My First Million- Lala Alakija

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This is a bit of an emotional one. This interview was conducted as far back as June. However, in the months to follow, Lala’s Mum- the person she credits with influencing her thinking the most passed away and her life was flipped on its head. As you read this, I ask that you please keep her in your thoughts and prayers.

This interview was very fun for me as Lala is a good friend whose journey over the last 6 years I have had a front row seat for. In the interview, she references the real lows she hit and I understood everything she said because I witnessed her go through it. But if there’s one thing you can count on, her grit and desire for better have always stood out. Watching her find her purpose has been a joy and I think it’s something we can all learn from as we get through life.


Did you always think you would get to where you are? 

Yeah! The way I would answer that question is I feel like in my head, I haven’t even gotten to where I would be at this stage. So me being here is something I always knew was coming but I thought it’ll come earlier. I’m a very planned person. I plan so much that it has to work out that way. There’s no room for imperfections so I always knew that at a point, I loved marketing and brands. Especially for some reason, alcohol brands. It just kinda fits into all that event stuff that I like to do. I always knew I liked events and working with brands. I’m someone that always liked hosting people so I was always looking for an answer to the question: how do you fit all these things together to make money and also ‘cos you’re passionate about it? I was all over the place but you know when you start taking more interest and reading about it, it starts to get clearer. I think it was in 2015, I learned about the existence of Brand Managers and I said to myself “I like what these people do and so I want to be that”. I never thought about the steps to be a brand manager but I knew I knew how to do this thing. I would send out my CV to different brands applying for a Brand Managerial spot but the feedback would be “Oh! You have very promising credentials but you don’t have experience.”  It never made sense to me so I always knew at a point I would figure out the steps to get to where I wanted to be. Being a Brand Ambassador now and with everything I have done, it was always coming. 

You said you knew what you wanted but you didn’t know-how. So looking at something like Eko Cocktail Club, was that a response to that question of you not having enough experience and you wanting to show them what you could do? 

Eko Cocktail Club is an example of how things just happen in life. I used to go to the London Cocktail Club a lot in London. I’ve gone through so many creative phases. At a point, I used to do Photography and cover events. So I started talking to bartenders in different places and started getting interested in how they did stuff and I started thinking of how I could build a cocktail drinking society in Lagos. When I thought of Eko Cocktail Club it wasn’t necessarily a thing of people not giving me an opportunity to do stuff. It was more of, I liked what was going on and I just knew I wanted to be part of it in my own way. Later on, it became a thing of you never gave me an opportunity when I reached out so I’m coming to tell you that I’ve sat down and done your homework for you. I’ve put you as a brand with this certain place and I’ve come up with this concept that you know deep down in your heart that not one person working with you has and it will work. It just kicked off and worked amazingly well. 

You spoke of going through a lot of creative phases. Talk to me about all the things you’ve done, what those experiences taught you, and how they got you here. 

I studied Law and went to Law School. It’s an amazing background for anyone but I feel like it has really helped me in terms of how I think and my organizational skills. Everything you basically learn as a Lawyer.

I used to write before I went to Uni. I worked for Skye Bank writing for their youth magazine. The next thing I moved onto was Photography. I picked up a camera one day and was like, I love taking pictures of landscapes and portraits, and then I want to start covering pictures of events. Now, that really helped me in terms of socializing. I wouldn’t just take a picture of someone. I would have a conversation with you then take a picture of you. It really helped me in connecting with people and building rapport ‘cos I grew up an introvert. As a result of that, I got into the event space. I was going out more and I started to like that process of putting together an experiential event. Then I did PR, Marketing, and Branding in the space of 2-3 years. I was doing a lot of gigs on the side but then I realized I was doing too much and not getting enough money for it. I would have 3 different jobs at the same time but because I was a first-timer I probably would not get more than say 200k. I was stressed, overwhelmed, and then decided to just throw it all into Eko Cocktail Club as I felt that it was what tied everything together. Every step of the journey might seem scattered but it has kinda directed me to where I am right now.

When did you make your first million?

Late 2018. 

What did you do to make it?

It came from two events I did with Eko Cocktail Club and one PR job. The two events gave me about 700k and the PR job gave me 300k. It all came within like, a month. 

How did it feel? 

It showed me that things are achievable. At a point, the thought of being able to work and earn 1 million seemed like a pipedream. It showed me that I was on the right track, that I could do things and build from there. 

What would you say are the secret(s) of your success?

Always picking myself up. I say this thing all the time that I’m not scared of failure. What I’m scared of is that I won’t be able to pick myself up when I fall especially with things I constantly go through like depression and all of that. There are times I go into a very deep hole and to get out of it is a lot. I feel like what has constantly pushed me apart from the usual passion and drive is being able to pick myself up when I fail. I have failed so many times in the process but the strength that I have always gotten is to pick myself up. Also, believing that I do have something to offer and the world has to see it at some point. Having people that have your back also helps. Even if it’s one person or God. Just believe in that one person that can help you when you’re down. Or that you pray to.

What was your best preparation for business?

Taking that step to find myself. 

When you say that, what are you referring to? 

