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BN 90s Action Crew: Chukwuwezam Obanor wants to kickstart the Rise of Africa’s Entrepreneurial Mafia

IK Nwosu

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The BN 90s Action Crew is a column on BellaNaija.com which seeks to shine the spotlight on changemakers, mainly (but not limited to those) under the age of 25 at the time we had a chat with them, who are influencing Entrepreneurship, Leadership, Governance, Pop Culture, Corporate World, Arts, and Sports.

The column seeks to dig down into how these individuals think, work and live, particularly in the era where business and relationship models are changing rapidly.

The 90s babies are no longer babies; and we want to show you why.

**

Chukwuwezam ‘Wezam’ Obanor is a phenomenal young man, one half of the founding duo of PrepClass a hub for tutors and students to connect – under a controlled and well regulated system.

PrepClass, founded in 2013 by Wezam and Olumide Ogunlana, now has a staff strength of 20 persons, catering to over 2,000 learners from 1,800 parents, with more than 1,200 tutors signed up on its platform. Wezam and Olumide were also named in Forbes’ 2016 30 Promising Entrepreneurs list.

You do not need to sit with Wezam for more than a few minutes to feel his passion for entrepreneurship and his support for the “Africa Rising” phenomenon.

Wezam, who turned 26 September 15, says he enjoys analysing businesses, and outside of work, reading novels and playing games – Playstation, Chess, Scrabble – are the things you’ll find him doing.

We talked to Wezam about his life and business, growing up, the concept of ageism, and some other fun stuff.

**

Who is Chukwuwezam Obanor?

I am a Nigerian, I studied Electrical Electronics Engineering at the University of Lagos. I was born and bred in Lagos. After my studies, I went in to work in Google and then later at Jumia. This was almost immediately I graduated from the university and then about a year later, my partner and I decided to start Prepclass with a view to helping students prepare for local tests and exams and all of that.

Working on the idea started in 2013 became commercial in 2014. And since then we have been evolving and growing at the same time. So this has been what I have 150 percent of my attention.

What is Prepclass?

It is an EdTech company; basically we connect learners and tutors across the country. We have been doing this for three years, connecting them in small groups or one or one classes and now we are evolving and trying to do it on a bigger scale. We are trying to leverage the power of tech in connecting learners and tutors by making it possible for tutors to create lessons, put it online, learners will come and use it.

So we’ll be operating a hybrid model that has both online and offline components. Essentially the idea is the same, which is connecting learners and tutors seamlessly.

When you are on the cover of TIME or FORBES what do you want the headline to be?

The Rise of Africa’s Entrepreneurial Mafia

This is for two reasons:

One. I’m very keen or hopeful that there’ll be several success stories. So if I’m ever on TIME Magazine, I don’t want it to simply be a celebration of my own success. I’m hoping it comes alongside the celebration of several other successes. Successful young people, successful entrepreneurs across the continent.

Whether it’s my face that’s there or whatever, I’m hoping it comes as a wave and the reason for that is, you can’t make a forest with one tree, you have to have a lot of trees. If Africa is meant to come out of the darkness stereotype, the not relevant, not successful stereotype, then we need success stories, not just one Dangote.

We need a lot of success stories. We need to have several people doing amazing things around the continent in their numbers and I want my success to coincide with such an exciting time, that’ll be really amazing.

I want to see a whole lot of people across the continent succeed and I want the new story about Africa on a global scale to be, this is the place to be, not just from the numbers or statistics. When they say the growth rate in Africa is 10% when in reality, the reason why the growth rate is so big is because we are so far backwards. So not just from statistical point of view, but from a ‘things are happening in Africa and people are making it there’ point of view.

Right now, you are sitting with me talking about your life and business. Fast forward to 50 years from now, what do you want to be doing at exactly this time?

I want to sipping pina colada on some Virgin Islands with my grandchildren playing around me and someone calling me that my last investment has 10x.

So, you want to be a successful business person and investor at that time?

Yes, money is a tool you put it around and see what happens. So I want to be able to do a lot of exciting things, preferably across Africa.

