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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!

kedari

July 25, 2019 Leave a comment

All my adult life, I’d been self-employed, and successfully so. However, Q1 2017 was pretty slow, and I was going stir-crazy being home all day. Unknown to me, my kid sister had started pestering a few of her friends on my behalf. God bless her soul lol. Thankfully, one of them was able to call in a few favors [for just an interview]. The first lead, a commercial bank, didn’t pan out. However, mid-March 2017, I got a call from the then Executive Director of Kedari Capital, Mr. Muyiwa Oshin (MO), to come over to their head office for a chat.

I looked the company up online. “An investment bank? Cha-ching”, I thought, “I have to nail this.” I did a crash course in financial services terminologies on YouTube, and familiarized myself with their services as well. I prayed and left the rest in God’s hands.

I had the chat with MO in his office; Mr. Niyi Idris (Niyi), Head of Corporate Finance & Advisory, joined in. I think it went very well. We discussed my academic background, business/work experience, computer skills, and salary expectations. Both men were quite engaging and very easy to talk to. Fun fact – turns out MO is also an alumnus of Federal Government College Lagos (FGCL Ijanikin). We swapped stories and experiences a few times over the course of our work relationship.

The next day, I got a call inviting me for an interview. The interview was in 4 stages – a quantitative aptitude test, a verbal aptitude test, an oral interview with an employee or two, and an oral interview with the Group Chief Executive Officer (GCEO). I felt I did well in both tests. Also had a good interview – actually, more like a conversation – with my predecessor, Boye. It was then time for the last lap, my meeting with Mrs. Ife Fashola (Mrs Fash), the GCEO.

I was directed to her office when she was ready to see me. It is a large office, and could be impressive or intimidating; depending on how you choose to see it. I was intimidated. She was sitting at her desk, responding to a call via her handsfree, and typing an email on her laptop. She motioned for me to sit and give her a moment. What seemed like eons later, she looked up to face me. She told me I did very well in the tests and got an approval from my interviewer, Boye.

Her first question – tell me about yourself. That question throws a lot of people off balance, but I managed to give her a summary of my education, skills and business experience. She nodded when I was done.

The next two questions she asked were a bit odd. First, she asked, “Have you been to our website?” I said I had. She asked, “What’s the main color on the website?” I said “Green”. She asked if I was sure; I confirmed. She appreciated it and proceeded to explain why she asked [and I was curious to know as well].

She told me the story of a former applicant she’d interviewed recently. She said he came highly recommended. He aced all the tests and scored high in his interview. His meeting with her went very well also. As they rounded up, somehow, the website came up. That’s when she asked him that same question. He said, “Yes, and the main color on the site is red”. She gave him the opportunity to mention other colors, but he insisted he’d been to the website and the major color is red. They opened the website together, and clearly, the predominant color was green, with not even a hint of red anywhere. He’d have been better off saying he hadn’t been to the site. She said she didn’t hire him because he had no integrity, and she couldn’t trust him.

I resumed for my first day as an employee on Monday, April 3rd, 2017 – 8:00am.

I started as an Analyst in Corporate Finance & Advisory. My first assignment was a complete analysis of the Nigerian Pension Ecosystem and offer recommendations on ways the Federal Government could prevent pensions payment delays. Over the next 8 months, I learned how to and took up the responsibilities of drafting call memos, mandates and summary reports; preparing financial due diligence reports for M&A transactions; preparing investment reviews to assess financial viability and investment memos to determine potential yields; and preparing research reports. Mrs Fash also added management of special assignments to my portfolio. One of my special assignments was the revamp of the website. I was later put on the Investment Steering Committee of the Kedari Investment Fund (KIF) [with funds under management by Investment One Funds Management] as its secretary. I was honored, so I took the minutes of the quarterly meetings in painstaking detail.

Some time in November 2017, I had a meeting with the GCEO. She wanted to follow up with me on how I was adjusting to investment banking, particularly in Corporate Finance. We had a candid conversation. Corporate Finance is basically about numbers – valuations and recommendations, and I’m not much of a numbers person. I did the work, but honestly, I wasn’t in my element. I told her as much. She said she’d noticed it in my performance.

It is at this point some bosses would issue a query or show the employee the door, but being a leader, Mrs Fash didn’t do that. She said it seemed to her that I did better in problem-solving and research. So, she recommended, as a creative and entrepreneurial person, that I consider joining the Risk Management & Consulting team for a one-month (December 2017) trial period. By the end of December, I could tell her if I feel like I blossomed there, or wanted to return to Corporate Finance. I decided to give it a go. I stayed.

Mrs Fash is, actually, cool people. She is down-to-earth, eloquent, God-fearing, stylish, and super smart. She’s also very generous. At various times, she would randomly buy airtime, or lunch, for everyone! She also always came back from her vacations with gifts for everyone. When I say gifts, I’m not talking hankies or tie clips; she once got me Burberry Sport Cologne.

Risk Management & Consulting was a perfect fit. Plus, my supervisor, Mr. Yemi Ajayi (Prof) was pretty cool. My new responsibilities included the preparation of financial risk due diligence reports for investor clients, preparation of risk research reports, and providing training in disaster recovery & enterprise risk management framework. I asked Mrs Fash, due to my passion for small business, if we could explore small business advisory and I’d take up the responsibility. She agreed. So, I was also lead consultant for our trial SME advisory services. Later down the line, I also became the research team lead for the preparation of analyses and reports on the Nigerian financial services sector and stock market. I maintained my position as secretary of the Investment Steering Committee for KIF as well. I was quite busy 😄.

