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 regular interviews with individuals who have successfully made the leap, so you can learn from their experiences and make a success of your move back.
Hi, my name is Obinna Okwodu and I am the Founder and CEO of Fibre. I am the son to two wonderful parents, Nnaemeka and Uchenna and brother to Adaobi and Onyema. I was born in the United States but moved back long long ago and grew up in Lagos, Nigeria. My early education took place here as well, in Grange School for primary education and Olashore International School for secondary. Afterwards, I moved to Winchester College in England to finish off my A-levels and then to Cambridge, MA for University at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. While there, I earned one B.Sc. in Civil Engineering from the School of Engineering and another in Management Science from the Sloan School of Management. I graduated in 2014, and joined the Real Estate team in Morgan Stanley that summer. I spent a year there and moved back to Lagos in the summer of 2015 and have been here since.
Outside school and work, I am big on running and basketball and Steph Curry (since before he was all mainstream, lol).
Please tell us about some of your fondest memories from childhood
My dad is a Civil Engineer and growing up we would spend Saturday afternoons at his building sites in Lagos. I was very young so it wasn’t my first choice activity when we first started doing this, but after witnessing the first few buildings go from bare land to complete structures in a matter of months, I started to take a keen interest. His work was a big reason why I started caring about structures and decided to study Civil Engineering at University and ultimately, why I chose to learn more about Real Estate, and try to make a difference in Nigeria’s Real Estate market.
What was it like studying at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology?
I loved it. I met so many awesome people there and made lifelong friends. It was also pretty challenging academically, and helped me build a healthy work ethic. Most importantly though, MIT helped change the way I think about problems, and trained me to find solutions in every one that I encounter.
What did your role at Morgan Stanley entail?
At Morgan Stanley, I was an analyst in the Real Estate Investment Banking team in New York. While there, I worked on structuring financing for large real estate deals as well as for large real estate investments trusts (REITS) in the United States.
So, when did you start thinking about moving back to Nigeria and how did you know the time was right?
It had always been my plan to move back. I initially wanted to do so right after graduation from MIT but I felt there was value in getting some work experience in the states first, so I gave myself a year to work after which I was going to move back. When the year was up, I did just that.
I really wasn’t sure it was the right time, and I don’t know that anyone can really be sure when it comes to making the jump back home. But I had set a timeline for myself before taking the job at MS and was worried that if I postponed it then, I would be leading myself down a slippery slope, and would have continued postponing my move back until it no longer made sense for me to do.
The first few months back in Nigeria, how did they go?
So because I grew up here, I had a good idea of what to expect. I already knew that we drove a little crazier on the roads here and that restaurants and stores didn’t really do the customer service thing, etc. – so there weren’t many surprises from a cultural perspective. It was tougher from a professional standpoint though. I came back wanting to start a company and tried a couple of things initially, but it took me a while to appreciate the difference between the Nigerian market and other more developed markets like the United States. For examples, mobile apps do really well in the United States because they have the infrastructure and the market to support them. In Nigeria, we don’t have either of these things, so they don’t work as well here. I had heard this many times before, but I never believed it – until of course, I experienced it first-hand. Learning these and other idiosyncrasies of the Nigerian market was probably the hardest part of my adjustment (and the learning process is still ongoing) but as I began to embrace them, I began to find openings in the market that I could try to address and eventually was able to zero into one.
What do you currently do?
I am the Founder & CEO of Fibre. We work with landlords across the city to make it possible for professionals in Lagos to live in the city and pay monthly, as opposed to having to pay 2 years rent upfront + service charge + agency fees + legal fees + caution deposit, etc. just to find a place to live. Upon moving back, I found that this was one of the biggest problems that Nigerians were having and thought to try and find a solution. The real estate market in Nigeria treats 100% of the rental population as though they are 100% risky. At Fibre, we do not believe this to be the case and we are out to prove it.
Are you back in Nigeria for good or do you have future plans to be based in a different country?
The hope is that I am back for good. I don’t plan on leaving Nigeria for extended periods of time anytime soon.
What do you do for fun/relaxation in Lagos?
I’m big on small get-togethers and dinners with friends. That’s mostly how I unwind in Lagos.
Do you have any advice for prospective returnees?
I’m not sure I’m in the best place to give advice yet, but something that I learned through the process is that it is really hard to do business in Nigeria without actually being in Nigeria (at least in the beginning phase of your business). I tried a number of times before moving back but ultimately, none of my attempts were successful and I think this was largely because it is hard to be in touch with the realities on ground when you’re not on ground – and any business that will be successful in Nigeria has to be solving a real problem that the people on the ground are facing.