How I Built A Multi Million Naira Company With Just 25K – KWAME
From an Interview session that YES International magazine had with the owner of Virtual Media Network LTD which is a home to TV Channels like Nigezie Xtreme, Orisun TV and Isi Mbido Tv.
He told a story of his entanglement with showbiz. Going deep and further, he also revealed that the multi-million business which everybody is celebrating today was started with just N25,000! Let’s hear the remaining part of the story from the Ijebu Ode, Ogun State born businessman who read Zoology and graduated in 1992…
How exactly did you get started? How exactly did this start?
How did which one start? (Laughing)
Everything you are doing…
Well, I’ve been an entertainer and in entertainment since. In secondary school, I was a social prefect, and we organized a few gigs here and there. In the university, I was a rapper and I was a dancer and I was also organizing a few events and stuff like that. When we left and after service, I got into OGBC (Ogun State Broadcasting Corporation). I got into another aspect of the industry, which was more mainstream media. I became an on-air personality. That was like 1995. So, I guess I’m 20 years as a broadcaster this year.
You moved from OGBC to Star FM. From there, you decided to veer off to be on your own. What prompted that? Why did you decide to quit paid employment?
My journey was more providential than by any serious design, so to speak. When we got into Star FM, there was so much energy coming in from our OGBC days. The things we wanted to do, we couldn’t do and in a government station that had a lot of bureaucracy, all of a sudden, we found that freedom to do it. So, we just exploded and within 6 months, we went to No. 1 in the 18 to 25 category. I remember some guys came to interview us that how in the world will a Nigerian station named MITV go to No. 1 in the youth market (Laughing) in such a short time? What’s happening? And when the woman saw me; I was 20-something years old then, she was like this small boy? And in less than a year, that same ’99, I won the Fame Music Awards Best Music Presenter. And we had the likes of Steve Kadiri, JAJ (Jacob Akinyemi Johnson) and all that. I remember when they called me, they had to tap me again; na you dem dey call (General laughter). I actually sat and they had to push me. I didn’t even know how to get up and walk towards that stage. So, there was so much energy and so much pent up frustration from back then and we just exploded. But after a while, that same bureaucracy that was in OGBC started setting in also in the Star FM set up, and I started getting the feeling of a big fish in a small pond. We’ve won all the awards winnable, done this, done that. I was the guy co-ordinating whatever MTN had to do on the station, I was doing Benson & Hedges, so I was like what’s the new challenge, what can I do next? In 2000, I did a show called Def Jam with Pepsi and it was for two quarters then. A lot of people don’t remember that one. But in 2003, I left Star FM and for a year, 2003 to 2004, I was creating Global Sounds and it took a lot of time, energy, money and eventually we started. So, it was that desire to just do something else, break new grounds.
How would you describe the journey so far?
It’s been one crazy roller coaster of a journey. Sometimes I look back and I’m like if I knew what I know now, would I have had the courage to go into this? I really don’t know. I’m the guy who just threw myself off the cliff without looking whether there was a safety net or not. I was like well, God, if you don’t want me to die, just be watching me (Laughing). And I think the Man was just like, look, let me help this boy; don’t let this boy kill himself on my neck (More laughter). You know, because there was no safety net. I started with a working capital of about N25,000, I remember in year 2004. 2003/2004. After I bought an editing suite, I had one in my house and I had a friend’s camcorder. Then, Mr. Ola Fajemisin of NTA (Nigeria Television Authority) gave me space to shoot my links in NTA, which I’m forever and eternally grateful for. And that was all the resources we had. Okay, I had a Jetta then too. So, that was all, that was all…
So far, what will you describe as the toughest challenge you have faced as a businessman and how were you able to overcome or surmount it?
I know everybody will say infrastructure, I know a lot of people will say FINANCE ; access to FINANCE and all that. Some people will say the business environment and all those kind of things. I would say now with my experience in the past 10 years that it’s manpower. Manpower! The average entrepreneur in Nigeria is in trouble. We just don’t know it yet. And the people that know it are already going out to recruit expatriates, because the mind set of a young person in Nigeria right now is all messed up. There’s no loyalty, there’s no long suffering, there’s no applying yourself. It’s what can I get now? I think the churches, the mosques and all that too have helped to develop that psyche. Your pastor is telling you that if you don’t make it (Snaps his fingers) like that, it means maybe God is angry with you or you’ve not paid your tithe. Just try God (Snaps his fingers again), do something now and you will see babababa (Speaks in tongues). So, they are sitting down, waiting for that call that the pastor promised, instead of applying themselves (Laughing). So, the psyche is all wrong, the values have dropped and there are no role models to reinforce that creed of hard work and honesty and dedication any more.
