3/22/2008

Business and I

I’ve mentioned on this blog before that I have engaged in 5 businesses in my lifetime and all failed cos I ate my capital. I lied…

…Yes, there were 5, perhaps more. Yes they all ended (as opposed to failed), but no not because I ate my capital (at least not in all cases ;-) ).

The first thing I put my hand in was in secondary school. I started renting telephone cards. Does any of you remember how, before the advent of GSM (and even in GSM’s early days where it was a no-no what with 30K SIM cards and 40K Nokia 3310s) , when phone booths contained more than just a well-worn out rug and plenty of sand; when they contained actual phones that may or may not have been working. We used to make calls at such and such and you didn’t have to own a card of your own; there was always a tout ready to rent you one for amounts ranging from N5 – N15 per unit, God help yu if yu dared called US; na shirt yu go deposit. Well, I kinda figured I could be that ‘tout’ in my boarding house. I hustled N315 and went to NET building on Lagos Island and got myself a 100 unit card. My case was a little complicated cos I very well couldn’t stand at the phone booth waiting for customers. But with a little word of mouth, I exhausted the first card. I was renting at N5 per unit. I got another 100 unit card and folks started calling on credit. Whenever yu go a a business centre and see those printed notices saying

No credit today come tomorrow” or

Business succeeds when friends and family pay for services rendered” or, my personal favourite,

To obtain services on credit, you must be above 80 years old and come with your father and mother

know they are not joking. “Abeg” killed my phone card business. I went past that second phone card sha (with plenty of my money in IOUs) but not much further; there was a third and last card which also represented my first business partnership. I and Uche (Chevron and Texaco?) pooled money and bought a 200 unit card. I ran the business while he just brought cash and we shared the profit 50-50!!! How much dafter could I get? The more annoying part was that I felt I had a moral obligation to ensure he got all his money back so I bore the debts alone… I left secondary school with some folks owing me as much as N300, let me catch them so I can inform them of the interest rate and how N300 of 2002 has become N300,000 today *wicked smile on my face here*.

In my first year in university I was doing efico; to the extent I said won’t join any organisations till second year; not even a fellowship. Thanks to my eficocity, business wasn’t close to the front of my mind till second year when the bill…em…gates in me was let loose.

I started with tutorials. I and a brilliant friend figured we could do tutorials for jambitos. We also brought in a third not-so-brilliant person as our bouncer. I was to teach Calculus and Chemistry while Kennedy (the brilliant friend) was to teach General Maths and Physics. Uche was the bouncer. We printed flyers, resumed early, selected one of the biggest venues for our tutorials, chopped our fair share of embarrassment distributing the flyers and fantasized about the thousands we would make in this. You might not get it, but in my school, tutorials is big business; in fact one guy is rumoured to have net about half a million last semester in tutorials. We kicked off just fine with 30 – 50 students. Then one day Kennedy who was billed to be teaching came late with our bouncer in tow. I wasn’t around (thankfully).

Some other popular tutorial fellow had occupied our venue and was teaching who we assumed were our students. While Kennedy went up to the tutorial guy (Faraday) to dialogue quietly with him, Uche boldly stepped up to the rest of the class and shouted “Who do you want? Kennedy or Faraday”. I could have swore that I heard the screams of “FARADAY”, “WHO ARE YOU?”, “WE DON’T KNOW YOU”, “GO AWAY” from the other end of school where I was having a fellowship meeting. My guys hung their heads in shame, tails between and legs and abandoned the venue to Faraday, embarrassed but undeterred.

In a quick comeback, we chose a smaller venue and once again we were unpunctual and our venue was taken, once again. This time by an “Uncle Ben” (Cutthroat business huh?). I was present (unthankfully), Uche was smart enough not to assume anything and Kennedy went, once again to dialogue quietly. The dialogue yielded results; Uncle Ben left the venue for us but (of course, there had to be a catch), he left with ALL his students. So we had a venue that could seat over a hundred but just 3 people in it (Kennedy, Uche and crestfallen me).

We changed our business model and did private tutorials; that we completed successfully, earning us 10k each- that is apart from Uche; his services as bouncer were no longer needed and he was flushed from the arrangement.

The next thing I heard was that I could get a ‘brick’ (roll of ten) MTN 1500 recharge cards for as low as 12k. I did some mental Maths, made wonderful projections and assumed I could be making at least 3k a week selling recharge cards. Once again, I called on Kennedy my trusted friend (No Uche this time) and we decided to go into this together.

And Murphy’s law kicked in.

A ‘brick’ of recharge cards wasn’t that cheap. You would be lucky to find one for 13.5k; most times it cost above 14k and 1500 cards were usually sold for less than 1500, sometimes, as low as 1450 and there went our ‘wonderful’ profit margin. Nevertheless, we decided that since we had started, we might as well continue. From there on, I suffered a series of misfortunes

Firstly, some of my money was stolen. I was to travel back home one day and while doing my packing the night before, after looking over my shoulder several times to ensure everyone was sleeping, I put the money in one of my trouser pockets and sandwiched the trouser between others. Some folks were obviously good at pretending cos when I got to Warri, I discovered the theft. I cried that night (yeah, I know, Big Boys Don’t Cry but at least popsi replaced the money).

Secondly, shortly after we started, there was a scarcity of cards. Don’t forget that our capital consisted of our chow money as well and boys gat to eat so there went a good portion of the capital. To add insult to injury, some “friend” in the business “managed” to hustle us a brick of cards at a high rate typical of the scarcity period…the only thing, the scarcity had ended (unknown to us).

Of course yu know wat came next: Camel’s back + last straw = broken.

Then I got my first computer.

Being the spiro I am, I promised God that I wouldn’t put any secular music on it…don’t ask what became of the promise but then in order to fulfil my large appetite for music, I had to hustle hundreds of gospel songs and shortly after, my next business idea hit me; why not start selling music…people would come listen to them on my computer, then I’ll burn the customised CD. Perfect right? Wrong. To start with, I didn’t have a CD writer so I had to make some kind of arrangement with my not-so-reliable friend who coincidentally is one of my closest friends and now roommate (those last 2 additions are just consolation prizes in case he ever reads this; the actual adjective of interest is unreliability). As you can guess, that contributed a lot to the business failing added to the fact that some folk would come and waste my time, tying up my system for hours and want just one CD or none sef. Then my stock of music consisted of a lot of rock which y’all know sucks here in naija.

Are we counting here? How many businesses now? I’ve done a lot of other stuff but I’m kinda tired of rehashing my not-so-rosy history so I think I’ll round up with one-liners of the other stuff I tried like doing online research for cash (bumight take note). That one hit well but I got tired of sitting in cyber cafes for 6+ hours).

I also did a class on computer hardware with my not-so-reliable friend-turned-roommate (we didn’t get the tens of students we hoped for but we made some money there too).

What about the computer program I wrote for some final year students’ project (made the most money ever there; considering a career in programming? Onydchic? Hopeful B?).

Then, I helped (and still help) a cousin sell flash drives and mp3 players that his sister brings into the country; I don’t do it for money but it might have contributed some to getting an mp3 player for free.

I tried to start a computer lesson at home once too. Pasted a couple of posters around the estate we live in; unfortunately no one turned up.

Lets see…is that it? Well that’s the much I can remember; I don’t need you to tell me I’ll soon be giving Dangote a run for his money. Don’t worry I won’t forget any of my blogsville peeps then. You’ll all sit on an imaginary blogsville board. Hope that’ll be good enough.