So you know I was a Lawyer. Me leaving Law was to get a start on what it was I wanted to do. I didn’t know what it was but I knew that I wanted to leave to do something. I got scared and I decided to go to a safe place and work at Temple Management. I moved to Temple in the belief that it was the beginning of the career for me. That experience was me being in a safe place but at the same time trying to find myself. It was supposed to be the starting point for me but at a point, I realized there was more I wanted to do. I’d be at work 9 to 5 doing nothing but then I’d have meetings with potential clients I couldn’t attend. I started lying. One day dentist’s appointment, another day optician’s appointment. I was “sick” like 10 days a month and I started to feel it was affecting me mentally so I just decided to go fuck it. For someone who likes to plan, it was the first time where I was taking such a step without a plan. That was my best business decision. It has been filled with trials but it has been learning all through and it is what has gotten me here. 

What’s your financial attitude? 

I believe in balance. I save as much as I spend. 

What experience(s) would you say have shaped your financial attitude?

I’d always been lucky that I’d grown up in a family where they could provide. I always had that safety net. Life really hit me hard when I decided I wanted to drop Law. My mum really wanted me to be a Lawyer and when I said I didn’t want to be a lawyer and I didn’t have a plan- she couldn’t get her head around it. You know how parents think. As you grow, the hope is that you begin to get independent. Imagine someone that was always in her own way independent ‘cos in Uni I’d always made my own money now coming back and being all the way dependent. It was driving her crazy. We had a lot of bad arguments. I had to leave the house for a while. There were times I didn’t have money. I had friends that used to give me money- like they would come together to pool money and give me pocket money every month. And even in this situation where I was low and living off this help, I would still save half the money for some reason. The answer to that question was going from having a lot and having that mentality to not having a lot but still figuring how to have that mentality. It didn’t work every month 

I was cut off basically. Once in a while, if my mum saw I was getting depressed she’d break and try to help me but there’d be times I’d put my foot down and say no. I feel like just being able to stick to those principles like I’ve had money but there must also be something to fall on. It’s important that one can enjoy small ‘cos you never know, that day could be your last day. I have this life philosophy of plan but also live ‘cos you don’t know what’s going to happen. Live sensibly, if that makes sense. 

What is your basic business philosophy?

You always have to offer value. From first impressions- the way I look, the way I present myself. Everything about me has to say, this person has value to offer. Before I go into the actual work. Especially with my job right now where a lot of stuff is about convincing people to work with us or stock our products. For me, it’s all about offering value to the point that even if it doesn’t work out, there has to be a reason why someone would call you back. 

We always say there’s no original idea. There’ll always be things you think about that another person has done but I approach things with the idea of disrupting the norm. I look at it like this is how everyone is doing it, how can we do it in a different way and bring value to the client? With whatever I do, I have to be a blessing to whoever it is I’m doing it for. I believe that I have been lucky to find my purpose in life and that’s to be a blessing to people. Every day, I feel like there’s always something I can do for someone as long as I’m able to. I put value under blessing so it’s about being a blessing to the client that works with me or that person I work on a project with. Entering into Diageo was a different experience for me but I want it to be the type of thing that when I leave, they’re saying Lala was a blessing. The final thing for me is being spiritual. You have to find that time to ask God for guidance, strength and gbogbo e. 

Do you believe in retirement?


What would post-retirement life be like for you?

I just want to relax. I would disappear for like three months and when I come back, my hair would be blue. As long as I’ve worked hard and done things when it’s time to enjoy the fruit of my labor, it’s going to be amazing. I’ll be throwing a lot of dinner parties.

Do you believe in giving back to the community?

Of course. I’m working on something actually. You know how when you work, there’s being passionate about something and there’s also that part of being fulfilled. What I’m working on will be that thing that marks my purpose in life and gives me that complete fulfillment and it has to do with giving back to the community. 

Your favored form of investment?

Money markets, Treasury bills, and Property. 

Did you have any mentors?

For me, mentoring is about who you learn from or who can impact your life at a period that you want it to. I do have friends that have been mentors to me. Chiby, Kepemi, Ndali, my sister Tosin.

There’s no way I’ll be where I am today without Bidemi Zakariyau-Akande of LSF PR. She picked me up at that point where this whole shit was happening. For whatever reason, Bidemi saw something in me. She was the first person I was properly vulnerable with in terms of work, life, and passion. She made me have one on one talks with her. She made me join a mentorship group for girls she was leading. Why I respect Bidemi is she also opened up to me about her story. She’s amazing- as a friend, a mentor. Everything. Shoutout to Bidemi. I wouldn’t be here without her. 

Shout out to my mum. When she believed, she believed. Without her, Eko Cocktail Club would not have been what it was- funding and all that. I put in everything that I had but she always came through. Everything I’ve learned with investments and all came from my mum. My mum doesn’t take risks. If I put my money in treasury bills, I know what is coming back. She’s really opened my eyes to the right things. I love my mum.

What one thing do you spend on most?

Taking care of myself. Body products, hair, nails, food, chilling. 

Your most prudent investment?

Eko Cocktail Club. I put all my savings into it and my mum’s money and it’s what got me here. 

Who are five people you’ll love to see answer these questions?

Dimeji Sofowora. Bidemi Zakariyau- Akande. Abayomi Oladinni. He has a very unconventional story. When Abs moved back, he used to train me and two other people and we used to pay him like 5k and he said he must be the biggest trainer in Nigeria. He was using his parent’s house so it was word of mouth. There were times he would give me free sessions if I brought someone new. His hustle and his growth have been exceptional. I want to hear his story. Feyikemi Abudu, Fisayo Longe and Bizzle Osikoya.