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Money Moves: Winning 1 Million Naira and Blowing it All at 19

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What do you do when you get a lot of unexpected cash? Most people think they have solid “plans” for how they’ll manage a lot of “sudden” money but chances are that many will lavish, instead of putting that money to good use. Feranmi Ajetomobi, lead, Product Marketing at Cowrywise shares his Money Moves story. Read this for practical money management lessons on what to do with money, especially when it’s unpredicted. Imagine winning 7 figures as a teenager and blowing it all up in a short time. Think you can never do that, well, think again…

Hi, Hi! Tell us a bit about yourself.

I am Feranmi Ajetomobi and I currently lead Product Marketing at Cowrywise. I joined in 2017 which makes it almost four years now, wow! ๐Ÿ˜Ž

Since then, I’ve taken up a couple of side gigs and led some product marketing gigs across the country and some internationally as well. That’s me – well, my professional side. ๐Ÿ˜

Awesome! I like how this interview is helping me pretend like I don’t already know you. ๐Ÿ˜‚ Anyway… How has being a staff of a FinTech company helped or affected your finances?

First thing is that people always think you have money when you work in a FinTech. ๐ŸŒš Sometime back, someone DM’d me to borrow some money and when he mentioned the amount, I was flattered that he thought I had that amount of money “that I was not using”. Lol!

Seriously though, the major impact has been how it’s helped me to become more financially responsible. Particularly because Cowrywise is a FinTech focused on helping people take control of their finances. There’s no way can we teach or help people with their money habits if we don’t know enough.

Working in FinTech has definitely helped me get better with allocating my resources. I am not the man I used to be. ๐Ÿ˜‚

This isn’t to say that I am perfect though. We all know that there are Doctors who aren’t health conscious – even though they’re there asking others “when did the symptoms start” every other day. Nobody should come for me oh.

So true! You don’t want to be caught off-guard so all your FinTech experience will not end up in the mud. ๐Ÿ˜‚ Ok, let’s get to the million naira story. We saw an interesting Twitter thread where you shared a bit of this story. What did it feel like losing a million Naira at the age of 19.

Mahn, let me just start with my mistake. My first mistake was thinking that the million Naira was my money, whereas, it was for my business. Ultimately, what I lost at that time was more than the cash, it was the business and it felt shattering. I had left school because I had the mindset that school was a scam and I could just start my business and “run things”.

But na things run me. ๐Ÿ˜ญ Imagine losing the very reason I had left school because I didn’t manage funds well. It became mentally draining and I almost slipped into depression because of the loss of the business. So many lessons learnt since then.

Mahn. Glad you learnt from the experience. Tell us the story though, how did you make the 1 million naira in the first place?

The money was from a competition called “Pitch for Gold” at Joshuaville, a youth RCCG church. The entire idea was for people to present their ideas in a competition and get a grant (not a loan).

I remember there was a guy who pitched the idea of a ride-hailing company using yellow taxis. This was before any of the current ride-hailing companies even existed in Nigeria. The guy was already way ahead of his time. ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿฝ

Anyway, the original amount for the winner was 350,000 Naira. However, after presenting my idea of pushing local fries across the world, the judges got very interested in what I had to offer and pumped the prize up to 1 million Naira. I was so excited! Especially because I could already envision the money in my pocket. In my head, it was my money and not for the business and that was terrible thinking.

Were you supposed to stay accountable to the judges after receiving the prize?

Hmm. I was’t forced or obligated to be accountable to the judges but I had a mentor who was to teach me how to grow the business. However, later on in the interview, I’ll share what happened with that mentor and how it affected me.

Ok. So, how did it feel to handle that much at such a young age?

You know how these prize gifts work, you have to go through a certain process to get them. But even before I got the money, I was already calculating what I would do with it – not how I’ll use it to grow the actual business I pitched for. I was exhibiting Gen Z behaviour…๐ŸŒš Again, nobody should come for me oh.

