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. MoveBacktoNigeria.com’s mission is to showcase stories of Nigerians abroad who have moved back home and are taking giant strides, often against all odds and to serve as inspiration to others. This, however does not preclude us from sharing stories of the people who have moved back and are facing various challenges.
We speak to Ejidayo Oguneye this week for a unique and candid insight into her world of animation and design. She shares with us her journey so far, details of her big move back to Nigeria and her plans for the relatively niche (in Nigeria) world of media, animation and design. Read on for more of her interesting and inspiring story.
Let’s start with introductions. Please tell us who you are, and what you do?
My name is Ejidayo Oguneye, and I am the owner of Nory Animation Media House based in Lagos, Nigeria. Our core service area is that of a Digital Design and Animation Publishing House. We also work in the field of Social Media as a form of business marketing strategy and Mobile Games and Apps design and development.
Did you grow up abroad or did you move there having been raised in Nigeria?
I was born in Nigeria, but left the country when I was 16. At the time, there were a lot of strikes within the Higher Education System in Nigeria (there still are today), and my parents didn’t want us to experience this. Initially I was in the UK for about a year to do my A-Levels and afterwards moved to the US. Once there, I enrolled at Valparaiso University Indiana, for my Undergraduate Degree in International Business, after which I moved to Orlando, Florida for my Masters Degree in Operations and E-commerce. Going to Florida was partly because I wanted to be in a warmer part of the US.
Warm Weather is always good. What came after your Masters Degree?
I spent close to a year looking for a job after I graduated. This was mainly due to the 911 attacks so there weren’t many job vacancies. Eventually, I found a job in a Nigerian Telecom company in Miami which was good and I got a lot of experience in Project Management, as well as in other areas. After a few years in the role, I got another job in a Legal company, working as a Finance Analyst, also in Miami. After a while, reality kicked in, and I knew I didn’t want to be stuck in Finance. I wanted to do what I really loved (design), so I moved out to San Francisco to enrol at the Academy of Arts to read Toy Design.
My dad’s an architect so I’ve always had the passion for design and I have always had a passion for toys and children so I decided to develop my skills in a formal classroom environment. I was working for a Software Company while studying, which was challenging but that’s what had to be done at the time. Eventually, at some point during the Toy Design Programme, I found it rather demanding juggling work and class, so I changed my degree and moved into animation – which was the best decision I ever made.
Once you decided you were going into animation, what came next?
I was let go from my company, just towards the beginning of the Global Financial Crisis, and since I also had to earn a living, I left the academy and started making plans to start my business. This was during a time when my parents were asking me to come back home. I prayed about it, and when I felt like I had peace with the idea, I packed my bags and came back home, in 2010. Prior to moving back, I had been in Nigeria on holiday for about a month in 2008, so I had an idea of what to expect.
If there was one major factor that influenced your decision to move back, what would that be?
I’m a spiritual person, and as I mentioned earlier, I prayed about the decision, and wasn’t going to move until I felt a completeness in myself on the whole move-back decision. Once that happened, I knew God would be with me, so then I made the move. My older brother had also moved back, and my parents are home, so I knew I would be closer to them.
What happened once you hit the ground in Nigeria?
My sister-in law and I moved to Nigeria at the same time and the two of us get along really well, so seeing as I had never worked in Nigeria and it was all relatively new to us, we did everything together which helped ease my transition. I spent a few months settling in, and then applied for jobs particularly with multi-national corporations but got no leads and so, I decided to focus on working for start-ups. My first stint was at a mobile money start-up, which was in 2010-2011. It was a learning curve, as it allowed me learn the dynamics of the working environment in Nigeria and then I moved on to work for a US E-commerce company operating in Nigeria as their Country Manager. Customers in Nigeria would buy on the company’s website and the company would ship the products from the US. I was there for about a year and yet again I had the desire to re-ignite my animation business, after all that was one of the reasons I moved back to Nigeria, so I quit from the E-commerce company and officially launched the animation studio in Nigeria later in 2012.
How did you find things on the ground logistically in Nigeria starting a business?
In order to start up, I only really needed a functioning computer. I already had a team (mostly friends) in America from my time there, as I couldn’t do all the work from here. The cost implications were and are really high, so I constantly reached out to customers to originate business. Some clients understood what we were trying to offer (the bigger companies more than the smaller companies) and in the end, my first gig was with a major oil and gas company, where I was hired to create in-house training videos. Initially my business plan was to jump straight in and create 2D/ 3D animation for advertising/commercials and produce cartoons as needed, but then realised it was not the right plan. I had to adapt to the realities of the needs of the Nigerian Market, so I started by creating training material and presentation videos for companies. As time progressed, I was able to showcase more of my work and showed customers they also needed my services for marketing and advertisement projects too.
