Move Back To Nigeria: ‘The Right Mindset is Key, So Don’t Come Back Complaining!’ Entrepreneur Lanre Akinlagun Shares His Experience

Move Back to Nigeria is a series on BellaNaija which aims to encourage young and not-so-young professionals in the diaspora who are trying to make the decision of whether to move back to Nigeria. In collaboration with the brilliant team at MoveBackToNigeria.com, we hope to bring you a weekly interview with individuals who have successfully made the leap, considering the leap, as well as those who have tried it and realized it is not for them. The idea is to share their successes and their challenges as they made the decisions they did. A lot of Nigerians in the diaspora have questions about making a change at home in Nigeria. Many suggest really good ideas on how to make things better; others would like to contribute to making a difference back home but are just not sure where to begin.

Movebacktonigeria.com is the fastest growing online community of Nigerian professionals living, studying and working in diaspora.

This week, digital marketer and entrepreneur, Lanre Akinlagun is on the hot seat. He discusses his educational and professional background and also his interesting foray into entrepreneurship and his eventual move back to Nigeria. Read on for his compelling account and perspective on doing business and life in Nigeria.

Starting with introductions, could you please tell us who you are?
My name is Lanre Akinlagun and I am a digital marketer. I was born and bred in the UK, although I had a brief stint in Nigeria for about 3- 4 years when I was 15 years old. Interestingly, it was during this period I was introduced to the concept of marketing by my gate man (who actually today owns a very successful advertising company) and I fell in love with it. So I went back to the UK and studied Marketing and Multimedia at the London Guildhall University (Now: Metropolitan University), I got my first job at Universal Pictures.

That’s certainly interesting. How did your gate man influence your decision to study marketing?
Whilst I was there, I spent a lot of my time around him. He was attending advertising school on the weekends and would often tell me what he studied and how interesting it was, which was how I got hooked. It was my first exposure into understanding how any business works and I got that from him.

OK. So you went back and studied Marketing. What came next?
After college, I was stubborn enough to hold out for a job in a field that I wanted. Everyone was getting a job here and there but I was quite adamant that I wanted to get into marketing. I had previously applied to Universal Pictures a few times and eventually, I was successful. My role involved managing DVD distributions, so one of the things I did was the 50th anniversary of the champion’s league. I stayed with Universal pictures for about a year.

Why did you leave and what happened next?
Eventually I discovered that working at Universal Pictures UK was not as exciting and as challenging as I had hoped it would be. So I left and went contracting in different companies, learning new things. I was pretty resilient and wasn’t going to do anything else besides marketing and that’s were I discovered the emergence of digital marketing.

What is it about marketing that struck such a chord with you?
I just get it! When I was exposed to it, I just got it. Being able to sell things to people influenced me a lot, strategising on an executive level thrilled me even more than selling things door to door. Having a fantastic idea and being able to sell it has kept me loyal to the profession.

Alright. So what was your next career move and when did you decide to move back?
While at Universal Pictures, we had agencies come to us who handled digital marketing and at the time digital marketing was still very new and so I decided to learn more about it. This was one of the reasons I left Universal, because I went to work for one of the agencies where I could learn more about digital marketing. After working with the agency for a number of years, I discovered another aspect of digital marketing that has increasingly become important which is; analytics.

So I went to an analytics company working with agencies and I got my first exposure to Silicon Valley, start-ups, and generally the whole business aspect. I spent a lot of time in Silicon Valley and that’s where I caught the start-ups bug. I then visited Nigeria to see what was going on because everyone said there were viable business opportunities in Nigeria. I must admit what struck me initially were the infrastructural challenges and so I left. Interestingly, a friend of mine then started a company in Nigeria called ‘Nollywood Love’, which was an online company for Nollywood films on YouTube. He kept posting on Facebook about how well the business was doing so I got intrigued. I visited him in his office, came up with a few ideas which he discarded and basically told me to join him and grow the company. I did that and that’s how irokotv was born. I was a member of the first batch of people that formed irokotv.