What sector in the entrepreneurial or tech ecosystem do you hope to see a disruption?

Hmmm…. Education obviously, and hopefully I want to be the one to disrupt it. Nigeria has several problems when it comes to education: from poor standards to out of school kids. Nigeria has the highest population of out of school kids – 10.5 million – to internally displaced persons, who obviously are completely out of touch with the educational framework.

So, just being able to improve educational standards by using tech to make good education more accessible to a lot more people. Preferably leapfrogging the infrastructure deficit because if you want to make good education accessible normally, you need to build schools, then building schools means spending millions and billions of dollars putting up structures and all of that.

We don’t have the capital to make that happen as a country. But we have phones in our hands, so the question becomes how can we use what we have to get what we want to be and we are hoping that PrepClass will be at the forefront of that kind of disruption that can significantly boost Nigeria’s educational standards several notches up. So that’s one type of disruption I’m very interested in.

Did attending university play an important role in your success?

Yeah, I guess. Perhaps in more important respect is that I met my cofounder (Olumide Ogunlana) there. So if I am to be deemed as successful, not that I think of myself as, it’ll be impossible to tell the story of PrepClass or my story without him being a fundamental part of it.

The second way is the fact that studying engineering helps you think in a certain way. Builds you for challenges. So that also helped and the orientation helped a lot. I don’t know what’s available in other universities out there, but what I got from UNILAG helped me a lot.

Wezam and Olumide

When did you find out this is what you wanted to do? Has it always been the plan or it came sometime later?

This, no. But I’ve always known I wanted to run my own business from a very very early age, maybe like around 15. Probably because of the kind of background I have: my family owns a group of schools, my mum precisely. So I grew up watching her go through all the entrepreneurial hustle. Grow a business almost literally from nothing. So yeah, it’s always something I wanted to do, create my own business, employ people, do exciting stuff.

I didn’t know I’ll make my first venture into entrepreneurship through education. But I don’t think it has been bad. In general, I don’t just want to create one type of business. The goal is to create several businesses that hopefully can span across Africa but one step at a time right? So this is where I am now and this is what I am working on.

 

How does your typical day look like?

One to work around 9am, try to schedule some meetings. Sometimes I might work from home because I’ve also seen that sometimes it helps to think clearer when you are away from operational issues.

A lot of stuff that I do is mostly non operational more strategic and about the next big things we want to do. Those kinds of meetings are typically what I do. I mean setting one up, attending one or working on the actual plans.

What about weekends?

Weekends are the same (laughs) I don’t have work days.

Apart from work, how do you use social media?

I wouldn’t even say I use social media for work. I’m not a very out there person, so my social media life is very quiet. I’m practically not on Twitter which is very terrible. I’m kind of on Instagram but I don’t use it to do anything amazing.

So social media is a tool and I think as an entire I should use it a lot better than I do. Currently my social media game is not on fleek. It needs some work.

Well, there are some people that are always on Twitter and Instagram but they do not post.

No, funny enough I usually post on IG. I was thinking of starting a series on IG earlier this year. So, one of the things I wanted to do when I started this whole entrepreneurial journey was documenting everyday and the decisions I make and how I evolve in my thinking. I thought of doing it earlier is year, but I haven’t and I hope I eventually do now that I’m even talking about it on BellaNaija. Laughs.

The series will be about entrepreneurship and trying to encourage young people, maybe not necessarily young people but just share my experience. Every day I learn and in terms of perspectives. My perspectives have evolved a lot since I started and now. So trying to document how those perspectives have evolved perhaps it might shed some light for someone else.

Who will you consider as a role model?

I have this ideology that if I want to learn from someone and I’m in Primary One, I’ll prefer to learn from the person in Primary Two or Primary Three not the person that’s an undergraduate, because he’s too far from me.

In that regard, I’ll say one of the very interesting people in the Nigerian space right now is Iyin Aboyeji. He’s managed to achieve quite a lot when it comes to interesting things.

