By Henry Uche, Lagos
Ayeni Ekundayo is the Chief Innovation Officer of CareerXpress, whose mission is to help clients increase their market share by outsourcing digitally trained and skilled professionals to solve problems.
Through his team, companies have hired the best of employees, placing African youths in line for relevant job qualifications. In this interview, he spoke on the need for digital and soft skills for thriving in a hostile business environment.
How far has your company had an impact on humanity?
Influencing humanity has been the core goal for our organisation. Our fundamental focus is with digitally skilled African youths. We take thorough checks from side to side-crucial evaluations, training and mentorship. With these three core motives, we equip potentials via knowledge transfer, ensure knowledge-gap closure, and provide direction for young people.
For example, once you have a skill in writing, we develop such skills creating future content writers (copywriting), account officers. If you have skills in graphics, you get to curate content in that direction for us.
Based on this, we developed a social enterprise system, opened our doors for intense intern training. It usually involves us spending our resources and office time, for hands-on-training.
The first set of interns trained were about 54 in number. We had 33 of them graduate at the end and positioned these talents to match with requests our clients made. That started CareerXpress, and right now, we officially have a HR system that works.
We hunt for talent to merge with the right jobs requests, using either some of our incubated products or we outsource talents and merge. These job requests stem from both local and international.
Presently, we have over 287 workers (direct and indirect employment) within Nigeria and in other countries such as Rwanda, Ghana, US, Canada and currently in UK.
International Organisations in the US, UK and Europe, want talents that are cost effective. For instance, hiring an email marketer would cost approximately N1,000,000 or N2,000,000 (about $8,000) monthly in a well developed country. However, in Nigeria, you could make do of N200,000 ($500).
This generates a massive flow of foreign exchange into Nigeria. If 1,000 talents work for international organisations; and they earn maybe $1000 monthly across board; this adds up to about one million dollars coming into Nigeria monthly.
CareerXpress generates a pool of talents for these developed countries in areas of content writing, web design, graphics, SEO, Ads management. Most of these employed are remote workers and are fully paid.
This exposure became our landing forte. All that was required is a control measure on the conversation between the international customer who is and the local talents.
How can budding entrepreneurs scale through the turbulent business environment?
An important lesson I have learned as an entrepreneur is: ‘No one will give you the chance to succeed’. You have to earn the spot and always learn to celebrate small wins. Push hard – success does not mean gaining prominence or becoming popular. It is also not about showmanship. Focus on growing your business – be there when needed and at the right time.
What are those soft digital skills young entrepreneurs need to thrive?
Currently, there is a high demand for video content, start learning videography and photography, skills that show you how to manipulate images etc. Web design, development, back-end-management. More so, a major key skill is data science – how to interpret data because we are now in a data- driven world where data is king and the goldmine. – and if I may add content is queen to the data that is being pulled.
Other important digital skills are: understanding SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and SEM (Search Engine Marketing), how to develop a social media strategy, coupled with social media management, content development and strategy with good copywriting skills.
An important point in all these is learning how to weave this into stories to grasp your readers or target audience’s attention and take them along the buyer’s journey from awareness till they become advocates or promoters of you.
Another industry rising is the short skit industry; short skits which have A, B, C rated artists are being done in numbers. This is a big industry because the content is well written, meaning that the entire people that are doing it are important.
What is the next big thing for CareerXpress?
The next big thing for CareerXpress is setting up a global academy for online learning with major focus on digital skills. This facility would aid the best of expertise recognised globally and can be swiftly monetised.
Considering the state of the Nigerian economy, this vision would not only curb the rate of poverty and unemployment; however, most importantly a fair pay amongst genders. Productivity is our sought for.
What is the secret behind your resilience in the midst of economic quagmire?
As every Nigerian would respond, it has been God. The truth is there are no secret recipes to winning. Of course, failures would come but keep pushing until you crack it open. I failed in several things; I just kept moving. One thing I also learned was to manage people around you, trust them, let them make the mistakes so they will learn and trust them to make certain decisions on your behalf.
Take them along with you at every stage of your journey- let them see that life is far more important in terms of impacting people than you just staying and trying to be an island.
You must be able to give, go the extra mile. I remember we held a training one time, we started around 8 am and went on a tea break during the training for 30 minutes or about an hour for the second break. At the end of it all, we closed at 10 pm.
As I said, I love going the extra mile, holding nothing back; until my team reduced the training hours because they said I gave too much. I love to teach you everything that you need to know- not hiding anything because I have made my own mistakes and failed in – and to teach you how to avoid making the same.
I remember the first lawsuit we had as a company, came from a staff member who had finished a design that was approved by a client. All he needed to do was resize, while resizing instead of writing a portfolio he wrote “portofolio” and we started the campaign while resizing and resending without anybody cross checking what he did. That gave us issues with the client.
What other things do prospective and potential entrepreneurs need to know?
You don’t have to wait for a million dollars to be deposited in your account before taking action, take action with what you have, do certain things. The ability to design that is the next skill and the next top skill is people management skill.
Learn how to manage people – you must be able to understand how people work, think, and say things, why they do what they do, why they shout, why they do not shout. This also involves understanding varying cultures.
For example, understand that smoking or taking coffee during a meeting may make people feel offended, while in some other places is normal. Some would like to see you all dress in suits and tie in a video interview. In some places, nobody cares, or you go off the screen, nobody cares.
What do you think the government should do practically to enable young people thrive in entrepreneurship?
I usually say that the government can always use policy to support. In addition, they can give a soft landing; have waivers for young people who are interested in doing these things. More so, create incubators to give room for better infrastructure. The fact is that clamping on people who have laptops in town because you assume all are fraudulent people is not the solution – a thorough investigation gives a better perspective.
About funding, the government should create room for an enabling environment, where investors can have an impact in this industry. Waivers on tax and others would be helpful, to avoid being stuck.
We ought to give concessions to this industry, however, with our thoughts centred on this industry as ‘unripe’, there are rooms for limitations. Some time ago, the government gave over $500 million to the entertainment industry, it seems they do not think that “this digital thing” we do is part of that industry.
As we try to succeed on our own, let us have a united front and approach the government for discussions for legislative support on what we do. Let the private sector drive this course and the government pioneers.
What challenges do you encounter as a digital marketing entrepreneur & how do you CareerXpress survive the COVID-19 pandemic?
I would say on a positive note – We have been able to capture the attention of prospects who before COVID did not want to listen to us or our offers have decided to contact us and even plug into our services. The Pandemic helped us to discover skills that are required to pitch sales online. Physical meetings are no more essential in trying to sell your products or services; but this is not fresh news.
One of the challenges I had while developing my career as an entrepreneur was the ability to conquer what other people say is not possible in Nigeria, by believing that what I was doing will pay off.
Also, have at the back of your mind that we were operating in an environment that did not have the right policy, infrastructure, or good governance. We have had cases of employees leaving the organization and without notice – through it all, I have learnt to think positively.
With the pandemic, we adopted the blue ocean strategy; we went into waters in which some businesses dare not due to fear of drowning. Nevertheless, we dove deep by swimming with sharks, – that is how to scale; and almost literally predict the size and type of whale you will catch.
I remembered the first week of lockdown we reached out to many people and received over 300 requests for our service within the first week of lockdown.
We were deliberate about what we wanted, even though our resources were thin, we pressed harder and it has paid off immensely.