A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.– Jesus Christ
Catch two or three Nigerians talking – for the sake of this piece, imagine the conversation taking place in a pub, or what we Nigerians like to call, or deride, as “beer parlour” – about tech start-ups and the geeks behind them, you are likely to see and hear them talk animatedly about some latest tech wizard who’d just came up with a killer App in San Francisco’s Silicon valley that’s surely the next big thing in the tech world, and how Facebook and Google are in a do-or-die corporate battle to pay billions of their top dollars for this newest wonder of the tech world!
The discussion would race rapidly into how these American tech guys are awesome, how their government had created the magical, all-accomplishing “conducive environment” for them to just pop out tech “solutions” at the drop of the hat, which instantly makes these “tech guys” billionaires in dollars overnight, even if they are high school dropout.
Our imagined palm-wine polemicists would, inevitably, begin to exchange names and exploits of such American (they are ALWAYS American, not British, not French, not Indian, not Chinese; Nigerians or Africans (mark you, Elon Musk of Tesla was actually born and raised into his teens in South Africa; he is African, flesh and blood, to cite just one tech wunderkind from among us!) are a no, no, and that despite the fact that the nationals of these countries or continents are known to be tech luminaries – the more teen, the higher the chances of making the list – and how these guys thumped their nose at almighty Harvard, dropped out of Yale or MIT to create billion-dollar-churning Apps at the mere thought of it!
Of course Mark Zuckerberg must make the list, top of the list in fact; you don’t kick Harvard to the kerb and found facebook only to make footnote in any conversation about tech virtuosos anywhere in the world, including this inebriate tête-à-tête in a Nigerian beer parlour…
You might meet with some addlepated gaze laced with some subtle hostility, if you dare to wade in at this juncture and tell our imaginary Bacchanalians that there are indeed some Nigerian tech prodigies, not in the US of A but here in our blighted, much-maligned Nigeria, doing great stuffs mentionable in the same breath as Mark Zuckerberg of facebook!
Well, this this might seem heretic to your now tipsy audience – tipsy from both the copious consumption of the liquids in green bottles before our revellers-debater and giddiness induced by the supposed ease with which these university dropout American tech guys make billions of dollars “from just one App, my brother, incredible!” And perhaps, this might even seems a tall tale to you too, our dear reader of The Dream Daily Newspaper!
We can indeed assert without equivocation and any fear of falsehood that indeed there are young Nigerians doing great tech things in this country as you read this piece whose creative and entrepreneur trajectories inspiringly mirror those of Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, David Filo and Jerry Yang, and who could and indeed should be mentioned in the same narrative as these famous founders of Facebook, Google and Yahoo, even if they don’t have billions of dollars, yet, to show for their tech genius.
Indeed on this page we present one of such young Nigerians in the persona of Mr. Steve Obi, 35, Founder, CEO, McSteveonline.com. We trust that, unlike our imaginary pub friends above, you, our reader, possesses the perceptive insight and the intellectual honesty to weigh Mr. Obi’s life and entrepreneurial experiences here in Nigeria and arrive at the uplifting conclusion that this country, Nigeria, has a plethora of Mark Zuckerbergs, Larry Pages, Sergey Brins, David Filos, Jerry Yangs…and more to make our country a beacon of tech greatness as the United States of America! Like Christ said in the quote above, these young Nigerians have only largely remain ‘prophets’ we as a nation have failed to honour in our homeland thus far. Not anymore…
In year 2002, a young Obi got admission to study Geology at the prestigious Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria. Flushed with joy, Obi travelled down to the East to inform his parents of the good news and obtain the requisite funds to accept the ABU offer and register for his freshman year. Obi’s father, a self-taught man of widespread intellectual acumen among his peers and clan, congratulated his fifth son for the great academic progress in securing a university place. However, the older man delivered a devastating news to his brilliant son: “Young man, you know as much as I do that I, your father, cannot afford to fund your degree programme. Here, take this N10,000. I know it is nothing to how much you need but that is all I have for you.”
