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Move Back To Nigeria: Adebola Adeola Says Having A Goal Will Keep You Going in the Midst of Frustration

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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.

This week we caught up with Adebola Adeola, who moved back to Nigeria from the UK a few years ago and subsequently launched a quite interesting ‘tech’ business. His move back to Nigeria was quite untimely as he planned to stay in the UK for a bit longer but was forced to come back home for reasons that will become clear later in this interview. Carry on reading to hear his story, which we hope you enjoy as much as we have.

Thanks for taking the time to speak to us, can you please introduce yourself?
My name is Adebola Adeola, and I’m an entrepreneur. I would describe myself as a believer, and I subscribe to the notion that if you want something done, just go on and do it. I believe anything is possible.

Thank you. Please walk us through your educational background.
I grew up in Ojodu/Ikeja and went to St. Leos Catholic Private School. I attended two secondary schools: Lagos State Model College Kankon, until SS1, and then Dansol High School in Agidingbi, where I graduated. Moving to Dansol was a good decision by my parents because that’s where I became smart. I wasn’t particularly getting the best grades in Kankon. After Dansol, I did my A Levels at D-Ivy College in Ikeja, Lagos and then on to the University of Surrey, UK, in 2003.

What did you study at the University of Surrey?
I studied Mechanical Engineering, I guess because my dad was an engineer. I also liked Physics (which I still do), so it seemed like a no-brainer. I chose the four-year degree option that included a one year work experience (placement) with General Motors, what we call ‘IT’ in Nigeria. Overall, I enjoyed my university experience.

Why did you decide to do a work placement, and what were your day to day responsibilities?
Honestly, I chose the 4 year option because a friend of mine, also at the university, chose it. My placement was with Vauxhall Motors (now owned by General Motors) with the job title: ‘General Assembly Maintenance Engineer’. My role was varied; one of my projects involved testing a range of vehicles to track the cause of a known issue with the handbrakes, and I was also the champion on another project that ended up saving the company 100,000 Euros per annum.

What was the next step for you after graduation?
I tried to get a job in the UK and had a few opportunities. However, due to the status my visa, I couldn’t take up any of them. I eventually decided with my dad it was best I came to back Nigeria. I got back to Nigeria on a Sunday and was off to Iseyin, Oyo state, the following Tuesday for my NYSC camp, which was in February 2009.

Can we talk about your NYSC experience? What was it like for you?
NYSC camp wasn’t a culture shock; I rather found it laughable. It wasn’t anything I hadn’t already experienced in Kankon. So even though I’d been in the UK for six years, as I would say: ‘you can take me out of Kankon but you cannot take Kankon out of me’.

After camp, I served at a company called CA Consultants, a building service electrical and mechanical engineering consultancy. I worked as an HVAC engineer on projects such as the Lagos Oriental Hotel, Four Points Hotel, the Mobil building, and others. I was with C.A. Consultants for the entire service year which ended in February 2010.

What did you do after NYSC?
I started working on building an e-bay clone with Lanre Oyedotun who I met at Iseyin. Some way into the venture, we realised we needed an online payment processor – which didn’t exist in Nigeria in 2009, and decided we’d solve the problem ourselves. We tried partnering with an existing technology company and made significant progress with ‘U-Paid’. The idea was that they would provide the payment technology and we would handle the business development in Nigeria. We’d met with MTN and GTBank and were gathering some momentum, at least it felt like so.

It turned out the solution we were trying to assemble was called “Mobile Payments” and the CBN had a framework that required us to have 500 million Naira to be in that business. We didn’t know anyone who would give two unproven graduates that amount of money to experiment with, so it was back to the drawing board.

What did your drawing board reveal the second time round?
While working on the payment solution, we had obtained our NCC (Nigerian Communications Commission) license and so decided we would do what we call an MVP (minimum viable product). We decided to build an airtime-vending platform for mobile phones; we already had the license and it didn’t require a mortgage to finance. Our MVP was ready sometime around January/February 2011. It took about 18 months to automatically connect to all the mobile networks, so we manually scratched a lot of recharge cards during that time.

