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Profiles

Meet Etop Ikpe, the man who seals the deal in 45 minutes 

Etop Ikpe always knew this problem existed. As a matter of fact, it was his desire to proffer a solution that made him co-found Cars45, an auto-trading platform… Find out what this problem is by reading the story of one of the most vibrant entrepreneurs in Nigeria today.

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Etop Ikpe

Only a few things feel worse than buying a product and later realise that you paid far more than it was actually worth. One of them is finding out that you sold your product for much less than its value. These problems are related and occur regularly in the business world, especially for those who deal in second-hand products. Etop Ikpe always knew this problem existed. As a matter of fact, it was his desire to proffer a solution that made him co-found Cars45, an auto-trading platform.

Another problem in the Nigerian automobile industry which Etop wanted to solve was that of time. Car dealers often have the problem of waiting for days, sometimes even weeks or months, before they can get a buyer. Etop wanted to fast-track this time-frame. And that is one of the core aspects of Cars45’s business model.

On this week’s Nairametrics founders’ profile, we examine how the Cars45 model works by focusing on the man that has made it all possible. Get to know Etop Ikpe, the Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Cars45.

READ MORE: Aliko Dangote and his slide from $25 billion to $7 billion

His school days and early career

Etop had an educational background that gave him an edge in mathematics. Therefore, he dreamed of becoming an engineer. To him, this was the best way to put his mathematical skills into good use. However, fate had other plans for him as he ended up studying Actuarial Science at the University of Lagos. He would later describe this course as “a combination of mathematics and business”. He graduated in 2004.

He took his first shot at entrepreneurship as a student, when he co-founded clickmobile; an IT solution for companies to build business apps based on htmls. ClickMobile was intended to aid field users to access critical information, view their tasks, shifts, report their attendance and access customer information among others. The idea occurred to him at the time he was working as the manager of a cinema in Benin city. His lecture schedules usually left his Fridays free, so he spent his weekends in Benin working. As a manager of the cinema, Etop reasoned that there had to be a way of getting the organization to function seamlessly.

“For me, it has always been about using technology to solve problems” he later said.

Etop Ikpe during a function

3stitches – a business of love

This is another business by Etop which he would always remember fondly because it was instrumental to him meeting his wife. As a cloth dealer, Etop’s then-to-be-wife always had a challenge – debtors. The pileup of debtors made it very difficult for her to effectively run her business. So together with Etop, they came up with 3Stitches, an online platform that would allow people shop for clothes and pay for them almost immediately. However, even though this was a cheaper option instead of getting a physical store, Etop would later recall that it was difficult to even get a dispatch rider in the initial months.

“I spoke with about 50 people before one man agreed to work with us. Nobody understood what we wanted to do. So, starting out was tough.”  

READ ALSO: OLX Group becomes largest shareholder in Cars45’s parent company, FCG

Over the next two years, the duo succeeded in expanding gradually without losing focus of their main goal of providing customers with quality products at affordable prices. By the third year, there were more entrants into the e-commerce industry and competition had become quite tough. So, the couple decided to sell out.

Etop is one businessman that likes to consider deals based on how strategic they appear in relation to his goals, as well as the market realities. Explaining his decision to sell 3stitches, he said:

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“For me, selling 3Stitches wasn’t about the money even though I made a good deal from it. I knew that the landscape was changing and people with more money were coming into the market. 

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“Life is a learning curve. I saw that the online store business was becoming highly competitive and I wanted to learn too. Serious money was being invested in it and I was running a small business; so, I decided to do what I believed was right.” 

While running 3Stitches, this serial entrepreneur started the Tinker and Bell Media Limited, and independently produced several programmes. One of these programmes is “We Run the Game”, a syndicated sports show that was broadcast across 12 terrestrial broadcast networks.

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Following the divestment from 3Stitches, he moved on to work for Dealdey.com as the Vice President of Operations. In less than two years, he had become co-MD at Dealdey. The online platform offered juicy deals at discounted prices.

When Dealdey was later acquired by Konga, the new owners saw the need to retain Etop Ikpe, seeing as he was a critical staff. Consequently, the made him the Director of Marketplace Operations. But he wasn’t going to stay at Konga for the rest of his career. The man had plans of his own.

Founding Cars45

After eight months in Konga, Etop felt an itch to leave. He had always thought of technology for solving critical life problems and at this point in his life, he had spotted another which he needed to address. His personal experiences while trying to sell or buy a car had exposed him to two of the biggest problems of car dealers. Not only was it difficult to sell a car at a good price, the car sometimes developed more problems just sitting in the garage and waiting for a buyer. “Time na money” is a song we all grew up singing, but no one understands the importance of time like a businessman.