That time, the Blackberry Z10 was reigning so I was already thinking of spending more than 10% of the money to buy one. I focused less on the “work” I needed to now do and focused more on the status part of owning a million. In my mind, I had blown and come to think of it, who still uses Blackberry now? ๐Ÿ˜ฉ

Ayee! Sinzu spending. ๐Ÿค‘ Blackberry Zen10 was the one you could flip shey? What other excesses came as a result of this money?

First of all, I left school.

Your parents allowed you to leave school?

Yes, they did, my parents are very supportive. They just asked if I was sure I wanted to focus on the business full-time and I said yes. But when life hit hard and I wanted to get back into school, they helped me to process my JAMB (Joint Admission Matriculation Board) again.

What year were you when you left?

I was in year two second semester. So after I left, I had to start all over again and my parents didn’t feel bad about it. To think my mum worked in academia so I still really respect that she was not pushy.

Was this the only excess behaviour?

My second excessive behaviour was what I mentioned earlier – I saw the money as mine. So, I focused on only buying the key things for the business while I balled with the rest. If I knew better, I would have saved the rest and used it as an emergency fund for the business. Particularly with the food business and the impact that inflation has on foodstuff. You can buy something for 10,000 Naira now and see it at 20,000 Naira tomorrow.

I didn’t think futuristically and definitely didn’t consider inflation. I got key items for the shop but didn’t even negotiate well for the rent.

What the judges expected was for me to show receipts for certain purchases, which I did but that honestly did not keep me very accountable.

What was the major lesson you learnt from losing the money so fast?

Omoo. My eye opened after the business closed down and I could not even recharge my phone with 100 Naira.

The major lesson I learnt was the importance of separating entities. Your business money is for your business. Your own money is for you. Those are two VERY different things.

Thankfully, the business is back up and what I’ve done is put someone in charge of the operations so I can’t even touch business cash. This person is accountable to the business and the people who invested money in the business so things now run smoothly.

I also learnt the importance of mentorship. Some people start to think they’re better or smarter than their mentor, which is possible. However, what you don’t have is the experience your mentor has gathered. I mentioned earlier in the interview that I had a mentor. She owned a food business that she had started way before me, but because of my new ideas, I started to think I had a better product than she did. I started to skip our mentorship sessions and ignore calls.

If I had continued to attend sessions with her, I would have learnt more about pricing and how to prepare for inflation issues in the food industry. Also, we were making a lot of sales but there was no profit. If I had stuck with a mentor, we would have been able to catch that early enough.

So how did you get back on your feet?

It took about six years oh. A friend reached out to me to revive NiFries when he started his saloon.

We started up really small with a little space in Yaba. There’s something called beta testing in product development/marketing where a few people test a product before it goes live. We beta tested with our suya burger, served a few popular people and that has now become our most popular product.

There are still challenges once in a while, which is normal with any business but operating the business itself has become easier. This is because I have gotten experienced and reliable people to manage different aspects of the business.

Did you have to pay black tax then? ๐ŸŒš

Nope. It was me that was “black taxing” my family still. People asked me for money though, but they were not family members so that doesn’t count as black tax.

What would you advise someone who suddenly has access to more money than they’ve ever had?

If it’s for an idea, I’ll advise you to start with a minimum viable option of that idea. For example, you get 10 million to open 10 stores in Lagos, I’ll say you should start with 1 million and 1 store. Lock the remaining 9 million in Cowrywise so that you don’t spend it on yourself.

Use the 1 million to make your mistakes because it is better to make your mistakes and test with that amount than to make your mistakes with a larger amount.

Of course, get a mentor if you can. You might not be young in age but you’re young in that field you’re trying to explore so get a mentor so can serve as a guide in your business.

How has your relationship with money changed since this experience?

Omo. I’ve learnt that the best investors are not those who know the most about finance but those who have solid habits. So what I now do is pick one bad money habit at a time and fix it.

My view of money has changed from just gathering knowledge to fixing the micro aspect of things.

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

20. ๐ŸŒš

I’m in my house, come and beat me.

SMH, Feranmi! For real though, this was so interesting and full of money and life lessons. Thanks for sharing your story.

Thanks for having me as well. ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿฝ

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