I’ll start with dispelling some of the myths about moving back to Nigeria, as some of my diaspora friends think that Nigeria (Lagos in particularly) is a place of non-stop partying, exclusive celebrity events and easy to make money. I’m not 100 per cent sure where this perception comes from but I would argue that the Nigerian entertainment industry Nollywood, musicians et al have a big part to play as movies and music are one of the main representations of Nigeria that those in the diaspora relate to. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, but it’s just not reality.
The harsh reality is that while getting on a plane and physically moving back to Nigeria may be easy, seizing the opportunity to improve lives, create jobs, create wealth and ultimately succeed is probably 10 times harder in Nigeria than it is in the “developed economies” that most diaspora Nigerians reside in. I will explain.
Before moving back to Nigeria in January 2014 I had been back a handful of times. One such time was when I was younger, like many misbehaving kids of Nigerian heritage born in the UK, I was sent back (“shipped”) to Nigeria to live and study. Despite not enjoying that experience much I found that in my final year of university in the UK I became obsessed with the Idea of moving back.
Before really deciding to move back to Nigeria my co-founder and I had several ideas. So we researched them by travelling to Nigeria in 2012 and 2013 and initially chose to start UniSmart. Prior to leaving the UK I had already been contacting potential partners and clients and setting up meetings.
We launched UniSmart a week after landing and got through the same amount of work most people would get through in 12 months in under 4 months. I remember the day after landing in Lagos having meetings scheduled in Shomolu, Anthony Village, Ikoyi, Yaba, Ikeja and pretty much all over Lagos. At times I had no idea where some places were but I made sure I got there on time. It’s all about hustle. If you’re not prepared to hustle, don’t even consider moving back (unless you have seriously deep pockets).
I quickly realised my British accent wouldn’t help me in the day to day negotiations I had to make in order to save money. So I reinvented my accent and re-engaged with my broken English and suddenly taxi drivers were quoting me 50 percent less and I was getting a better FX conversion rate from mallams. I learnt very quickly to only turn the British boy on when I’m in professional meetings. Outside of that I’m as street as you can get. It even surprises my relatives.
We launched StudySearch officially in May 2014. My co-founders and I had been working on it undercover for some time, as it was one of the initial opportunities we researched. During the Savannah Fund accelerator in Kenya we had some time to reflect, and decided to commit to building StudySearch. We realised that our experiences and areas of expertise meant we were in a great position to execute on StudySearch and truly make it easy for Nigerians to discover and apply for courses home and abroad, and connect international universities with an important market for student recruitment.
My experience moving back has been great but not at all easy, when I speak to friends and family who want to move back they always ask me what opportunities there are in Nigeria. My answer is always the same – there are opportunities in probably every major sector you could think of:
- In the education sector we need more high quality universities to cater for the 500,000 plus students that the State/Federal system has no space for.
- In agriculture and agri-processing sector we need to start producing more packaged goods and stop importing packaged goods. Agriculture remains one of the biggest areas of growth.
- In the energy sector we need to solve the ridiculous power problem that has plagued our country for many years.
- In finance and banking we need better products and services for the banked and the millions of unbanked people.
- In retail higher quality locally manufactured products are needed.
- In technology we need products and businesses that improve the everyday lives of the average Nigerian.
- Even the entertainment and film sector has opportunities. Whether we need more actresses and musicians is debatable, but we definitely need better ways to distribute wealth to content producers and more structure in general, dealing with open and widespread piracy issues.
The things that make Nigeria at times chaotic and difficult to live in are the very things that create opportunities.
My advice to anyone wanting to move back and start up a business is to find a business partner. For me, having co-founders who share in the vision and equally the risk of leaving a somewhat structured and comfortable life in the UK for unpredictable Nigeria has definitely helped in sharing the workload and struggles. Do not make assumptions but learn from being on the ground because Nigeria in the movies and music videos is a far cry from reality (unless you got it like that, LOL!). All in all I would say think big, because it is possible, and be prepared to fight your socks off to make it happen.