TWB: Kindly take us through your professional journey and most importantly, at what point did you know that you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
Bright: Somehow from a tender age I have always had the intuition of an entrepreneur. I have always thought of creating something that will appeal to and impact a large group of people. My subconscious mind was busy with this thought from a very young age and prepared me for the future ahead. It became even more reinforced while I was in the finance industry. I was always looking for that moment to bail out and start something. A few years into my foray in the finance, I came up with an idea to bridge the professional dry-cleaning and laundry service gap for middle-class professionals. Three years of brooding and cultivating the idea gave rise to WQ on June 28, 2007. The rest is history.
TWB: What are some of the unforgettable moments of your career, moments that you can describe as turning points?
Bright: Few months after we opened our dry-cleaning business, a friend of the house who works with a major airline at the time came to me and asked me to bid for the job of handling the professional cleaning needs of the airline. I panicked a bit because we had barely understood the laundry business. We had plenty of struggles and was trying to find our footing. I wasn’t sure we could handle it. We didn’t have the logistics, machinery or manpower. I consulted with the business manager at the time and to my surprise, he advised we take the deal. So we took the plunge. It’s was a plunge into uncharted territory. One that taught us immense lessons and bequeathed to us huge exposure from ground zero. Initially, we had to do daily deliveries with a public taxi.
We stretched our team and systems to the limit. We worked Sundays and even Christmas days. We worked sometimes at night so that we could deliver as scheduled. It was a great experience.
The movement from our small two-bedroom factory in the innermost part of Ifako Gbagada to our very urbane high street headquarters just about two years after we opened for business was also very significant for us. We have had several great moments. Each of them taught us great lessons of hoping and trying. Seven years after, we had about 10 outlets in all and have become a major force in the industry in Lagos. It was time for us to push ourselves further and again into other areas in our dream. Then shopcity supermarket was birthed. Yet another difficult but audacious move. We made a success out of it. Still, in search of our genius, we opened our first restaurant three years later in Ketu Lagos known as Foodcity. Six months after, we made it two. This time in Ikotun. It’s been just dreams and actions. In all these, we have always been lucky to have God behind us.
Enterprise building is all about lessons, humility, resilience, hard work and service. Dreaming is also one of the greatest lessons an entrepreneur learns to do. You dream and take actions. Many times it works, other times it fails. You learn to refine it and try again until it works. Lessons on people management and tough decisions.
TWB: With the benefit of hindsight, are there things you would do differently if you were to start afresh?
Bright: Sure there are always things you’d wish you had done differently. But insight naturally comes with time. The way we have evolved and still evolving has always been dependent on the knowledge we have and the financial resources available.
TWB: What do you predict as some of the challenges that African professionals will face in the next decade?
Bright: The challenges of running businesses are the same everywhere, especially in Nigeria. Adequate capital, staff issues, power, and regulatory issues amongst others. It’s almost universal. With younger businesses, it’s more pronounced because of the limitations that come with their youth, and the availability of resources to tackle the issues. We are not immune to these issues, but somehow we can deal with them and advance our enterprise
You can’t possibly chase two rats at the same time goes a popular saying. When you’re starting, you should do one and try to nail it before attempting another. Starting requires that you narrow your focus significantly otherwise you can choke. So, do what best connects with your inner genius and not the one that appeals to your friends. Not the one that sounds better or makes you feel good on the outside. Do what your DNA is suited for first. Succeed in it and take others later. We are most likely to die or choke from too many opportunities than die of starvation from too little. This is what Jim Collins said about opportunities chasing. It must be methodic and carefully planned
TWB: You currently function at an executive level, please share with us how you prepared for this role and what are the critical skills that upcoming professionals require to transit to C-suite?
Bright: Starting of a business is akin to giving birth to a baby. Any aspiring entrepreneur must do the planning properly. You plan for the life of the business as you plan for the life of a baby up to year 18. You plan long into the future. The business needs to mature into adolescence before you start making a demand on it. You don’t child labour the enterprise otherwise the enterprise will atrophy and die. It could become dwarfed. So continue to nurture. If you aren’t ready for the sacrifice, don’t go into it because it will never work. It’s a lot of self-denial and sacrifice but people often think otherwise. You work harder when you become an entrepreneur. It’s not the time to wake up by 9 am and all the fallacies you hear. It’s about work and sacrifice.
