How two brothers left well-paying jobs in the U.S to start a juice company in Nigeria
Seyi and Seun Abolaji are not just brothers, but also co-founders of Wilson’s Juice. In 1989, their parents migrated from Nigeria to the United States with the family. After staying some years in the U.S, the two brothers made some impressive leap in their academic and career pursuits to their father’s delight.
Seyi graduated from Stanford University and played professional football. Seun played basketball in the university and later became a pharmacist, earning six figures per annum in US dollars.
In 2007, Seyi told his father about plan to return home to start a business. It was a sad moment for the dad who had envisaged the American dream for all his children. “My father and I didn’t speak for 9 months after I told him I was coming back to Nigeria,” Seyi told Outrepreneurs.
The first time the Abolajis visited Nigeria after migrating was in 1995. Then, Seyi was a young boy; the idea of coming back to Nigeria was far from his mind. After spending two weeks, he wanted to return quickly to the U.S because he felt Nigeria was too “dirty, smelly, and crowded, and there wasn’t constant power supply.”
But everything changed when Seyi came back to Nigeria for a second visit in 2007. “I realised I could be in the U.S and live a life of comfort or I could be here and add value,” he said. ” It was during my second visit that it dawned on me I should come home. My siblings came in 2005; I wasn’t able to come. I was playing football. The intention was to come and visit and say ‘I have touched home and go back’. I already had a job lined up. On my first job after I stopped playing football, I was making more money yearly than my parents.”
L-R: Seun Abolaji, Seyi Abolaji
Finally, he took the risk to return and explore opportunities in Nigeria. “I saw gold everywhere in Nigeria. I saw that there is no other place you want to be than here. I could go back to the U.S and live a life of comfort or come here and make more impact. I felt like I could accomplish more here not in terms of a better salary, but in terms of adding value”, Seyi reasoned.
His younger brother, Seun, was also in the picture, but Seyi was the John the Baptist that came to prepare the way. Seun stayed back in the U.S, working and sending money to support the growth of the business. He was visiting Nigeria regularly. Today, they have been able to build a multi-million naira juice company, Seyi claims. But, it was a different business they had initially set out to do; they started with the extraction of oil from palm kernel.
From Failure to Success
Seun narrated the experience: “The first business was the extraction of oil from ekuro (palm kernel). Our parents had once gone into that business with one of their family members, but it didn’t quite work out. The money was coming here for the business to grow, but the person was using the money for something else. When we came to the land where the factory was supposed to be, my father cried. We knew our parents were sending money and how many lies were being sent back to us. Seyi came a year later and saw an opportunity to revive the business.”
Without putting blame on anyone, Seun said the business failed because he and his brother didn’t quite understand business practices in Nigeria. According to him, Seyi was buying everything they needed with cash, and people were buying from them on credit without paying back.
Moving forward, they started selling orange juice in a rented kiosk. Recounting the experience, Seyi said there wasn’t even sophisticated business plan and feasibility study. “We started with 2000 naira, and it was more or less like ‘let us test’. We were squeezing oranges by hand, then we got a machine, and later 11 people that were squeezing the oranges.”
But the opportunity to add lemonade to their products came when the duo saw lemons in the local market on a particular day. From that humble beginning, they have been able to build a brand known as the Wilson’s Lemonade. “We had our nose in the business,” Seun said. “I will tell you our lemonade tastes the same every time you open it because in the first two years, we were just concentrating on making sure the product is the same quality. For two years straight, we were not focusing on sales; our focus was let’s make sure this product has the same quality.
“There is no concentrate, there is no artificial coloring, no flavor or sweetener, and then our packaging is different because we have made it in a way that it can be seen on any shelf in the world,” he added.
In running the business, Seyi said he and his brother place high premium on honesty in dealing with each other. “Honesty helps relationships grow stronger. In business the trust factor matters, when I know I make a mistake, I will be honest,” he said.
Wislosn’s Juice company has about 50 direct staff and 22 aggregators working with hundreds of farmers in different states in Nigeria. But the two brothers are not allowing the progress to get into their heads. The company’s products are in major supermarkets in different cities. However, the attitude of the co-founders is there are many more grounds to cover. “We are not here to compete. We are here to create our own lanes with lemonade. We are focused on what we need to do to push this company forward,” Seun said.
Deji Aroloye89 Posts
a graduate of Linguistics and a staff writer at Outrepreneurs, Deji's forte includes tech, startups and innovations. Years back, Deji wrote on Entertainment and Lifestyle for a tabloid. If he wasn't a writer, Deji would be a photographer or teacher.