That must have been exciting…
I was leaving the second biggest company in the world, namely IBM, that offered me a very secure future to a Nigerian start-up! It was exciting but scary. The excitement of growing an industry had bigger potential for me moving back, but when you add the Nigerian factor where there hadn’t been very many successful start-ups, it was scary. I set up the UK office and came to Nigeria for 3 months, because to work in a Nollywood start-up I had to be in the environment to learn and understand the people, to be better able to market to them, and I guess that’s when I got excited. During this time, I realized there was more success in Nigeria than meets the eye, on the surface you don’t see it but when you spend some time and meet people you actually start to see it. After a year and a half with irokotv, I decided to explore my own start-up called www.drinks.ng

How did you go from Marketing, Universal Pictures, Irokotv, to drinks?
Well for one I used to drink socially, and I had helped out at a friends wedding with getting drinks and it was a logistically challenging experience, I couldn’t understand why it was so hard to get drinks and that’s where the business seed was planted. I went back to the UK and explored it some more, discovering that in the last 5 years for instance, Nigeria’s consumption of champagne had grown tremendously! The focus for everyone has been on champagne but what people haven’t realized is that there has been a change in consumption and culture for wine. Wine is actually a bigger market in Nigeria as it’s more widely consumed. More Nigerians are starting to move away from beer drinking to wine, with the wine industry in Nigeria estimated to be worth over $350million and all this research got me very interested in the venture.

So, how did drinks.ng kick off?
I pitched my ideas to some investors and luckily, they bought into it. So I got my first investment from them to start drinks.ng. Yes I was fortunate; but hard work over the years put me in the right place. Drinks.ng started in March and we have been in business ever since.

What are your range of services?
Drinks.ng is here to make life easier for every Nigerian with a wide range of services. The first involves clients buying drinks online, wherein you go to the website, see the drinks and prices, buy them and we deliver them to your door within 24-48hours. We also have an events team that services all kinds of events, weddings, parties and corporate occasions. Then, we have a commercial team which supplies drinks to restaurants and hotels. The unique thing about our company is that we are not just a drinks supply company but also a logistics company because we deal directly with all the big manufacturers and importers in a bid to eradicate the biggest issue in Nigeria which is counterfeit drinks. We want to make sure that people can get original drinks at the right price. Our core competition is the market place and our prices are exactly the same as theirs.

Interesting! From an entrepreneurial perspective, how has the experience been for you starting up a business in Nigeria?
It wasn’t easy and it’s still not easy. Some of our biggest issues have involved staffing; you need people to understand what it is to be responsible with certain aspects of a business. Another problem is getting the importers and manufacturers to work with you due to their strong loyalties to the market regardless of how the market is tarnishing the image of their brands. I would say it’s because there is no clear structure and no fingers to be pointed so no one sees it or does anything about it. Getting people to understand what we are doing is our biggest challenge. People cannot seem to understand how we can sell them original products for the same price as the market. One thing I notice with Nigerians is that we are averse to change, if something feels good and easy, we feel there must be something wrong with it. One of the hardest sells in Nigeria is convenience, as living the harsh life and going through stress is second nature to us and is seen as normal.

How do you combat these cultural and infrastructural challenges?
It’s been difficult but we take it one day at a time. Although I am Nigerian, I haven’t been brought up in Nigeria and so there are certain aspects of the culture I still don’t get. Even within the office there are cultural differences that affect us. For instance, customer service for black people is not high on the agenda in any part of the world, so when you are trying to teach it to people, they sometimes just don’t get it. When you try to be friendly or nice, people don’t get it either. Considering road transport is a key factor for our work, traffic and the cost of fixing our cars is another major issue for us. If I could solve one issue in Lagos it would not just be traffic, it would be traffic specifically on third mainland bridge.

This sounds quite challenging which leads me to ask if you’ve had any positives since moving back?
I’ve always been a proud Nigerian and I love Nigeria. Since moving back, I find my lifestyle happier and more pleasant. I work a lot and spend my evenings a lot better in Nigeria than in the UK. Also, thankfully every month our business and revenue have grown.

On a final note, how would you say you have managed to stay above water, and what tips would you have to share with people who are reading your story and are inspired?
On a personal front, speaking to my wife and kids regularly on Skype has kept me going and I also have a good support network with friends and family in Nigeria.

Regarding work, we all know starting a business in Nigeria can be very challenging. I think Nigeria has a lot to offer and anybody abroad would know that the western world has reached its pinnacle. The sky is just not the limit for Nigeria and so as an ambitious Nigerian, this is the place to be.

