Afolabi Abiodun is the founder and CEO of SB Telecoms & Devices, an integrated ICT firm based in Lagos, Nigeria.
1. Tell us about one of the toughest situations you’ve found yourself in as a business owner.
In the year 2006, I incurred an accumulated debt of N26 million (about $200,000 at the time) at the age of 26 years. The debt was due to a series of business errors, owing to my inexperience and exuberance.
I borrowed from a bank without understanding the terms and conditions. The bank manager – a wolf in sheep’s clothing – took advantage of my naivety to take money from my account without my consent.
Secondly, I supplied goods to customers and dealers without contracts and agreements.
Thirdly, I got involved in overtrading by doing business with money meant for other businesses without proper market research or adherence to best practice.
When the bankers and creditors bared their fangs, I ran away to Ghana on self-exile to work as a bartender in a sleazy hotel, even after mortgaging my grandmother’s house.
Then, I decided to return home to face my demons squarely. I got a lawyer to negotiate with the bank, and we successfully renegotiated the N26 million with a 40% discount at a fixed interest of 12% per annum with a three-month moratorium to be paid over a period of three years.
Thereafter, I conducted some research on the value-add that could give me a competitive advantage in my telephony business. Now wiser, I ensured that my lawyer drafted contracts and memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with prospective business partners.
2. What business achievement are you most proud of?
The first one is that I developed time management software called TAMS (Time-Attendance Management System), which has evolved into a human resource management solution. I credit my dedication to time management for this feat, having picked up a knack for punctuality and promptitude from my mom.
The second achievement is NEYA (Nigeria’s Employee of the Year Award), a social impact initiative that started as a low-key recognition for punctual employees. It has grown into a national conference with international speakers and high-ranking federal and state government officials in attendance. NEYA puts on the front burner the need to inculcate a culture of accountability of time and resources in workplaces across Nigeria.
The third is an internationally sponsored research and development centre to be set up in Nigeria for research in identity management that will finally solve some of the identity management challenges peculiar to Nigerians and Africans.
3. Tell us about your greatest weakness as an entrepreneur.
As an ideas person, I tend to be impatient when ideas and strategies fail to yield immediate results. So, in a rush, I discard them or change the approach without allowing for proper evaluation, only to then embark on another idea journey.
But these days, I am learning to be more patient by working with the team to develop strategies to be adopted and committed to collectively. This has helped to keep me in check from changing things unexpectedly. More so, the collective nature of the idea or strategy ensures I follow through to the end.
4. What conventional business wisdom do you disagree with?
People tend to believe that money is the most important thing for a business to succeed. I believe it is about the right idea and not just money. If the idea is viable, it will attract the right set of investors that will transform those lofty ideas into remarkable achievements to the amazement of others.
5. Is there anything you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before you started?
Business education. I started my business without any formal business education and that gap caused a lot of problems. Thankfully, I was able to retrace my steps by learning from entrepreneurs and experts at the Enterprise Development Centre of PAN-Atlantic University and the Stanford Seed programme.
Now, without hesitation, I encourage aspiring entrepreneurs to acquire knowledge in business management, business planning, market research, sales strategy and customer satisfaction, and so on, which are vital for a successful entrepreneurial journey.