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reason not to

August 24, 2020 Leave a comment

You probably shouldn’t give them a reason not to.

I was basking in my first act of defiance. For as long as I can remember, my dad was pro-clipped nails and pro-short hair. Around him, I could never successfully keep long nails (which he called “claws” 😄), or grow my hair beyond a month. Anytime I thought, I was finally growing either, out came the razor or clippers 🤦🏽‍♂️.

You could imagine my surprise finding a picture of him from the 70s. Like a lot of our parents, he was in an afro 😲. My dad didn’t have a leg to stand on. Fortunately, at the time, I was 18, and in his books, practically an adult.

That’s me about a year after the great discovery, with my ‘fro and little goatee, beaming from ear to ear. Sometime after this photo was taken, I was offered the opportunity to leave Benin Republic and continue my education in Canada. However, I had to attend an interview, first.

You probably shouldn’t give them a reason not to.
That was my dad’s advice to me the day before my student visa interview at the Deputy High Commission of Canada. I knew what he meant, and he wasn’t wrong. The ‘fro had to go 😭. At least, it was my decision, sort of.

To be honest, I looked smarter in my fresh haircut and clean shaven face. Though, I ended up looking a lot younger than 19, and I was told so 😑. By God’s grace, I was able to answer all questions intelligibly, and looked responsible doing so. The rest is history.

“Never judge a book by its cover” is a nice sentiment, but in the real world, we are constantly assessed, addressed, and related with, based on how we’re perceived. How you’re dressed plays a big role. How you present yourself matters. That’s just the way it is.

The onus is on you to always put your best foot forward.
You never get a second chance to make a first impression.
Don’t give anyone a reason not to.

think

March 28, 2020 1 comment

Pensive

Why are you in Nigeria?

I’ve been asked that question more times than I can count. My answer is usually the same – I have some ventures I’m looking to explore. Sometimes, there are looks of confusion, heavy sighs, or just good old-fashioned disbelief and head-shaking. But, I understand. Someone moving to Nigeria from Canada, at time when people are leaving Nigeria for Canada in droves, is puzzling. I guess my “interviewers” are wondering whether I know something they do not. Maybe I do.

I lived in Canada for eight years, and within that period, started three different businesses there that did fairly well (most popularly, Pearl Kreations) before I moved back. I came here to set Nigerian subsidiaries and explore other possibilities. I did I come with a mindset to introduce new concepts, disrupt/turn things around and rake in millions? Absolutely. Have I been humbled? Most definitely. Have I done well? Yet to be determined. I’m joking; by God’s grace, I’m doing well. However, here’s what I’ve realized about entrepreneurship in the Nigerian economy – there readily is no reward or support for competence, effort and ingenuity. The system largely favors those with access to power/political connections and rewards them with highly lucrative government contracts and ridiculous grants. Vusi Thembekwayo put it this way – if you look at how the top 25 wealthiest and most celebrated people in your country made their wealth, you can easily determine the type of economy you live in. Did the top 25 wealthiest Nigerians all build their businesses from the ground up (without backdoor deals and government favors)? You decide.

Of course, there are/will be exceptions to the rule, and certainly, you can live comfortably as an entrepreneur, especially if you’re a professional, like an accountant or architect. Anything other than those, would be tough, but not impossible. However, real wealth may elude you. As you may have concluded, there are very few entrepreneurs in this country who have built substantial wealth without connections or government contracts/favors. That says a lot about our business environment. This is particularly disappointing for me because a little over ten years ago, I had a totally different experience.

After running my first business for about a year, I applied to be a vendor for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. I noticed there were vendors for all manners of merchandises, but no one selling button-badges (which was my product). I saw that opportunity and applied. I got a response requesting for, what then seemed like, all sorts of random documents. I can assume now, in actuality, they were probably things like business registration documents, bank statements and so on. I replied the email stating that I was a freshman at McMaster University, had started a small business, saw an opportunity and decided to take it; I had none of the documents requested of me. A few days later, I was approved! I got sent all the documents verifying my business community membership by mail, and a congratulatory email as well. Just like that, I got in. No connections; except God, of course.

Small businesses are the backbone of any economy, and in recent years, it seems Nigeria has caught on. Things are still a little dodgy, with hints of favoritism here and there, but improving. I’m thrilled that with the impending COVID19 lockdown, so many people have gotten fired up to start a venture of their own, either to complement their income, or in transition from former employment. Whatever the reason, the best time to start is now.

However, in my experience, a lot of Nigerian SMEs aren’t equipped to take advantage of the new business environment and emerging opportunities. They are simply not very creative in their quests for business opportunities. They’re not entrepreneurial. I’ve discovered that what most people get into, and aspire to go into, once they have some capital is trading – purchase and resale of goods – and this makes them traders, not entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneur is a word that has become so loosely used, people think it’s a synonym for business owner. The fact is, not every business person is an entrepreneur. By the way, with the way things are going, except you’re selling foodstuff or hygiene essentials, you’re in the wrong business (as a trader).

The truth is, people pay for solutions, and entrepreneurs are solution providers.

Entrepreneurs create products and/or services that meet the needs of people for a profit. Entrepreneurs meet needs and get paid for it.

If you really want to be successful and wealthy, as an entrepreneur, you need to solve problems.

We tend to think too small here in Africa. The average entrepreneur is scared to be ambitious. Rather than thrive, they’re content with surviving. Well, I won’t stand for it. I’m incredibly passionate about small business, and for the past three years, have devoted most of my time into Herança Financial, the venture through which I work with/help budding entrepreneurs start, grow and manage their businesses. Coupled with my personal experiences, I’m somewhat of an expert in business (humble brag). So, with current state of the nation and the shape of the economy, I think now is as good a time as any, to share my knowledge and expertise with a greater number of people, and help them start the right way and avoid the unnecessary hardships that ignorance tends to lead.

