Musa Jibril, Guest Columnist
After spending two years listening to men and women tell their stories and subsequently co-authoring a book titled 50 Nigeria’s Boardroom Leaders, I have developed the intuition for spotting the quintessential entrepreneur. When you meet one, the signs jump at you––in the way they think and act. So I couldn’t have missed the signs when I met the Ande Brothers, two young Nigerians who chose to use the Internet positively.
Theirs is a riveting story of resilience, creativity, innovativeness and other positive qualities that underlie successful businesses. Presently, they are Nigeria’s wonder-kids operating in the digital niche of cyber security and Internet of Things (IoT). The duo of Akin and Dayo Ande, co-founders of Chert System Solutions, are the stuff of Forbes profiling.
Akin is the CEO, a Computer Engineering graduate of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, with a postgraduate degree in Software Engineering from Manchester University. Dayo, the MD, is a 2004 graduate of University of Ilorin with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration.
Their profile has a backdrop of hard work and enterprise. They had a foretaste of business as teenagers supplying yam flour (Elubo) to Federal Government College, Ogbomosho. It was an onerous work that entailed travelling to Nupeland and spending days inside trucks. They did it to augment their parents’ lean purses. They continued the hustle as undergraduates. Akin was doing one job or the other after college hours. His weekends too were spent working at a sports shop to earn money to pay his tuition fees. Dayo used to buy CDs from Alaba International Market, Lagos and sold them in Ilorin. The profit he made saw him through his four-year course. When he joined his brother in the UK, he rolled up his sleeves and took on a slew of odd jobs, ranging from salesperson for a charity organization to hired hands at the Manchester stadiums, to a labourer in a bakery.
Even as men of means, they still couldn’t resist trying their luck at new prospects. They traded in cocoa as recently as 2015. They’ve also tried their hands on photography––and even covered big jobs including one from the presidency, African International Film Festival (AFRIFF), and numerous weddings and international seminars. They have also dabbled in real estate.
True entrepreneurs––such as Sir Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Aliko Dangote and Mike Adenuga––do not rest on their oars. They continually seek new challenges and opportunities. That is the spirit exhibited by the brothers. One inspirational part of their story is their decision to return to Nigeria. They could have chosen to stay back in the UK, where Akin especially had a juicy job with Insight UK where his IT skill and sales experience made him the company’s kingpin. After sending laptops to a cousin in Nigeria who sold the devices and sent back cash they believed home is where their future lies. Akin registered a company in January 2009, quit his job in March one year after he was employed and packed his baggage, ready to embark on an entrepreneur journey. But the foray did not end well. At the very beginning of their entrepreneur flight, they ran into turbulence.
“When I resigned, me, my wife and a friend put all our savings into buying from MobiU the West Africa exclusive right to a cloud technology that enabled users to work inside a USB that backup in cloud storage,” Akin recalls. “We came to Nigeria in March. Three months after, the company went bust because Vodafone was embedding in its laptop that same technology.”
The fiasco wiped off their savings. Akin was still in the UK with his wife, both of them attending a Bible College, both out of jobs, both of them forced to take up a daily job of “cleaning toilets to survive.” Dayo who was in Lagos resorted to peddling original antivirus, laptops and anything IT shipped to him by his brother. Operating from their cousin’s shop in Computer Village, Ikeja, he sold on the street. If you bought an original Kaspersky antivirus from Computer Village in 2009, you probably got it directly or indirectly from Dayo who was soon known as “the man with authentic antivirus.”
What Akin learnt at Insight UK––the secret of online business––he put to good use by developing a website for selling Kaspersky antivirus. Out of that small acorn has grown an oak of an online business. Chert.ng, their company is the biggest IT site in Nigeria and West Africa with a staff figure of well above 30.
Their story is replete with valuable lessons on how to build a business. One: Have integrity. “We don’t bribe.” Akin says. “I would rather lose a deal, and indeed we have lost crazy deals. But it has become part of our DNA. We don’t cut corners. We don’t think there is a very quick path to success. Success comes by hard work. For years, we didn’t make money. Whatever we made, we were investing.”
Two: Employ good hands. Says Dayo: “Over the year we have learnt not to judge people by academic performance alone. We don’t take people because they have second class upper or first class. You might come for an interview and we won’t look at your certificate at all. We just want to know what you can offer. We want people who are hungry for success.”
Three: Start small and scale up. “There are a lot of people who can invest in you,” Akin says, “but you need to have a proven track record. “If you want N500, 000 to start a business, you need to prove what you have been able to do with N5, 000 and give me a track record of how you converted the money to, say, N20, 000.”
Four: Mistake is part of business. Dayo: “In 2011, an Indian company that wanted to come into Africa saw our website and gave us a deal worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. We were to be paid in local currency. After we agreed on the exchange rate, the naira slumped. We couldn’t go back on the agreement. At the end of the day, we made peanuts. Even Harvard couldn’t have taught me that. There is no school for that kind of failure. This is what you put into the knowledge of experience. We never made that kind of mistake again.”
Five: Know when to stop flogging a dead horse. Akin: “Some people still carry on doing something that is dead. There is no harm in you trying and failing. But the fear of failure forces people to stay on something they ought to have quit.”
What fascinates me most about this pair of business founders is their unwavering belief in Nigeria. Where others see difficulties in the Nigerian business environment, they see opportunities. A visit to their new office at 14 Ilaka Street, Ilupeju, Lagos, gives you a glimpse of the future they are building. They are upbeat about the future and the future is IT, and cyber security expansion across West Africa.
“Our plan is to expand from Nigeria to other African countries. We have completed registration in Cameroun. Benin Republic will follow in the next three months and after, Ghana and Togo,” they disclose.
In the months ahead, you are going to hear more about the Ande Brothers, their big dreams and the ambitious undertakings that highlight the “sociopreneur” side of them. The two brothers represent the new face of Nigeria. They are young IT-savvy Nigerian entrepreneurs using their talents positively to add value to the economy while others are using theirs negatively as yahoo-yahoo boys.