Born entrepreneur. Resilient survivor. Modern-day Renaissance woman. The Founder of media platform Your Life After 25, Toyin Ajayi shares the incredible journey she’s taken while starting her businesses—from surviving the toughest personal trials imaginable to figuring out how to build a company when she was an immigrant without a green card.
And while Toyin dons the pseudonym “Da Vinci,” it’s no secret that this Opportunista’s survival spirit and “no-option-for-failure” approach have propelled her to defy all odds in building her business. In fact, Toyin’s learned so much as an entrepreneur that she is now well on her way to building her second company—her sustainable and culturally-inspired fashion brand, Ife Medow.
This Opportunista means business, and she continues to create her own opportunities to live her best life.
Let’s meet Toyin, and learn from this Opportunista.
Not everyone will understand
or see your vision in the beginning.
Use that as fuel and build a fire of success.
Let’s meet Toyin and learn from this Opportunista.
- Name: Toyin Ajayi - pseudonym: Da Vinci
- Age: 31
- Location: Atlanta, GA
- Title & Company: Your Life After 25; Ife Medow
- Industry: Media, Author, Sustainable Fashion
- Education: High School
Why did you want to become an entrepreneur?
I would say my mother inspired me in a lot of ways, but I also learned from her how not to conduct business. She was an entrepreneur during my early childhood. I think we learn from what we see or don’t see, and we can apply it to our lives in ways that work for us.
With that said, I honestly feel like I was born an entrepreneur. I used to run a “banking system” at the age of 6-7 years old. When family would ask to borrow money, sometimes they wouldn’t pay me back, so I started writing contracts in blue crayon and had them sign an agreement for 10% interest. Loan shark rates(!) ... but I was young. I also wrote my first will at the age of 7, in blue crayon, so the entrepreneurial spirit was embedded in me early.
What inspired you to create Your Life After 25?
When I was 17, I had the idea to start an online magazine for women called “Lady Epiphany.” Looking back, I realize I was barely a woman myself, but I always knew I wanted to do something where I could help women. I figured back then that if I could provide information, I could help in some way. I didn’t go to college or school for coding so the idea didn’t fully fledge out because I couldn’t code the site to work the way I wanted it to run.
Over the years I continued to blog on various platforms, including Myspace. I eventually decided I wanted to try blogging on my own hosting. I didn’t want a traditional blog. I knew I wanted to do a “blogazine.” I started that blogazine in 2007, but after a few years of finding my way around the blogging industry, I experienced blogger burnout. While the blogazine was a great idea, it wasn’t organized as a business or properly branded. I decided to take a break from blogging and after a year or so, right before my 25th birthday. I remember watching friends freak out about being 25 and not married or in the jobs they wanted. To me, my life was only beginning, and I was looking forward to my life after 25.
Knowing that so many women faced these societal pressures, I wanted to provide a place to fill that void. My brand goal is real - something that has been the same since I was 17: “Entertain - Educate - Empower”. I just want to do my part in helping people. The concept for Your Life After 25 was born in 2010, and I launched the site on February 28th, 2011.
I always knew I wanted to do something
where I could help women.
I figured that if I could provide information,
I could help in some way.
I just want to do my part in helping people.
A student of “Google University,” how did you teach yourself how to create your blogazine?
I read a ton of books, articles, and watched SO many YouTube videos. When starting in the blogging industry, you’re basically doing the jobs of many people in one place. I’m a firm believer of “if I can’t do it, I can learn how to do it.” I learned how to code my WordPress sites, SEO, monetization, and how to connect with brands. Another important thing to learn is how to leverage your relationships in the right ways. While I wanted to learn how to do everything, I knew that I couldn’t do everything, so collaborations were essential.
What was the biggest challenge you needed to overcome in starting Your Life After 25? How did you overcome it?
As an immigrant, many people don’t know that I didn’t get my green card until 2013. I came to America at the age of 8, almost 9, but my process took longer than most. It was one reason I didn’t go to college. So when it came to building my business, there were many times that I would have to stop or opportunities I couldn’t take because I was still waiting for my process to be complete. I would say just trying to navigate all of that was one of the hardest struggles of my life, especially when trying to create a public persona and having so many things I couldn’t share with my audience.
What was the greatest risk you took in starting Your Life after 25?
The greatest risk was being in an industry that there was no blueprint for. Blogging is still a very new industry, and there are still so many people that don’t understand how it works. Now imagine telling your parents that you’re not interested in going to college because you want to “blog.” Growing up in an African household, college is pretty much mandatory, and after that, the list of respectable professions isn’t that long. Doctor, lawyer, engineer … blogging is certainly not on that list. I didn’t have a lot of support from my parents with blogging, but it’s mostly because they didn’t understand what I was doing.
So I would say being all in was a major risk. But I can honestly say that when I decided to start Your Life After 25, I went into it with an ALL or nothing mentality. I said that if the company wasn’t making a profit within 3 years I would need to adjust or decide my next move … for me there was no option for failure.
You’re now working on your second business, Ife Medow, your sustainable bags and accessories line. What inspired you to begin this business?
