Determined not to follow the conventional wisdom that encourages search for paid employment after school, Bolaji Finnih, Founder and Chief Executive Oﬃcer of RightClick Nigeria Limited, an e-business solutions provider with over a decade experience, shares with FinIntell why he decided to be his own boss early in life.
What motivated your decision to venture into business?
As an undergraduate at the University of Lagos, I ran several businesses along with some friends, including an entertainment outfit. We had a Joint –a relaxation centre where students come to refresh, watch football, and network.
The initial objective was to augment our pocket money, but by the time we saw the outcome of the business after the third month, the pocket money became the secondary source of income. So from there I started understanding the concept of why one should own his or her own business, as opposed to following the conventional wisdom which says go to school, finish from school, get a job, work for a number of years, get promoted through the ranks, retire, and then get some terminal benefits at the end of the day.
We decided to go into business and it paid off. In fact some of our working class friends would even come and ask us for loans to meet some demands. These are people who, under normal circumstances, should not have come for loan. I realised that the ability to create wealth is not limited to only older people and people outside this country. You can actually do what you like doing and even earn more money.
Raising capital has always been a major challenge for entrepreneurs, how did you get fund to start-up?
We raised our start-up capital amongst ourselves. We were about three young men. It is good to note however that a lot of things that would have cost us money, we did with our own hands. For example, when the business changed from a Joint to cybercafé, we bought desktop computer parts and we coupled them ourselves; we bought fairly used monitors because we couldn’t afford new ones, and we did the network connections ourselves.
We got that knowledge because we had spent a lot of time running other people’s cybercafés, so from there we understood how it works; we learnt how to couple system, and how to work with the ISPs (Internet Service Providers). The best ISPs then would give you credit, and won’t start charging you until you’ve started making some money.
However, there was one of us whose mother, Mrs. Funmi Adeshina, was very interested in our entrepreneurial drive. She gave us part of her retirement benefits to support us. So we bought a brand new generator and we used their family property at Yaba. So a lot of things were free while some were not free. Meanwhile, the rest of us can’t deny that our parents rallied round us as well, but it wasn’t as if there was any bank, inheritance or any godfather somewhere that we relied on. It was just God using people around us to bless us because He saw the intentions of our hearts.
So many people today backed down from going into business because of lack of capital, but the best thing to do is to start something even if it is small. It is when you start small that people will see your drive and come to assist you. The way God works is that He blesses the little in your hands. If you’re doing something, then God will bless you and multiply; but if you just sit down waiting for everything to be ready, you might have to wait forever.
At what point did you decide to leave entertainment business for information technology?
Before we finally graduated from the university, the internet boom took over and everybody was interested in sending e-mails, chatting, making local and international calls. So my friends and I opened a cybercafé around Yaba area of Lagos which catered for students who wanted to check their emails, download or print document, or even make international calls. It was quite profitable then because our services were affordable, and we use to have long queues of customers. The business was so good that it wasn’t too long after we opened the first shop that the cybercafé expanded from one to four outlets.
But unfortunately for our business, towards the end of that period, GSM became a common and affordable gadget in Nigeria. Our long queues then started becoming shorter and shorter because people now have internet access on their mobile phones.
So we smelt the wind of change and decided that the nature of the business that we were running at that point in time has to change. Instead of selling connectivity from the point of view of foreign ISP, we decided to look more directly at the Nigeria market. Meanwhile, in the course of running cybercafés we met some young Nigerians who are very creative, passionate, and resilient. Several times they stayed for overnight browsing at the cybercafé downloading tools to help them develop solutions; we are talking about the time when internet service was so horrible. But these guys would still work so hard to get these tools and develop great solutions.
Then we said ok, what is really the major difference between America and Europe, even Asia lately? We have the skills, we have the passionate young driven people; so what is the major reason why we can’t compete with the global market when it comes to technology? And there was no answer.
So we said let’s provide the platform where we can have more creative Nigerians to express themselves through technology. Limitations such as electricity, internet speed, and accommodation challenges for young people were also resolved. Based on the fact that we know the industry and understand how it works, we provided these needs for these young Nigerians to see how far it gets to. It’s been 10years now and we thank God for the journey so far which brought into existence RightClick Nigeria.
Right now, we have a fantastic professional team of young guys and ladies who are servicing multinationals; they have worked outside this country several times; they are consultants to some of the leading financial institutions in this country, including regulatory bodies, government, commercial banks, investment banks, and all over the West African coasts.
With increasing number of young Nigerians exploring information technology, what is the country not getting right in terms of technology development that is holding her back from ranking among the best?
There is a current perception that Nigerians don’t know what people in developed countries know. But the truth is that there is really no difference between Nigerians, or Africans in general, and the people from other parts of the world. If you give Nigerians the enabling environment; the right platform to shine, then they will shine. It’s just to find people that actually believe in them and are ready to invest in them; not just paying lip service to believing in the Nigerian youth, talking and talking. Let’s actually see what they say; invest in the youth and watch them take off.
Opportunities, as much as possible, should be given to every Nigerian, especially the youth because they have a lot in them. Look at the entertainment industry and see what is going on there in terms of creativity from the youth. Look at sports and you see the level of improvement.