As a businessman, what is the best way to cope with a talented staff who is not disciplined?
(Laughs) – Ah! Story of my life (More laughter). That’s the story of my life. Unfortunately, I’m sure you’ve also had an experience in that regard…
(Interruption) – Of course! That’s why I’m asking…
Unfortunately, some of the most indisciplined workers you will ever have are probably the most talented. And it’s because they believe that talent is everything. But someone told me that – Toyin Subair of HiTV – told me some years back that talent is just 10 percent and I quarreled with him. I was like what do you mean? 10 percent? But having interfaced with the business environment and business people and seen structures put in place and seen templates that drive an organization, so to speak, I’ve come to realize that talent is actually 5 percent (Laughing); not 10 percent. So, a lot of people, a lot of talented young people who are arrogant, who are indisciplined, who are unmanageable are just ignorant. That’s basically why they are like that, and when they go out, you see that in a few years’ time, you don’t get to hear about them anymore. Sometimes their talent is able to shine because of the structures the entrepreneur had put in place, which makes their work easier and their talent also easier to identify. But when they now leave that your structure and try and go and start their own structure or try and start their own business or enterprise, they can’t put that same structure in place and they just fade into oblivion, which shows that talent is really crap. There are a lot of talented broke guys out there. I don’t know how you manage them. I’ve bought cars, I’ve rented houses, I’ve done stuff for people, but when they want to mess up, when they want to leave, they just leave. So, it’s not about just reward, it’s not about just engaging them. Sometimes it’s just luck.
What would you say has been the greatest lesson that business has taught you?
Business has taught me that in due time, beans will cook (Laughter). Stone will cook and turn to beans (More laughter). And turn to something edible. If you are just patient enough and keep boiling that stone, one day, o ma jino (It will get done). Patience! There are cycles in business.
Professionally, you’ve been in this business now for about 20 years. What is the best way to attain success in what one is doing and also be able to sustain it?
It depends on what you mean by success…success is very relative. Success for different people means different things. For some, it’s like okay, I’ve been able to train a whole crop of young people. Then, they are successful. For some, I’ve been able to amass an amount of wealth. That’s success. But unfortunately, in our own thinking, in our own environment here, success is money, buildings, cars (Laughing), clothes, babes…So, you have to first define what your success is.
Beautiful! Let’s use your own parameters or perspective?
Well, success for me comes from value; adding value. How much value have I been able to add? There are people who have made money and you’ve never heard of them; they’ve never done anything. It’s been parasitic, it’s been opportunistic. But there are people who have actually built stuff, and added value to lives and you can see the things they’ve done and it has empowered others and it has inspired others and stuff like that. So, for me, I look at it that some people have been in NTA (Nigeria Television Authority) for 50 years, some people have been in places for 30 years, 20 years, 40 years, but when you look at it, they’ve been shuffling files and passing memos up and down. What have they done? But you tell me he’s successful. Of course! You can see what he’s done in NTA. So, I look at it that how many brands have I created, how has it impacted on people’s lives? We have a Yoruba channel now called Orisun and we’ve been able to send four children to India; three with holes in the hearts, one with a liver problem. And they’ve all gone and come back successfully. We’ve raised almost N20 million for people from 10k, 5k, 1k, 2k coming from people, so to speak. It’s no longer a TV channel, it’s become a ministry. That to me is success. With Nigezie, we’ve been able to inspire young people, we’ve been able to say that okay, we helped bring that guy up. So, it’s that value that we add that’s the success. If you do that, money will come in, but money is just a by-product of that value added…
(Interruption) – So, how do you now sustain this success?
