ENIOLA FAYOSE'S THIRD-TO-WORLD CLASS STORY
How are you today? The young man dressed in a crisp black shirt, matching pants and grey lace-up woollen shoes asked this reporter. He was seated behind a glass table. The office is not so expansive, neither is it heavily furnished, yet with a simple but tasteful touch.
'Hi, I'm Eniola Fayose, please sit down', he continued in a chatty friendly manner, even as he fiddles with a couple of mobile phones before him.
'Do you know what I wrote on my Facebook wall today?
I wrote that if you enjoy what you do, you'll never work for one day in your life! You enjoy it such that you can even feel guilty when you're paid', he said.
No doubt Eniola Fayose, the CEO of O'Naphtali Printing Company, Lagos, which specialises in producing holograms, scratch cards and sensitive documents enjoys what he does. Just five years in the business, his company recently received the West Africa World Class Scratch Card and Prints Company award at the West Africa Corporate Achievement Awards. For this young man in his late thirties, the prologue of his story and that of his company could have discouraged anyone without an 'I can do spirit'.
Starting out with a blunt axe head
Finishing with a Third Class Honors degree in Geography from the University of Ibadan, he knew his chances in the labour market were quite slim. But rather than bemoan his fate, he took his destiny in not just his hands, but in a briefcase.
'The Bible says if the axe head be blunt then must he put more work. If you have a blunt axe head, then you just have to make up your mind to put in more work. If it's blunt, then you have to sharpen it. Then it becomes easier for you to hit the tree and fell it, he said adding , so I understood the fact that I had a blunt axe head. Even before then, it wasn't that I didn't have business acumen. I had always been an entrepreneur so that class of degree became a motivating factor.
When I finished with a third class honours (laughs), I knew my chances in the labour market were quite slim, so I didn't bother looking for a job. Rather I decided to start selling different stuffs. Then I had a briefcase that was my office or shop as the case maybe. I was selling shirts and ties and at the same time ground crayfish, ground beans that could be used for moi-moi, ground pepper, melon etc. I also sold grade one shirts from Katangwa market.
In the mornings, I dressed up in shirt and tie, with my briefcase . I went to banks to sell ties and other stuffs. Then whenever I opened my case, the smell of crayfish would fill your nostrils. All my wares were in the case. My shirts and ties were neatly wrapped up in cellophane in one corner, so that the foodstuffs wouldn't smell on them or stain them, I arranged them neatly on one side. So the first thing that happens to you when I opened my box is to sneeze, because of the pepper', Fayose recalls.
As a mobile salesman, he always told his customers, 'I can get it for you'.
'Many times I sold what I was wearing, because I would knot my tie and it would be a sample. When some of customers wanted a shirt or tie of the colour that I didn't have, I would say I could get it, and then rush to Mandilas on bike. Then many of the okada riders in the vicinity knew me so well, and they gave me a title, 'Oluomo of okada riders'. Some would even give me a free ride .
I would get the ties on credit from the Igbo boys , rush to give whosoever wanted it, and pay back as soon as I was paid. We collected salary at the same time, he said with laughter. I could do all that then , because I had developed a rapport with the Igbo guys and because I didn't default in my transactions with them. They trusted me. So for any business venture, integrity is important', Eniola added.
Road to Shomolu
His foray into the printing business would however start with his encounter with some Chinese citizens whom he worked for briefly, marketing and designing products for them to manufacture, and which he later sold cheaply at popular markets.
'I marketed perfumes for them and even designed lace materials and sanitary towels for them. They used the designs, brought the goods and I took them to various markets in Ibadan. When I sold the sanitary towels, people found it hard to believe , because when sanitary towels were being sold for about N150, I would sell for N40. I needed to let people know, so many times after displaying, I sold in bulk to market women. It was unbelievable . I also designed Roll-ons which they made and I sold. I later discovered these Chinese people didn't have business cards, so I designed one for myself and did for them too' Eniola said.
Shortly after that, he left the Chinese and found his way to Shomolu, an area in Lagos noted for its thriving printing industry. There he learnt the skills and art of printing and began doing printing jobs, seeking people that needed his service. From business cards, he printed on nylons and supplied cash bags to banks.
From Shomolu to O'Naphtali
Shortly after, a friend asked him to do a printing job which was rejected because he messed it up. However, he was called upon for another which became his breakthrough job. 'My home cell fellowship leader's company wanted to do a promo, so he asked me , if I could get someone to print on T- shirts, and I had learnt to say yes, so I told him yes, that is what we do and he gave me the job. But when I delivered, he rejected them because the work was bad. However, ironically he would later call me about a company that was coming to Nigeria from the US. They needed a company that could make scratch cards locally. He asked me , if I could do the job and I said yes', he recalled.
I was given the contract to produce 50,000 scratch cards, which had to be produced locally. So I went to work, developed a program for the cards, did the scratch-up foil, designed the cards and it took four whole months to deliver! We did everything manually, even counting the cards. Now, if we want to do that kind of job, it would only take us 24 hours given the expertise we've acquired since then, and the state of the art equipment we now have to do the job. If a client comes now wanting 60,000 scratch cards, we can give him in 24 hours.
So that was what really got us going and we started doing scratch cards for a host of other clients. That man was actually one of the strongest reasons I stayed on because he was really encouraging me. I actually got better messing up his job and I give him kudos for that. He would always ask me, if I could do this or improve on that, Eniola recalls with pride.
The head is the capital
With that job, O'Naphtali became a reality and a testimony that when you say you can, then you can. While admitting that though he was given mobilisation fee to start that job which didn't go far because he experimented a lot then, he says funds need not necessarily be a challenge for aspiring entrepreneurs as the head is the necessary capital. And that starting small is the name of the game.
Said Eniola,'Your head is your capital. I don't know where that idea is gotten from, most times all you need is proper networking. I told you I was doing business, selling suits, selling ties all of which I collected on credit. I'm sure , if you build your business on integrity, you'll have enough money for one unit of whatever you want to do if you believe in starting small.
Every great thing starts from something little, only grave diggers start from the top. Most times when you start something big without having learned the ropes, you are digging the grave of that business. If you grow, and it's based on, line upon line, precept upon precept, each time you'll get to a point where you'll be credit worthy, and you'll now start thinking about proper funding. But at the initial stage, what you should look for is not capital but proper networking, and your integrity must be in place.
You must also have street wisdom. I was liaising with Chukwudi and all manner of people at Katwanga market, and that helped me. You have to be street wise, and possess wisdom of the market place and of course the wisdom of God. By the time you grow your business up to a point, you'll be able to access funds. Now I can readily access funds from banks. Nobody wants to hear about your labour, they want to see the baby and say congratulations. Don't bother people when you are in labour till when you have the baby. It was after Jesus was born that they brought him frankincense, gold and myrrh, not when Mary was looking for an inn to deliver the baby', he said with emphasis.
Equipping for the business
Part of the street wisdom he garnered along the line, he says was going to Shomolu to learn the trade, and mingling with local printers to learn about their mindset which has helped him in the business. But he didn't stop there as he equally sought fresh and new knowledge abroad and at the Lagos Business School.
'The experience I gathered at Shomolu helped me so much in terms of creativity, and enables me to have a base of making something out of nothing, and I'm able to channel all my local knowledge into the sophisticated machines that we use now.
I'm able to deal with artisans in a proper manner, respecting them, learning their mindset. I see a lot of things that could be developed, and I develop them. And that's why I have them around me too. When I had enough resources, I went abroad to learn more about the trade and also went to the Lagos Business School (LBS) where I learnt how not to do my business.
LBS is globally certified, ranks among the first 100 business schools in the world. And when I went there I learnt a whole lot, how not to do my business, how to take it from where it is to the next level. I learnt how to put a structure in place and of course networking. I met a lot of entrepreneurs who had been through similar things that I've been through and have done better than I am doing, and I've learnt from them. It was fantastic, it was really very nice.'
Learning to go up the creek without a paddle
Despite the challenges of doing business in the country, he is optimistic that Nigeria will be the beautiful bride to court amongst nations by 2025. 'When you're in Rome, you do what the Romans do. Those problems are there, it's either you decide to look at the problems and join a host of others who do nothing but just whine, cry and complain. Any fool can do that. All that one needs to do is to look at realities, the problems on ground and contemplate how to cope if one wants to swim against the tide. So you either perfect your ways of swimming up the creek without a paddle or you join the others.
