From making paper toys to hanging out with Dangote: Here’s how Sanni built a multiple award winning food startup!

Looking for a young, vibrant serial entrepreneur in the hospitality and lifestyle industry? Look no further than Sanni Sheriff. He is an undergraduate of Systems Engineering at the University of Lagos and an expert in organizational analysis, as certified by Business School, Netherlands.

His journey of been an entrepreneur started in 2007 where his dad got him a small camera which he used in filming an Event and was paid N1,000 which was a little encouraging then but he furthered by learning more in the media, then he opened Sannikayz Tv, an online Tv network in 2010 which had its core services in Events coverage and in 2011 the company was registered. Due to the demand of more events services like catering, as a serial entrepreneur he went ahead to establish Sannikayz Kitchen in 2014 which provides Mobile, Restaurant and Events food services.

So far, he has received several awards including the Under 30 Achievers awards 2013 “Creative Man of the year” University of Lagos Engineering society Awards “ Best Entrepreneur” in 2014. He was nominated as Sheraton Entrepreneur of the year at the Ping Awards 2014.


Punch newspaper endorsed him as young C.E.O in 2015 which opened doors to great opportunities. In 2015 he contested in the Global Students Entrepreneurs Awards organized by one of the world’s biggest entrepreneurship Organizations where he was 2nd Runner up at the National Finals in Nigeria. As a mentee to Alhaji Aliko Dangote, he plans to incorporate big investors into his company which which will fuel the economy of Nigeria by creating job opportunities.


Came we meet you?

My name is Sanni sheriff, a  final year system engineering student of the university of Lagos. I am an entrepreneur by practice, training, and experience. I am from Ondo state.  I run sannikayz kitchen, and also the brain behind the brand.  I am the second child of my parents. My dad is a marine engineer, and my mom, a business woman.


How did the sannikayz  kitchen come into existence?

Before I talk about how sannikays kitchen started, I would like to talk about how business started for me. Business for me started a long time ago. While I was still in primary school. I used to make paper toys, and sell them for five Naira. So I would say business has always been in me. Then in primary school, I wasn’t selling those toys because I needed the money, but just for the love of it. In my second year in school, I started a small business in the hostel. I use to sell what I called “jamwich”, which was actually sandwich. It was a combination of bread, butter, jam, egg, and sardine. I sold it for #60, I was doing home delivery.  Afterwards, the  Sannikayz kitchen started business officially, in September 2011. So to answer your question, I would say sannikayz kitchen started with my love for business.


Did you go to any catering school to learn how to cook?

Yes I did, as a cocktail and events trainer trained me in my second year.


How did you raise cash to start this business?

I can remember asking my dad for capital to start up this business then but, he refused. So in order to raise cash, I had to go to that railway in Yaba, I think that place has been crushed right now. I went there with my shoes, some of my clothes, and a lot of other things. Sold them  to generate some money to kick off this present business. I was able to raise like ten thousand Naira from the sales of my belongings.


Does it mean that your parents were not in full support of you starting up the restaurant business?

My dad wasn’t in total support because all he wanted for me was educational excellence. He didn’t want anything to get in between me and my education.  But my mom, on the other hand, gave me her full support. As time went by, my dad discovered I was doing pretty well educationally, and excelling in the business, so he got encouraged to support me morally, and financially.


What were the challenges you faced when you were about starting this business, and what are your present challenges?

While starting, we wanted to connect to the elite. We wanted to connect with the big clients. But the fact that we were small really limited, and hindered our chances of getting such. We couldn’t connect to our target market. But I thank God because presently that’s history. At the moment, our major challenge is proximity. And also fund. There are lots of better equipment, and fresh products which are yet to be discovered in Nigeria, that we plan on bringing in to make work better, easier, and faster but, fund is what has been delaying it. It is gradually being resolved by the help of some of our sponsors. But I would say that more is needed.


What are these new products that are yet to be discovered in Nigeria?

I won’t like to talk much on that because, it is part of our competitive advantage. All I would say is that they are products that are really new to our environment. So relax, and allow us surprise you.


How do you cope with work, and school at the same time? 