But because technology is a more structured environment, people tends to turn their noses up when it comes from Africa; they believe generally in the mentality that it wouldn’t be as professional as those from other parts of the world. But that is not true. For couple of years now, you can see that all the major Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) software and other major technology platforms you see around here are developed in Nigeria. We’ve gotten armies of developers in this country now. You see Google having G-Nigeria, you have Oracle, Microsoft; they are all fully on ground in Nigeria. They are recruiting partners and developers on their platforms because there is something here.
The next step for us as a country is to provide what I called business incubators. If you go to the likes of Silicon Valley in USA and co, you’ll find a lot of start ups; a lot of people who have IT ideas; people who develop concepts in their brains and watch it grow from one point to another. You’ll discover that the level of investment in ICT pact, even from tertiary institution level, is so huge. You don’t have to go far; virtually every State in the US has at least five viable ICT pacts. You bring people in at the idea stage, you groom the idea, and take care of things that ordinarily would have weighed them down –e.g. project management, financial accounting, marketing, and other things required to take their business from ideas to reality and success. You basically fund them, and the next thing you will see is a whole new array of successful entrepreneurs growing.
It is like a movie when you hear the Facebook guy’s (Mark Zuckerberg’s) story. This guy is just about 28 years old, and his company recently did an Initial Public Offer (IPO) of about $100billion. Based on that alone, the prices of properties within the area where Facebook is located would have gone up. He has transcended now from just making money for himself and family, to making money for the general public involved in his organisation. Apart from Facebook, we still have the likes of Amazon and Microsoft.
What is Nigeria doing? What is our own contribution? We have 160miillion people; more than 50% are youth. What can we do to provide enabling environment for our youth to be skilful? Let’s not go too far; let’s leave America since we can say they’ve been on this for a very long time. Let’s go to India. Look at what is happening in Bangladesh and Mumbai. It is the outsource centre of the world now. Even Nigerian businesses are outsourcing some services to India. You go to any major organisation in Nigeria and you’ll see a lot of Indians being brought in as technology specialists to do what we can do here.
Why are we not patronizing ourselves and why are we not even shipping ourselves outside the country? India took this seriously about three or four decades ago and said we are going to bring in specialists to teach our children on technology from primary school level. Now they are shipping out technologists; their biggest exports. We can do it here; it’s not too late. That is what RightClick is doing here. We build software and provide other technology solutions for companies, but we also want to empower the people around us and take them to the next level. We are working with key stakeholders to ensure people can have technology aspiration and make success of it. We are also working to develop a hub which is a platform that would allow developers who are structured and trained to get the right technology platform and professionalism, while we export their works all over the world.
The federal government created a ministry for Communication Technology, headed by Mrs. Omobola Johnson, to further develop the IT sector of the economy, what is your assessment of that ministry so far?
I think it’s very laudable. When you see the blueprint for the sector in the Nigerian ministry of ICT, you’ll see that the person at the helm of affairs is a thinking person. She was the country’s head of Accenture for awhile, so coming from the private sector gave her the acumen needed, and I believe with solid plans, they would go very far.
However, when you think about the aspect of private sector participation in ICT, it’s not necessarily government that is going to drive the structure or otherwise of ICT pacts. ICT pacts are key aspects of the ministry’s drive for ICT development. What government should do is to provide the enabling environment, bring in professions and setup ICT pacts. But on issues like the faculty, government needs people that have the local industry knowledge and can handle the limitations that we have here.
For instance, the average circle of a business incubator in an ICT pact abroad is about three months; someone comes with an idea and in about three months the idea is ready to be rolled out, hit the market and bring in investors. It’s easy to achieve this because we’ve taken for granted that in their schools they understand the basic financial management, entrepreneurship, planning, project management, etc.
What we have realised in the development of our own curriculum and faculty is that for a Nigerian incubation to be successful, you need at the very least nine months. First of all, you have to disabuse the erroneous concept that’s in the mind of the average Nigerian. A lot of them would come to an ICT pact thinking we are going to get money to be able to buy a nice car, marry, live large and get money for recurrent expenditure. Even those that have IT background in schools still have to go through business incubation for at least nine months because most of them are only grounded in technical skills, and such skill alone cannot run a business.
Money can represent happiness to a lot of people, but happiness is not just about money. What we are trying to tell them is that those who have made mark in life started out with the mindset to create value. Many even started out very broke, but very committed. Even when money came in, they didn’t live a luxury life. Instead, these people reinvested into the business to expand their capacities and grow into the next level just like the Facebook guy who did an IPO of $100billion dollars at 28years of age.
We need to start thinking and have confidence that we can develop ICT industry in Nigeria. All excuses and limitations should not be entertained in our minds.
An incubator is meant to create a viable business that will attract investors, as well as help you plan and manage your finances. It also helps you to understand how numbers work and how to manage, hire and fire people.
Who are the people you look up to as mentors?
One of my mentors is my father, Dr. Oluyomi Finnih. But apart from him, another man I respect most in this country, from an entrepreneurial point of view, is Fola Adeola.
At the point when banking was not for the young men, Fola Adeola (and his friend late Tayo Aderinokun) sat down to establish a bank (Guaranty Trust Bank) that would be different from the rest. They looked at professionalism and customer service and gave birth to something which today is a leader; one of the most respected banks coming out of this country.
Despite all the limitations at that time, they built a bank that sets the pace for others to follow. So I think many people should emulate what the man has done and do the same for their own industry.