Davies Okeowo is the Chief Executive Officer of EnterpriseHill, a business development firm that provides accounting and business development services to micro, small and medium scale businesses. He is also the winner of the Next Titan Season 2. In this interview with Peter Uzoho, Okeowo talks about his experience at the Next Titan Show, the conception and operation of EnterpriseHill, the current economic challenges and what Nigeria’s unemployed graduates should do to survive
Next Titan Season 2 was a very challenging and competitive contest and you were able to emerge the winner. How did it happen?
Next Titan Season 2 was a very challenging and gruelling process. It was an intense process wherein we were fully concentrated on business; we were learning, working and were being judged by experienced entrepreneurs that we look up to in Nigeria such as Chris Parkes, Tonye Cole, Kyari Bukar, Lillian Olubi and a few others. So it was a very challenging journey for me. That said, I will attribute my success to a number of factors. First, I’m a strong believer in God and I ask Him for help. But inasmuch as God helped me, I also applied myself to the process. I had committed myself to learning and value creation ever before the opportunity for the Next Titan came. I always believed that it’s better to be prepared and have an opportunity than have an opportunity and not be prepared.
Early on in life, I had little or no opportunities. All I knew was that I wanted to be an entrepreneur; I wanted to start a business, grow it, employ a lot of people, create value for the society and do very well for myself. That has always been my dream and mission. Over the years before the Next Titan opportunity came I had devoted my time to studying. I hold a BSc degree in Accounting but aside my degree, I studied entrepreneurship and its many parts extensively: sales, business pitching, marketing, business model development and all different areas of business. So I guess my victory in the Next Titan simply brought together all the skills and knowledge I had acquired over time.
My Next Titan journey started when about 5000 of us submitted our online applications. From that pool, about 400 were shortlisted and all 400 of us went through the auditions where we had about five minutes each to present our ideas. Therefrom, 50 of us were selected to attend a three-day boot camp, after which the top 16 were selected. Every week we were grouped into two teams which were tasked with solving a business problem.
At the end of the task, a team wins and another loses. From the losing team two contestants get fired weekly. Staying in the game wasn’t about business alone; it also required good presentation skills, great interpersonal skills, and a big dose of God’s grace. I say this because I actually lost the first five tasks but survived still. I had to collaborate with the same people I was competing with, I had to pitch to the judges many times which was no mean feat. Every meeting with the Judges was a learning experience and I blended all those lessons until we got to the gruelling final and I won.
Having emerged winner in the contest and you went home with N5 million and a car, these resources were they useful to you?
Sure they were very useful to me. Before I went for the Next Titan I had already started my business. I believe you shouldn’t cry about the resources you don’t have, rather be resourceful with what you have. I started with my computer, internet access, a will to succeed and a singular purpose; helping businesses setup proper accounting structures. Alongside my then partner Adewunmi Omodunmiju, I grew the business organically with the monies I generated from sales. Although we were crawling, we were getting ahead. So when I got the resources from Next Titan, it was like pouring gasoline on a little fire. The resources have been useful in structuring the business more and expanding our scope of operation. But most importantly for me (beyond the money and car) is the mentorship because I had had the opportunity to be mentored by those same judges that judged us and their input into my business has been tremendous. Definitely, the Next Titan has been a huge boost to my business and career.
Coming to EnterpriseHill, what really inspired you to go into your line of business?
I decided that I was going to be an entrepreneur when I was in 200 level in the university. At the point, I decided that I was never going to look for a job or compete for a job that I was going to create job instead. So from that point on, I started studying extensively about entrepreneurship. I was learning from global entrepreneurs and leaders like Donald Trump, Richard Branson, Nelson Mandela and a host of others. I was learning about entrepreneurship and leadership as much as I could.
As the years flew by, I immersed myself into the entrepreneurial ecosystem. So once I graduated, I started my first business which was an excursion service for schools which didn’t work out despite all the knowledge I claimed to have had. I was a trained Accountant but my passion was entrepreneurship. However, the business wasn’t working. I stepped into the power of mentorship. I had the opportunity to speak at an event where my business coach, Mrs. Maureen Iyasele (CEO of The JobMagCentre) was also speaking.
After that event, I decided to hitch a ride with her and soon enough, we got stuck in traffic. In that three hours traffic, I told her all about myself and my business. After a series of questions and answers, she helped me see the huge structure problem that existed in millions of Nigerian businesses and helped me map out how I could match my passion with my training to solve a real problem. By helping MSMEs put proper accounting structures in place, I could help them generate proper financial records, make informed decisions, grow, and perform remarkably better.
In those three hours traffic on the 31st of October 2014, EnterpriseHill was born. From 1st November till 31st December 2014, I researched, got a partner and put the initial structures into place. On January 5th 2015, Enterprise Hill started as a firm that provides accounting services and business development services to micro, small and medium scale businesses. Ever since then we have helped quite a number of businesses become profitable and set them on a path to sustainability. We are a young company but we are learning as we go along.
Your brand name is EnterpriseHill. How did you come about that?
EnterpriseHill was divinely inspired. What we had before was Redbrooks Consulting. We had a challenge with the Corporate Affairs Commission registering that name. The name was not taken but there was some mix-up within their system and for eight good months- from January 2015 that we started we couldn’t resolve that registration issue till I got into the Next Titan. And after the Next Titan there were lots of opportunities. I got some exposure as you can imagine. So we needed to restart business on a larger scale so I couldn’t continue waiting on the CAC to sort the issue out. I was thinking through several names and the name just dropped in my mind.