It isn’t easy. Anyone who says it is, would be telling a huge lie. It is not easy. Especially when you are studying a time demanding course like engineering. Where you have to do a lot of researches, and calculation. It is not easy at all. But am thankful to God for his help. What has kept me, is focus and determination. Students have this triangular way of living in the university. Some have their time shift from class, to the church, to the hostel. Others, from the class to the mosque, to the hostel. Others class, hostel, parties. My extra curricula activity has been my business, my brand, and generating value for myself. I have been guiding myself with the principle, that the only thing that can distract me from my education, is my business, and the only thing that can distract me from business, is my education. I don’t club, and party so to say, though I still make out time to hang out with my close friends.  My friends are also business minded.  So there is no time for messing around. If it isn’t books, it is my business.


What are your plans for 2017?


We are unveiling our mobile kitchen. It is actually a new thing in Lagos. It is going to be on different streets, rendering quality services to all our customers. We are getting new motorcycles for home deliveries. And like I said earlier, we would be bringing in new meals.


What has been your greatest achievements so far?


First I will like to thank God all mighty because from this little we have done, it has brought us a lot.  Right from my second year, I was nominated in the university of Lagos engineering society for ‘the most influential student of the year’, after that I had a nomination from PING awards, ‘Sheraton entrepreneur of the year’, then I won ‘creative man of the year’. In the under 30 achievers awards in 2013. I won university of Lagos engineering society ‘entrepreneur of the year’, in 2014. And we were also given ‘award for excellence’ by the Student historical society of Nigeria in 2013 too. There have been a whole lot of achievements down the lane. There was a time a friend of mine was traveling to Colombia for an educational summit. So they had a stop-over flight in South Africa, and he heard someone talking about the sannikayz brand. So asides the awards, the fact that sannikayz kitchen has gained awareness by a lot of people within, and outside the country is a great achievement. I have gotten couple of calls from the US, people are talking about partnerships, and all. So the achievements have just been coming in. year in, year out. Even having an interview with you is another achievement.


In the business world, is there anyone you look up to as a mentor?

My number one mentor is my dad. Even though my dad is a serious marine engineer, he is also a serial entrepreneur. I won’t lie to you. He has invested his money into various business, which has actually been working for him. He is someone, who can put life into crap. He is a great risk taker. Secondly, my grand mentor is Aliko Dangote. I do my research on him almost every day. He has really set a pace for young entrepreneurs like me. If we can have 20 people of Dangote’s kind in Nigeria, Nigeria’s dreams would be attained. Dangote is my grand mentor, while my dad is the junior mentor.


Was there ever a time you considered giving up on the sannikayz business, and what was that thing that kept you going? 


Every entrepreneur would have had issues with giving up, as a result of several challenges. And I must say I was really close to giving up, because at a point the patronage level dropped badly. I wasn’t making any profits, and workers needed to be paid, and all. Those were really frustrating moments. That’s one. Secondly, school. My grades were suffering at one point. Because I was putting all my time into business, trying all my best to make it grow to the standard I had dreamt of, and all. That period was really discouraging but, what kept me pushing, was the believe people had in me.  People just walk up to me and say, I really love what you are doing. You are dedicated, you motivate me, and you inspire me. So it would make no sense, if I woke up one day, and say I quit, because that would be me killing the dreams of Nigerians who look up to me as a motivation, Saying, if sanni can make it, so can I.


What are your aspirations for this brand? 

By the grace of God, we aim to be the biggest food brand in Nigeria, having our services in every event, restaurant, and mobile services.


Any advice for those who see you as a mentor?

I know a lot of people are presently facing challenges in their business, one way or the other. I would want to encourage them to keep pushing, and never consider giving up because that’s the only way to be a successful business person.

Published by Ogunbowale Olugbenga

Ogunbowale Olugbenga is a multiple award winning social entrepreneur & digital skills expert. An alumnus of the Leadership in Business Institute of Kellogg School of Management (USA), He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from Obafemi Awolowo University (Nigeria). Inspired by the plight of millions of unemployed youths, Olugbenga founded, a digital agency passionately growing businesses & accelerating the application of digital skills for economic prosperity across Africa. To help institutions prevent scandals & promote performance, Gbenga founded Polivoice.Work, an anonymous employee feedback tool that captures & analyses feedback anonymously in real time to detect, predict & improve work place conditions. A Mandela Washington Fellow, Tony Elumelu Fellow, Royal Common wealth society fellow, YALI star of business & YALI network influencer, Olugbenga is the founder of Africa’s biggest orphanage outreach, The Orphan Empowerment Society, with a 5,000 strong volunteer force and a presence in 19 African countries empowering thousands of orphans with free vocational skills, medical care, & food. He is also the co-founder of the communication & leadership organization, Pacesetters Leadership Club.

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