On a cold winter night in Muswell Hill North of the Old city of London a young 24year graduate of the London Metropolitan University sat on the bottom of the stairway leading to his apartment patiently waiting for his flat mate. As he sat there puffing profusely in search of warmth, as the cold winter breeze battered relentlessly, he wondered how things turned out this bad after all he had invested in Education in the last four years since leaving the plush streets of independence layout Enugu. As he struggled between catching a glimpse at his watch and staring at the doorknob his mind wondered back and forth to the profile status of his friends he had seen on Facebook. One “thanked God for his new job at a leading oil company in Nigeria” and the other took a picture of himself in his brand new car. The thought of going back to Nigeria empty handed burned him so much it quenched all the homesickness he constantly had.
But tonight was like no other night, he had just out of sheer luck escaped been caught with a “white girl” as the illegal substance was called. Here he was panting, puffing, hungry and thanking God for his unlikely escape. But could he make it here another week he pondered between thoughts. He did try to get a job as the street hustle wasn’t his thing but this was the great recession. Citizens and people with papers couldn’t even get a job nonetheless him, yet he had to pay his bills and survive in an economy that shows no mercy for an unemployed immigrant. His tiny glimmer of hope was an instant message his sister sent to him weeks back. “Nigeria is improving”, “your friends who returned all have good jobs here”. This was not convincing but comforting.
Chuks looks back to those times and wonders what took him so long to realize how dire his situation was. As he relaxes in a sofa in his Ikeja office sipping a cup of coffee, he recalls how things went from bad to worse on his return. His sister couldn’t have been more wrong. By the time he came back, Nigerian companies were already awash and smitten by job seekers with all sorts of post grad and under grad degrees from a plethora of universities abroad. They were spoilt for choice and surely a graduate of behavioral science wasn’t anywhere near indispensable. Ironically, his apparent misery was oblivious to his little cousins who wanted nothing more but a shot at a stay in “Jand”. They had no interest in Jamb or any of the pre-university exams that their peers write. He invited them to his house for a chat that night and the rest like they say is history.
Today, he is the CEO of an Agency that provide counseling and advisory services for Nigerian Students traveling overseas for an undergraduate or post graduate degree. He helps them with accommodation, finding the right school, course of study, and off course life after university. He even helps students with loans, unemployment insurance and medical coverage. All this in exchange for a fee that ensures he earns enough to employ 20 staff (mostly graduates) in a comfortable and classy office space and pays his partners dividends every year. To him entrepreneurship mustn’t always be associated with queuing in the hallways of Government offices looking for contracts or jostling to get a share of the windfall that is subsidy payments. “There are lots of Nigerians in need of unique services such as mine” he quipped. Ironically, Nigerians abroad can’t stand the shame of coming home empty handed and would rather bask in the illusionary lifestyle of hustle to survive.
Things aren’t that easy he admits putting his experience forward once again as an example. Starting a business in Nigeria is hard let alone a “start up”, like they mostly call new ventures. Funding is hard to come by and the government will rather milk you dry before offering you incentives to survive. But it wasn’t close to the near suicide that was his life back in the UK. To survive in Nigeria as an entrepreneur depends heavily on your family and friends and the support that you get from them. “They should be your first customers” he asserts. “Think about it, we probably all have relations and friends numbering in their hundreds who require services and products. You necessarily don’t have to create a product people are used to, create a product they inherently need even if they don’t know it yet”. “That is the secret,” he says. People want to pay for things that will make their life and condition easier even if they never tried it before.
So to become successful as an entrepreneur, thinking outside the box is not just enough, you must show an uncanny knack for identifying the right product or services that people will be willing to pay for without too much convincing. Add that to a love for what you do and the universe is all yours.