This week's Brazen woman is an entrepreneur on a mission. When ever she's asked - What is your job? Her answer is "I don't have a job, I create jobs!" She has sold wine, clothes and tried as many businesses as you can imagine. Through it all she has learnt one very valuable lesson.
Uwa Ohio is a full time entrepreneur. She is on a mission to solve problems through entrepreneurship and empowering others in the process.
Read about her story and the impact she is making.
The Brazen Closet : What do you do?
Uwa: I am the founder of Ulo Mobile Spa, which I started building about a year and a half ago. Ulo Mobile Spa is an online platform where you can book mobile massage therapists in the city. We connect you with the best qualified therapists and they come to you; at home, work, hotel etc. I’m also the owner of 2 Click Photography. Photography is my passion and we cover weddings, events, family photoshoots and many more.
The Brazen Closet: What is your professional background and education; and how has that helped you in your current businesses?
Uwa: I worked in Corporate Retail till a year ago when I quit my job to focus on setting up Ulo. I have a degree in International Relationship and Diplomacy and a Diploma in Hospitality Management. I would say my background has helped me a lot in dealing with people and managing relationships, which is a huge part of running any business.
The Brazen Closet : What got you started as an entrepreneur?
Uwa: I would say I have been an entrepreneur for as long as I can remember. Before Ulo, I have started at least nine businesses. I will call myself a bit of a serial entrepreneur. I like to try my hand at different things.
The Brazen Closet : Wow, nine! That is a lot! What lessons have you learnt along the way?
Uwa: The number one thing I have learnt so far is that a business must be solving a problem. For myself, I’ve discovered that whatever I’m involved in, can’t be just about the money anymore. I have to make a difference and solve a problem.
This is what I believe, will set me apart from the competition. I’ve also learnt that consistency and persistence are extremely important. Without them, the business will fail even before it starts, because there will be difficulties before things start to pick up and become successful.
The Brazen Closet : How did you get the idea of Ulo Mobile Spa and what problem are you solving?
Uwa: I’m a huge advocate for massages, I get them regularly and don’t see it as a luxury. I see them as a necessity for my personal health and wellness.
At one of my massages, I asked my therapist how much they get paid because I wanted to give her a tip. I wanted to know if she gets all of what clients pay and how that works, so I would know how much to tip her. She said they only get 30%. I thought to myself that that didn’t seem right. The average massage costs between $80-$120. 30% is nothing compared to the work they do.
After that, on one of my trips to London, England, I was looking to get a massage and was told that I could just book one and the therapist would come to me. I didn't know that existed and it was very convenient. I thought this was a great idea and started brainstorming on how to bring this to Calgary and Canada as a whole, because I hadn't come across it yet.
I had to figure out how to create a win-win situation for both therapists and clients. This process took me about a year and a half of research and testing. I decided the best route would be to create an online marketplace where therapists can sign up, to work on their own schedule and clients can easily sign-up for massages.
So majority of the challenge was building a website that would have the ability to achieve this especially with limited capital. I decided to quit my job and focus on this full time. I was also working hard on my photography to be able to fund it. So it was a tough year and a half for me.
My next hurdle was recruiting therapists. This had to be a win for them. Because we are able to keep our overhead low, with no high operating costs like rent, heating, staffing etc. Ulo is able to pay therapists 75% which is huge compared to industry standard.
I also started visiting Massage therapy schools to begin recruiting certified therapists and doing a lot of advertising for clients to sign up.
The Brazen Closet : As a new business, how are you creating a brand that reflects your vision?
Uwa: I started out looking to solve a problem and make a difference, and my mission is to make sure that remains the company’s values and mission. I believe by focusing on the well-being of our therapists, they are empowered to excel personally and professionally.
This will result in satisfied and repeat clients. It is basically set up for them to start right away. We do the advertising and provide clients and uniforms. All they have to do is create their own schedule and work as much as they choose. They are contractors and not employees, that way they operate as a small business and can access all the tax benefits attributed to small businesses. I believe that when you empower others to succeed, then you are successful.
The Brazen Closet : With a start up being such an uphill climb, how do you stay motivated?
Uwa: When I started my research, I got a massage therapist, to test if this would be a good idea or not. I secured a few clients for her and she was able to earn up to $80/hour when typically she would only take home $30- $50/hour before taxes. She was so excited at the opportunity. She told me how happy she and her family were. That really motivated me to keep going.
If I can have such an impact with just a test; one therapist and a few happy clients, imagine the possibilities. I can truly make a difference. I also have great personal relationships with them. It is not a faceless interaction, because they are going out representing themselves and the organization.
The Brazen Closet : How have you been able to get the Ulo name out there?
Uwa: To be honest, Calgary is a great place to start a business. There are a lot of supportive organizations and people if you are willing to put yourself out there. ATB Financial has an entrepreneur centre. The ATB Entrepreneur Centre supports entrepreneurs and they have been highly instrumental for me during this time.
I also bank at Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), and all I did was approach various branch managers to set up a table where I could talk to people and do promotions and it was approved.
I also went door to door and reached out to various organizations to offer staff massages and get future clients. I distributed fliers anywhere and everywhere to gain traction. I even set a target of distributing 200 fliers every day. It was definitely hard work but it is all paying off now.
I just had to put myself out there, even when it was uncomfortable and inconvenient because I knew it was for a short period till things picked up and I had an end goal. My goal was not to create just another business. It is to make a difference especially as an African immigrant. We will stand under the rain, in the sun, in the snow, until we are a household name in Canada.
The Brazen Closet : Any advice for anyone just starting out, especially from all the businesses you’ve been involved in?
Uwa: For me, like I said the number one lesson and advice is to solve a problem with your business. You will still need to work hard and be consistent, but there will already be a demand for what you are offering. In our first month of being in operation we had 50 clients ready to go and that is unheard of for a startup.
The Brazen Closet : What does the rest of 2017 have in store for Ulo Mobile Spa?
Uwa: We are going to continue promoting and advertising as much as we can and begin expanding into other cities and provinces. We are offering free 5-10 minute chair massages in malls and anywhere we can find or pay for a spot. We are offering 20% off for first time clients.
We are also heading to Red deer and Edmonton to launch and promote our services.
The Brazen Closet: Is there anything you would like to add?
Uwa: I got this idea because I’m a believer in the effectiveness of massages. It is not a luxury and it shouldn’t be. We all work hard for our money. Of what value is it if you are not in good health to enjoy it. Most people do it for fun or during special occasions. I get massages 3-4 times a month.
The difference in my health and wellness since I started getting them regularly is really night and day. Now that it is so convenient, I encourage people to give it a try. Booking with Ulo Mobile Spa also empowers other entrepreneurs and small businesses to thrive.
I really hope the Brazen Woman series is showing you that anything is possible with hard work and persistence. And you can truly follow your passions and live your dream!
Find Ulo Mobile Spa below:
Find 2 Click Photography on Instagram: @2ClickPhotography