One smart human being said it’s easier to climb than to stay there. Because there are so many forces hitting you and buffering you up and down. And you are like who did I offend? Yeah, it’s far easier to climb up than to stay there. Part of the reason why it’s hard to stay there is that manpower issue I talked about. Then, the business environment in Nigeria. Sometimes I look at the aggressiveness and the intensity at which some government agencies, tax agencies, local government agents, the way they come at you, the aggression with which they come at you, sometimes you are like wetin? It’s like they are annoyed that you are existing, so to speak. Those are real factors and I’m competing against a TRACE, I’m competing against an MTV, I’m competing against these other big multinationals who have access to funds at maybe 5 percent or 3 percent or 6 percent. I get any loan at 26, 28 percent. How am I able to compete effectively with that kind of whatever? And I still have to buy the same equipment, I still have to struggle and generate the same kind of content, I still have to struggle for space. Some of these guys, because the platform owners, major platform owners are controlling our lives from Beijing, they are controlling our lives from Jo’burg, they are controlling our lives from Europe, from UK, from London, and because those guys are also players in those fields, they see themselves there and talk. But for you, a Nigerian, to get on the platform in Nigeria, that is given to Nigerians, it’s like the camel passing through the eye of the needle. So, those are all factors that try to come against us. Then, also patronage from advertisers. Sometimes that colonial mentality still exists, unfortunately. But a lot of them are liberating their minds now. It’s getting better and we hope that it will keep getting better.
How big is your organization? What’s your staff strength?
Ah! LIRS (Lagos Inland Revenue Service) will come o…(Laughing). We are over 30. But mostly, we’ve scaled down on full staff. So, it’s a lot of contractual and freelance agreement now. Some we don’t even pay. It’s like we offer you the platform to express yourself and whatever you can make from it, we share. It’s a partnership thing. So, it even secures you; you can do other things and at the end of the day we are still partners. We can’t fire you; okay, we can fire you if you misbehave. But when you keep adding value on air and you keep bringing in money, chances are that we will stay for a long time.
Beside Orisun, NigezieXtreme, which are the other brands you have under your roof?
We have TEN. But mostly on terrestrial stations. You would have seen it on AIT, Africa Independent Television.
Television Entertainment Network has the likes of Nigezie Xtreme, Orisun Tv, isimbido Tv and more that have been created and will be unveiled soon.
Can you tell us some of these other channels?
TEN is the general entertainment channel. We are moving to start it this year. We are also working on a fashion, style and living channel. We are working on a few things. But like I said, if I had all the funds in the world, I will start like ten channels right now. But we have enough to do 20 channels. We have a lot of content to do at least 20 channels now. But we have to take them step by step.
What do you like most about being a businessman?
I’m not sure what I like about being a businessman. Em…I like the adventure in this environment sometimes. I’ve gotten used to the uncertainty. It just helps you be on the edge, it just sharpens you, it sharpens your will. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, there’s still a lot of illusions about wealth than the actual wealth, so to speak. A lot of people are like oh, why, we don’t see you on red carpets and stuff. You don’t come to events and stuff. And I’m like, I’m even tired of seeing the same old faces, with the same old poses and so on. Let’s try something new, guys. Maybe if they are going to do like a runway on the street and everybody is there, ah-ha, you will see me there. So, let’s come up with some new stuff. Maybe I started too early in the business and I’ve seen too many stuff and I’ve been to too many places.
What do you dislike about being a businessman?
The uncertainty (Laughing). The uncertainty in Nigeria is just too much. There’s just so much wickedness in the environment. People owe you, they don’t pay and they get upset when you ask for the money. You ask, not because you want to be a nuisance, but because you are also under pressure and you owe other people too. Sometimes there are cliques. Okay, I’m giving this guy because I know this guy; Kwame, I don’t know. There are a lot of things. It’s not about how good you are. When I started, foolishly, I just thought all you had to do was do a fantastic show or have a fantastic content and the money will roll in. I was stupid. So, that arrogance, that cockiness I started with has come down. Because I’ve found out that it’s more about building relationships and sustaining those relationships.
What’s the greatest thing that being a businessman has done for you?
It’s given me the freedom to live my dream. Someone quite famous back then had one of the first chat shows on TV. When I was still on radio, he was on TV. He now works with a corporate organization. He saw me and was like, this guy is living my dream (Laughter). And I will never forget that day, because he said it with so much emotions and I was like bros, you sold out now! You wanted the easy way. We stooped in the gutter and we kept fighting the war. So, it’s given me the opportunity to live my dream, it’s given me the opportunity to express myself, it’s given me the opportunity to try and shape people’s minds, because that’s what really excites me.
What has being a businessman not done for you?
For me, I think it’s also not allowed me freedom to do some things. It’s not allowed me enough time to just chill and just laze around and just have fun once in a while. These days, if I take one day off work, there’s so much guilt, because I know ah, I’m supposed to be interviewed by Mr. Azuh (Laughter), I have a meeting with this or that. So, there’s so much. But once in a while, you just want to be like to hell with everybody, let me just stay in bed and eat and sleep. So, it has robbed me of a few things too.
As the helmsman of this organization, how would you describe your leadership style?
Evolving! I’m still evolving, so to speak. I’m evolving as a leader. I didn’t go to any leadership school or train in any leadership academy or stay under any leader to have like a period of mentorship and stuff like that. I didn’t. So, it may be learning by trial and error. I used to have this horrible temper because I was impatient. You know a lot of geniuses are impatient. You see things as clear as day in your head and you’ve already arranged them mentally and one boy just comes and scatters one part of that and your head just explodes and everybody is wondering why is this guy angry; because they can’t see it, they don’t understand it. You see it almost clear enough to touch it like this (Demonstrates it). This building (His office), I gave the architect what I wanted, because I had already built it in my head. I said I want it like this; I want this place, I want that…So, I knew what I wanted. When people don’t see it, I try and take time to help them see it. But some people would never see it. So, that impatience, I had to learn to deal with it. I had to learn also to communicate better because I have such a forceful personality that people just go with the flow. Even if they don’t understand what I said, they won’t tell me we didn’t understand what you said o, they will just say yes, we will do it. So, when they make mistakes, it’s upsetting. But I explained this thing to you now? Em, I really didn’t understand. Why didn’t you tell me you didn’t understand? So, it gets a bit upsetting. I’ve learnt to be a bit more patient, I’ve learnt to be a bit more accommodating as I go on. My style was military, because I trained in OGBC, and that was as military a broadcasting outfit gets. They train you like soldiers. But a lot of the young people these days, they want to be spoon-fed, they want to be pampered, they want hey, good job, okay, I’m watching you. So, I’ve also learnt to start to do that. I’m trying. It’s a bit hard, but we are doing it.
What is the commonest mistake that most young entrepreneurs make?
Ah! That’s a very funny question. The commonest mistake we make? We assume too much. We hardly do things based on research. We hardly conduct research on things; we just assume. Two, we try and force our ideas on clients, instead of trying to use our ideas to make the client’s ideas or make the client’s products sell more, appeal to people more, excite people more. We try and force our own ideas; we are so cocky and so arrogant we don’t try and understand what the needs of the clients are. Once we learn to do that, once the client starts seeing us as a solution provider and not as a guy who is just coming to look for jobs, then he has you on speed dial and he’s asking your opinion. Okay, I want to do this, how can we do this? And that guarantees you a lot more business. No matter how talented we are, we should learn that we are here as solution providers and not because we . Then, the third and very critical thing is that business is about making people happy. So, whatever it takes to make them happy; if it’s giving them discount, if it’s giving PR, you need to do it. So, it’s about making the other party happy too, so that everybody is happy. Not I’ve done my job, where’s my money? (Voice rising).
Since you got into business, who has encouraged you the most, who has inspired you the most? A singular individual or an organization that has assisted you the most…
I’ve been fortunate to…I don’t know, I don’t know. I won’t give it to just talent alone. I will look at it as faith, providence and all that. I remember when I started, my first adverts came from MTN and Gordon Spark, for Global Sounds. Before then, I told you I did something with Pepsi. That one also came from just helping out an agency guy to solve a problem he had without asking for anything and he just went to clients, pitched something and said this is the guy. That’s it, and it ran into millions in year 2000. I’ve had MTN on board for about 10 years now, I’ve had Guinness on board for about 10 years. The agency that really jump-started things for me was Media Reach. They’ve been fantastic, they’ve been very, very fantastic, and that’s why I will do anything for them (Laughter). And a lot of other people jumped on board, so to speak. A lot of other agencies. So, it’s not been just one person. It’s been a coalition of different people. When we went on satellite, it was another agency that gave us the money to go and buy it. When we were going to go on Star Times, we didn’t have money to buy servers and all that. It was an agency that gave us the money and paid us something upfront to be able to buy those things. So, it’s been a lot of people.
