining them.

Are there other things that you are already doing?
At the moment, I have actually streamlined the things because for beads, it is not something that I do anymore. What I do, at the moment, is cake, food and training. I have actually worked with a lot of clients and some brands like Google, I was their official caterer for a year and half for food; then I worked with Rosabel Advertising, Insight Communications, I was catering for their staff’s cakes. I also did for Starcom Media, both food and cakes. I have been doing some private and individual food and cakes over the years and I do training, too.

If you were to rate the hospitality industry in Nigeria, how well would you say it is faring?
Hospitality business for me is a wide thing. It is actually growing very fast. Everyday new things pop up because people are now very conscious of what they eat, and what they put in their stomach. As such, we have to come up with new things and for me hospitality business is something that we have not even gotten to, we are still getting to the point that we need to satisfy a lot of people.

As a young business, tell us some of the challenges of doing business in Nigeria.
I will just say the ones that everybody knows; every country has its own peculiar problems. Here in our country, it is power. Power supply has been a big challenge to us in our company because everything that we produce, we need electricity as we work with a lot of machines. Another serious problem is the tax people. These two seem to be the major problems that we grapple with.

Apart from passion which you talked about earlier, are there other factors responsible for your success over the last eight years?

I must say that I have somebody that actually encourages me and that person is my husband. Honestly, if I didn’t have somebody like him, I wouldn’t have gone this far. He is the one that has always been pushing me. Like I said, I have been in business for over eight years now, I have never worked for anybody for one day, this has been what I have known how to do and to do best; but he has been very supportive; he has just been my backbone in everything.
Creativity has also helped me; it’s been a part of me because I love colours such that when I see things I try to see how I can come up with something like it. I don’t just look at things like every other person, I am always looking at how I can actually put the colours, the patterns and all that into what I do; and this helps my creativity a lot.

Where do you see Nifty Fingers in the next five years?
I see us opening different branches in Abuja, Port Harcourt and other major cities in Nigeria, depending on how the country is. You know we have a lot of challenges like the exchange rate which has direct effects on our materials. I remember that last year before the exchange rate went up, we were buying a bag of flour for N7,000 but as at this morning (of the interview) it is N11,500; sugar as at this morning is N20,000. So you can see, it is really eating up into the business because we cannot say that a cake that we were doing for N5,000 should now be sold for N10,000 just like that. You need be careful on how you increase your prices so that you don’t lose all the customers that you have.

Are you engaging digital in the sales and promotions of your foods like other companies like Hello Foods, do?
Of course because the way the country is actually going, you can’t sit down and say you will wait for customers to come in. For me it was a bit challenging initially; I won’t lie to you, I am so bad when it comes to using all those gadgets, but these days, I do not have a choice but to sit down, send my pictures because I get a lot of referrals and people call me that they saw my pictures and all that; I didn’t have a choice but to embrace the digital world that we are in at the moment.

What are the other things that you are doing?
At a point, I signed up with Hello Foods, to handle deliveries for us; but I didn’t really follow it up. To add to that, we are working on our website as well as our digital platform which, in couple of weeks, will all be ready. You know the website was functioning at a point but I stopped, so they are picking it up from there because I remembered that when it was still functioning I had a client from UK and he said he saw my website and he saw my cakes just pictures and I had never set my eyes on him, yet he ordered for a cake for somebody here (in Nigeria), sent money into my account and we delivered the cake.

Do people taste your food before they get it?
We do that for wedding cakes. Like now, I have a bride’s wedding cake that I am working on because she came from the UK; she got my number from somebody as a referral, and she wasn’t too sure; she is coming all the way from the UK a place where they have a lot of fresh flours; now she wasn’t too sure, so she came to the office and tasted our products, but even at that it was difficult to convince her. So, she said she wasn’t going to pay my balance until we were done. I had to make a sample of the flour that she would be seeing on her cake for her to be convinced before she did the transfer of the balance to me. From time to time, you need to do something that will convince your clients if not, you will just miss a lot of customers.

How long does your training take and can you throw more light on your training?
I do training on all aspects. I did training for the Nigerian Gas Company last year; they brought 19 of their women here and I trained them on cakes because it was an empowerment programme. That is the least of my training and it lasts for one week. We have the basic, we have the intermediate and we have the advanced. It takes you like two months to learn everything; and for the food, I actually do food training for which we have our African dishes, we have continental dishes and the like. So it depends on what my students or clients actually want.
For the decoration too, I do training; I take my students with me when I have jobs because I believe more in practicals, I don’t believe in just telling you stories when the thing that you want to learn is more of practical. I had some students come in, when Top tea was rebranding, I did their decoration for them, I did decoration for Etisalat in eleven different states then I had some students, I didn’t go with them but they went with a team of my boys that went, so they saw everything live because everything is done practically.

Do you add more value to your clients via added services?
In terms of wedding cakes, what I do for my bribes is that I do extra cutout cakes for them that they share for people, I don’t know if other people do it and charge but I do it as an added value. For the training, I so much hate seeing a very young person, especially for ladies, not doing anything. Probably because I started business early, so, when I see a lady and she is not doing anything, the next thing that comes top my head is to try to engage them to do something. I charge but if is not so expensive, it is affordable. I also don’t restrict them to a particular product. For example, if a lady says she just wants to learn how to bake cake, I put in some other things like meat pies, sausage rolls, and so on.

Let’s have the experience of how you work or those you have worked for.
I did some jobs for Hypo Bleach when they rebranded. I did for Top tea when they also rebranded. I did for Etisalat in eleven different states, I did for Canon photocopier some years back and I did for Hyra Motors when they came here. I did for Cowbell children’s, all of those are just a few on decoration. On food, I know that I did food for Google, it was a big one for me because I am still the longest serving caterer there; it was a contract so I had to stop. I spent a year and half; if my food was not good, given the fact that most of them are expatriates, I wouldn’t have lasted that long. I also did for Starcom Media, Pears’ Baby of the year, both last year and this year. I am still doing for Mabeline, a makeup studio that is rebranding. These are just a few that are just coming into my head as we speak.
Then for Insight Communications, that was three years ago but I still have a very good relationship with them, then Rosebel; I handled them for like three years and the only reason why I stopped was that they were not ready to increase the price and I still have a very good relationship with them. I have quite a lot of people that I have worked with, including Proximity, Tequila and EXP.

Now, tell us about yourself.
I am a graduate of Pure and Applied Chemistry from the University of Lagos. Like I said before, I went into business after school and have been in business for the past eight, going to nine years.


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