I have been reading the 1one4 diary on entrepreneurship and decided to share a bit of my own story. I arrived in commercial nerve centre of Nigeria, Lagos; a city that never sleeps for the first time in 2007 just around the time when the Federal Government was holding back the state monthly allocations. Things were a bit slow as government was at loggerheads but like always commerce was thriving. I and my brother from another mother had come to this famous city to seek employment. We had just graduated from one of the nation’s finest universities with upper degrees.
With the Nigerian economy, there were few openings and of course you needed to know someone up the ladder to get some audience with the companies hiring. The reality - we couldn’t secure a job. GBAM! While this might not be strange in 2007 Nigeria, we came with high hopes, our shiny degrees, determination, enthusiasm and loads of energy. Nothing! Somewhere along the line we came across some sales openings at the Palms Shopping Mall at Lekki. We never imagined that we would end up in sales, but it was good to have a place to wake up and go to. Lagos ain't bad after all. My friends' shop was a few shops away from mine so we saw each other all the time. I worked for an electronics retailer, he worked in a clothing store. We stocked, did a lot of selling, did visual merchandising, marketed, promoted.... the whole works. It did not befit our educational status to a large extent but we decided to do it for a while, raise some cash while we looked ahead into the future.
One quiet afternoon while waiting for customers, a beautiful young lady handed me a flier, apparently she was going round the mall sharing the piece of paper. The flier was an invitation to a workshop, with the theme: “Lets Start Something.” That was the turning point. YES! I have always wanted to start something. I and my friend decided to attend the workshop which was billed for the coming Saturday, something else to do aside watch football and revel about guys earning thousands of pounds on a weekly basis. Deep inside of me, I wanted to earn something daily even hourly and also pay people, and the sound of people referring to me as “Oga”… never a bad one, abi na. With that thought, I could feel the butterflies in my tummy. I want to be an entrepreneur, an employer of labour, the Oga at the top, I wanted to create value and sell the value to the world. What do I start? How do I start? Where do I start? No answers yet. I attended the workshop, it was a talkfest with several entrepreneurs coming forward to narrate their different journeys; the joys, the pain, the challenges, the sweat, even the blood they shed when they decided to do it alone. It was a real eye opener. What I learnt was that, it is never a smooth road. Most of them failed severally, real bad painful failures before finally getting to where they are today. Also most started small with peanuts and grew the business slowly but steadily. There is certainly no magic in this. And the best part, they told us how different life is with financial freedom - a point where money becomes the least of your worries. One even mentioned that people start to look at you differently when they know of your high net worth. From that point, I became more obsessed with entrepreneurship and startups.
Over the last few years, I can't recall a day that has gone by that I have not at least thought about this topic. However, what I have also learned is that no matter how much "success" you seem to have, it's never enough. An entrepreneur wants to constantly create, innovate, start something new. Its always "what's next?" I am now building my business right from my living room and even have two employees. We build apps for businesses. We are evolving into a full fledged Internet company, building new websites and putting more life and energy into other sites. My life is interesting as two days are never the same. From customers wanting you to provide content to their sites even when you know nothing about that line of business, to them just expecting you to be psychic and know what they want, we get all sorts by the day. I love my work, the creativity, the designs and the fact that you have to think and immerse yourself in the client's mind and world to come up with something beyond their imaginations. No two projects are ever the same. No two designs are the same, even if they're from the same industry. Our work always speaks for us. We hope to expand as we go along.
My friend is also an entrepreneur, he has gone for his real passion which is fashion and design and developing his own fashion label. The last time we spoke properly, he was in the middle of planning to show his collection at the African Fashion Week. He sounds very happy but tired and complains of being sleep deprived. He is too busy for even football these days. Life of an entrepreneur typically - work, work and more work. We are not defined by only one part of our lives. We are the sum of our parts and experiences.
As entrepreneurs we can still be passionate and inspired by what we create, it's a way to show how we are wired anyway, but we must also remember that life is bigger than business. Finding balance is still a daily struggle for me, being more than just my venture(s), and In sha Allah I will find more success both in this life and in the hereafter. Almighty Allah said “O ye who believe! When the call is proclaimed to prayer on Friday (the Day of Assembly), hasten earnestly to the Remembrance of Allah, and leave off business (and traffic): That is best for you if ye but knew!”… to me this verse of the Qur'an says it all… we do business but must never forget there are other bigger things in life. Allah (SWT) knows best.
Bashir Giwa is a new age Nigerian entrepreneur. He hopes to be the Steve Jobs of Africa and create cool devices soonest.