Can we meet your family?
I try to keep them away from this. I have a wife. I’m married to an Igbo woman. Her name is Dorothy. She’s from Anambra, Oba.
What are their names?
If I tell you their names, then you will know how many they are…They are plenty. I have five kids: Dunni, Dami, Tobi, Eniola and Nifemi.
I have a lot of kids, a trailer load of kids (Laughing)…
How did you meet your wife and what got you interested in her?
I was supposed to MC an event and the guy who came to get me then was in University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (UNAB). We were supposed to have the event at the Cultural Centre; I was supposed to be the MC and I was supposed to be paid. So, the guy and his girlfriend; the girlfriend used to live with him in the same house. I now went with him to that place when he was about to pay. I saw this babe and I was like what’s up? How far? (General laughter). So, one thing just led to another and it became two for the price of one – the show and the after party.
What would you say has sustained your marriage, because in your sector, we get to read about collapsed marriages all the time? But yours has been able to endure…
Yeah! That’s the word – endure. If I tell you that there’s not been problems, I will lie to you. I’m sure that you also probably face your own issues. So, I think it’s that extra mile both parties have gone to endure. I think there were times when either of us could have walked away, I think there were situations where either of us could have just called it quits, but it’s that endurance that has kept us going. I come from a broken home and I know what I went through in that process. So, it’s easier for me to endure, because when I look at the kids, I’m like no matter what, you must endure. So, it’s not as if some things don’t happen to upset you. But it’s just that endurance. You just look at it and move on. It can’t all be rosy all the time. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s not. But our parents went through the same thing and at the end of the day, 25 years, 40 years later, you both look back and you are two people coming from different backgrounds, different issues, family issues, personal issues, tribal issues, environmental issues, friends’ issue…Even with the job sometimes. Why is this girl looking at you like that? Who is that person? (Laughter).
Away from work, what do you do for relaxation? How do you while away time when not working?
I really don’t know! I need to consult you (Laughing) on what rich people do for relaxation. I wanted to go out one day and I was like I don’t even know where to go to. I really don’t know where to go. A lot of guys yab me these days that forget about Kwame, he has turned to something else; he’s a pastor now. It’s not that. But even if I wanna hang out now, I really don’t know where to go. There’s a guy that we went to Ogun State University together. He has this joint on Adeniyi Jones (in Ikeja, Lagos), he calls me, I go there, I eat macaroni pepper soup with fish. These days, I’m trying to get back into the groove. Because I found out that I had a 10-year plan between 30 and 40. I worked like a mad man, I made so many sacrifices, I stopped going to a lot of parties. I was just focused. It was like the 10 years to make a difference – I either get it or die trying. There was no plan B. So, unfortunately, it alienated me from a lot of stuff. So, I will be coming for consultation from the big brothers in the industry like you (General laughter).
Let’s wrap up on this note, the name, Kwame is from Ghana. How did you come about it?
It’s a Ghanaian name for those born on a Saturday. I was born on a Saturday. There’s this book back then in secondary school called Children of Ananse. They had all those names there and as kids, we were just curious. I now went to find out: when was I born exactly? I now found out it was Saturday. I think Kwame is Saturday, Kwesi is Sunday and Koffi is Thursday or Friday or Kojo. Something like that. But I sha know that Kwame is Saturday and Kwesi is Sunday. So, I just called myself Kwame. So, in secondary school, it was Kwame, Kwame…But it died down after a while. When I was now about to get into university; I got into school ’87. There was this guy that came out as a rapper called Kwame Rome and I just liked his style, his swag. He was just the guy. I did my hair like his and everything. And that Kwame resurgence started. So, all through Ogun State University, I was Kwame and when I got on radio too, Kwame and all that. And it’s stuck. It’s an alter ego now. Femi is the chilled out introvert; Kwame is the guy you see on TV, on radio and stuff like that. So, it’s helped balance my life a bit. When I get in, I can switch to my Femi mode and when I’m out, I can switch to my Kwame mode…
SOURCE: YES INTERNATIONAL