Layal Jade Tinubu is the Founder and CEO of Tots Toys, a children’s educational toyshop and learning space that provides a range of educational items all intended to aid children’s development and learning through play. The outfit offers its space for book readings, interactive sessions and activity groups to keep children engaged – all with the intention of creating a new generation of book readers.
Tinubu bagged an MSc in Entrepreneurship and Business Management from the University of Surrey and a Bachelor of Arts in Politics and African Studies from SOAS University of London. Prior to founding Tots Toys, she was a Senior Associate Consultant at PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) where she provided consulting services to the advisory arm of the business. She also worked within the Africa Business Group supporting business development activity, identifying opportunities from the UK and Africa regions by networking and building relationships with key stakeholders. She successfully ran a Spark campaign for Africa inter-related information and produced a who-is-who PwC Africa directory understanding: Africa leadership structure, Africa firm structure and key contacts for operations, resourcing, and proposals on the continent.
In 2018, she co-founded Noella Foundation, a non-profit private sector led organisation with the goal to drive change and improve Nigeria’s economy via entrepreneurship, innovation and sustainable ideas and action plans. The foundation provides a platform to empower and encourage youths to become change makers in the society by helping them identify their passion, using it to create solutions that empower Nigerian communities and drive greater economic growth.
In this interview with IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA, she shares her passion for impacting the next generation, consistently championing children’s development through purposeful play, as well as running a thriving business.
Take us through your journey into the world of serving the needs of children, how did it all start?
I have always been passionate about the learning process of children and, more specifically, how that aids in their development. When I had my daughter in 2017, I quickly learned the crucial role that play has in shaping children and the impact it can have on their future. Adequate and wholesome space for children has the potential to teach them things that cannot be taught in schools alone.
During my daughter’s first years, I also found the accessibility to good toys, educational books, and resources challenging in our environment. I found myself constantly searching for these resources abroad. I didn’t want other parents like myself to go through that struggle and I also felt compelled to do my part in redefining the culture around the importance of play in children. Thus, Tots Toys was born.
Take us through your educational background and growing up?
I received an undergraduate degree in Politics and African Development from SOAS, University of London and a Masters degree in Business Management from the University of Surrey. I’m of Lebanese and Nigerian heritage; born in the UK and raised between the UK, US and Nigeria.
What part of your growing up influenced your passion and what you do today?
Having lived, worked and studied in different countries for extensive periods of time, it has always had an influence on my way of thinking and adaptability. Leaving my comfort zones at various transition periods in my life provided inspiration, awareness and ideas that I wouldn’t likely consider if I had stayed in the same place or done the same things day to day. You constantly adopt a mindset of solutions to problems and take on challenges you wouldn’t otherwise have been exposed to. The majority of my passions and interests stem from these experiences.
You have a background in consulting and built a successful career path. How were you able to transition into entrepreneurship?
My transition from consulting to entrepreneurship was challenging, but impactful; it challenged me to grow in unexpected ways. I had to reset my mindset during the transition and believe I was competent enough for my accomplishments. The skills and network I gained during my years in consulting allowed me to make the transition despite the challenges.
I had to be realistic in my expectations first and foremost. Then, once I had a clear vision for what I wanted to achieve, I had to step out of my comfort zone, put together a plan and most importantly, establish a routine that, as an entrepreneur, you create yourself.
Your mission is to impact children through purposeful play, would you say you are achieving that goal?
My mission for Tots Toys has always been to create an accessible learning experience through play and to contribute to the availability of reputable toy brands and educational resources in Nigeria. We have been successful in being able to consistently achieve this goal since our inception.
How important is purposeful play to the growth and development of children?
Purposeful play is key to children’s learning, development and confidence. Play helps children understand the world around them and discover how things work.
In my definition, purposeful play nurtures children’s relationships with themselves and with others. It builds qualities such as creativity, empathy, decision-making and engagement. More importantly, purposeful play supports the growth and development of children.
You also run an NGO focused on driving economic growth, how are you championing this cause?
The ethos of the Noella Foundation is focused on fostering entrepreneurship, building innovations and advancing economic growth and development. This cause is championed by creating opportunities for the Nigerian youth to identify and use their passion to develop solutions that ultimately drive economic growth. Noella Foundation runs various annual initiatives to achieve this cause.
What motivates and inspires you on this journey?
Fulfillment motivates and inspires me. The why – why I do what I am doing and the desire to solve a problem and contribute to the needs of parents. Knowing my purpose is key to me being fulfilled and remaining happy in my role.
What are some of the challenges you have faced running your business?
Entrepreneurship and running a business is challenging, coupled with the day-to-day challenges we are faced with in our environment. I’d say the major challenge I have faced in my business is staffing; finding and retaining competent and consistent staff. It has always been vital for me to build a team who echo the values of my brand and my company.
What is your take on the number of businesses owned by women, do you think women are doing more in that regard?
I think it’s great that more women are turning to entrepreneurship and becoming business owners. Women are definitely doing more in that regard.
Whether it’s to gain more flexibility, follow their passions or embark on a career that is fulfilling, women continue to prove that we can conquer the barriers to entrepreneurial success.
As a successful woman, what key advice do you have for other women who look up to you?
I’m constantly in awe of the fact that more and more women are breaking and challenging traditional workplace expectations to start their businesses. As women, many of us often underestimate our potential and capabilities.
I’d advise women who look up to me to find their purpose and embody the impact they wish to leave behind- constantly work at it and never give up.
How do you juggle running a successful business and family life and still be at your best?
I don’t believe there is such thing as the perfect balance. Running a successful business, as an entrepreneur, is demanding on its own, coupled with the demands of motherhood. You can only strive for balance as defined by yourself. Organisation and structure come naturally to me; these qualities ultimately allow me manage both roles well.
I quickly learnt the importance of having effective systems in place, to delegate and to work on my business, not so much in my business. This made it easier to set aside time dedicated to my family. It is impossible to be everywhere and do everything at the same time; hence I always stress the importance of being intentional about your choices.
What key lessons have you garnered running a business?
I have learned to believe in myself and my brand, because self-doubt can hold you back and prevent you from achieving your full potential. Perhaps, the greatest lesson I have learnt from running a business is that I can’t build and maintain a successful company on my own.
When you spend all your time working in the business, as supposed to working on the business, it is counterproductive to your growth. A good network, efficient staff and effective systems in place are all essential.
What you do for fun?
My idea of fun is indulging in true crime documentaries, getting together with friends or ticking travel destinations off my bucket list.
Tell us an interesting fact about you?
I am extremely OCD and often laugh at my need for everything to be arranged in a particular way.
What is your life mantra?
My life mantra is to trust the journey. It is so important to live in your truth and do everything with purpose and intention.