When it comes to good design, the numbers speak for themselves. Design-driven companies consistently yield greater returns and increase their revenues at nearly twice the rate of their industry counterparts. While established global brands may recognise this, many smaller businesses are yet to grasp the critical value of design-thinking.
This is particularly the case in countries throughout Africa, where startups and entrepreneurs often lack access to quality digital design services. Enter Room members, Ariyike Adetimehin and Debbie Adejumo, the dynamic duo of Warble Studio, who are stepping in to fill that gap. As recent graduates of the African Leadership College (ALC) in Mauritius, they launched their business after realising the urgent need for affordable design solutions on the continent. We caught up with them to hear more about their journey in establishing Warble, their thoughts on the importance of personal branding and their mission to create a community of African designers through Designish.
Tell us the story of how you two came to meet and work together in forming Warble?
Ariyike: Debbie and I were both studying Computer Science at ALC and got to know each other during our second year. We shared similar beliefs and thought in similar ways, so the friendship just grew from there. We’re both artistic people and started collaborating on design projects. Whenever someone thought of Debbie for designing, I was usually not far off. We became a package deal!
Things started coming together when Tom Siegel, the former Vice-president of Trust and Safety at Google, came to visit our campus. He started the Fishbowl Challenge at ALC — an entrepreneurial competition for students from around the world to solve social and environmental problems. Debbie and I often worked on design projects for Fishbowl, and Tom would say in passing that we should form a business. At first, we took it as a joke — we were still at school, focusing on our degrees. But eventually, it started to make sense.
It all clicked into place when Tom approached us to do design work for a friend of his. While we were working on that project, Debbie and I realized that we worked so well together and already had an identity as a design duo. We figured we could just build on that to start Warble.
How did your time at the African Leadership College prepare you for starting your careers and opening a business?
Debbie: ALC taught me to be bold. Our motto, Do Hard Things, motivated me to take more risks. I’d see classmates apply for fellowships, grants, jobs and funding for their businesses. Just being surrounded by that sense of confidence and initiative impacted the way I approached things. Sometimes a project would come up and I would feel afraid, questioning whether I could really do it. ALC taught me to go for these opportunities in spite of the fear.
You only launched in April and already you’re flourishing! What do you think helped your brand get off the ground so quickly?
Debbie: Tom became our mentor and really encouraged us. He believed in us and vouched for us, which made a big difference.
We also saw the need for design services. Ariyike and I always talk about how we see so much potential in small businesses and early-career entrepreneurs. They may have a great product, but they don’t know how to package it for their target audience. People will opt for the more expensive solution and go to larger companies simply because those companies know how to package their products better. Design services are often too pricey for smaller businesses in Africa, so there was a gap in the market, and we felt that we were in the best position to fill it.
Ariyike: Definitely. Being in a community like ALC, where a lot of small businesses and entrepreneurs were starting out, we knew that what we were providing was essential. We saw that people needed help with design, and we wanted to make it affordable and accessible. It’s been crazy to see how much of a need there is! We’ve had nonstop projects since we launched.
Debbie: We’re growing so fast that we’re already hiring commission-based designers to join the team. We have access to a network of people around the world thanks to ALC and want to give other young African designers the same kind of opportunities.
When it comes to personal branding, why is this particularly important for emerging entrepreneurs and those starting out their careers?
Ariyike: If you don’t define your identity, other people will create assumptions of their own and define it for you. You need to be intentional about the image you put out there because that’s how people will perceive you, and that’s what they’ll use to relate with you. As young people, we’re often not taken seriously. People may think that we’re not able to deliver professionally, so personal branding has a way of putting out a vetted version of yourself — the version that you want people to see. We’ve experienced the impact of this at Warble. Clients see our website and our online presence, and they’re often shocked to hear how young we are when they start working with us.
What are some of your top tips for those wanting to establish an effective personal brand?
Ariyike: Take some time to discover what you stand for and what your values are. We’ve had lots of time to reflect on this because it’s the type of work we did at ALC. Make sure that these values are at the core of what you communicate.
Debbie: You might not get it right the first time, but don’t hold back on sharing your brand with the world. Even when it comes to something as simple as my resume or my bio on LinkedIn, I’ve iterated on it over 50 times. I still don’t feel like it’s perfect, but I got the first version out there because that was the only way I could get feedback. If you hold off because you’re waiting for that one perfect version, then nothing will ever get done. Just go for it! With time, you’ll see how it evolves into something you’re really proud of and something you can confidently say represents you.
We’re really impressed with the work you’re doing at Designish. What role do you hope this platform can play for African designers?
Ariyike: We started Designish with two other ALC students as a way to connect the community of Africans working in design across the continent and around the world. We want to develop this space by linking young designers with access to opportunities for growth and collaboration. All of us on the founding team are self-taught, and we believe that the more we can share skills and resources, the stronger we’ll be as a community. It’s a lot to manage with full-time jobs and the back-to-back projects we’re doing through Warble, but it’s something we believe in.
Debbie: Yeah, remembering the “why” always helps. We love what we do — we love design, we love creating a community for young designers and we love impacting small businesses.
Not every day is rosy — some days we only get 3 or 4 hours of sleep — but knowing why we do it keeps us going. This is mission-based work for us, and we can already see the impact that it’s having.