So now you have a company that sells airtime to mobile phone customers?
Yes, we incorporated the business under the name iThena Logic Ltd, and our service is hosted at: www.topupgenie.com. We initially bought and scratched thousands of recharge cards which we uploaded manually unto our MVP to prove the concept and later raised funds to build a more robust platform. We launched the second version in July 2012 and grew our revenue at an impressive rate of about 23% per month mainly through word of mouth. We were really excited but it was short lived because in November 2013, two things happened. First, banks (GTBank) introduced the One Time Password (OTP) to improve security however the initial implementation was poor and caused our sales to dip by 90% in one day.

The second issue was fraud. Occurrences of fraudsters using stolen bank (atm) card details to purchase airtime was rising rapidly so we implemented customer verification checks. This was effective but it had a negative impact on our growth rate due to the ‘stress’ involved with verification checks.

A major challenge we still face is the ‘un-robust’ payment infrastructure in Nigeria. The occurrence of incomplete transactions and errors across all channels is too frequent and so trust in e-commerce is not able to grow as quickly as it can and should. These channels include POS, ATMs, online payments, etc.

It would appear most people in Nigeria still top up via the recharge cards. How are you educating Nigerians to top up online?
People are used to recharge cards because that is what has always existed. Gradually Nigerians are realising that online top up is quicker and more convenient and they will ultimately make the switch. Infrastructure and trust is also a key. As more people get online and with improved payment infrastructure, we will see more consumers patronise e-commerce. The CBN and banks are doing a great job of educating the public on e-commerce/payments and they have deeper pockets to do so. We can leverage their progress.

With over 80 million mobile phone users in Nigeria, the future looks bright for you?
Our present focus is on organisations and that’s because the market for individuals is well catered for. There are numerous “mobile money” and banking options for individuals to get airtime. The way we position ourselves is as a provider that helps companies manage the distribution of airtime to their staff to which there are numerous benefits.  One of our selling points is that we are often able to provide better and quicker service to companies than even the networks can. The networks need vendors like us to help handle these issues but a lot of companies don’t understand that.

Our mission for Topup Genie is to be the leading provider of topup and advisory services for choice utilities e.g. power, water, DSTV and so on.

More broadly, how have you found life in Nigeria since moving back? How do you deal with the power and traffic situation?
I would say I am blessed. More often than not, there is power at home and at the office. Of course this is a mixture of PHCN, generator, and inverter. When you have power and access to the internet, business can happen – that’s one of the benefits of internet based businesses.  As for traffic, it initially irritated me and still does but I complain a lot less now. Bad traffic comes with the territory. Certain motorists are unaware of what constitutes proper behaviour on the road, and if they did, then they would do the right thing. More education is needed on that front.

Outside of work, how do you generally unwind and relax?
I used to do a lot of poker nights with my friends but not so much recently. I also do a bit of salsa.

On a final note what advice would you give to Nigerians abroad thinking about moving back?
I’d say come by all means but have a goal/something you want to achieve here and work towards it because that’s what will keep you going in the midst of all the chaos and potential frustrations.

MBTN helps Nigerian and African professionals from across the world connect with career and Investment opportunities. We also organise networking events, conferences and workshops that give you the required tools to get ahead in your career in Africa or elsewhere. Find out more at www.mbtnglobal.com. Follow us on Twitter @mbtnglobal and Instagram @mbtnglobal

32 Comments

  1. madam

    October 31, 2014 at 11:43 am

    “I’d say come by all means but have a goal/something you want to achieve here and work towards it because that’s what will keep you going in the midst of all the chaos and potential frustrations.”

  2. Ron

    October 31, 2014 at 11:54 am

    My handsome cousin, so proud

  3. bruno

    October 31, 2014 at 11:58 am

    some people no they hear word. STOP COMING BACK TO NIGERIA!!!. it is not worth it. you will make a ton of money but you will not enjoy it. you buy an expensive flashy car and immediately they will rob you or okada and danfo buses will scratch it very well for you. this is one of many examples

    • Babalawo

      October 31, 2014 at 12:22 pm

      Eran ogun ni e..! How there you????!!!

    • bruno

      October 31, 2014 at 12:46 pm

      ‘how dare you’ iti biribo.

    • MC

      October 31, 2014 at 4:18 pm

      He had no choice but to go back. he mentioned Visa issues.

