So, I got something big cooking today…..**wink**
I was super excited conducting this interview! Dunni is one person who truly epitomizes mastering the fine art of following your dreams while fully invested at a day job. In fact with all she does at Dooney’s Kitchen, it’s so easy to not notice she’s employed! I felt like a child who had just been handed a cookie jar when I finally got a go-ahead to call. ‘Call me now, I’ll multi-task’. And the rest they say is history….
I present to you Oladunni Obata of the famed Dooney’s Kitchen! **drum roll please**
Hi Dunni! Please introduce yourself and tell us what you do.
Hellooo….My name is Dunni Obata. I run the food blog Dooney’s Kitchen, and I’m also an IT Project Manager.
I’ll like to understand the IT Project Manager a bit more. Is it a full time 9-5 job, or you get called in on a part time basis?
It’s a full time 8-5 Monday to Friday. *laughs*
Wow! That makes what you do at Dooney’s Kitchen even more amazing!
How long have you been doing both?
About 3 years and 3 months, Dooney’s Kitchen was born in 2013 March. So, a little over 3 years.
What gave you the push to start Dooney’s Kitchen?
Three years ago, I didn’t know what was called a blog. All I knew was Bellanaija, and Linda Ikeji. I thought people just had a website for their businesses. I wasn’t aware of the concept of blogging, it wasn’t in my consciousness. At the time, the reigning social media / communication platform was black berry messenger, so what I used to do was to make pictures of food I had cooked my display picture (dp), and every time I changed dp, my friends will respond and say na waa o, do you want us to eat our phone?! It was just fun for me because I’ve cooked all my life, and except you come to my house physically, I had no other way to share what I was doing.
The whole blogging concept came into my consciousness through a friend in February 2013. There was a particular Sunday when I got three calls for a recipe for yam pottage – one from the US, one from the UK, one from Nigeria. I was like se k’osi (hope no problem), what’s happening with yam pottage today oo. Then my friend said why are you feeling cool because we’re asking you for recipe, you better go and start a blog jor, so we can stop disturbing you. And I’m like what’s a blog? *laughs*
And he said go to wordpress.com, and start from there. And that’s how the food blogging started. I initially didn’t know what to call the blog, but eventually settled on my old nickname – Dunny Runny, but then I tweaked the spelling of the Dunny to make it easier.
So, when blogging eventually got into my consciousness, I did some research. I love research by the way, I can do it for a living. I found out then, that step by step food recipes were not really the norm, and detail wasn’t really the norm. But, Nigerian food is not like oyinbo food where you can have a 5 line recipe because, so much goes into Nigerian cooking behind the scene. So, I wanted my recipes to be such that if you’ve never cooked jollof rice before in your life for example, you’d never get it wrong. My recipes read like I’m standing next to you in the kitchen, and I also put step by step pictures. I can’t remember seeing anyone who was doing this at the time. My tomatoeless stew recipe is a great example. I not only put there the ingredients and proportions, I put how much of each ingredient I bought, and so on.
Sorry to digress on this tomatoeless stew recipe, I cooked that dish for the first time about a year ago, but I’m glad I didn’t post the recipe then, because being in Nigeria during this tomato crisis, experiencing what’s happening with tomatoes in the market, made it a lot more relatable and more authentic.
So, apart from recipes, I also said there has to be something else to do. At the time I had a food processor that I was already making pounded yam with. So, my first post was how to make pounded yam with a food processor, and I can say that launched my career. And now Dooney’s Kitchen has a signature, it has an identity, and it’s cooking technology, it’s redefining Nigerian food and Nigerian cooking.
What were your fears when you were starting out? Did you ever think you had to choose between your paid employment and Dooney’s Kitchen at any point?
Well no, because it started out as hobby. It wasn’t a career or supposed to be a money spinner. So, I didn’t have fears at the beginning, but I kind of have them now. And that’s basically tied to how to make sure I can do everything I need to get done.
So, how do you make it all work? What’s your daily routine like?
Well, I basically see it like working two shifts. My 8 – 5 is one shift, and when I return home I start another shift for Dooney’s Kitchen. That’s the story of my life. I’ve become so used to sleeping just 3 – 4 hours every day, and I haven’t had a holiday in like ages!
You make that sound so simple, you just switch off and on?!
The thing about me is I have this insane focus, so this is the easiest approach for me. I try to stay focused in each sphere because it won’t be fair to my employers to use their time for personal interests, I have more than enough time in the evenings. And my employers are amazing to say the least.
Another interesting thing is, everything I’m learning and doing at work is super useful for me at Dooney’s Kitchen. If anyone had told me I’d be able to leverage this work experience for any personal business when I started out, I’d have argued. But, I’ve had the opportunity to manage projects across various countries for my employers, and that experience is priceless. In the end it’s a win-win.
So, I do my work at work, and return to Dooney’s Kitchen every evening.
That’s like two personalities in one!
True, it feels like two personalities in one, but it is what it is. I just finished responding to 95 e-mails, I have 6 more to go, then I have 174 DMs to respond to.
Wow! Do you have an assistant?