I would also say that if you plan to move back, try and find a soft landing. Also come regularly to understand the environment properly before you make the final move. The right mind set is also key, so don’t come back complaining about the problems because that just keeps negativity around you. Fix the problems because they are all opportunities.

Many thanks for your time and best wishes moving forward.

___________________________________________________________________________
The  primary objective of MoveBackToNigeria.com is to connect Nigerian professionals with various opportunities in Nigeria, ranging from recruitment drives to information & support regarding relocation processes, financial & tax advice and much more. Move Back To Nigeria also features social interest topics such as what’s on, where to live, how-to survival tips and so on. Consistently engaging with and featuring Nigerian professionals in weekly  interviews, Move Back To Nigeria regularly publishes social interest articles relevant to the general public. Everyone is welcome to their online discussions & fora and you are invited to air your views & suggestions on the topical and trending matters section. For more information and further inquiries, please contact titi.owoyemi@movebacktonigeria.com.

28 Comments on Move Back To Nigeria: ‘The Right Mindset is Key, So Don’t Come Back Complaining!’ Entrepreneur Lanre Akinlagun Shares His Experience
  • Leo October 25, 2013 at 9:59 am

    hmmm ….encouraging ….
    and true it’s proper hardwork….

  • X- Factor October 25, 2013 at 11:17 am

    Just checked on the website, It’s simply class act…
    Weldone and all the best

  • Hilda October 25, 2013 at 11:49 am

    @BN:Is there a way to contact him please? I am interested in doing business with them.

  • Tincan October 25, 2013 at 12:14 pm

    Wow! This is impressive. And these sentences – ‘The right
    mind set is also key, so don’t come back complaining about the
    problems because that just keeps negativity around you. Fix the
    problems because they are all opportunities.’- Priceless.

    • Tess October 25, 2013 at 7:17 pm

      I agree, totally priceless that line! Wouldn’t it be great if Nigerians see problems as opportunities in disguise?

  • guudkelly October 25, 2013 at 12:25 pm

    Good read…Website is clean,Good Job chale

  • Nneks October 25, 2013 at 12:57 pm

    Inspirational…..

  • Hillary October 25, 2013 at 2:45 pm

    You can reach him at lanre@drinks.ng

  • Rexie October 25, 2013 at 8:27 pm

    Absolutely love his advice. The right mind set. Soft landing. Exposure.

  • Kola October 25, 2013 at 9:40 pm

    Why did he leave his family in the UK? That’s a question
    aspiring returnees would like toknow

    • slice October 26, 2013 at 9:51 pm

      to provide a soft landing for them :)

  • tatafo! October 25, 2013 at 9:41 pm

    This is one of my favorite BN features. Very inspiring, I’m
    taking notes.

  • NNENNE October 26, 2013 at 2:51 am

    ‘Fix the problems because they are all opportunities.” That is huge!

  • Tanwa October 26, 2013 at 9:14 am

    I think it is idealistic bordering on madness to leave a
    secure environment and set up buisness in a politically, socially
    unstable environment. Nigeria is like the Wild West . There are
    opportunities to make a break through but there is a High price to
    pay. there are no support systems in place. You can set up your own
    support system , but that’s were all your capital will go, and
    that’s not taking into consideration that the support system will
    last , as it often breaks down as a result of sabotaged by the
    larger mother unstable Nigeria. There is no security you step on
    the wrong toes , you can be detained forever, no hospitals , the
    list goes on. This is my view based on experience. If you have an
    adventurous spirit, happy to be born again and go backwards in
    civilisation , if you want to understand what the Wild West was all
    about how it lead to the revolution that upgraded America into the
    first league category then please come to Nigeria. Am not an
    idealist, not a pessimist am someone rooted in reality and see
    things as they really are. Patriotic? You have to have a country
    and a course to be this. Nigeria is neither. My opinion people are
    entitled to theirs.

    • Oyinkan November 24, 2013 at 12:20 am

      I agree with everything you said. I tried it myself. The basic foundation is just not there. Societies need functional governments to thrive. I love the optimism this series offers, but there is too many fundamental deficiencies in the Nigerian system. Until they are corrected, the majority of Nigerians who leave will continue marrying foreigners for an opportunity to stay abroad because for the vast majority of them, hard work and determination will not get them far. Nigeria is truly a failed state. Its particularly sad to watch how much the youth have been failed.