Ife Medow is a really personal brand - I like to call it my “coming out brand.” I’ve always been interested in how we can improve our environment, and I’ve always loved animals. Designing is not new for me. I’m very much a creative and started designing clothes when I was younger. In my teen years I actually had a portfolio of wedding and formal dresses. I bought a bag in 2006 that was gorgeous and well crafted; I remembered thinking I would love to do my own bag line one day, but the timing never seemed right.
In February of 2016 I started to get a nagging feeling about this being the time to make my designer dreams happen. I knew I wanted to create a sustainable brand because I didn’t want to contribute to the fast fashion industry and fashion that pollutes our landfills. I also knew I wanted this to be a personal brand - something that allowed me to share my culture in some way. So, I prayed about it first and asked God for guidance if this was what I should be doing. After 2 days of praying, I received an email back from Shannon Lohr Whitehead of Factory45, and this was the sign and guidance I needed. After finding out about the cost of the program, I prayed and asked God to provide. I honestly can’t tell you how I was able to juggle all the financial investments required, but I believe prayer works.
People connect with authenticity and I’ve always tried to be as open as I can be about my past experiences because I know that they may help the next person. Our trials and experiences teach us how strong we really are.
How have you applied what you learned from starting your first business to your second business?
I learned the importance of being organized and building the right team in my first business. As I’m preparing for the launch of Ife Medow in April of 2017, I’ve taken the time to organize the business, have direct goals and created a 3-5-year plan for the brand. I’m also building an awesome team and network as I grow.
How did you come up with the idea for Ife Medow?
I wanted my bag line to be something that is stylish, sophisticated, and sustainable. I also wanted it to share elements of my culture in some way. I’m half Nigerian and half Ghanaian, but I was born in London, England and raised in Atlanta, GA. When someone asks me where I’m from, I have to give that full answer because all those places and cultures have made me who I am.
America is my home, and I wanted to do something that contributed to helping our economy - that’s why I knew this had to be a “Made in America” brand. However, I still wanted my African cultures to be evident, so that’s how I came up with the name. Ife means “love” in Yoruba, a Nigerian language/tribe, and Medow is a phonetic spelling of “My Love” in Fanti, a Ghanaian language/tribe. The Fanti language doesn’t use all the same letters as the English alphabet, so I made the decision to use the phonetic form. In reality, Medow would look like “Me Dcdo.” I want my pieces to spread love and positivity so I like to say every Ife Medow piece is made with love.
What do you think is the most important guidance that an aspiring / early-stage entrepreneur could have at the beginning of building her business?
Have a plan. When you make your plan, create monthly goals, quarterly goals, and then yearly goals to help achieve your dream. When you break it down that way, it’s less overwhelming. Another major thing to remember is not everyone will understand or see your vision in the beginning, so don’t feel bad if the people closest to you don’t show support. Use that as fuel and build a fire of success.
What advice do you have for an aspiring entrepreneur who is trying to determine a business idea?
Ask yourself if/how your idea is filling a need. The next step is researching your potential client/customer/audience and learning how they play and where they play. Create a customer/client/audience profile to help you stay focused. For Your Life After 25, this was really important. When creating content, we create for our target audience and whoever else connects with it. Even though we target women specifically, Your Life After 25 gets about 60% female readership and has 40% male readership.
How have your personal experiences made you into the person you are today?
Most definitely, people connect with authenticity, and I’ve always tried to be as open as I can be about my past experiences because I know that they may help the next person. Our trials and experiences teach us how strong we really are. I survived a suicide attempt that put me in a coma at 14 - that taught me early on that even when I thought I couldn’t go on living, I could. Most people don’t know that I was raped twice. Sometimes I feel like telling my story can get really overwhelming because so much has happened in just 31 years. I survived my first rape at 18 and second rape shortly after. I say “survived” because I won’t allow those experiences to make me a victim. At 19, I had to have a lumpectomy due to a rapidly growing tumor. All these are part of the trials that also make me who I am and allow me to connect with people in different ways. They are also why Your Life After 25 speaks on many women’s issues and advocates for causes like rape/domestic violence and suicide prevention awareness.
Toyin is The Opportunista.
You would describe yourself as: A Modern Day Renaissance Woman.
Your friends would describe you as: Beautiful, Industrious, Vivacious, Goal-oriented, Warm, Dependable, Persistent, Intelligent, Disciplined, Ambitious, Loyal, Innovative, Reliable.
What’s the next item you would like to cross off on your bucket list? Finding my soulmate. I look forward to being a wife and mother. I’m not building a legacy just for myself, I’d love to have something for my children to inherit.
What’s your favorite way to spend a Saturday afternoon? Resting, drinking wine and binge watching Hallmark movies. I dvr them and binge on “Happy Sappy Saturdays”.
What does entrepreneurship mean to you? Freedom, although I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur. When my parents divorced, I remember my mother going through a really tough time because she was so dependent on my dad financially. After seeing what she went through, I knew I wanted to make sure that I achieved financial freedom.
Tell us a secret! The sky is not the limit. If you only reach for the sky, you’ll miss the stars.
Let me know in the comments: How has Toyin's story inspired you to build your own business
and create your own opportunities to live your best life?
Learn More from The Opportunistas
Check out my first issue of Opportunista Insights – Stronger Than You Know: 10 Ambitious Women Help You Face The Challenges of Entrepreneurship – to read about the tough challenges that 10 women entrepreneurs have faced, and most importantly, HOW they’ve overcome those obstacles.