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Money Moves: Starting and Growing a Creative Business in Nigeria

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Do you plan to start a business in Nigeria? Then, you’ll find this insightful. Periodically, I speak with everyday people to understand how they make, manage and multiply their money. Today’s spotlight is Evans Akanno who is the founder of Cregital, a Design Firm in Nigeria. He shares his entrepreneurial journey with us. I asked him interesting questions. Will he ever consider a 9 to 5 after building a business? What will he advise someone who is just about to start a business in Nigeria? Is he nurturing any plans to japa? Find out in this interview. His is our first Money Moves Story.

Do you remember the very first time you worked to earn money? 💰

It was in 2008 during my undergraduate internship in NNPC. I helped type or photocopy documents and managed simple data using excel. I earned 8k monthly.

Was that a lot at the time?

Nah, it wasn’t a lot, at least to me. 8k was small in 2008. I remember how we were paid 8 pieces of 1k in an envelope.

Are you sure that’s the very first time you actually worked for money though? You didn’t make any money when you were much younger?

Ok. Maybe the earliest time was my Granddad dashing me new notes for being top in class in Primary school. But I wouldn’t consider it as work though.

That’s not work oh. 😊 Back to your undergraduate internship, how did it feel and what were the lessons learned?

It felt good but the relationships mattered much more than the money. Any opportunity you have to deliver excellent work is a great opportunity.

During the internship, my goal was to save enough to buy a desktop computer. One time, my supervisor Ifeanyi Nwangwu had asked why I skipped lunch on most days. I mentioned that I was saving money for something. He casually probed me more, so I opened up about my goal to buy a computer. I told him I had bought a mouse and keyboard, and was yet to get a CPU and monitor. I thought that if I saved most of the 8k I earned, I could save up to 30K at the end of the 6 months to get a monitor and CPU.

He asked me why I wasn’t considering a laptop and I said they were too small and could easily be stolen in school…😩

I told him “I prefer a computer”, but at the end of my internship, he gifted me a laptop. 

Do you remember the very first time you saw a computer? (“Computer” sounds so old-school though.😁) And what fascinated you about them?

The very first time was in primary school. We were taught about input and output devices, monitors, CPUs, fax, floppy diskettes etc. Remember that? 🤓

I just love computers (even though we don’t call them that anymore). I love the idea that you can do more with a computer. Right now, I don’t have a regular cable TV subscription but I always have internet subscription which enables me flexibly switch from work to play. 👨🏽‍💻

Tech devices definitely make life so much easier…

So back to your supervisor buying you a laptop. Was that instrumental to how you now see life?

Absolutely. I still shared that story in 2017 – that this person taking a chance on me was significant. He actually noticed then that I designed simple flyers and encouraged me to design websites too. I remembered replying “I can’t design like that. I only do graphics not websites because of the coding thing” but he mentioned that Drupal and WordPress were easier to use.

I eventually tried web design in 2011. Ifeanyi taking a chance on me inspired me to take a chance on many other people. I believe that if we continue this cycle, we can actually fix Nigeria.

We all need an Ifeanyi (and should be Ifeanyis too!)

Alright… How was life from Secondary School to University – money wise.

I schooled at Innocent Comprehensive High School in Surulere, Lagos between 99’ and 2005. I was nerdy, topped the class most of the time, had few friends like Monica and Adeniran who thought I was cool beyond the grades. I rarely had a need for money. It was a day school so my dad gave me between ₦20 – ₦50 for snacks during lunch break. I wonder which snacks that amount can buy today.

At Imo State University, I graduated to learning how to manage 5K pocket money monthly, streamlining my lifestyle to the essentials. We all lived off-campus so I cooked what I could, and ate out at the most cost-efficient places in school. If you know what I mean…😩

In my final year, finances were tough at home so I had to sell the laptop I was gifted to pay the fees. That was my first awakening that I was now in charge of my finances. I learned to make money from my course-mates by helping them with online research for their projects.

How did you feel after graduating from the University? What were your plans then and did you stick to those plans?

After graduation in 2010, my 2nd Class Lower in Industrial Chemistry limited my opportunity to apply at the best companies that aligned with my degree. Nonetheless, I was flexible as my career goal was to be successful, irrespective of the path. I built my skill in design by reading articles and following the portfolio of good designers like Tola Alabi, Adekunle Gold and studied the portfolio of a lot of international design agencies.

I started designing for friends and family and shared my work on Facebook. I charged 5k for logos,  15k for brochures, 30k for websites. I thought that if I could design 20 logos every month, I could earn 100k while working from home. And if I included websites to that, I could earn much more.

How did Cregital come into the picture?

In January 2012, I launched Evans Akanno Creative Agency, working with clients such as DStv and Recycle Points. In July, I joined the Rocket Internet team in building I spent 9 months there, then I spent about a year in Konga as a creative strategist. In April 2015, I launched Cregital.