  • Feisty chic October 26, 2013 at 12:53 pm

    @ kola I’m so with you. If Nigeria was such a nice place to return to, why did he leave his family in the UK?

    • dare to be October 28, 2013 at 1:18 am

      hahahah so true though

  • ozyy October 26, 2013 at 2:19 pm

    ” One thing I notice with Nigerians is that we are averse to change, if something feels good and easy, we feel there must be something wrong with it. One of the hardest sells in Nigeria is convenience, as living the harsh life and going through stress is second nature to us and is seen as normal”…SO TRUE….Shuffering and Shmiling #Nigerians

  • Sisiekomi October 27, 2013 at 10:04 am

    Truely inspiring.

    sisiekomi.blogspot.com

  • Tee October 27, 2013 at 12:44 pm

    Tanwa u do have a point there but there’s no harm in trying. Ozzy u are so on point,we don’t even knw the definition of suffering anymore.And this attitude is affecting our say/right as a ppl how sad.As for the writer he kept his family in the UK cus u have to be a fighter to live in a country like naija where there’s no system in place plus secirity is no guarantee.I wouldn’t either if I have children but young adult can still blend in the naija society,cus that way they get to see the otherside of life and learn one or two things.Overall the decision is yours.

  • Seyi October 27, 2013 at 6:53 pm
  • iba October 28, 2013 at 12:35 pm

    ”One of the hardest sells in Nigeria is convenience, as living the harsh life and going through stress is second nature to us and is seen as normal.”

    Well spoken. I cant count the number of times ive been stopped from going ahead in Nigeria because the thing was way too easy and i kept thinking where is the pit? Where is the trap? It cant be this good. On the other hand, i have never doubted any good deal in the UK.
    Well i am sure i may have saved myself some money and headache but in one or two instances (ie in Nigeria) but i cant help feeling that i missed out as well. This was a brilliant interview honestly.
    Having said all that one thing i noticed about the website is that somethings work will others dont work. I clicked (bottom of page )on FAQ, minimum order, about us, weddings etc but none seemed to be working. Anyways well done to you.

  • Dee October 28, 2013 at 3:22 pm

    @ Tanwa, true success does not come easy ask truly successful individuals. Everything you mentioned is true and I will not say I am a flag waving, patriotic Nigerian in anyway shape or form but Lanre made a point to make it in the western world is beyond difficult because market is over saturated with super experts for almost any idea you can come up with. Beyond Lanre who himself is making something of himself, we have people like Dangote who have made it despite the odds and can say did not steal from any public funds. So what makes him better than you and me? the ability to look beyond the odds and see opportunities and take advantage of those opportunities while making sound business decisions. I don’t have my own company yet and honestly will probably not be looking for any business opportunity in Nigeria for other reasons but that does not mean I don’t see the opportunities or as some may consider them “challenges” all over Nigeria. Again it’s a matter of looking at the cup 1/2 full or maybe in the case of Nigeria 1/4 full or 1/4 empty.

  • Dee October 28, 2013 at 3:29 pm

    As for those asking why he left his family in the UK ok the guy said there are opportunities/challenges in Nigeria. He did not say all the opportunities/challenges have been resolved or met. Come on na my people, having faith in Nigeria does not mean you lose your common sense in the process.
    Note: I am not saying anyone lacks common sense but saying Lanre’s faith in Nigeria does not mean he has lost his mind in the process if anything his decision shows a man who is capable of making sound decisions.

    • iba October 28, 2013 at 3:36 pm

      Nor mind them jare. My people say ”who dey cry, still dey see road” nuff said.

  • Tanwa October 28, 2013 at 6:03 pm

    @dee , just to clarify I said there are opportunities in Nigeria but at a high price .The guy is already paying the price ,separation from the family. Yes dangote is extremely successful in direct parallel to millions living in poverty . Dangote is a fluke. It is easier to make a dignified living in the western world ( all things being equal immigration status and whatsnot) than to even survive in Nigeria. There is always talk of hitting it big . The proverbial chasing the dragon. As I said before to each his own . if one has been BLESSED not to see how the other half live ( in the west)then that resultant ignorance is bliss.

  • Ephi November 2, 2013 at 3:22 pm

    Couldn’t agree more with his comment on customer service!
    “For instance, customer service for black people is not high on the agenda in any part of the world, so when you are trying to teach it to people, they sometimes just don’t get it. “

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