    • ATL's finest!

      November 1, 2014 at 8:34 pm

      What’s up with these folks moving back and they feel like sharing?? Well mtchew he will be ok in Nigeria after all, London be like Nigeria if mot even worse apart from constant light lol ( Abeg make una no kill me oo) .

  4. bruno

    October 31, 2014 at 12:46 pm

    ‘how dare you’ okpo

  5. @bruno

    October 31, 2014 at 12:53 pm

    lmao if they don’t return home where else do you want them to be?your cousin is fine o.does he have a babe,how old is he?

    • Tomi

      October 31, 2014 at 3:20 pm

      I hear he’s 30 next month… Go to his party

  6. Ada

    October 31, 2014 at 12:58 pm

    Dear Bruno! If you read this article from beginning to the end you ought to have noticed that his visa type restricted him to getting a job of his dreams. Would you prefer he stayed over there and washed dead bodies or wash plates just so he can live abroad. You sound so naive. Everyone that is well travelled will agree that it is not easy anywhere, as a matter of fact if you have a goal you are better off in Nigeria than anywhere else. My prayer is that the embassies should grant everyone that is seeking to run away from Nigeria visa. Go and ask those that sold their life assets to live abroad and has resulted to being security guards but are too ashamed to come back home.

    • bruno

      October 31, 2014 at 5:38 pm

      madame itk. I read everything. if he didnt have a problem with his visa he wont have cone back to the land of doom. this is to show you people who have sense can never leave abroad to come back to nigeria to start fighting with nepa and mosquitoes

    • Tinuke

      November 1, 2014 at 10:16 pm

      I have sense. I moved back. I started a business. I’m happy. I understand your frustration with Nigeria but I don’t share it (as extremely). The frustration though, leads me to want to help change it or at least spark the change. For me, helping build-up something that is my own(Nigeria) makes me feel very good. I’d rather spend my life doing that. I loved living in america but I definitely feel more useful and fulfilled over here in Lagos. Not everybody feels this way and that’s okay. Some people run away from problems. Im the kind of person who sees a problem and has an intense need to fix it. Which is why I am an interior designer. U may not get that but…cest la vie

  7. Don Smiley

    October 31, 2014 at 2:20 pm

    Good to see Adebola sharing his experience,

    I first met this young entrepreneur in 2009 after a wickedly torrential rain in Park View Estate. My car got stuck in the ‘pond’ that had collected on Femi Pedro Street. After more than an hour looking for help to push my car along, Adebola pulled up to ask if he could help in any way. Just like that. He promptly latched my saloon on to his jeep, and towed my car all the way back home to the other end of Ikoyi, Dolphin Estate to be precise.

    He performed this act of kindness as if it was the most normal thing to do for total strangers. and we were old school chums.

    When he got to my place I offered some money to, at least, cover the cost of his petrol. He would hear nothing of it. He said people are often good to him so he tries to be good to others.

    This is a young man who will go places.

    Adebola I’m proud of you.

    All the best.

    • nosey

      October 31, 2014 at 3:18 pm

      Whats with all the name dropping as per location?! So unnecessary! Nigerians sha! Always trying to feel important!

    • Don Smiley

      October 31, 2014 at 7:21 pm

      Huh? You lost the class there. Let me rehash this in case you were asleep. I had a problem on a rainy day. My jalopy at the time got stuck in a pool of water. A brother I never met came to another brother’s rescue. Today, 5 years later, I see his face, recall his name and write this down in recognition of his all-round, wholesome good nature.

      But that was over your head.

      You missed the moral of the story if all you saw was the location. Adebola’s parents lived there at the time, and my fiancée at the time, and current wife lived there. If you have to hate, listen carefully first then hate with wisdom. Or else, register for reading lessons. Peace.

    • Debola

      October 31, 2014 at 4:13 pm

      Wow, I remember! Totally skipped my mind until now. How are you and what have you been up to? Please send an email to [email protected] and I’ll get in touch with you from there – I don’t want to put my personal details up here.

  8. Jeremy,s mum

    October 31, 2014 at 3:03 pm

    Adenola you are blessed !