And what has the market reception been like?
The market reception has been half and half. Half because when I came back I was already a part of the returnee community, and the people I was in touch in were really open to the idea and saw the need for Nigerian made cartoons and animation. On the other hand, many in the local community were a bit lukewarm, asking if I would make money from the business. No ‘right-minded’ business makes money straight away, and during the initial stages it was a lot about investing and building the brand which can be challenging. Overall, it’s great and fun work and every morning I feel happy and blessed that I love what I do.
Regarding funding, how did you go about raising finance for your business? Was it personal sources or bank financing?
I had some savings after I moved back, but I also approached the banks to see what was on offer. The interest rates are too high in Nigeria. Also, the banks couldn’t really understand the ‘services model’, as they are more used to financing businesses with physical (trading) goods, so, I didn’t end up getting capital from the banks. I also spoke to friends and family about fund raising, and while they saw I was passionate and driven, they also wanted to see something tangible before investing which I guess is the Nigerian way.
I decided to build my own portfolio first – videos, articles, photography, digital stuff and then pitch for financing afterwards. I’ve had client after client ever since then and not had the chance to continue the pitch for financing (at this moment). My philosophy is the quality of my work has to be great, and once clients see what you are capable of, they will keep on coming back.
On a more social note, how have you adjusted to the move?
The main changes were more with family. I left Nigeria as a teenager and so, some of my family members couldn’t see the adult in me. I was not the kid they used to know, so they could say something like ‘no this is not the way it works in Nigeria’ etc. Also Lagos is an expensive city, money goes really quickly. The mentality and mind-set is also a bit different, I could write a book on the craziness that goes on out here but I see every day as an adventure, which keeps things exciting for me.
And your thoughts on the work culture in Nigeria?
Everyone has a different way of doing business. I have a small team out here and the rest are abroad. However, we (my company) are a very professional outfit and I train staff accordingly on how best to represent the values of the brand and deliver for customers. Building the right team was not easy at first. The quality of education in Nigeria is not the best, but by creating the right environment, I have been able to bring the best out of the staff to represent the brand to the high standards that customers expect. In Nigeria, client mandates take a long time to win i.e. it takes months to get a deal done, but once you’ve gotten in the door, the repeat business comes through. I have found here, one has to be patient and persistent.
Where you see your company in the mid to long term future?
In the next couple of years, I want to bring out a couple of animation shorts, both on the entertainment and educational story-telling angle. I also want to work on several digital designs and technological tools that focus on energy and social-economic awareness initiatives. For instance, in Lagos, we are focused on energy conservation right now (a key programme of Governor Fashola). Long term, I hope to become a content and licensing distribution company. There are a few animators out here in Nigeria, but not everyone is getting their animation out to the public, so I want to help by providing a distribution service for Nigerian animators i.e. a distribution licence company that showcases everything about animation in Nigeria and the rest of Africa.
The other goal I’m trying to achieve is a Design Center or like an incubator/hub. This is a partnership collaboration where we offer a space for talented designers in fields of graphic arts, animation, computer design programming etc can come and work with other like-minded artists, get training in animation, motion graphic, CGI, VFX etc, learn basic business and animation as a business skills and general really build up the digital design/animation space in Nigeria.
Sounds interesting! What tips would you share with people thinking about to moving back to start a business?
I think it a combination of different things; faith is important, but also look to family and friends if you are fortunate enough to have that kind of support. Seek mentors in your field/ area you want to get into. Get practice in your field first, don’t just jump in blind. Perfect your skill set and do something different from the competition to standout. Next is to build a good team. Surround yourself with other successful entrepreneurs. Get out there, but do your research and homework first and most importantly, pray and believe that the Lord will see you through.
Finally and on a more general note, what advice will you give people thinking about making the move back home?
Visit a few times before moving back to see what you think. If you are interested in a particular field, try to network with the right people within that field. Don’t move in blindly, do your research, and have a plan. Then seek support and advice from friends, family, mentors, and others and then just do it. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes because you learn and grow from them. Don’t look back, always move forward. It has worked well for me.
Many thanks for your time and best wishes going 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.