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Etop realised that there was a need to build a platform that would connect car buyers and sellers in the shortest possible time, as well as enable them to conclude a satisfactory deal. This is how Cars45 came to the rescue, with the mission to sell every vehicle within 45 minutes after inspection. Etop Ikpe came together with co-founders, Iyamu Mohammed, Sujay Tyle, and Peter Lindholm, and Cars45 was established in 2016.

READ MORE: Meet Elochukwu Umeh, founder of Africa’s digital powerhouse

“The number 45 first came because we wanted something catchy, something that would be easy to remember. But then we also intend to sell the car within 45 minutes, from the point inspection is done” he explained.

A vehicles inspection facility

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Navigating the business terrain

The car dealership business in Nigeria had a problem of integrity and trust. Prospective buyers always had some sour experience which made them really wary and skeptical about seller’s claims.

Resolving this required an independent but reliable expert to serve as a middle-man. The cars45 business model solved this problem with its 200-point inspection unit where the vehicle is assessed and valued before offering a deal to the seller. This assessment gives the condition of all parts of the vehicle, noting what parts are faulty and what it would likely cost to fix it. All of these affect the final selling value placed on the car.

READ MORE: Cars45 sets up Academy for Car Dealers

“Anyone coming to do business with us is rest-assured about our transparency on the condition of the vehicle,” Etop later told CNBC Africa.

At the moment, the company has over 60 retail inspection centres across Lagos, PortHarcourt, Abuja, Ibadan, Kano, and Benin, and some other 200 locations in cities across the country. The adoption of online auctions has helped to digitize the process so that all transactions could be concluded online.

Dealing with the initial hiccups

Verifying the source of the vehicles was one of the initial challenges Cars45 had to deal with, as they did not want to unwittingly deal in stolen vehicles. This would have come with grave consequences, especially since the company was just trying to gain trust in an industry that was bereft of it.

READ MORE: Nigeria spends N1.08 trillion to import used cars and motorbikes in one year 

“The verification of cars wasn’t easy at the inception and it was very fundamental to what we were doing. We have a lot of fragmented databases in Nigeria and it was rigorous trying to get relevant agencies to take us seriously” Etop explained.

Differentiating serious sellers from people who wanted to test the waters was also another challenge. Convincing sellers to bring their cars to the inspection centre was also a challenge at first, and to keep business going, the company had to go to their houses to conduct inspections.

It was a rough first year, as Etop recalled, and the company was unable to secure an inspection location within the first five months of its establishment. Property owners were skeptical about allowing car dealers to use their property for such business, given the fraudulent nature of the industry. Rough as thing became, Etop recalled that giving up was never an option.

“Our goal was basically transparency and trust. The market was a lucrative one, but we needed to gain trust, so we set up a customer-focused strategy”.

Each service in this strategy, when implemented naturally raked in more income for the company.

When the company started the “refer 5 used cars to us, and get N100,000”, sales rocketed in no time, directly translating to increased revenue for the company and more satisfaction for the referrers.

Some milestones actualised

Within the first year of operation, the business recorded a high success rate, earning millions of dollars in profit. Also, Cars45 raised $5 million Series A round in funding from Frontier Cars Group within one year of its establishment. The capital raised was channeled into scaling the business in Nigeria, improving the online platform, and building other revenue sources within the used-cars market, including the used-vehicle space.

Cars45 also effected its international expansion plans in 2019, widening its operations to include Ghana and Kenya, after the Frontiers Car Group raised $400 million in a Series D funding round.

READ MORE: How So Fresh founder dumped oil money to sell fruits and salads 

Etop Ikpe insists that the easiest path to success is focusing on the customers. After its commencement of operation, Cars45 did not just focus on making profit but on building customer trust through transparency. This is because Etop understood that business could not thrive where customers do not trust the dealer.

“If you are too desperate to make money and take your market share, you will end up doing things that will make it difficult for you to ever earn money. Focus on amazing service delivery and be as transparent as possible” he advises.

Being very strict on budget management is also another factor he considered key to the success of Cars45, especially since the profits did not start rolling in immediately.

Etop hails from Akwa Ibom State and is the third of four children. He is married with a child, and leisure time for him is spent with family, reading biographies, or watching documentaries.


NOTE: The author sourced information from here, here, and here while writing this article. 

Ruth Okwumbu has a MSc. and BSc. in Mass Communication from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and Delta state university respectively. Prior to her role as analyst at Nairametrics, she had a progressive six year writing career.As a Business Analyst with Narametrics, she focuses on profiles of top business executives, founders, startups and the drama surrounding their successes and challenges. You may contact her via [email protected]

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Exclusives

Bridget Oyefeso-Odusami: The emergence of a marketing and brand communications guru

Oyefeso-Odusanmi has certainly marked her presence in the corporate world of marketing and brand communications.