I enjoyed working there, and I learned a lot too. Sometimes, the work was overwhelming. There were times when there was so much to do [in such little time]; especially when preparing for bids. I remember when I worked with the Managing Director, Mr. Bolaji Nurudeen (MD), on my first due diligence report – along with Damilola Omisore (Dami) – on my first M&A transaction. It was essentially a 4-man project, along with the Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Mr. Taofeek Tiamiyu (CFO). The project took us a little over a month to complete. I enjoyed it – particularly the investigating and verification of information. It was fun. About a month later, Niyi asked me to do a due diligence report for another M&A transaction over the weekend! He gave me access to the deal room on a Thursday and wanted the report by the following Monday. He eventually gave me a week, but I actually had it mostly done by Monday; don’t think I’d ever worked so hard in my life! That’s Niyi for you. He’s a bit tough, and a stickler for the rules, but a caring and fantastic person. I’m glad I did the work though; never knew I had it in me lol.

Sadly, January 2019, I left. The Amuwo Odofin – Victoria Island commute was taking a toll on my health. Every day, I had to be out of the house by 5:45am in order to beat traffic, stay working/wait in the office until 10:00pm [to avoid most of the traffic], and get home 11:00pm; sometimes, midnight. I had to work weekends sometimes too. My medical checkup in November 2018 showed I had started developing high blood pressure. That, for me, was a reality check.

I discussed my thought on leaving with Prof; my office bestie, Ms. Tobi Shodipe (Tobes); and my office big sister, Mrs. Ugo Oyewola (Ugo Plc), the Head of Asset Management. After seeking their advice and praying, I decided to leave January 2019. Then, I informed MD, Niyi, and then, Mrs Fash. It wasn’t an easy decision. Kedari Capital is more than a company, it was a family – we called ourselves “Kedarians”.

All supervisors and colleagues were always very helpful. Apart from Corporate Finance and Risk Management, I also learned a little about Securities Trading and Asset Management from MD and Ugo Plc respectively. In fact, 2 people I never thought I’d have much of a relationship with were Ugo Plc and CFO. They seemed mean and intimidating when I first started there, but they’ve turned out to be 2 of the coolest people I know. Ugo Plc’s nickname for me was “Sly”, while CFO’s for me was “Best man” – he thought I always looked like I was dressed for a wedding; especially when I used bow ties, pocket squares, or waistcoats.

On my last day, Thursday, January 31st, 2019, the company organized a small send-forth party for me! I was surprised. There was cake, finger food and drinks.

Everyone went round saying their initial perceptions and current understanding of me, as well as advice for the future. In a nutshell, I’m apparently: “ridiculously calm”, “seemingly emotionless”, “never in a hurry”, “very soft-spoken”, “efficient and thorough”, and “very well-dressed”. I was advised to keep it up, but try to toughen up a bit ‘cos I’m, as they said, no longer in Canada, but Nigeria now 😄. Thankfully, I didn’t have to give a speech, whew!

I did, however, share a heartfelt message on the company’s WhatsApp group for staff when I got home. I waited for everyone to send their farewell messages before I sent mine in:

Thank you Yemi, Ugo, Bolaji, Ajibola, and Niyi for your kind words.
It means a lot to be respected and valued by people I have great admiration for.

Thank you all for the outpouring of love today.
Thank you for the beautiful cake, snacks, and drinks.
Thank you for putting everything together HR, I mean, Esther 😄
I feel so appreciated and honored.

Thank you for the prayers.
Thank you for your words of advice and encouragement today, Bolaji, Agbolade, Dami, Mikun, Damilola, Ajibola, James, Goke, Niyi, and of course, Ugo.
Thank you for your well wishes also, I could tell you all meant every word.

My decision to leave did not come easy.
Kedari Capital is certainly a conducive place to work and learn, but it’s also a family full of warm, intelligent and hardworking people.

The last question Mrs. Fash asked me during my interview with her was “What’s the color/main color on the Kedari website?” I said “Green”. She appreciated it and told me a story of how someone once came, aced the tests and scored high in his interviews, but when she asked him the same question, he said “Red”. She gave him the opportunity to correct himself and mention other colors, but he adamantly insisted he’d been to the website and the major color is red. She didn’t hire him because he had no integrity, and she couldn’t trust him. That spoke volumes to me. It meant this is a place, or at least, she is a person that values honesty and integrity. I was happy to be welcomed by people of like minds and values.

I felt very welcome from my first meeting with MO and Niyi, and then meeting Mikun and Boye on my unofficial first day. Today, I don’t feel like I’m leaving, but moving on, and I’ll definitely come visiting as often as I can; we’re family.

I’m glad I met each and every one of you.

Thank you for all you’ve taught me Bolaji, Niyi, Yemi, CFO, and Ajibola.
Thank you for all the opportunities and special projects Mrs. Fash.
Thank you all for being wonderful colleagues; it’s been a pleasure.

I’ll miss you all, especially Tobi and Deola.
And my wonderful team, Prof🙌🏼 and Goke, I’ll miss working with you; we had an excellent relationship. I enjoyed our lunches, even though I was scammed out of 2 or 3, I forgive you 😄

Thanks for everything fam.
God bless you all.

Mrs. Fash, whom was, sadly, out of town, decided to put in a few words of her own. I’ll end this post with her message:

Permit me to add my voice to the farewells.

Sylvester, it was great having you in Kedari and I wish you all the very best for the future.

Kedari remains a place of learning and collaboration for you. Feel free to walk in anytime.

You did very well with every project that I handed to you. You showed initiative and saw things through.

You accepted correction with the best attitude. You definitely have the ingredients of a great leader.

I wish success with every endeavour.