  9. JAY

    October 31, 2014 at 3:09 pm

    IF I BE NAIJA PERSON RIGHT NOW…THERES NOTHING TO BE PROUD OF>>>

  10. babe

    October 31, 2014 at 3:20 pm

    It is so obvious this Move back to Nigeria Column na good avenue for foreign graduates to advertise their relocation or mainly to advertise their start ups.Welldone sha.Not easy.Please can someone interview the likes of Chika Nwobi, Jason Njoku too or even Diliora Umeniyora lets know how money come o. Just saying pls don’t hate. Thanks a bunchies.

    • Tomi

      October 31, 2014 at 3:34 pm

      For me it has to be about what they are up to and how they are trying to be productive when they move back otherwise why should anyone care just cause they’ve lived out of the country.

    • Meme

      November 27, 2014 at 6:34 pm

      i have to disagree with you here. I live abroad and these stories motivate me to return to my country one day.

  11. Tomi

    October 31, 2014 at 3:30 pm

    I like the article and the lessons shared from his first hand experience in starting a tech/e-commerce business in Nigeria. I would love to find out more details. Anyone know how I can contact him?
    Must be brave trying to enter the ‘saturated’ airtime space.

  12. Akpan Simon

    October 31, 2014 at 4:47 pm

    Impressive. I especially like his final comment which goes thus: “”I’d say come by all means but have a goal/something you want to achieve here and work towards it because that’s what will keep you going in the midst of all the chaos and potential frustrations.””

    Frankly, it is not your environment that determines your success but your mindset and beliefs. A lizard in America will still be a lizard in Nigeria. Opportunities abound everywhere in the world and are caught only by those who are savvy and bold.

    DJ#

  13. Awimot

    October 31, 2014 at 4:55 pm

    Debola my crush since forever.

  14. Lana

    October 31, 2014 at 5:07 pm

    Funny enough I was just chatting with my friend who is just completing her NYSC. I was a bit hesitant about the 3 week camp but I also went to Kankon. Left in 2002 after my SS1. If I can survive Kankon, I definitely can survive camp lol. I’ll be returning in 2 years for NYSC. Glad to see an ex-Kankonian making moves. 🙂

  15. Ephi

    October 31, 2014 at 5:10 pm

    I admire his honesty and being open about coming back earlier than he planned to, but even more, I admire what he’s achieved. Will definitely make use of TopGenie when next I’m there.
    On the other hand though, I feel for those who make their income from physically selling recharge cards because platforms like these would eventually take away their business.

  16. VeryAngryNigerian

    October 31, 2014 at 8:11 pm

    But, Bruno is claiming the young man is his cousin na, why can’t he just call family meeting on top his head?? Instead of indirectly calling his cousin a loser online. Abi my eyes dey do double nii, no be bruno be the same as Ron? I won’t be suprised if this bruno dude is typing from his self-contain in surulere and kisses up to his internet-cousin every weekend….:D… funny cat tho..sometimes.

  17. Eddie

    October 31, 2014 at 10:49 pm

    Remember this guy…We actually were in the same class at St. Leos…gosh I haven’t seen him in almost 20 yrs now…

  18. Tolu .A.

    November 1, 2014 at 3:00 pm

    I did one with Jason Njoku last year. You can read abut it here: bits.ng/learning-from-founders-chapter-two-jason-njokus-story/

  19. Fola

    November 2, 2014 at 3:07 pm

    Ada, Bruno does have a valid point. Why bother coming back to build a startup with no infrastructural support from govt or financial backing from Nigerian banks who will only lend money to rice and petrol sellers (no names mentioned) and who wield great political influence and zero credit score? That’s just too much. He should bring his behind to d us and come make beacoup money in IT ( go ask them Google boys in Silicon Valley). Even Indian immigrants make 6 figures within 6 months in d US with good IT skills.

    Until we can vote for well travelled, progressive and incorruptible leaders in Nigeria who understand the value of intellectual ideals (cos they obviously ain’t got none) there is no hope. Mark zuckerberg didn’t do shit but steal an idea for a startup from the winklevoss twins and got financial backing from venture capitalists. Look at him now

  20. Uju

    February 28, 2015 at 3:58 pm

    I remember Adebola from Divy…..brilliant specimen of a human being . Smart and kind. He will definitely go far.

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