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Though not everyone can be the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation at the same time, there are women equally etching their names in various industries across the globe. Stanbic IBTC Holdings PLC has one of such women.

As Head, Marketing and Communications, Bridget Oyefeso-Odusami is showing that her 22 years of experience in brand strategy, sponsorships, digital marketing and communications have equipped her in ways a Doctoral degree might not have, especially since Integrated Marketing Communications is hardly offered as an independent course in institutions.

Bridget Oyefeso-Odusami bagged a Bachelor of Science degree in Botany from Lagos State University, and a Post Graduate degree from the University of Leicester, UK, before foraying into marketing communications.

Career journey

She was Marketing Manager of Aero Airlines for 6 months, and was with British Airways for 9 years, serving in several various marketing and sponsorship positions.

Her professional recognition started back from her time managing the British Airways corporate image in Nigeria and other African countries, where she received the highest ratings for creativity, innovation and dedication for functional responsibilities at British Airways Plc, the best of British Airways community volunteering award.

She served as Executive Director at Change-A-Life between September 2009 and June 2010, and was also Head, Sponsorship and Event at First Bank Nigeria Limited for over 6 years.

Oyefeso-Odusami served as Corporate Investment Banking Marketing Manager at Stanbic IBTC for over a year, before assuming the position of Head, Marketing and Communications department in acting capacity. The appointment was confirmed in January 2019.

It was in this position that she emerged winner of the Outstanding Corporate Communications Personality of the Year 2019 at the MARKETING EDGE Marketing and Advertising Awards of Excellence. According to the presiding board, her versatility and inspiring growth in the Corporate Communications sector and performance in the marketing, advertising and brand management environment, had distinguished her among other nominees.
In August 2020, Oyefeso was appointed Non-Executive Director of the Stanbic IBTC Asset Management Limited Part-time.

Professional qualifications

She is a certified member of professional bodies such as Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON), the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), UK, National Institute of Marketing of Nigeria, NIMN and an associate member of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR). She is also a member of Women in Business and Management (WIMBIZ), and has taken part in different global business and economic summits.

Other interests

Outside the business of marketing and brand communications, Oyefeso-Odusami mentors women and joins missionaries to reach out to widows in Northern Nigeria. She is also actively involved in a couple of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs).

She attributes much of her successes to constant self-development, worklife balance, and properly apportioning time to work, family and self.

In an interview, she said, “Stay true to your commitments and give no room for excuses. Having the right support system also makes the balancing act easier. I believe they go hand in hand and flow into one another, with one fuelling the other and giving it room to flourish.”

She also noted that she had been fortunate to work in organisations that allowed her to grow and rise as far as her talent and desire could take her, irrespective of gender, and had the privilege of good career mentors.

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The story of women shattering the invisible ceiling always seem so rosy and inspiring to others, that the years of sweating it out are almost forgotten. Regardless of this, talent and hardwork will continue to separate the best from the rest.

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TY Danjuma: The retired military general who made Forbes richest list

From the barracks to boardrooms, TY Danjuma has built and is leading some of the most notable companies in Nigeria.

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It is not every day you come across a retired Military General who remains in the limelight more than four decades after retiring from active service and for reasons totally unconnected to the military service. This is probably the reason why some might consider General TY Danjuma to be one of the most controversial businessmen and retired generals in Nigeria.

Vocal as he is in Nigerian political matters, Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma is a force in the business environment, pulling weights in some of the most notable companies. Much of his wealth is attributed to his shipping and petroleum interests.

As at 2015, he was worth $750 million and ranked 30th among the top 50 in Africa’s 50 richest list (as compiled by Forbes), until he dropped off the following year due to weak oil prices. His businesses still continues and he remains on several boards still putting his business acumen to use, even in his eighties. The story of his move from the barracks to the boardroom makes for an interesting read.

Birth and education

Theophilus Yakubu was born on 9 December 1938 to Kuru Danjuma and Rufkatu Asibi in Takum, a farming community in Gongola (now Taraba state). Like many other children born during this time, he joined his father to plant yams, rice, cassava, and benniseed.

When he came of age, he had his primary education at Wusasa, and moved to Benue Provincial Secondary School, Katsina-Ala for his secondary education. Theophilus showed great interest in cricket and became the captain of the school cricket team. This, however, did not detract from his intelligence and he still bagged his Higher School Certificate in 1958, and immediately enrolled at the Nigerian College of Arts, Science, and Technology in Zaria (Ahmadu Bello University) to study history on a Northern Nigeria Scholarship. He barely spent a year there, as he left soon after to enrol into the Nigerian Defence Academy.