First of all, I’ll reiterate. An entrepreneur identifies a need and works towards satisfying it, or works towards improving upon an already existing product/service, or creates demand for a product/service of value i.e. creates a need and provides the solution. The provision of the solution brings the reward – money. The bigger the problem, the bigger the reward for its solution.

Once you have a solution, please ensure the product or service has a Unique Selling Point (USP). A USP is the mark of distinction of any business. It can also be referred to as your value proposition. In all likelihood, your company won’t be the only one offering that product/service (at least, not for long), so it’s important to have either a feature, advantage or benefit that’ll separate your business from current and prospective competition. Without a USP, you won’t stand out. Please note, lower price is not a good strategy for a small business; it’s just not sustainable.

Next, identify your target market. Never make the mistake of assuming your product or services will appeal to everyone. You’re dreaming. However, your target customers will want and appreciate your products or services. They can be grouped into primary, secondary and invisible; I’ll explain later. Just know that they are the persons or businesses with the highest probability of buying your products or services. Once, you’ve identified them, profile them. Your profile should include their locations, spending habits, hobbies, and age group. These will help you know how much they would be willing to spend on your product/service and the best way to reach them. I like using Indomie Noodles as an example. Their target market isn’t everyone, it’s children. Children are their primary target market. That’s why their ads are so playful and colorful; why they invented “The Indomitables” (Superheroes) figurines and stickers; why their ads are on television and radio, not Facebook, Instagram or Twitter (most children are not on social media). They have bigger sizes (like Hungry Man and Belleful) for adults, their secondary target market.

With the proper identification of your target customers, you need know your competition. Your competition is the person or business who offers the same products/services or benefits (as perceived by your target customers). They can be grouped into direct, indirect and invisible. Direct competition are those that offer the same products/services you do; for example, Coke and Pepsi. Indirect competition are those that offer the same benefits; for example, Domino’s Pizza and KFC – different products but same benefit (fast food). Invisible competition are those you didn’t consider. They usually the bigger players that have the capacity [and potential desire (especially if you’re successful)] to offer the same product/services or benefits as you. By understanding your competition, you gain competitive intelligence. Competitive Intelligence is the process of learning, collecting/gathering and using information about your competition for the purpose of growing your own business. It helps you to keep improving upon or redefining your business model, so you’re not easily surpassed.

I’m sure I’ve given you more than enough to think about, so I’ll stop here.

The first step is to sit down and think! Find a need, preferably in an area you’re passionate about. Ask God to reveal the solution to you, and provide you with the means to execute it. Entrepreneurship isn’t just about the idea, but the execution of the plan. And as you execute, remember, please think globally. Find the application of the solution not just within your locale, but regionally and worldwide. The world is bigger than Nigeria.

All the best!

ignorance

August 20, 2019 Leave a comment
My first Christmas without my family, I thought I’d be sad because I missed them, and tried imagining what they’d cooking and doing on the other side of the Atlantic. The Schaefers made sure I wasn’t. The Schaefers are a Canadian family I lived with for about a year. My first Christmas with Michael and his family was fun. He told me stories of his college days, spring breaks in Florida, and his experiences relating with American college students. At no point in time was I asked about wild animals, color of milk in Africa, or any such nonsense; we had intelligent conversations.
Fast forward to a year later. I’m heading to a friend’s place for Christmas lunch, walk into a bus shed cos it’s windy, and the two white ladies already in the shed walk out. Initially, I thought a bus was coming so I peeped. It wasn’t. Why did they leave shed? Ignorance.

Before then, I’d been asked by fellow classmates at the University, if I see lions, zebras and other wild animals on the roads in Africa. My answer: No, I’ve seen them in zoos, like most people. Why would they ask me that? Ignorance.

While a Caribbean friend of mine and I were driving in her car from a class, and I was explaining to her a concept she wasn’t clear on, she stops me mid-sentence to ask how long it took me to speak English so well. My answer: I’ve spoken English all my life; Nigerians speak English. Why would she ask me that? Ignorance.

I had some time before a meeting, so made a quick stop for a donut and coffee at Tim’s. I had my iPod on so I didn’t immediately see an older lady making hand gestures. I looked up and paused the music to hear “suit”. I assumed she said “nice suit”, I smiled, thanked her, and continued with my music. Next thing, she taps me and says: the suit is nice but not you in it. I was so confused. Was that really necessary? Ignorance.

Hung out with some friends till about midnight. Heading to my car, 2 cops approach me. They were investigating a disturbance in that area. I said I didn’t see or hear anything as I was coming from a friend’s. They asked for my license. I was like are you kidding me? Obviously didn’t say that out loud 😄. I complied. They also asked for my insurance and papers for the car, ran my license, and delayed me a while before finally letting me go. All that because of a noise complaint? Ignorance.

Ignorance is claiming superiority based skin color. It is the assumptions based on racial profiling and stereotypes. Racism is ignorance and we need to rid the world of it. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr said: Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.

A lot of Nigerians feel they can’t relate, they think it’s American/Western issue, but it’s not just an American issue, it’s a humanity issue. Over here, the equivalent is tribalism. Ignorance is also why inter-tribal marriages is still an issue and why tribal stereotypes cause divisions in Nigeria, but that’s a topic for another day. You can make a difference by educating yourself and enlightening your mind.