By Oluwatoyin Adeleye
If you are thinking of running your own online business in Nigeria, becoming an entrepreneur and being your own boss, you might want to think again to be sure that that is what you want.
Founder and CEO of Nigeria’s biggest and foremost online drinks hub, Drinks.ng, Olanrewaju Akinlagun would be the first to let you in on how challenging it is to run a successful online business in Nigeria, but he is doing it, so of course, you can too.
Drinks.ng has been running in Nigeria for the past four years and has grown and saturated deeply into the Nigerian drinks industry. But the young boss attests to the fact that business in Nigeria is quite hard.
But this is not a problem for Lanre, as he is commonly called, as he believes that the best part of being a CEO is the capacity to identify problems and fix them.
He says, “You’re able to identify problems and fix them. You get to use your brain to fix stuffs for other people, which invariably means you are helping your business yourself.”
With this mentality, it is no wonder his business is thriving.
It was hard to miss the passion and severity in the tone of Akinlagun, as he spoke with Accelerate TV about his venture, Drinks.ng.
“We are Nigeria’s first and largest online/e-commerce beverage site, while at the same time running Nigeria’s first dedicated drinks publication – Spirit magazine. We reside in Lagos and have offices in Abuja. We distribute to 28 different states across the country, whilst also running a 24-hour delivery service in certain parts of Lagos,” began Mr Akinlagun.
Drinks.ng delivers literally every brand in the alcohol business and will counsel you on what best drinks or alternatives would suit your needs at that present time, so you’re guaranteed total professionalism.
But there have been challenges.
“The most challenging part of running an online business in Nigeria is being in Nigeria. Nigeria is not good for online business at all,” says Mr Akinlagun.
He noted that Nigerians’ insatiable thirst for all things foreign makes business more difficult for people who are trying to grow the Naira. Therefore, “apart from the fact that there is no infrastructure to make delivery businesses easy. No one still trusts anything by Nigerians. It is funny how there is still a ‘Buy-Nigerian’ campaign, but no one wants to buy Nigerian. People aspire to be foreign.”
Complaining about the delivery system, Mr Akinlagun said, “If we buy things online and they are to be delivered, do we have a general post office where they can be delivered to and we can pick them up from there or a neighbour that can be trusted with your item? These are some of the elements that make e-commerce work abroad. They face some of the same challenges that we face here, but they have a different trust element that allows it to work.” He added that “If the people were more trust worthy and better behaved, things would be better.”
In addition, he said if Nigeria had better quality human capital, business would also have been better. He advised that most of the graduates who are unemployed should strive to go beyond their classroom teachings to acquire hands-on skills in their various fields, to make themselves more relevant, as “there are many jobs here in Nigeria, but a lot of the graduates looking for these jobs are not skilled.”
So what’s the secret to the success of Drinks.ng, despite these major challenges?
“Perseverance,” said Mr Akinlagun. “Anytime we see a problem, we try to fix it. Don’t get me wrong, I have been discouraged many times, but being persistent and innovative helps.”
Noting that Spirit Magazine was borne out of one of those pressing times, he said, “The magazine was borne out of such innovative saves. At some point, we were running out of money and we thought of what we could do to create revenue and increase sales, and the magazine came about. It generated advertising, revenue and greater awareness. You know they say when your back is against the wall that is when you use your brain instead of your money. So you just become creative in business when you need to be, otherwise, you die.”
Asked the question on every young entrepreneur’s mind: ‘Do you have to own a huge capital before running a business in Nigeria?’ His answer was a big Yes.
Being as realistic and frank as possible, Lanre said, “In Nigeria, you do, because everything costs money.” But other things that have helped his business and can help yours too, are word of mouth testimony, advertising, referrals, unique services, among others – being creative comes to mind again.
When asked, ‘What’s the most important factor for a business success?’, Mr Akinlagun refers us to both the skill of the craft you want to engage in and the business knowledge.
He explained that being able to put a price on an item is not enough. You have to combine the knowledge of the skill involved in the business, as well as the knowledge to engage in profitable sales. “You cannot just focus on cheap prices to attract customers, because eventually, you will run at a loss,” he said.
For those thinking of the right time to quit their corporate jobs for entrepreneurship, Mr Akinlagun advices that there is no set time for this. You just have to be sure that you are prepared to face the challenges and take responsibility for not just your own income, but the income of people who will be working with you.
“Some people are natural entrepreneurs, some people are not,” he said. “Being an entrepreneur is like 10 per cent knowledge, 10 per cent ability, another 10 per cent financial capacity and the remaining 70 per cent is about the drive and perseverance, because you are going to get ups and downs and if you cannot keep going, no matter how much you have, the business will die.”
It is not a bad idea to quit your business though, advices Mr Akinlagun, saying that, “Success does not lie in just running a business. Go and talk to the MD of Banks, do you think they regret having a career? It is not for everybody. But Nigerians seem to think being an entrepreneur means having access to lots of money and means you are successful.”
But above all, Mr Akinlagun believes that solving the cultural and educational deficits in Nigeria will save the quest for entrepreneurship in Nigeria.
Cultural Problem: “The Nigerian government and parenting have created a problem of entrepreneurship and a lack of ability to work hard. The Easterners have some of my respect in this regard, because they teach a lot of skill and hard work in business. They let you know that ‘if you dedicate yourself to me and growing my business, after a certain amount of years, I will give you money to go start your own business.’ It doesn’t necessarily make them experts at business, but it makes them good at grassroots business. The problem about Nigeria is the mentality that ‘I am only working to start my own business, but not working to be better at my job.’”
Educational deficit: “Nigeria’s educational system teaches you to cram and copy in your exam word for word. It doesn’t teach you to think. Your parents tell you to shut up when they are talking to you, because they are older than you, and tell you they know more than you. But that is not true. Most of the successful tech companies today were started by young people under 30 – Facebook, snapchat, google, Microsoft, apple, IBM. The people here aren’t allowed to think for themselves or take risks. Our culture does not encourage people to learn. Nigerians think they take education very seriously, but they don’t. Rather, they take the image of education seriously. Kids are not allowed to express themselves in our education, they are only expected to follow a certain status quo.”
The intense interview was over and the silence was deafening. With such facts now at your disposal, you’re well equipped to either go and start your business or try to be better at your current job. Either ways, remember, Lanre Akinlagun thinks you are successful.
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