I’ll also say Chude Jideonwo and Adebola Williams of RED Group are also people we consider to be very very fascinating with what they’ve been able to do with their partnership. Especially because I’m also in a partnership. So those are people we are like ‘oh yeah they have done amazing stuffs’.

Wezam speaking at Omidyar network in London during CCHub’s Pitch Drive across Europe

Have you experienced ageism? Have you been discriminated against because of your age? Share an experience.

No, no no, much to the contrary. People are usually very impressed when they see young people doing things and I think that’s what’s lacking a lot in our current generation. A lot of young people are not really taking the bull by the horn. What you find is when you reach out to older people they are impressed, they want to support you as fast as you can, simply because they are just like “oh wow this is quite amazing”.

I’ve never been in any meeting or try to pull any deal where my age became an issue. If it’s ever come up it came as a plus.

How do you handle criticism?

I don’t really know because a lot of times we are so deep into what we are doing that we are not looking out to know things that are happening. So far we (Prepclass) have never had any scandal of any sort. The few times we have one or two dissatisfied clients or tutors but we try to go above and beyond to reach out to the individual to understand what happened and to do whatever is necessary to placate them. Public criticism, no.

Personally, no. I live a low key life. (laughs).

With the serious stuff aside, we talked about some other less serious things.

Jollof or Fried Rice?

Jollof everyday

Basketball or Tennis?

Tennis everyday

Netflix and Chill (and Netflix and chill means Netflix and chill *side eyes*) or Dinner Date/cuisine?

Netflix and chill

Twitter or IG

IG

Mummy or Daddy’s boy

I didn’t know daddy, so mummy’s boy

He shared what it was like for him, growing up without a dad.

Dad died when I was about 4 years old. Well, it was fine to be honest. It was fine. My mother did her best to overcompensate for being both a dad and a mum and I’ll say she did a fantastic job. I can’t think of anything I’ve ever lacked. I’ve never lacked anything and I’ve never found myself at a disadvantage because I dint have a dad. So it’s difficult for me to say what it feels like to have a dad or not have one. All I know is that I never lacked anything. I don’t see how having a dad would have made a difference in my life.

In all, I think my mum set a really great example. Maybe having a dad I’d have had someone to look up to from a manly perspective but then I had elder brothers who were 7 to 10 years older than me so that kinda helped a lot.

Body clock or alarm clock

Alarm clock when I have meetings

Night owl or early bird

Early bird

Fave Dress code: Smart, Casual or Trad?

Casual

Do you have or have you had pets?

We did, but personally no. Cleaning up after them will just be an annoyance. They should dey their lane.

Can you ride a bicycle?

Of course, Yes.

Fave spot to hangout

Eko Hotel just to chill. The open space I kinda like it if I just want to have a calm night. Stay by the pool side, be looking at the sky.

Fave thing to cook

I don’t like cooking. It takes too much time.

Fave meal

The way I think of food itself is funny, makes all these food questions hard for me.

Wezam and his partner had a little debate here. After thinking for a while, Wezam asked Olumide to help him out and Olumide said “Beans and Plantain” (shsss don’t tell anyone, this was supposed to be off the record).

After a lot of “why are you shy about your fave meal?” and “is it your like?” flying around, We ended up settling for Jollof rice.

Dream car

I’m not really a car person. I don’t have a dream car.

Football club

“He’s also not a football person” says Olumide. Wezam answered “Barcelona because I had to have one and I kinda liked Messi that time, now I don’t really know. I don’t hear his name as much.”

Do you collect anything? If so what?

Books.

We talked a little bit more about PrepClass and the Nigerian entrepreneurial landscape.

Do you plan on creating your own educational content for PrepClass?

For the content, we want to work with our tutors as partner. So they create the content from their own vast experience in the academia, and we have an agreement with them. So, they create the content give it to us, we distribute the content on our platform and we work with our partners to make it possible for that content to reach as many students as possible. So as that content spread, it also gives the tutors better visibility even across our platform.

Who are some of these partners?