I do, but there are certain aspects of the business I like to handle myself at this point. I like to respond to people myself because I don’t want to miss any of the details. Sometimes people share personal experiences that may get lost if I didn’t respond myself. But part of building the business is that at some point I will not be able to do that anymore, it will have to become as automated as possible.
Can you remember the first time you made money from Dooney’s Kitchen?
Not exactly oo.
Ah! I thought that would be such an emotional experience like, oh I made five naira!
**Laughs** Well, maybe because I wasn’t doing it as a full time entrepreneur, the money wasn’t really a big deal. It was more like by the way.
Ok, but do you remember the first thing you got paid for, in relation to your blog?
I think the first thing I got paid for must have been an advert on my page.
What keeps you going? What’s your inspiration?
What keeps me going…..hmmm… it’s you guys o! If I didn’t get this much feedback it will be difficult to keep going. There are people who look into the mirror and don’t like what they see. But I look into the mirror – which is you guys, and you love what I do, and I love it too. Infact, I feel like I’m not posting recipes enough these days, but I also have to work on building the business.
There’s this saying that if your passion doesn’t start to pay itself, you’re going to come to resent that passion.
I’m happy I didn’t get to that point. I’m happy I’ve been able to get a new food movement going, to shine some light on the business side of cooking. Most of the food bloggers at the time I also started were initially just doing it as a hobby, but we’re all seeing and elaborating the business side of things now.
There are many caterers that have launched their businesses from Dooney’s Kitchen recipes, some have owned up, others will never, but it’s fine. I’m happy.
I tell people that if you have a cooker and a pot, that’s money in your hands.
Please tell us three key things you have learnt on your journey so far? Especially for people who are currently in paid employment who also want to birth a passion project.
- It’s going to be HARD. If you’re building something truly worthwhile, the greatest feedback you’ll probably ever get from yourself is ‘This is HARD’. Because, if you don’t get to the point where this passion is nearly taking over your life, you have not started. You know you are on to something great, when it starts to nearly take over life. When I initially started it was comfortable and easy, I’ll just get back from work and cook and post. But it got harder. There are friends I haven’t seen in 6 months. Mark Zuckerberg will tell you that he did not leave his room for three weeks when he was starting Facebook. It’s happened to me before too. There was a time I didn’t speak to my mum for weeks and I didn’t even realise it. She was like s’ekosi, se a ja ni (hope no problem, did we have a fight?) **Laughs**.
- Your race is your own to run. There is no parapo in business, there is no aso-ebi in business. Every human being is inherently selfish. And there’s nothing wrong with being selfish as long as you’re not hurting anyone. So, the earlier you learn that lesson and face up to what you need to do to build your business the better. The truth is you are the only one that understands your own vision, and you’re the one who knows what will make it work. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with collaboration, there’s nothing wrong with co-operation. But relying on other people to build your vision is often times setting yourself up for disappointment. I learnt that lesson the hard way, and my grandmum had told me this earlier – she was a major distributor for PZ West Africa. People are inherently selfish. So you must realise that physically, spiritually, emotionally, your race is yours to run. Early on you need to decide whether your business is a partnership model or not, and if it’s not face the work that needs to be done to build your business on your own.
- If you start with the intention of making money, you may never make any meaningful money. Especially for someone who is currently employed. If you start by seeing dollar signs, that’s all you’ll probably ever see – dollar signs, not the real cash. Actually, I feel that starting a business when fully employed puts you at an advantageous position. Because, you’re not immediately under pressure to make money from day one. You can make mistakes early on, and those mistakes cannot crash your business. For me for example, I spent an entire year building my website, because I was clear in my mind what I wanted it to be like, I technically wasted a lot of money along the way, but it was by the way, because that money is not critical, it won’t crash my business.
Starting with the intention of making money can easily get you disillusioned. Don’t start like that, let your salary be enough no matter how small, and no matter how much you no longer like the job.
For example, I do not touch the money from Dookey’s Kitchen to buy anything for myself. At all. I learnt this money discipline from my parents, both my parents are actually entrepreneurs, my dad started his business at 19, and my mum started hers at 22, so of course I’m several years late…*laughs*. My mum actually worked about 6 – 7 months and then started her own business. So, I learnt a lot just watching them. At a time they had the discussion about paying themselves a salary, and they were ploughing every penny back into the businesses.
What your job is buying you is time, the kind of time that someone who is not employed at the time they’re starting out do not have.
For those who are forced out of paid employment before they’re ready, I sympathise, it’s a life changing experience. But, for those who get the opportunity to start while still employed it’s a great advantage.
Very well Dunni, thanks so much for speaking with us! You’re such a delight!
Thanks so much for having me!
Did you notice that Dunni is a Project Manager? Yeah! That’s how we roll! Lol…
Now, I got so many take aways from this interview. Couldn’t stop talking about it for days on end. One of them is – Dunni found out about blogging in February, her blog was up in March. Now, see what she’s done 3 years later! All while still employed! Talk about ruthless execution, talk about insane focus!
What exactly are you waiting for?
Hope you share your biggest takeaway with me in the comments below…
You can connect with Dunni here: