Tell us about your work life?
I had worked for five years before getting admission into the University.
The five years I spent at home prepared me for where I am today. The only thing I got out of university when I eventually got an admission was that I got access to a very good library where I could read everything about music. I would have exams and I would go to the library to read books on what I know holds the future for my life. I had access to a huge library to learn about media, PR, advertising and music and then I met my wife in school. Outside of those things, it’s just little of what I studied in UI that is useful to me in my daily life.
But you had the option of studying communication and language arts?
As at when I went to university only a few parents wanted their children to study language arts in school. Every parent wants their child to be a lawyer or a doctor. They would say you should study a professional course. I finished secondary school; I did sciences because I went to a school you couldn’t even aspire to become a prefect if you were not in the science class. So I did sciences but when I finished and realized that I preferred the arts, I bought all the books in the curriculum, I read them and I passed all the subjects. Still all my parents wanted was for me to just study medicine because I had distinction in my science subjects, but I wasn’t meeting the cut-off mark to study Medicine. It was after writing it for like five years they said if you don’t get medicine you would get Microbiology. In Part two, I came home to see my Father, I told him that Daddy I want to change my course of study to Communication and Language Arts but he said NO. He said I should do this for him and that he would sponsor me to go and do whatever I want to do but by the time I was done with school, my father was retired.
How did your parents cope with you not working in your Field of study?
I had a third class so there was no way I would have gotten a great job. Most of our parents are very traditional and so they don’t understand, I don’t even blame them; my father thought it was a lazy thing to organize events. They said you have to work in an office. But when they started seeing me on TV and in Newspapers, gradually they began to understand. By the time I was leaving school I was already earning money. By the time I left school, I had a job.
Before my father died, I was already comfortable. Their own generation was Study get a job, Work, and Retire so you can get your pension. He kept telling us to make sure we have our pension.
Tell us how you started Black House Media, the rudiments and the challenges?
I’m a bit fortunate because I had spent five years at home writing JAMB and I had been talking to entertainers during those periods. By the time I left school, I realized that I wanted to be a journalist so I got a job with Encomium, one of the biggest magazines in Nigeria. I wanted to work in Encomium because I wanted to make my name known and the bigger the platform, the more renowned you will be. I also wanted to learn how the structure works in an organisation. By the time I was stepping out to do my own thing, I already made acquaintances across the entire industry so it was easier. Because I was reporting entertainment, it was easier for me to start out doing PR for entertainers. So that was where we started but that’s not where we are today. So because everybody in that industry knows me it was easier for them to come to me and say I like how you write can you do this for me and for those I wanted to work with it was easier for me to walk up to them and tell me what I could do for them.
We started very small after I left Encomium, I wrote for Thisday for two years while I was doing my business by the side. The media industry in Nigeria is very peculiar and I worked at Thisday for free for two years because I knew I had to keep my name out there while I was trying to build my own business. I also won’t say it was easy because the Entertainment industry was not well structured and also there wasn’t as much opportunity for revenue as there is today. The bulk of what we spent when we started was my wife’s salary. She had a job and I remember I had her ATM card and we were spending what we needed. But we were serious and consistent and it was just two of us and eventually we became three. We were squatting in the office of the Gentle man who owns Hip TV. He gave me a desk in his office. So we started from there, when money came, we bought one computer and eventually we moved into our own office.
Soon I realized that the entertainment industry was not very stable, and that it was impossible to build a sustainable business working in that industry. I’m a very ambitious person and I’m confident it’s possible for us to build a global organisation. But if artistes are rich today and broke tomorrow and if actors that are buying jeeps today and tomorrow can’t even pay their own bills, how will that help my own business? So some of my very good friends encouraged me to change the direction of the business. Although music and entertainment is my primary passion I had to now restructure the business to work for corporate organizations that have a longer life span. For example, we currently work for Nigerian Breweries, the company was established in 1946 and they started producing in 1949 so you can imagine how long they have been around. They are part of the Heineken group and are quoted on the stock exchange.
We wanted to make ourselves appeal to companies that are serious and well structured and are in it for the long run; once we did that it looked like we had found the Magic. As of today all our clients are corporate organizations except for a few entertainment companies that have become family. Now we also run some of the most popular websites some you may know, some you may not. We run a weekly newspaper, also because entertainment is my passion, I started convening the Nigerian Entertainment Conference 3 years ago.
I am also fortunate to have an idea of how companies die and how people die. A lot of people die even before they die. If you don’t continue to develop, you will find out that everything else has left you behind.
The soul of the businesses departs because they were not prepared for today. Some of these things are as little as preventive maintenance that could have been done proactively. A few years ago, I started learning about Information technology and Digital marketing. After about 5 years of learning on my own, on my computer at Night, in 2014,I decided to go to some of the biggest trainings around the world. In February this year, we launched a digital marketing agency. So there are different perspectives to what you do. When you say how we were able to do it or succeed I don’t think we have built a successful business yet, I just think we have just had opportunities, based on the promise Nigeria holds. Nigeria is one of the greatest countries filled with so many opportunities for everyone and then because you are here in this country, at this time and because you have the kind of knowledge that you have then it shows that if you don’t self-destruct then you have an opportunity.
But it seems like you had a passion and along the line you realized that your passion might not absolutely pay your bills. What are the challenges you have faced thus far?
Well, we all live in Nigeria and I think the biggest issues we face, as people who live in developing economy like ours are issues of basic infrastructure. I live in Opebi just down the road and I could just have taken a bus to this place. But people will look at me and say, see that guy in public transport, he is probably broke and that is if the Bus doesn’t tear your clothes. I could have also gotten on a train but we have some many cars on the road because we haven’t fixed the problem of Transportation. There is also the issue of power and then once you see queues you know you have to start buying petrol. But these are basic things we can find our way around and which consistent good governance can fix within five tenures. All we need is a good team of people who would rule for five different tenures.
The most important problem that I face when I share notes with SMEs is the Quality of Human capital. People have graduated with first class degrees but you give them a job and they can’t perform and I don’t blame them because they have not been prepared from a young age. The pastor of Daystar says that, It is important to raise children well because they might end up as presidents and governors. But if they have not been prepared they would run the state aground. We don’t even teach leadership in schools. The biggest problem still remains the quality of people available to do the job. How do you become a global organisation, if you do not have first class brains and talents? Any serious company, invests as much as they invest in their raw materials and marketing in trainings for their workers.
So it’s increasingly difficult, you have a vision and you can’t do it alone because there is a limit to how much you can do as an entrepreneur. When the good ones move on to go and do their own thing, who are the people that will help them achieve it? I think our educational structure is flawed. Countries I have studied, Singapore, India and China, they structure education to reflect the society and economy’s needs but we structure education so that your family will say to you that you have to get a degree then we choose courses based on what we think is prestigious. People who studied courses like Agriculture, Yoruba, and Music are considered inferior, so we under developed a lot of sectors and focused on what looked good to us. If you make me president for a day I’ll fix education. If you want to be a vulcanizer, a bricklayer, or a painter you will be sent to the best places in the world to study.
How did you build systems and structures that ensure that your business runs without you?
It will be a shame if I say it’s easy because it’s not. Most newspapers are now shutting down. The media business is in trouble all over the world. I am also asking myself why I should keep running the Print edition of NET because it’s not making sense in terms of the figures. These are challenges entrepreneurs face on a daily basis. That’s why I follow MKO’s Words where he said you should never invest in a business you know nothing about. Before you start a business you could take about 2 years just to understudy the business. Richard Branson says once a business stops making sense, you shut it down. When people praise you they don’t look at failures. Google also has so many failed products they have shut down. People look at successes but they don’t know the pains you are facing. I don’t consider myself successful. I think success should be redefined. In terms of structure I think God has just blessed me. My wife fell in love with Human Resources many years before I decided to start my business. She put all the structures in place and she still consults for us. I wasn’t trained for that so I got help from my wife because left to me I’m just a writer and Ideas man. She did put the structure in place so I can’t take credit for that. I started preparing myself for Life after BHM many years ago. That is why we take decisions in terms of mentorship and leadership so that there can be people who can take over the business when I’m not there.
Why are you still printing NET newspapers in this period where most papers both local and International are shutting down?
Globally, sales have dropped in the print media and Advertising revenues have also dropped. What Newspapers sell isn’t the news, it is advertising. Nigeria has a couple of years to go before it faces such problem.
The reason our newspapers here aren’t selling is not because people aren’t reading but because there is an inefficient production and distribution structure.
The Newspaper industry relies on an archaic structure of circulation and the people who run it don’t have a stake in the business so they do it anyhow. If they had a stake in the business, it would be in their interest that the paper succeeds. It takes the stakeholders to build a proper structure that will work. If the circulation problem is fixed it will work for the distributions of music, books, magazine and all other things.
Whoever fixes it will never go poor again. The music industry would have fixed this because they have made a lot of revenue but most of the money in individual pockets and nobody is willing to invest because they think the Industry is fickle. On what is keeping the paper on, I don’t even know if we are on because we are not sure of next week. I am not sentimentally attached to any of my business. If it’s not working I’ll make an effort but if it still doesn’t work, I’ll get rid of it. Presently, I have met some other publishers and we are seeking an alternative way of solving the circulation problem.
Since you have been talking about your business you haven’t said anything about taking a loan to start your business?
I will never encourage anyone to take a loan to start a business. It is better you start with what you have and let the business grow organically. Presently, we work with organizations that give us purchase orders but I have never taken these purchase orders to the bank to borrow money even when I know can.
What stops the government from putting in place proper copyright laws that can curtail rape on investments?
We all know the reason why these laws are not in place. It is the same reason why Diepreye Alamieyeseigha is not in jail. Nigeria has been continuously raped for forty years. It is the same reason why a lot of people who have committed crimes have gotten away with it. It is the same reason why in other countries, when people are accused for wrong doings they resign from their public offices. The laws are there but who is going to enforce them? Until we kill corruption, corruption will continue to kill us. It is also important that we understand that the problem is Corruption. There is a reason why law exists. A few years ago, the head of the home office in the UK, got into office campaigning against illegal immigrants, after he settled into the office, he decided to check the papers of his domestic staff because he renews it for them every two years. Then he saw that the papers of his maid, who had been with him for a long time, were fake. Instantly, he wrote the prime minister and he offered to resign immediately. This is something he discovered himself, he could have easily covered it up or sent her away quietly. That is a country that has discipline. Until we fix corruption we are joking. If we have a government that is interested in fixing corruption, it will take just 6 months. There was a time in this country when we always queued to enter a bus. In organizations now, People are putting laws in place and they are enforcing them. The solution, I think is that Government needs to understand how the creative sector works. We must also understand that Intellectual property is not abstract.
Do you think the NET newspaper should be translated into new media reality?
I’m a very active player in the online space. We started a digital newspaper before we went on print. We launched our website on November 23, 2009 but the paper launched on April 26, 2010. We have made more profit online than offline and because we have seen that success, we launched a lot of other online properties. Recently, we launched a music-streaming site and I understand how the online market works and it makes a lot of money and there are also multiple opportunities to monetize your content.