The journey so far: Walter Emiedafe, CEO, Sapient Vendors

Walter Emiedafe

Walter Emiedafe is the CEO of Sapient Vendors, a Nigerian construction company.

1. Tell us about one of the toughest situations you’ve found yourself in as a business owner.

We encountered a major business setback in 2018 from third-party risk and port delays, which placed us in a precarious position. We were caught in the middle of a partner lending financial institution and a client.

We were able to overcome this challenge through our track record and good relationship with Stanbic IBTC Bank, which facilitated the re-negotiation of the tenure of the facility and the granting of a few waivers when the facility was extended.

Also, our working relationship with the client came in handy as an asset, due to our culture and track record of efficient service delivery, [which] … allowed sanctions and penalties to be waived, thereby making debt repayment possible.

We also had a 12-month delay in receiving payment from one of our clients, which caused a lot of strain on our finances, but the flip side of this whole process was that 2018 was the year we gained more access to debt finance compared to previous years.

2. Which business achievement are you most proud of?

Being nominated among the 360 African companies in the Companies to Inspire Africa report by the London Stock Exchange Group and also [being selected] as one of the top 100 fastest-growing SMEs in Nigeria by Business Day Media, which was an endorsement of the organisation’s adoption of best business practice.

3. Describe your greatest weakness as an entrepreneur.

Being overly optimistic about people and having a healthy appetite for risk make me jump onto new business opportunities, thereby giving room for business blind spots. The previous bad experience came with its lessons; hence the management team have become more cohesive and we can say the organisation is morphing into a stronger institution. [The organisation has grown] such that due consultations are conducted from the three-odd … executive directors to arrive at a decision, thereby allowing each director to share his perspective on specific situations to reduce blind spots.

What this implies is that each executive member understands that the organisation’s vision and goal supersede any individual interest. Also, we are in the process of appointing a legal counsel who will protect us from the legal pitfalls as we transit from an SME to a pan-African brand in the near future.

4. Which popular entrepreneurial advice do you disagree with?

“Write a business plan before starting the business.” If you had the privilege of having had an MBA and relevant working experience in a structured environment this would come in easy, but your business plan might not necessarily work. Business plans work easily when you have reduced the unknown variables to the barest minimum, and your business model has undergone a lot of iteration and tweaking.

I wish I understood the similarity between entrepreneurship and entropy, the degree of disorder in a system. The variables working against your optimistic plans change on a daily basis and it is your duty as a leader to adapt constantly to the chaos and bring in order.

5. Is there anything you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before you got started?

I wish I worked in a more structured business environment; the art of building a business from the ground up is quite taxing, from business development to project management, recruitment and seeking growth capital. My advice to any upcoming entrepreneur is to be prepared for a lot of disappointments and develop a mindset that every disappointment has its key learnings, which becomes a launchpad to greatness.

‘The journey so far’ series is edited by Wilhelmina Maboja, with copy editing by Xolisa Phillip.