Ifeoma Nzekwu is the beautiful lady behind JC pops. A lawyer by training and a former banker she started her ice pops business from her kitchen and her list of yummy flavours keeps expanding. Read on and get inspired
Ify tell us about your growing up years?
I grew up in a very close knit home with my mum and younger brother. When we got older we got some amazing foster siblings. My mum was a career lady and an amazing home maker. When she wasn’t at work, you would always find her in the kitchen. She loved baking cakes and bread, making chin chin, puff puff and ice cream. We were always eager to help because it meant we could have a go at licking spoons and bowls clean.
Your Mum sounds amazing, she must have been a major influence
Yes her life definitely influenced mine. I was brought up by a strong, independent woman who loved taking care of her family. I also want to do same for my family and its one of my driving forces. I don’t want to be the woman who sits at home and does nothing. If I can be half the woman she was, then I’m accomplished as a woman.
I know you worked in a bank ? Did you ever plan to be an entrepreneur
Working with a lot of entrepreneurs opened my eyes to the advantages of owning a business. I knew I wanted to own “a” business but I wasn’t certain of what I wanted to do.
How supportive was your family.? Folks, husband
To be honest, initially, some of them were skeptical because first of all I’m very introverted. They wondered how I was going to sell my brand especially as this line of treats was relatively new. But they began to open their minds when they saw how passionate I was about doing this. I’ve got the best support system. They have cheered me on from the get go, held my hands when I was discouraged, wiped my tears when I cried, supported me financially. I’m really blessed.
Why frozen pops? Talk about the amazing flavours you have like Zobo which is my favourite.
While doing my research for which business I wanted to go into, I realised here was a huge market for frozen pops. I live in Abuja where the temperature gets as high as 39°C and I was already used to making sweet treats for my family the way my mum used to. There are a lot of people who don’t like to eat fruits at all, but offer it to them blended and frozen on stick, they are game.
Our pops are made from fresh fruit, some more healthy options than the others. We have about twelve flavours that we stock now.For the non-alcoholic, Strawberry and banana,Water melon and pineapple, Mango, Agbalumo, Cookies and cream, Chocolate, Pinacolada, Peanut butter and banana . For Alcoholic flavours ‘, Baileys and choc chip cookies, Pinacolada, Watermelon Magarita, Tequila Sunrise and Chocolate with Bourbon.
I really can’t choose which one is my favourite flavour. Its like asking me to choose a favorite child, but the bestseller for now is the strawberry and banana flavour. That particular flabour is made with fresh strawberries and banana and its so good. When you bite into it for the first time, you get an explosion of flavour in your mouth so good you might just cry. It’s silky smooth with some crunch and the perfect dessert to have after a really stressful or productive day. However, all my flavours are yum and different clients have different favourites.
What made you take the full plunge into entrepreneurship
I had to leave my job in the bank to take care of my mum when she was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. After, she passed, I was stuck in grief for a very long time. Then one day, I told my myself that I had cried enough. My husband had carried the burden of providing for us for almost 2 years while I grieved. I couldn’t go back to my job because too much time had passed and to be honest, I didn’t want to work for anyone again. It was time to start the business that I always wanted to have and luckily I was already used to making home made treats.
I got my biggest breakthrough yet, when I got selected to be vendor at the Naijabrandchick trade fair in 2019 convened by Nelly Agbogu. It was a life changing experience and really gave me much needed visibility. Attending that fair took me a step further into realising my entrepreneurial goals and I am grateful for that opportunity.
What challenges did you face when you started and how did you surmount them?
Rejection and Getting people to trust my brand. When I first started, I had just my friends buying from me. God bless their hearts. I would attend fairs and people would be like “what’s popsicles? I’m not interested”. I would “slide” into peoples dms, introducing myself and my brand. I got no response or even got blocked sometimes. But if there’s anything I learned from being a marketer in a bank, I learned tenacity. I learned the ability to grow thick skin. I believed in my products and brand. I understood that peoples’ rejection of my business wasn’t personal and I didn’t let it get to me. I just continued pushing. I am still pushing because I haven’t even scratched the surface yet.
How about being a mum to a young child, how have you been able to combine that and business ?
Well, it hasn’t been easy. But I’ve been fortunate to get a lot of help from my family and friends. When they can’t help, I have to work with whatever time I can get after taking care of my little Oga. It’s stressful but worth it.
Advice for other Mums of young children planning to start businesses?
You need to love the business you are venturing into. Being a mum is overwhelming by itself. You’ll quickly burn out if you don’t do something you are passionate about.
You need to remove naysayers and toxic people from your life. The days will come when you just want to give up. You need strong supporters in your corner to succeed.
You need to take care of you. Even if it’s just a drive down the street, you need some alone time to relax, to regroup, to renew your energy.
What exciting flavours can we expect in the future
Ooh , I don’t want to spill the beans yet. But I’m working on some really high end indulgent flavours, and also upgrading the flavours we stock now so keep watching.
Beauty routine and how you unwind
For beauty, I just scrub and moisturise. I use make sure I use sunscreen when I have to go out. I love to watch serials and series, and right now I am into South Korean movies and series which are very good. I also love getting pedicures as it helps me relax. I also go to the spa for a massage whenever I get a chance to.
It’s been great talking to you, stay blessed and all the best with JCpops!