Devastation and bitterness galled the young Obi as he left his ancestral home in Uturu, Abia State for Zaria, Kaduna State, the N10,000 depleted by N2,500? He paid for the 11-hour journey to ABU, with no practical idea of how to pay the fees to start his degree, talk less of finishing the 5-year programme. It also happened that the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) were on strike as the young Obi ruminated in the bus to Zaria.
As the bus inched towards Abuja, Obi took a decision that would change the course of his life. He told The Dream Daily: “Although ASUU was on strike, still I wanted to go to ABU, look around and just hangout with some new friends I imagined I would make there. But then I also thought hard about where I would get any money when the leftover of my father’s N10,000 finishes. It was a big dilemma for me. However, as we entered Abuja by Gwagwalada, suddenly I remembered that my elder brother, Clement Obi, lives in Abuja. I can’t explain how I made the decision but as we approached Zuba to go to Kaduna, I told the driver to stop, and that I was not going to Zaria again.”
The Zuba stop and detour to Abuja was both a literal and figurative end to ABU, Zaria for Obi, and his venture into the business world: “My brother was hustling in Abuja in those early days of GSM phone in Nigeria. I decided to join him in the business, if you can really call that a business. I decided to invest part of what I have from my father’s N10,000 into the GSM research card business. That time not everybody knew how to load research cards. We charged N100 for loading recharge cards of any denomination. That was how I started. We started what people now call the GSM Village in Abuja from Nwaora Plaza close to NITEL Office Wuse 2,” Obi reminisced.
From recharge card, Obi took to phone repairs, then phone accessory sales, then second hand and new phone vending, all by the roadside. As you read this piece though, the information and communication technology (ICT) company which Obi eventually set up – McSteve Unique Services Nigeria Limited is the parent company of mcsteveonline.com whose advert is opposite this page – now pays millions in ground rent at the popular Banex Plaza in the heart of Abuja! (Obi actually bought out a bank to secure this highly coveted space at the busy Banex Plaza!)
What’s more? The young, visionary Obi sees the future of his ICT retail business online, hence he has sent up Nigeria’s first exclusive ICT gadgets online store, www.mcsteveonline.com, where buyers shop for phones and over 5,000 ICT-related products, and place their order which is shipped to their doorsteps nationwide.
An avid reader, Obi’s passion for the ICT business was kindled as a read “a book on how Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak started their journey into the world of ICT in a garage which gave birth to the Apple brand.” From his small start, Obi began to realise that he was into something big in business “at a point when I started to develop and implement new ideas to grow my ICT business.
How did it feel moving from such humble start to a place like Banex Plaza? “I felt like a conqueror who had conquered a small league from a humble beginning and was heading for the big league to play with the big players,” Obi told The Dream Daily Newspaper.
He listed his challenges as a start-up entrepreneur to include “inability to access bank and government loans to grow and expand the ICT business, failure by the government to create an enabling environment through ICT-friendly policies that would develop the ICT sector in Nigeria for young and upcoming ICT entrepreneurs and lack of infrastructure due to the government low interest in the ICT sector.”
Obi is betting on online sales as the future, instead of the usual shop/showroom business model because “the world is changing and developing so fast due to advancement in ICT. Bill Gates the founder of Microsoft once said that ‘if your business is not on the internet, then your business is out of business.’ I agree with him because most of the big stores in the UK and US have all closed their offline stores to go online and the online stores have more advantages such as 24-hours accessibility and unlimited geographical coverage.”
If you are an aspiring young entrepreneur in Nigeria reading this, Obi has this advice for you: “My advice for young Nigerians about life and business is for them to have a dream, then nurture and develop their dreams with innovative ideas, hard work, passion, determination, focus, perseverance and above all prayers to the Almighty God.”
Obi dreams big, still. In five to ten years he wants to see “mcsteveonline.com becoming a global brand rubbing shoulders with world renowned brands such as Amazon.com, Ebay.com and Alibaba.com.”
Looking back now, what would Obi have done differently in life and in business? “I would have made good use of the resources I had at my early stage in business to build my dream,” he said with his broad, frequent, easy smile, adding that he planned “to go back to school, but not to study Geology. Now, I want to study a course related to business or entrepreneurship.”