Funke Bucknor Obruthe has always been an inspiration to me, from when I met her about two decades ago through my older sister till date. She has always been unconventional in a wholesome, passionate and exciting way. I finally sat down with her this week to discuss a bit of her journey... Pls enjoy.
Please tell us an abridged version of the story of your rise, we are sure it’s been a long road.
First of all, when I wanted to go into event planning, I didn’t really know what it was. I just knew that I loved planning and organizing. And I spoke to a friend who had just started then as well and said “I want to do this event planning thing” and she told me I could do it.
When I was in Law School, I was always helping my friends organize different things for their weddings. From there, my friend’s older sister who was getting married asked that I should help with the planning, that was how we started.
That was my first paid job, before that I just loved helping out and having fun and I was just doing it. On that job, I charged about N30,000 or N40,000 which was very minimal; I didn’t even know how to charge. And even after the event, she paid me an extra N10,000 which was a big deal then, this was over 12 years ago.
From not knowing what it was to eventually understanding and trying to make a business and career out of it, all that took a lot of work and a lot of stumbling along the way.
First of all, people didn’t know what event planning was, they didn’t know why you need a planner, they didn’t even know who a planner was. Eventually, everybody started accepting it and today, event planning has become big business in Nigeria. That’s really the journey.
What does it mean to be a Event Planner or Producer?
Event Producer, Planner, Consultant, they are all the same. You are given the responsibility to put someone’s event together, where you plan it from conceptualisation to the execution, and you know all the details and the event aspects of it, you coordinate and make sure all goes well. From the advisory to the consultation to the vendors management to the checklist to the timelines to the budget, its project management- a wedding or n event is a project which has an end date. You are the general overseer. And after the event, you assess what went wrong and what was done right.
How were you able to overcome what must have been the initial resistance from the Nigerian audience when you commenced the journey of being an event planner? Did you have a experience a lot of resistance?
A lot. From my friends, but not in a bad way, but more from the angle of “What is event planning?”. Its more like when we started getting make up done for weddings; before that, we did our make up ourselves. Really, I don’t blame anybody for wondering what event planning was and asking “What are you people doing?” and ‘’What is it about’’? When you don’t know something, that’s how you react to it. But things have started changing, there was a lot of resistance but we kept on pushing.
You are the most respected event planner in Nigeria today? Who do you look up to and listen to? Who inspires and coaches you?
In the event industry, there’s really no one that I would really say… being a pioneer. I, however, draw inspiration from many things and many people. I have a lot of my colleagues that I can call up and ask questions when I’m struggling with something. I have international event planners that I also relate with. Their events are quite different from ours though…
I’m also a member of a group called International Special Events Society. They are a few people I speak to internationally, David Tutera, you know internationally acclaimed planners. There are people like that I can just ask questions and then of course, in SA and Kenya and then I get a lot of inspiration from blogs, online materials and TV, movies.
In the course of your work, you have planned events for Corporate and private Clients. What would you say has been the most re-current problem with most of Nigerian events? What are the solutions to that problem?
People are not realistic and they don’t say the truth. They’ll tell you “Im expecting just 500 people and they have a budget never want to tell you because they believe you will overspend if you know it. And when you are not realistic, we can’t plan properly. And you know, around here, we don’t have a guest list but we are trying to do that now. And then people don’t do RSVPs as well so you can’t plan. You have to over plan. Clients should just be real with us.
Tell us about your most challenging event and how did you pull through? What about your most fun event?
A few years ago, we planned an event outside Lagos and there was a bit of a family tussle - family politics between the stepmother, daughter, father and mother. There was a lot of family politics that we dint know about and we were just planning this event. It really affected the way the event panned out in the end. It was an influential family and it was very challenging.
There was a lot of miscommunication. We had planned events for families like that but this one was peculiar, the groom’s family was also a very large family.
That taught me a lesson- that you really need to understand the family involved in each event you’re planning-not just the bride, understand each group because the family is very important.
The most fun was a wedding we also planned years ago. It was a small wedding of about 400 guests. For Lagos and for even that family, it was small. It was very intimate and very young people friendly, the young people had fun. It was a very lovely evening wedding.
What would you say are the daily habits you have personally imbibed that have made you successful? Give us a list of specific things you’ve done daily for years.
I don’t know really.
One thing I do is basically tell myself “You have come so far I can’t fail in this. So how do you get better, what do you need to do differently’’. Each day is a new day. Something happened yesterday, how do you get better today?
We know the things you have succeeded at, tell us a couple of things you’ve failed at.
Well, in business, even in hiring and dealing with staff and some ideas that you will execute at an event that will fail. There’ll be some concepts you will carry out and then wonder, “Why did we do that? It was terrible, what were we thinking?”
There have been types of business that I have gone into that haven’t really worked. Some have worked, others are not working so its about knowing when to quit and walk away, when you know you’re just flogging a dead horse. In life, It’s not everything you do that will go well.
Aside from Décor by Furtullah, also working on an upgraded version of the Bridal Handbook to be released sometime soon
Was there ever a time, at the beginning when you doubted yourself, didn’t dare to dream that you could achieve anything? How did you overcome that?
Almost everyday. A lot of times, you doubt yourself, you’re a human being, and sometimes, you’ll think: “this cant work”, or “maybe we shouldn’t do this” or ‘why did we get into this…? Or maybe you do an event and it didn’t go well, at least according to Zapphaire standards, and you’re tired and declare you don’t want to do events anymore, stuff like that. Sometimes, for some Clients, you don’t get a second chance…
Pls give us tips for planning an event in these economic times?
First of all, you need to get your priorities right - what’s important to you. For some, it’s their dress, for others, it’s their food. Prioritize and manage your budget well.
Be realistic, don’t plan a wedding for 1000 people and you can only cater for 500. Just plan for 500 people and just appeal to the others. , Because even when you cater for a 1000 people, some people will still complain, so why do you want to expend yourself more than you can afford to.
It also extends to event concepts vs your budget.
You have such a full plate! How are you able to relax and recharge your batteries?
My own way is different. Once I can relax and watch TV for a bit, I’m fine. I don’t really sleep that much. I just need to relax for a few minutes, a few hours where necessary, put off my phone for a bit, and I’m fine.
How are do you strike a balance between business and home?
I have a good support system, my parents and my husband are very supportive.
Even at work, there’s structure, processes and order, there’s a good team at the office. It’s about balancing it at different times. When I have to stay at home, I do and when I have to take the children with me to work, I do.
Please tell us a fun fact about you, something many don’t know.
Many already know I like dancing, I like having fun. I think life shouldn’t be too hard,. If someone doesn’t respond to you, just understand that they must have had a bad day and when you try your best, just leave the rest.
I also love watching TV, I can watch almost all night. I love fun series and easy-to read, relaxing books
Interview conducted by Ayodotun Rotimi-Akinfenwa