Growing up, Olagoke Balogun did not think of becoming an entrepreneur. His dream was to study medicine, however, that did not materialize as he ended up studying biochemistry at the University of Ilorin in Nigeria.
His early career path saw him first working as a manager at a restaurant followed by nearly a decade in the oil and gas industry. There was a five-month when he was looking for a job and that saw him travel from Ilorin to Lagos. During this period, he got a business idea to sell packaged fruits and vegetables targeting the middle and upper class.
Balogun recalled while on a trip to South Africa, he saw neatly packaged fruits and vegetables being sold in supermarkets like Shoprite. He realized Nigeria did not have something like this way back in 2010. This led him to start his premium fruit and salad brand called So Fresh.
“So, when I came back, I started thinking about that business and I shared the idea with my wife and she liked it and that was it,” he told Forbes. “We decided to give it a try and see what we could do with it. The original vision was to have a farmers’ market where we sold fruits and vegetables in an organized format and that is how we started.”
Balogun’s first store was in Ogba, Lagos and his business largely attracted the busy working class who wanted prepared meals like salads and fruit already cut. In business, the widely held belief is that “give customers what they want” and he did exactly that.
“So, in 2010, we started experimenting and it was a time when eating salads and smoothies was not a thing in Nigeria. We started making juices and smoothies and customers liked them so we gave fruit packs a try and salads a try and the business evolved from there,” he said.
Having found a market, Balogun’s next challenge was the location. According to him, the location for the business was not too great and revealed that at a point, he contemplated closing down the business because he was not making a profit.
“We struggled for a long time because the location wasn’t too great. We actually considered closing down the business a couple of years in because we had put in a lot of money and effort and it wasn’t yielding [results] and we were supporting the business with my salary and my wife’s money from her private law practice,” recalled Balogun.
In his quest to quickly make a profit, he relocated the business from the mainland to the affluent suburbs of Ikoyi in Victoria Island, Lagos, in 2013. The move also meant that he had to double his investment in the business.
He successfully raised $424,000 from external sources in 2018 to help scale from one to 12 stores. During this period, he had left his job in the oil and gas sector to run So Fresh full-time. Balogun now boasts of having 12 stores across Nigeria and according to him, the company has plans of expanding to a further 20 stores in the coming years.