I had saved about 600k from freelance projects and started out with registering the business name, then got a small office in Surulere, Lagos and hired 3 people; Nneka – Project Manager, Rufus – Web Developer and Precious – Graphic designer. I still remember the day clearly. It was a mixture of anticipation and hope.

I wonder if 600k can start a company in 2021…🤔 Why the name Cregital though?

I asked a few friends who were great in communication to suggest a name for my new company and of all the ones I got, I liked “Credigital” (a fusion of creative and digital). I simplified it to Cregital. 

Tell us more about how you felt the first time you employed a staff and paid salary at Cregital?

I felt good! I felt really good! I read about how entrepreneurship can help struggling economies and I thought about how I could contribute to a better Nigeria.

Nneka Ngene was my first hire at Cregital, she was one of the early believers in my dream so it reassured me that I was building a remarkable company. We couldn’t meet payroll for some months so I made a rule to pay staff from the lowest earner to the top and do so unfailingly every 25th. It’s been good so far with lots of lessons learned.

What are the money lessons you’ve learned since building a business in an environment like Nigeria?

I’ve learned a lot about bootstrapping, growth hacking and storytelling. There is always a way to save money in business if you really want to.

Cregital grew solely on revenue. Surprisingly, this model has worked over the years because I’ve focused on delivering quality projects. This has helped us to consistently have clients.

What would you advise someone who’s just about to start a business in Nigeria in 2021?

First, understand the peculiarities and scope of business you’re getting into. Do not think that it is straightforward to start a business in Nigeria. 🌚

For example, you can assume that in a design agency, you spend all the time designing but you might spend more time managing the expectations of clients and visualizing digital solutions that solve their pain points.

Keep your eyes on your bottom line because startups consume a lot of money. First work towards being profitable while offering the best value.

Also believe in what you are building. This is how you breathe life into your brand and get your audience to believe in it too. In the early months of Cregital, I wore branded T-shirts and told so many stories of the brand and it was all intentional.

There will be tough times so make sure this business is a profitable idea you’re really passionate about.

What about people that advise that you pursue profit first and not passion?

They are actually correct. Build a business that can attract paying customers, if possible, do this before you launch.

Have you ever had a tough business day that made you cry?

Yes. Sometimes, I’ve cried from my mistakes, other times from how difficult Nigeria is. 😩

Recently, I had a tough situation with a product we were building. I had structured equity ownership without a binding contract and it hurt when my mistake became evident.

Nonetheless, I’ve learned that for every tough moment, there’s a lesson learned. A lot of business owners in Nigeria like me are accidental entrepreneurs, we are learning on the job.

Are you a serial entrepreneur? Beyond Cregital, you cofounded an Agro-business. How is that going?

I exited the agro-business in 2020.

Can you ever consider a 9 to 5 after your entrepreneurial experience?

Yes I can. It depends on the company and the offer. 😉

Do you think you will ever japa? ✈️

When I consider the small impact my work has created in Nigeria, I believe I can achieve more internationally. The next phase of my life is to build a family and I would like to do that in an enabling environment.

What is your proudest accomplishment or moment in business? 🏅

I think accolades come at the best time for me. Recently, I was mentioned on the cover of ThisDay Newspaper as one of Nigeria’s Techpreneurs. In 2019, I made Forbes 30 under 30 in Technology two months before turning 30. In 2016, I was awarded the Future Awards Prize for Creative Professional, barely a year after launching Cregital.

These have been really encouraging.

Your greatest money lesson as a business owner?

During the pandemic lockdown in 2020, I had to focus on financial freedom over entrepreneurship. The pandemic showed me what was important, what roles needed to be filled and how to manage money more effectively.

Work became remote and it has saved us business costs tremendously.

How has your relationship with money changed in the past year since Covid?

I have been able to streamline my expenses to mostly essentials. Working from home has also helped me save and invest more.

Cregital has become quieter on social media. Is “work from home” the reason?

Cregital is now a 100% remote company. It started out as a deliberate effort, however, we will share some of the projects we have been working on over the past months. Eventually, our social presence will evolve to mostly our portfolio and less about the team.

On a scale of 1-10, how happy are you with your financial fitness?

I’m at a 9. Plus, I’m very happy and excited about the future.

A 9! “Where una dey see this money!” Lol. I’m kidding…
This was fun. Thank you, Evans. Wishing you the very best.

Thank you! 😊

Clearly, it is not beans to start a business in Nigeria. You have to be physically (or remotely 🌚), mentally and financially ready. Although it can be tough, it’s not impossible and stories like these should remind us to pick our priorities in business and learn how to combine passion and profit.

What ideas or stories did you find interesting in this conversation? Do you think it’s still possible to start a profitable business in Nigeria in 2021? Share your thoughts.

Also, is there someone you think we should have a conversation with on the blog? Please share their names with us in the comments!

If one of your goals is to start a business in Nigeria, you need funds to do so. Begin to save towards it with a Cowrywise account.

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