Yes we are working with partners in distributing content on our platform. I cannot tell you who some of these partners are because we have signed NDAs with some of them. There are some people we are trying to partner with or there are people we’ll like to reach out to.

For instance British Council. I know they are big on promulgated English language and English language is a big part of our education. So, it’ll be nice. I don’t know if they are on BellaNaija so this will be cool. It’ll also be nice to do something with Multichoice. These are not people we are engaging with, but we do have some partners we are already engaging with.

Chukwuwezam Obanor pitching PrepClass during CCHub’s Pitch Drive across Europe

You mentioned you don’t want to create one type of business. What are other sectors that interest you?

I’ve always had my eyes and ears set on energy. So there are a number of industries/spaces that have a lot of hype globally. Things like Fintech for example. Interestingly, energy has a lot of hype. Although, it’s not like I’m going into it because of the hype, but I’ve also looked at energy as a kinda interesting place to play in because without it, there is just a limit to how much you can grow.

The truth is that Africa needs a lot of infrastructural investment right now; ways to leapfrog our infrastructural deficit in things like energy roads and housing. Energy is the most feasible right now where we can manage to leapfrog this deficit.

Renewable energy is an exciting thing right now on a global scale. So I’d really like to play in energy. I think the potential for impact is humongous. I mean just imagine if in Nigeria alone we could solve all of our energyproblems. How many people will get employed, how many people with start new companies. You know, how many companies have left Nigeria because of erratic power supply? So many manufacturing companies that can potentially come back.

So, even more than education, energy is something that everybody needs. It’s where I thought of the most about involving myself if I have a bit let focus on PrepClass years down the line.

 

You’ve gotten funding from several platforms, the recent being a $322,000 grant from the GSMA Ecosystem Accelerator Innovation Fund. What, in your opinion is/are the criteria for getting investors on board an idea or already established business.

The first and most important criteria is exposure. And by exposure I mean two things: Having the visibility and having the knowledge.

There are some people that have interesting businesses here and they don’t know that it’s possible for someone to give you money to fund your business. A lot of people only think about banks, micro creditors and small loans as a source of funding. It’s not very popular for people for people to get investment, structured equity deals, e.t.c. People tend not to think that way when it comes to raising funds, they just defer to family and friends, trying to get a few things in credit, try to go to the bank, and so on.

So you first need to know that it’s possible to be here in Nigerian and raise money from investors abroad. Now it’s becoming more popular with startups becoming more of a common place thing.

Secondly you need to make yourself visible enough to the kind of people you want to give you money. You need to also research them and find those people.

If I were to break down raising money into a bunch of things. I’ll say the first thing will be:

  • Know who can give you money. 

This is dependent on three things:

Someone who is interested in your market. Some people only invest in the U.S., some people only invest in some states in the U.S. Some people are happy to invest in Sub Saharan Africa, some East Africa, some Nigeria, I think, very few.

Someone who is interested in your industry. Some people invest in energy, some people in telecomms, e.t.c

Someone that has money. Everybody gets money from someone else. Sometimes the investors themselves have done a round of funding and they don’t have money at the moment. They might be the right people to talk to if thy had the money but they don’t have money so you have to put that into consideration.

  • What’s the hype around what you are doing?

Like in 2013 there was hype around ecommerce, there is some hype right now around Fintech. Different industries have hype at different times.

  • Pedigree of the founder

What have you done in the past, what roles have you occupied, what startups have you built in the past, have you had any successful exit, maybe your family background, it depends.

  • Business metrics

What’s you revenue, profit, business plan, strategy and all that kind of stuff. So, once you have this sorted, it becomes a matter of structuring the company in which case you can talk to an expert that can help you out and then get deeper and deeper and deeper.

But essentially, there are more sources of capital than most people think or realize and there is more and more Foreign Direct Investment getting interested in Nigerians. So people need to know that and research to see opportunities out there they can make use of.

1 Comment

  1. Dupri

    October 6, 2017 at 9:47 am

    You just inspired me with this Interview Bella and he seem cute too

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