The point for us is that we’re trying to sustain the enterprise culture in Nigeria and we’re trying to set it at the peak to ensure that we get to the very top of enterprise development in Nigeria. Now there are so many initiatives out there that help to start businesses and Next Titan is one of them. But inasmuch as the opportunities exist and we’re creating lots of businesses, we need to make sure that these businesses remain sustainable. We need to structure them and help them to be strong. And for me, sustainability is the peak of enterprise development. At Enterprise Hill, we help entrepreneurs through the process of ensuring that their businesses are nurtured to strength so that it can grow and become more profitable using the power of financial data. So the name just fits; again, it was divinely inspired.
Currently Nigeria’s economic climate has not been favourable and business organisations are not finding it easy. As a young entrepreneur how are you being challenged by the situation?
It’s a very challenging environment right now because of the obvious challenges. However, I’d say the exchange rate instability and the resultant price uncertainty is the biggest challenge. Then there are other challenges that we all know- infrastructure, power supply, outdated regulations and the likes. That said, I’m not one who focuses on what is not working. I like focusing on what is working and how to make it work the more. Even in instances where it’s out of control, I tend to ask myself how can I work around this? It is not about what challenges are there in the economy; it is about how you respond to them. Somebody that I learn a lot from is Donald Trump, who was near bankruptcy in the early nineties when the U.S. economy was in trouble but he used a terrible economy to rise back to being a billionaire. I can give examples of top entrepreneurs across the world that use bad economies to their advantage.
The terrible economy is a springboard for any entrepreneur who has an eye for opportunities and knows how to leverage on them. So inasmuch as there are challenges, there are opportunities. For example, the exchange rate fluctuation is a big problem right now and that is where most of our focus is. But I’m just thinking if the exchange rate is high, shouldn’t we be leveraging this opportunity to earn more foreign exchange? Thinking that way will help any true entrepreneur get ahead in this economy. For me it’s just about spotting the opportunities in a challenging environment. Babatunde Fashola once said when he was the Governor of Lagos State that if our unemployed population applied themselves to solving our many problems, everyone will be employed and we would not have as much problems. So let us see those challenges as opportunities and then so many good things will come out of it.
Foreign companies in Nigeria are closing up and are leaving the country for reason of not being able to cope with the current economic realities. What is your take on that?
If foreign companies are leaving it is easy for us to see it as a problem because they are taking all of their capital and investment out of this country. That reduces the value of investments that we have within the economy. They are taking away jobs because once they leave the people that used to work for them are now redundant. But just as traffic jam was the launchpad for EnterpriseHill, the capital flight is a launchpad full of opportunities. As those foreign companies leave, they leave a vacuum behind. We should apply ourselves to filling the vacuum they are leaving as doing so will create an opportunity for us.
Nigerians are the ones that can best solve Nigeria’s problems. If there is a company in the oil and gas industry that has decided to leave and you are interested in the oil and gas sector, aim to replace that company; aim to get their customers; be focused and be targeted and you will get some mileage. The same goes for all other industries. All we need are people who are willing to plug in their ideas to solve problems. Some people will argue that they don’t have money but even in this terrible economy, the Bank of Industry is still giving people money. The CBN is making funds available to SMEs. There are funds out there but you have to start something first. When investors or parastatals of government who give funds to businesses see the seriousness through which you are conducting your business they will invest in your business. So if foreign companies are leaving, let’s develop local capacity to replace them.
Over the years graduate unemployment has been a major challenge in Nigeria and this has been compounded by the current situation in the country. It’s now more like a keg of gun powder that could explode any day. As a young entrepreneur, what is your advice to the unemployed graduates?
For me it’s very simple. When God wants to bless anybody he blesses the seed that you have, he doesn’t dash you money. I always ask people what resource you have in your hand. Even if you say you don’t have anything, you have time. I always say that this is the best time to be alive because of the access to global markets, resources and opportunities that the internet gives us all. Everyone should begin to employ a productive mentality. Let us think of what we can do for ourselves. What we need to do is to develop and focus more of our attention on developing our human resource. Our human resource will develop all other resource we have as a nation. For young people and graduates that are jobless I advise that you drop your entitlement mentality, none owes you anything! Don’t wait for somebody to push you to success, push yourself to success. The best the government can do is to provide an enabling environment for us and we will keep using every avenue that is available to us as Nigerians to ask them to please give us an enabling environment for businesses to thrive.
, when the environment is enabled what will you be doing? Will you still be looking for a job in the federal ministry? Start something. As you go along you will find the things you need to grow it. Nigeria has a huge market. We’re almost 200 million people in this country. Don’t start by worrying about competitors. Competitors will gain theirs and you will gain yours, it’s a big market. If you apply yourself towards the creation of products or services, you will get patronage. And by the time your business begins to generate revenue and you put structure within your business you will get the opportunity to grow your business and also to employ other people.
So not only will you be solving the problem of unemployment for yourself, you will also create jobs and value for others. Another thing I will like to note is the need to invest in learning. You cannot have enough of learning. New information is breaking every day. You cannot sit down complaining and expect that the information that you need to become a global change-maker will come and meet you in your room. You need to go out there. You need to apply yourself. Use the internet to look for opportunities. Invest in learning and apply yourself. Invest in learning and apply the learning to something. If we do it that way we’re going to get to a very good level very soon.