It’s worth it. My drive comes from within. I want to leave something in the sand of time. I also want all the comfort that life can offer at the same time. Money is powerful. The holy bible alludes to it. Acquiring it is a worthy achievement. If wealth is acquired the right way and used the right way, it can transform a continent. Nigerians should pursue enterprise building with everything they have.
You can’t have a baby because your friend has one. We all know what that means. It’s not a fad or about being a boss. You are not a boss, you are the lead servant. The chief gateman. It’s about work and nothing more. Maybe if you are a deal-man or some contractor with an African government. But serious enterprise building is real work. Not a tea party.
Technology is an enabler and not the business itself. It has evolved faster in some industry. We are applying it incrementally and gauging our industry so that we don’t invest beyond the industry. Don’t forget that you need to ensure adequate investment returns. We will keep pace with our industry and ensure we don’t deploy technology that customers will be redundant.
We have to improve our own labour needs otherwise, we may not be able to compete on the global stage. Huge investment in manpower development is every company’s most important asset. Massive investment in training and development is the only way forward.
TWB: How did you decide it was a groceries store next after the Laundry business?
What were the signs you saw that informed you that this was an opportunity worth pursuing?
Same for the restaurant, how do intending Entrepreneurs spot opportunity for business?
What are your visions of the future for the businesses?
What legacy do you want to leave behind?
Bright: As a general rule, everyone needs a broad vision for the future. Without it, you may generally just wallow and go around aimlessly. We must try from the very beginning to figure out what we want our journey through life to be like. Everything we are doing has been vaguely preconceived in my broad vision early on in my life. I have a fair idea of what my paths will be through life. Sometimes, I modify it to suit changing life situations. I have never really changed or modified anything 360degrees. We move while we search through our dashboard for signs of a need detour, or change based on my broad vision. My broad vision is centred largely on retail and allied services. We are hopeful that much later in life we could venture into manufacturing, real estate or whatever our competencies and capacity can comfortably handle.
We are driven by our vision. For our laundry business, we had our predetermined scale and once we got there, I knew it was time to dive deeper into core retail. The details are a little deeper. But we must try to set our sights far and somehow define our journeys. It will help with all other things. We are not in any business by chance. Perhaps, it’s the reason why the business manages to survive and compete well. To be candid, it’s tough but doable.
TWB: Finally, where did you grow up, what secondary school, the university you attend? NYSC?
What is your life philosophy? How do you relax when you are not busy strategizing a business expansion?
Bright: I have been a little lucky. I can’t say for sure that I have had ventures that failed. Somehow I have managed to get decent results out of all my ventures. My first and most reasonable venture was during NYSC. I served in Iseyin Oyo State, I had this deep feeling that I needed to make some money while serving my country, to serve as a buffer after my NYSC. I didn’t want to come out into the market empty. So I saw an opportunity in photography before the camping started for the second batch. I approached the authorities for a permit. But they refused. I pursued relentlessly.
Eventually, I got the permit on the last day of camp registration. Before this time I had entered into an oral MOU with a certain guy who ran a photography business in UCH Ibadan. The sharing formula was 60% for me and 40% for him. He brought technical know-how, while I brought marketing and strategy. Off we went. In a matter of days, we had the camp in our hands. The usual owners of the trade were very unhappy with us. I ended up pocketing 60k after the exercise. It was in 1999. It’s was more than my annual allowance. Sweet business it was. If you don’t try, then you stand no chance of ever winning.
I had my secondary school in Sapele, Delta state in Okotie Eboh Grammar School Sapele and my tertiary education at University of Lagos Akoka, Yaba Lagos. NYSC- Oyo State.
For me, life is about learning new things and unlearning the wrong things. Relaxation is with family most times.