Those problems have been there, but the truth is, this is our country where we are so we must learn to survive against the odds. I believe that is what I have done. As you sit there, this air conditioner blowing on your head is running with diesel, all the machines you saw running do the same. We have back up generator for our power supply and we run on them for 24 hours. We have built that into our costs, we know when to change the generator when it's old, those factors are there.
Despite all of these we believe God that Nigeria would be the most desirable country to live in by 2025, but we must do what it takes to get there. Those problems are there but one just needs to be creative and see how to work our way around these problems. If we run on PHCN, we'll be making more money, and we are going to run on PHCN by God's grace. Nigeria will be a better place. But now, I would say if you want to do business in Nigeria , you'll wait till power is available. You do what you can when you can, however you can.
'Imported goods are banned and I don't think the ban has been lifted but now we've fine-tuned everything we do with up to date machines.
Holograms are used to secure sensitive documents instead of going to reprint, because your document was counterfeited, or you fear that exam sheets will be duplicated. If there's a hologram on it that won't be possible. There are levels of holograms that you can't even counterfeit. You'll be crazy to go all the length to try it and you won't even get it. There are a couple of companies doing that right now and we are sensitising prospective clients on this.'
Testimony that hard work is rewarding
For a business that is just about five years old, he says the award is a big motivation for the company.
'We got an award recently, the West African Corporate Achievement Award. We were rated the best West African World Class Global Scratch Card and Printing Company. I would ask you having taken you around, did we merit it?
What we do is to provide solutions. You call me, and we give you a scratch card based solution. You don't throw away a scratch card that has not been used. It helps you retain your customers . It's the cheapest form of advertisement. It sells the product and we have our clients always coming back , because they record higher sales every time they do a scratch card promo. It builds brands and customer loyalty. If you use a data based program for instance on your web site, each time a customer scratches and enters the number, you'll know how much you have sold. So what we do is work with small businesses (we are part of so many success stories), small and medium scale and many big ones as well.
We don't say go back, because you just want to do ten thousand scratch cards or five thousand. We do five thousand and we do ten million. We have clients from England and America. Capstone Sports came and they first ordered for about ten million scratch cards, and we've never disappointed anyone.
We started from the scratch and that's why everybody is scratching now. When you place an order, if I tell you you're getting it on Wednesday, then you'll get it that day. If you don't you could get on Tuesday. We do common things uncommonly well, and common sense tells our common clients to remain our common friends. We do work with small businesses and some of them have become bigger.
We also serve big businesses, they keep calling us back. So I wasn't really surprised when the award came. We've worked hard and it's really encouraging in a country like ours where many people believe you need to be fraudulent. Hard work is still recognised' , Eniola said emphatically.
Look for a problem and solve it
For this young man who credited God for his success, he says he sees the business thriving having been part of many success stories in five, ten years time. The lay preacher and motivational speaker also had a word for the youths of this country.
'I see us being a major factor when you're referring to this country in terms of problem solving, and I see this business becoming what will make Nigeria become one of the most desired countries by 2025 and better than China. I see it opening doors for youths who could have gone into defrauding people and firms. Here we are a bunch of crazy people, we generate ideas.
My advice to Nigerian youths is that Nigeria is the most fertile ground for ideas to germinate, it's a fantastic land that is flowing with milk and honey. Nigeria with all that has happened to it is no less a giant of Africa. We have joined the medical team in mending the broken leg and the prognosis is looking good. It has kept us busy and has kept food on our tables.
Each time you go on the Internet looking for a mugu, you are looking for yourself. And for the womenfolk, your body is the temple of God, you have enough opportunities in this country to breed your ideas and make a good living. Nigeria still rewards hard work. Look for a problem and solve it, that's what you get paid for. And whatever your hands find to do, do it diligently. Don't go around messing around with your body or your brain that can be used to do a lot of productive things. Engage in things that will benefit this country and yourself. Find a need and serve it.'