Cidi Aliyu is the passionate and inspiring personality behind the Mezra Cocktails brand. A brilliant lawyer whose passion for travelling and intrepid exploits has not only birth a fast-growing business platform, but has also seen her carve her business niche as the premium preferred cocktails brand in Nigeria and now servicing other parts of Africa.
Under Whoot Africa’s inspiration Africa spotlight, we talk to Cidi Aliyu about her life, passion, journey to becoming a major player in the events and hospitality industry, leveraging the power of social media marketing and her entrepreneurial exploits.
A little about Cidi Aliyu and the journey to starting Mezra Cocktails?
I am a very passionate individual. I am Leo by nature; we blow hot, we blow cold, but we are very passionate about what we do and the things we love. I am a lawyer, and I also have a Master’s degree in petroleum law from the University of Dundee, but I was never passionate about Law, it was more or less a path I took because of my Dad. When I finished law school, I knew I wanted more out of life, but I had no clue at the time about this journey and how far it would take me. Before Mezra Cocktails, I worked with a group of young, dedicated and business savvy oil and gas CEOs, and my role at the time helped me gain experience in the oil and Gas market.
I love to travel, but I realized that most times when I am away, I always have to ask for my drinks to be prepared differently because most cocktails are alcoholic. I am a Muslim, and I thought about how amazing it would be to create my own signature cocktails, and also be able to serve my Muslim friends non-alcoholic cocktails. I love how beautiful and colourful cocktails look, and after one of my trips, I decided to follow this passion of mine and that was how Mezra Cocktails was birthed.
I have two children and failure is not an option. I wake up every morning and ask myself, how can I be a better mom? How can I be a better person? How can I live the life that I want? How do I inspire my children? It is hard trying to juggle everything, sometimes we break down and sometimes the day turns out better than you can ever imagine. Failure isn’t an option for me and that is why I am relentless in my efforts. I want my children to have the basics, but I also want them to have the best that there is, and I need them to also be inspired through my hardwork.
I am an accidental entrepreneur; I always thought I would climb the career ladder and then retire and enjoy the rest of my time. Is it in me to be an entrepreneur? Well, my siblings say it is and I am thankful to have found my niche. My dad was in business at some point and I think I got a bit of my business side from him as well. I have a big personality and to be honest, I think I can sell anything to anyone. Besides, when you live in Nigeria, you learn on the go and you learn to grab your opportunities and figure out how to make the most of it.
Experiences in business, high moments and lessons so far?
First of all, the people who know you will not be the ones who patronize you. It was really heart-breaking in the beginning, but I realized that the best, is to be so good that people can’t push you aside. People are mostly not comfortable or are rather amazed at how you have evolved and the tendency to not support you becomes real. You have to market yourself aggressively, I had to learn that and it finally paid off.
Challenges – Working with women was something I had to learn how to do with a real dose of patience. Thankfully, I have a business manager who is a firm woman just like I am. The lack of collaboration sometimes can also be a cause for worry. No one can dominate or fully service the industry I currently operate in, when we work together everyone wins and that is something I would love for people to do more about. Someone will always have first entry advantage, but no field will ever be exclusive to anyone.
High moments – One of my high moments has to be a festival I catered to in Calabar; first it was outside my comfort zone and I was to cater to a number of people much higher than I had done. I was worried about being able to pull things off, but my friend who recommended me for the job really encouraged me to not doubt my capabilities, and somehow, outside my comfort zone, my team and I pulled it off. I always thought about making my business work in Abuja and becoming a success, right now, we have done a few jobs internationally and the sky just became our runway for bigger and better opportunities. The possibilities are really endless.
Mezra Cocktails is about creativity; more like being a Chef and putting new recipes together, how much learning goes into what you do?
Learning is very important with what I do. I look up to a few of the people who are ahead in this industry in Nigeria and I also leverage on the power of social media by following and learning from international cocktail brands from Australia as well as the UAE. I also love to travel, when I do, I always ensure to visit their cocktail bars to learn one thing or the other.
I am also inspired by one of Nigeria’s food and drinks enthusiast, The KitchenButterfly, she uses a lot of our local fruits, herbs and spices to create signature drinks, and that inspires me a lot to learn from her.
Entrepreneurship and the price of entrepreneurship?
You don’t need things to be fancy and all perfect to do what you are passionate about. I don’t like people thinking they need millions in their account before they can start a business. Entrepreneurship for me, is trying to make a profit with everything you touch, no matter how little the profit. As long as it is more than what you started with and you are consistent in pushing through, it’s a good start. It is not an easy journey, but it will be worth it and satisfying. The greatest joy is to actually see your growth; it is also rewarding to be able to also encourage others on the journey as well.
On leveraging on the power of social media?
Rule number one, have an Instagram account if your business has to do with creativity and visual marketing. Use appropriate and relevant hashtags, they are free. Follow people who are in your line of business, and also see who they are following and who are those inspiring them, this is really important. Social networking is important as well, but keep it focused and narrow down to your field so you don’t waste too much time trying to achieve things vaguely.
Advice to her younger self?
Save more, splurge less. Have a five-year plan, and never ever look to people for validation.
The vision and future for Mezra Cocktails?
I’d love to do a franchise, especially in the northern states and be able to use more of our local produce. I would also love to have a few more outlets added to the two we are currently working on, as well as our healthy option drinks for children.