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Zinox boss, Ekeh opens up on his rise to stardom, cautions startups

Foremost African techpreneur and pioneer driver of Information and Communications technology (ICT) in Nigeria, Dr. Leo-Stan Ekeh has taken startups in the industry along his tortuous memory lane to his present heights in the industry.

It would be recalled that the chairman of Zinox Group has been in the business in the last three decades, churning out IT innovations, inventions, research and development.

Ekeh spoke in Abuja as a panelist at the just concluded eNigeria conference and exhibition, organized by the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA).

Drawing his inspirations from the topic; ‘Stimulating Nigerian Youth and Women for techpreneurship’, Ekeh recalled that he has done 360 degrees in the entrepreneurship business and clearly knew he was talking to the right audience who know me.

He started by making it clear that the fundamentals are not right with the Nigerian youths to be successful entrepreneurs, stressing that “I have, and will continue to say this: there are certain things you must get right to succeed. Be humble”.

Continuing, he said “A lot of entrepreneurs spend all their money in printing call cards, but they don’t have money to do business. So, you must be ready to learn from people who are ahead of you. Secondly, knowledge of the business is key. A lot of people cannot concentrate on a particular line of business for a long time. I have been in this business for thirsty years, computerized the newspapers, big publishing companies, and oil and gas companies.

“You passion counts too, but you must have passion for something that will pay your bills. I see a lot of young people excited because of the hype about technology, but they are looking for money. So, they think it is just to go in and get the money. That talks about the knowledge of the business which is critical. When I started I focused on desktop publishing; a course that led to HP, Microsoft and a host of others to come into the country. But today they are doing business with a lot of us in the country.

“Aside, passion, you must be observant of where the industry and the world is heading to. For instance, it is done on us that in about 30 years ahead, it will be illegal for you to drive a car. Whether Nigeria likes it or not we have to queue in. So, if we keep buying cars with steering, how can we be relevant then. In other words, the infrastructure has to be right because we need to be at par without counterparts in other countries. We may be thinking of flying cars because of Lagos traffic. Flying cars are already there!

“Before taking the step into entrepreneurship, please search your mind, as there must be an incubation period. Any business you entre today and become a billionaire tomorrow expect some shocks. Note, this country is the fertile ground to invest. However, I am talking to practical entrepreneurs. My problem wasn’t the money, because if that was my primary target I would have cheated everybody and made the money; there was no computer then. My passion was driving the clients as an ICT evangelist that was unveiling the mystery of computer technology.

“In all these efforts to create wealth you must remain humble because the system intoxicates you. From Technology Distribution (TD) to Zinox with the assembling plant, we have moved to launch the first e-commerce in Nigeria- BuyRightAfrica. It failed due to lack of human capital and technology. Then, Jumia came in to open the system. The founder passed through my mentorship in Harvard, but I couldn’t remember him even when we met later. Konga also launched in Nigeria. Then, my son studied why I failed with BuyRightAfrica and he launched Yudala. Today, Yudala makes an average of N200million. They are not looking at who is the President, Vice President, or who is commanding the polity; they are resilient in their approach with huge backend technology. In the first year, they launched 20 outlets and were the pioneers of online and offline retail outlets in Africa. About this time last year, during Black Friday sales, Yudala delivered an item by a drone which took security agencies about six months to understand what we did. Basically, I am saying, humble yourself and be very close to your God, because he is the end in all.

“And when you are building as an entrepreneur, plan to have reserve. I am research enthused. You must save for the rainy day. In the present economic realities I told my staff, we are not going to ‘fire’ anybody, because they worked with me from nothing.

However, you must remain productive and inundated on the innovations in the industry, to remain part of us. I am ready to sleep on the floor with them, because we have seen entrepreneurs who buy good cars and dresses and attach al lot of important to it. It is good to look good, but have reserve for the rainy day. If you are successful today, note that it is more critical that you are successful tomorrow.

“And to the government, if you can take 10% of what you put into agriculture (yet food is expensive) and invest in IT, you do not need to employ people. When I heard government is employing 200,000 people what are they going to do?

“Now, I launched a new foundation and through that platform and Yudala (which is setting up 4o new stores), young and brilliant Nigerians will be engaged to do the work. By doing that, you can employ people that are ready for it, not based on political ground, Ekeh noted”.