Eyo Bassey is a known hi-tech genius and chief executive of Payporte, an online retail store in Nigeria. In this interview with EFFECTS, the Applied Physics graduate, who is very passionate about hi-tech and gadgets talked about the comeback of Payporte after going solo in 18 months in business and why he redesigned the online website from the scratch, his BBNaija ordeal and how he made his money, among other things.
People see you as a genius in hi-tech, who influenced you growing up?
My mum. My mother influenced me growing up because I lost my dad when I was 11 years old. I’m the first son. She’s a very prayerful woman, she’s a teacher. I saw how my mother gave all she had to raise us as kids. Every time I go through life even when I was in school, if something was going to go wrong, I will remember my mother. With the whole challenges I had faced in business, it’s always my mother I run back to. She’s just the greatest force behind me apart from God.
Was she into business too?
She wasn’t into business. But like I said before, my mum made me have the first capital for my business by taking her property to the bank to get me a loan for business. She wasn’t into business. She was a civil servant, she’s retired now. She got married to a businessman after the demise of my dad. I guess she understood the dynamics about business through him. That really helped her to guide me.
How much did you get to have Payporte started?
It is N15 million. My mum was able to stake that. That was a huge take off capital. What is interesting in this entire story and this money is that if the money had been given to Dangote who is known as successful, it’s different. But to give your money to your son who was barely three years out of university, he has only worked two years of his life and he’s venturing into business. This is the only house you have; you did not give it to a friend, or give it to a bank. That means a lot. I don’t know what my mother was thinking of. That was the only house she’s got as a government worker and all of us were living there.
Then what inspired you into fashion business?
First of all, from a business point of view, when we started Payporte, I saw that I can change the prices of fashion products as I like. That was interesting to me but I could not change other prices. By the time I was going to change the Samsung phone, Samsung suppliers, and manufacturers and there’s something called standard retail price, so how much can you trade it. If I buy a television of LG to come and resell, the difference between me and other market players might be one thousand naira, there’s not much gain because they are always standard products. But with fashion, when I get to LA, Manchester, China, and I work with the designers and come back to Nigeria, maybe I put an extra strap on the dress, extra strap probably means 10,000 naira difference and I can come back next week and change the price. Nobody is coming to regulate the price, at the end of the day; I made more resources from fashion. I was also able to connect with much people with fashion. People watch Big Brother, they like Big Brother, they never wanted to miss the parties on Friday nights because they were looking forward to what they were going to wear. So, we were able to connect with Nigerians more on fashion. Why do you take selfie? It’s probably because of what you are putting on and you are cool with yourself. All of these influenced us to go into fashion, and of course, I also like fashion. Analyzing it both from the business perspective and even personally, it was just okay for us to go into fashion. There’s a whole lot we can do with fashion. Self-confidence emanates largely from how you see yourself and how you feel about yourself. In line with our promise to provide the best quality fashion and lifestyle products to our customers, we have so partnered with top fashion brands in the world for trendy and urban fashion for the style forward young men and women.
What was it you told your mum that enabled her risk her only house to get you started in business?
Let it be known that if your friends and family cannot buy into your vision, nobody would. It is very hard. I think that before I would go to an investor or anyone to give me money, I would first of all secure an appointment but if I can’t convince my mother about my dream, it would be very hard to convince any other person. If you cannot convince your friends and family to support your business, it is hard. Look at Facebook, from school they were friends, Google, they were friends. Your question, what did I do to convince my mum? It started from asking her for the dining table in the house. ‘Mum, can you give me your dining table as my office?’ I asked her. I would wake up in the morning and dressed as if I’m going to work and I’d go sit on the dining table. I was consistent. Of course, I would always tell her about technology, how technology rules the world, I tell mummy, just consider me as a prodigal son that the money you are giving to me I would blow it away as a prodigal son. While I gave her a nice speech concerning my business and she saw the passion and consistency, when I had the first and second staff they joined me on the dining table to work. The other side of it, when the bank gave me this money, I wasn’t able to pay. The bank started chasing me. I’m saying this, because of friends and families that are supporting their loved ones right now. It got to a point, the account officer in the bank was a lady and was a friend to my wife. When the bank was coming to chase, she would call me on the phone to say “don’t run, stay in your office. But they are coming. Stay in your office and tell them the truth.” I kept telling her, you know they can’t take my mother’s house, you know they can’t take my mother’s house and my mother would grab the phone and tell the lady to do whatever she could do. It was not as if the time the bank gave me the money, I doubled the money and pay bank. I was consistent in the course of all these, and then our first technological product was now sold at the brim of it. That bank today has given me loans over three billion naira but they were chasing me at that time (laughs) I will forever be grateful to the bank.
What was your first line of business after school that made you what you are today?
It has always been technology. We build technology for government to generate revenue; for state government. Our first clientele was Abia State government. They really supported us. After that, we built different technologies for different governments, private schools and all of that. What really helped us was the best product we had called College Pro. This is a software that they use to run schools. When we built this software, we told ourselves that we would build College Pro and sell to 40 schools at the sum of one million naira each. We targeted N40 million. Once the schools buy it they own it forever. At the end of the day we were able to send to five schools, which was five million naira, not even the money but having referrals. You can imagine having N5 million then in 2008. The biggest and toughest questions to answer as a startup when you get to somewhere is, what have you done, who is using it? It can be so deflating.
What has life taught you as a person?
The most challenging period of my life has been the last 18 months. I’m writing a book on it. The title of the book is called the Art of Staying Focused. Payporte has a whole lot of challenges in the last 18 months and one has to be very rugged, determined and also learn how to stay focused. Life will always throw you everything. What I have learnt in life is the art of staying focused. You have to learn to stay focused. The art of staying focused is, you quickly identify what is about to distract you no matter how beautiful and how nice it is. That is what has helped us in this whole comeback in 18 months. Also, watch the cycle of friends and people you have, that’s where the whole distraction starts. Friends, they come in different shades. You have to choose them wisely. People, no matter who they are, will always disappoint you. So, my initial shock was, disappointment of people but I have also discovered that people would disappoint you, and accommodate that as part of life. Be in the right circle. The ultimate one is that you have to trust God.
I see you as someone who worked for your money, and you once sponsored Big Brother Naija, why did you do that, some people would think ‘you are money miss road’, for embarking on that?
In fact, some people think I’m a Yahoo boy, some people think, like you said, that I’m a “money miss road,” some people think I’m being diabolical in getting money, some people think I have one godfather, or that maybe I’m laundering money for one politician. The last 18 months has answered those questions. I’m not around to filter what people think about me, but the truth of the matter is that every fund we have, we actually worked for it. Some people don’t understand that money grows, people don’t understand that for you to get to the next level, you need preparation for it. Next level might mean some one or two steps back. We sponsored Big Brother (for the record) for three years. People have never seen Big Brother the way they saw Big Brother until when payporte picked up Big Brother ownership. It was an exciting period and we were very deliberate about it. We asked for Big Brother Nigeria. We sponsored the last Big Brother Africa where we had the whole world in stock, after that show, we said we want Big Brother Nigeria. It took two years of planning before it happened. People don’t know we did that for three years. We would also do something in that level but it would be fashion-biased. Why do people want to go to New York Fashion Week? All the designers in the world, Gucci, Dior, all of them want to be in Nigeria. Why don’t we have the next Gala in Nigeria where people would dress and all that? So Payporte is going to do that in Nigeria.
Is that your next vision?
I can assure you by the grace of God within now and next year, there will be a statement of convergence of all the top big designers known globally here. These top designers have begun to use African prints. We need to showcase what we have here.