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“Stop advertising during difficult times”, With Derin Oyekan of Reel Paper

Stop advertising during difficult times: Companies start to spend less on advertising and in my opinion, it’s a big mistake because this is where you should be focusing on expanding and growing. You should try to figure out other areas to be efficient but not on the marketing side. As part of my series about […]

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Stop advertising during difficult times: Companies start to spend less on advertising and in my opinion, it’s a big mistake because this is where you should be focusing on expanding and growing. You should try to figure out other areas to be efficient but not on the marketing side.


As part of my series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Derin Oyeka.

Reel Paper co-founder and CMO, Derin Oyekan, grew up in Lagos, Nigeria. His early life experiences inspired the multi-faceted giveback that we provide with every sale of our 100% bamboo toilet paper.

Since childhood, Derin has had a fascination with how things work and how to make them work better. Over the years, Derin supported numerous start-up companies that shared his passion for innovation and improving others’ lives.


Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I’ve been in growth marketing for over 18 years. I’ve worked with a few other types of advertising agencies, so this has been the only career I’ve ever had. In the last five years or so, I’ve been trying to be more deliberate about working with brands that I’m passionate about, and that affect people’s lives. Reel’s opportunity came several years ago when I was introduced to my co-founder, Livio Bizterzo, he came up with the concept and that told me all about it. I became excited about his vision and decided to partner with him. Reel started last year it was a fast-moving train, the moths were going very fast, there were a lot of events that happened that made things faster like the toilet paper shortage in February and March which was very good for our business. Those events put a lot of pressure on our supply chain but our eCommerce business benefited as more people continue to buy more of our toilet paper.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

I made a very costly mistake, now that I’m looking back, it’s funny, but it was very bad at the time. It was when I first started to sign orders, and I didn’t pay attention to the numbers. This was an order for a media publisher, and at the time I did not understand the differences between the reporting systems, so I did not pay attention to which system would be the rule of authority for the reporting of sales. I was excited that was one of my very first large contracts, and it was a 100,000 dollars order that I signed the document for, and you know things were going, and we ended up having a discrepancy between the two systems and every discrepancy was about 50,000 dollars, and we weren’t able to pay for it, and the supplier company was adamant to give us our money back. I certainly thought I was going to lose my job, and obviously it wasn’t funny then, but in retrospect, it was a simple line that I could have changed, and that would have changed everything. Now, I pay attention to every detail in the contract, especially the details of how the publisher is paid.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

David Palmer, a very good friend of mine, was one of my first bosses when I got into digital marketing. David took a shot at me, I had no experience when I got to work for him. I think David could see the ambition, hunger, and drive that I had, so he gave me an opportunity at his company. David is my mentor, my friend, and I’ve been talking to him quite regularly all through my career, and not only was he my first boss, but he’s now my business partner.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

Our vision is to build a brand with a sustainability purpose. We want to build a platform where we can introduce products that are good for the environment and have a greater purpose and vision behind them. We really want to do our part to address the lack of access to clean water in particular 4.4 billion people in the world who do not have access to clean toilets, so we want to use some of our profits to address major global challenges. Our company’s vision is to become a large consumer goods company, and as we grow, we can help reduce the number of people who do not have access to clean toilets.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

Absolutely, as a start-up there are always difficult times. It is usually cash that is always the main issue. Coming up with the money to stay afloat when you are beginning to build your company is difficult, but you want to be honest and transparent with your team or anyone that you are working with. Treat your team like adults tell them just in case we do run into the issue of not having money, later on, I will do everything in my power to find employment for you somewhere else. Let everyone know that you are all in this together and that you are invested and in their well being as much as they are invested in your business. Assure your team that you will not abandon ship.

Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

Several times, being an entrepreneur you are constantly running into that thought in your mind. What I think helps through those moments of doubt and uncertainty is to have a good team and a network of entrepreneurs that you can talk to and that can relate to what you’re going through. Most importantly is knowing that what you are working on is something that is bigger than yourself because it’s no longer about you it’s about the impact that it’s going to have on people. It’s not about being financially successful it’s about the people that are being impacted in a positive way, and that is what drives me knowing that people need me to succeed in order for them to have clean water and toilets.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

One of the most critical roles would be to encourage your team. Let your team members know that you are all in this together and that you all have to work together to overcome the challenges that you face.

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

Always try to have a positive mindset. Try to celebrate small victories especially during challenging times making a big deal about those victories will get you and your team excited for the next challenge.

Leadership to me is always leading by example so if you are passionate about what you are doing and your team sees that they will feel inspired. Check-in with your team always asks them how they are, but most importantly, they must believe that you really care about them be genuine in your approach.

What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

Be as direct as you possibly can, don’t lie or hide anything. If one of your team members does not have a task done by the time it’s supposed to be done In my opinion you should be able to communicate directly, tone matters in your approach but be direct and honest.

How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

It’s all a leap of faith you believe that the future is going to get better so you make decisions based on the best information that you have or that you can get your hands-on, and that’s all you can do. What I try to do is come up with three different scenarios. In the first scenario, I will think of the worst-case that can possibly happen. I will elaborate on a plan and a solution and think about how I will be dealing with this problem if I ever have to encounter it. The second scenario is to think of the best outcome and elaborate on what would I do if I ever encounter this scenario. Then the third scenario I think of something between the best and worst scenario. To me, the last scenario is the most realistic of where I will end up going. Since you don’t know what the future holds its better to be optimistic

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

If a company has a sense of purpose that definitely helps guide you through the ups and downs. Having a mindset that what you are working towards something that is bigger than yourself can motivate you to push and move forward.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

  1. Stop advertising during difficult times: Companies start to spend less on advertising and in my opinion, it’s a big mistake because this is where you should be focusing on expanding and growing. You should try to figure out other areas to be efficient but not on the marketing side.
  2. Environment becoming toxic: People start blaming each other for the problems instead of coming to each other and collectively try to understand what the problem is.
  3. Poor leadership: Every problem stems from here. Not being able to guide your team during difficult situations can lead to a lot of chaos. Be present and interact with your team, show them that you are there for them and the company.
  4. Cut corners: Some company will want to reduce the cost of production so they intentionally get a product that is less quality and don’t realize that that is actually hurting their business.

Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

Look for nonmonetary ways that you can be growing your brand, for example, going on a podcast and talk about your business or start a partnership with someone to grow and expand your business. You don’t want your business to be completely dependent on paid advertisements. You want your business to be able to run with a small advertising budget in case you have to make some cuts along the way.

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.

Remember and remind your team of your mission — During turbulent times, it’s easy to lose sight of this. By realigning yourself and team to the bigger purpose of the company, this will give you the strength needed to persevere during the turbulent times.

Don’t go into hiding — The worst thing you can do during difficult times as a leader is to no longer become visible. To your team or external partners. Sure vendors might chew you out for late payments, but they would rather work with you than write off the expense. Same with your team, there might be layoffs and pay cuts, it’s better to be available to the team you have left to answer the difficult questions they might have

Over communicate — There is very little margin for error during difficult times so communication is key. Daily check-ins and making sure all stakeholders are aligned and included in communications to prevent any mistakes is vital.

Be a good listener — People handle stress in different ways. During this time, you almost have to play the roles of therapist and coach. Listen to what your team members are saying and customize your communication to their individual personalities. You should be doing this during normal times but it’s especially important during turbulent times.

Create a positive environment — Even though things are challenging doesn’t mean the vibe can’t be positive. Celebrate the small wins. Remember, as the leader you set the tone. If you’re being positive and optimistic about the future, your team will pick up on that as well.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite life lesson quote is Winston Churchill’s “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” This philosophy has helped me put myself in the mindset to overcome challenging times. We all go through tough times. When you’re going through it, put your head down, and keep working. The tough times will inevitably pass.

How can our readers further follow your work?

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/derinoyekan/

Company URL: https://reelpaper.com/

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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