Military career

Danjuma was commissioned into the Nigerian Army as second lieutenant and platoon commander, and commenced his military career in The Congo.

He took part in the UN Peace-keeping force in Sante, Katanga Province in Congo in 1963, was involved in the Nigerian Counter-Coup of 1966 with the 4th Battalion in Mokola, Ibadan. He commanded the Nigerian Army’s 1st Infantry Brigade, and also led a battalion that freed Jaja Wachuku, first Speaker of the Nigerian House of Representatives as well as first Ambassador to the United Nations and first Foreign Affairs Minister, from detention by the Ojukwu government.

On several occasions, he was sent as Nigeria’s representative within and outside the country for several diplomatic missions. He served in active military service from 1960 to 1979 where he retired as a Lieutenant General, and in the highest office in the military – Chief of Army Staff under the military administration of General Olusegun Obasanjo. He later served as Minister of Defence between 1999 and 2003, under the President Olusegun Obasanjo civilian administration.

Business forays

General Danjuma made his first major foray into the shipping business when he founded the Nigeria American Line (NAL) and leased a ship called ‘Hannatu’ to facilitate trade between Lagos and Santos in Brazil. At this time, Nigeria’s bilateral trade agreement had opened the sea routes to economies in the South American markets and so NAL had patronage from Nigeria’s National Supply Company (NNSC) to bring in government goods.

Its client list later grew to include DICON Salt (Nigeria), Iwopin Paper Mill, ANNAMCO and Volkswagen Nigeria. From about 12 staffs in a single location in 1979, NAL grew over the next three decades to almost 300 staffs.

Danjuma also set up COMET Shipping Agencies Nigeria Limited in 1984 to act as an agent for NAL and COMET grew to become one of the largest independent agents operating in Nigeria, handling many types of vessels and cargo at Lagos, Port Harcourt, Calabar and Warri Ports. NAL-COMET acquired a roll-in-roll-out port (RORO) in Lagos in 2005 and became the largest independent port operators in Africa.

He still retains his stakes in NAL-Comet.

Oil business

After 15 years running the shipping business, Danjuma decided to veer into oil exploration and production and he founded the South Atlantic Petroleum (SAPETRO) in 1995 to serve as a vehicle for this interest.

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Three years later, the ministry of Petroleum Resources in Nigeria awarded the Oil Prospecting License (OPL) 246 to SAPETRO, with a bloc covering a total area of 2,590 square kilometres (1,000 sq mi). The company brought in Total Upstream Nigeria Ltd (TUPNI) and Brasoil Oil Services Company Nigeria Ltd (Petrobras) as partners in its oil prospecting.

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The prospecting led to the discovery of Akpo (a condensate field), the Egina Main, Egina South, Preowei and Kuro. In 2004, SAPETRO won a tender process for an oil exploration contract covering 550 square kilometres offshore from the Republic of Benin and this opened the way for other transnational deals.

In June 2006, SAPETRO divested part of its contractor rights and obligations to China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), but Danjuma still remains Chairman, while his wife is Vice Chairman.

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He also owns some real estate and has stakes in Notore Chemical Industries (manufacturer of urea fertilizer).

Other interests and honours

TY Danjuma holds the national honour, General Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON). He also has several other national and international awards and titles, as well as honorary doctorate degrees from different universities, within and outside Nigeria.

Besides the companies he founded, General Danjuma has sat on the board of other companies like the NatCom Development & Investment Limited “NatCom”, (trading as ntel) where he assumed position as Board Chairman in 2016. He also served seven years as the chairman of Agip Africa until 1995 when he left to start SAPETRO.

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He has also been appointed into several committees and councils by the government, like in 2003 when he served as Chairperson for investigative committee on the Warri conflict. Danjuma also serves as Chairman of the Victims’ Support Fund Committee, supporting the victims of terror such as the Chibok schoolgirls kidnapping.

Philanthropy

The TY Danjuma Foundation was set up in December 2008 and now partners with several Non-Governmental Organisations across the country to carry philanthropic gestures to the hinter areas and alleviate poverty.

The foundation targets the provision of basic amenities, education for children and young adults, and free medical care for indigent people. Over ₦3 Billion has been awarded as grants to NGOs working related goals in the area. Although the works first started in Taraba, Danjuma’s home state, it has extended to other areas. About 290 projects have been implemented across 31 states and the FCT, with over 8 Million people reached.

Every year since its inception, the foundation calls for concept notes and applications for funds from organisations with projects focused on health and education.

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