There are two requirements that every entrepreneur needs: resilience and the desire to provide solutions to the problems they see around them. This week’s interview with Edmund Olotu, CEO of TechAdvance touches on these necessary elements, that have contributed to his success and his continued efforts in developing the payments and tech space.
Edmund’s interview is honest, as he shares his take on the ease of doing business in Nigeria and how sometimes the key to success can be found in collaborating with other entrepreneurs.
Edmund Olotu is a parallel entrepreneur with companies including Novira Therapeutics, sold to Johnson & Johnson for $600M and TechAdvance: a payment infrastructure and digital financial services company processing more than N15b annually and other companies in the agri-tech space.
What is your long-term purpose?
Edmund Olotu: It’s a combination of my short-term plans. My primary objective is to solve big problems. I pick problems apart so that if someone is coming up behind me, they can look at what I have done or where I have left off, and develop their own solutions. Sometimes, that’s enough for me.
What are some of the habits you’ve cultivated that have helped you remain consistent?
Edmund Olotu: Number one: owning a notepad. Owning a notepad (and using it) means that you’ve identified a goal and that you have been able to articulate to yourself, what you are trying to achieve. This is so important because it is so easy to get pulled in multiple directions.
I write my objective, the reason for it and what I want or expect my outcome to be. This helps me tune out and stay focused. It’s important to remain emphatic on your goal and how to achieve it.
I am militant about my objectives. Whatever I am doing has to further my objective. Most people do “things” that distract them from their goals. Anything that is not in furtherance of my goal isn’t a priority.
You need to be clear about your mission every day. Those aggregate into your mission for the week, month, quarter and the year. You have to moderate what you think is important.
What is your view on failure being part of the entrepreneurial process and how does one recover from it?
Edmund Olotu: If you haven’t failed, you haven’t started properly. You learn more form failure because you know what not to do the next time. The second thing you attempt becomes successful. Failure keeps you from being blindsided. It prevents you from thinking one-sided and makes you more cautious. It helps you better plan your steps.
If you’re pursuing something as an entrepreneur, and you fail and are then scarred from the process, you need to examine your motives. Chances are that you were being driven by your ego.
It is easier to bounce back when you are working for the greater good.
When it’s for your ego, you hide or dim yourself and dwell on your shortcomings.
What have you consider to be the most difficult terrain to navigate, as an entrepreneur?
Edmund Olotu: Managing government, public policy and certain parastatals has been a challenge. Some of their regulations and even some of their most recent publications have been tone deaf and have shown a lack of understanding of what entrepreneurs, especially those who run SMES, require in terms of support.
The ease of doing business is virtually at zero. This was briefly addressed when the Vice-President, Professor Osinbajo had begun to implement certain guidelines, but those are currently no longer being actioned.
I have PTSD from my macro-economic situation.
Processes should not limit the growth potential of a business or deter you from making certain business decisions simply because of the complexity of regulations and processes that ensure your business is compliant. Going through NAFDAC processes or filing with CBN, for example, shouldn’t look like a herculean task.
In my opinion, our processes are not patriotic. Out of all the funds that have been created, how many business owners have gained access to them? The requirements have been nearly impossible to achieve.
There need to be less restrictions.
What have been some of the hardest but best lessons you’ve learned along your journey?
Edmund Olotu: You have to have good people around you. It’s difficult to trust people but you just have to. It makes things easier and helps you build a tribe. On days you aren’t there, your tribe will help you move forward.
Though I’m still building it, I think I have my tribe.
You seem to be able to thrive anywhere. Why have you chosen to run your business in Nigeria?
Edmund Olotu: Because I want a better Nigeria. I don’t think we will see a political change in my lifetime, but I believe that for every one that can, we can create a micro versions of the government we want to see.
If you are a business person with only 5 employees, your business should be a reflection of the kind of Nigeria you want to see. That should be the contribution of every Nigerian that “can”.
Why do you still care?
Edmund Olotu: If I can surround myself with my tribe and actively grow them, then we will mutually enjoy the benefits we want. I also want to encourage others that innovation can exist in this environment, especially while I have some resilience.
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs who are ahead of their time?
Edmund Olotu: Stay ahead of your time. It means you’d have created an environment for other people who are coming behind you and created opportunities for them to be successful. One day you will be recognized.
In addition, being ahead of your time isn’t a negative thing. Why? Because you give people the opportunity to be “in their time”. Be happy about it.
If you could, would you choose to be an entrepreneur again? Why?
Edmund Olotu: Yes. It is the only thing I know. I love solving problems and getting out of sticky situations. This is who I am. This is where I find my peace.
How has your business been impacted by the pandemic?
Edmund Olotu: Severely. The general drop in economic activity, coupled with the fact that the cost of goods and services are increasing and the drop in oil prices has led to a steep drop in revenue. I’ve had to let go of some of my staff.
My parallel lines of revenue have all been affected.
What are your major concerns resulting from the pandemic?
Edmund Olotu: Being able to retool and reorganize my business and how to motivate people to adopt a new set of skills.
Employees should be looking at what will emerge post the pandemic. I wonder daily, if my staff will be in tune with new reality and how have their job roles changed? This period has even forced me to examine myself. If my job goes, can I do something else? Should I need to, how do I retool for the new reality?
What is your outlook for your industry over the next 6-12 months?
Edmund Olotu: Potentially stable and there may even be a growth opportunity as a lot of people will start their own businesses. Also, with fewer interactions, we’ll definitely see an increase in ecommerce and transactions.
What do you think can be done industry-wide to protect key players in the space?
Edmund Olotu: The ease of doing business is generally just poor as there is no cohesive advocacy for companies . We need structures to protect small businesses.
Do you have any last words or any key advice you’d like to share?
Edmund Olotu: Entrepreneurs should learn to communicate better especially with each other. The answers and insight we are often searching for may be from somebody who is within close proximity to you. Knowing and having relationships with the people around you can also help with collective bargaining. So maximise your network. Understand that not everyone is a competitor, and that sometimes you are dealing with a potential collaborator.
By: Oladotun Adio