the lives of its readers. In this exclusive interview of Thursday 6th August, 2009, Olakunle Kasumu spoke about the book and the present level of entrepreneurship development in Nigeria. This he shared with Ayokunle Bankole.
AB: Can we meet you, sir?
OK: My name is Kunle Kasumu. I run a company called People and People. People and People is a consulting and research firm that zeros in on HR and communications. We do a lot of trainings, recruiting, employee surveys, HR audits, human capital development needs for organizations, corporations and individuals. But I am also a partner with Awake Africa, which is entirely into entrepreneurship development; particularly youth entrepreneurship development.
The organization called Awake Africa basically produces a book series on successful indigenous entrepreneurs – people who have started businesses in Nigeria themselves and have built those businesses from the ground… up.
We try to promote entrepreneurship because there are a lot of people in this country who think that the only way they can go up is by getting a job and keeping a job; and relying on the pension or gratuity at the end of the day.
Entrepreneurship is very critical to emerging economies, and Nigeria has to take entrepreneurship very seriously – particularly, youth entrepreneurship – if we want to grow our economy as fast as we wish. So, Awake Africa is all about that. I am involved in Awake Africa.
AB: What can you say about the present state of entrepreneurship and mass unemployment in Nigeria?
OK: We are in a very critical state right now. It starts from our educational system that tries to prepare people only to get jobs. But even in doing that (that being the objective), it is even a system that fails in doing that successfully. That objective itself is faulty. But even let’s say it’s okay to do that, the system is not even doing that successfully. We need to critically look at our education so that people in the 21st century. And that means entrepreneurship has to be locked into our educational system. We have to churn out young people from our schools who are prepared to face life today; who understand entrepreneurship; who understand how to identify opportunities; how to explore opportunities; how to build organizations around opportunities; how to understand market forces; how to develop products and services to people to create wealth. So, our educational system has a major problem.
In my line of work, I meet people everyday who call and say they are looking for jobs. Number one, they don’t have the skill-set to get those jobs. Number two, they need to think about creating jobs. It’s a big problem. The (then) president (Yar’adua) at one time was talking about declaring power emergency. I think he should declare entrepreneurship emergency among our young people. We need to train people on how to create jobs, how to develop their talents and skills, and turn them into commercial vehicles to generate income for themselves. That way, the economy would grow. And, we need to look at it holistically. The government has to create an enabling environment. There has to be easy access to cash. There has to be infrastructures that make businesses work. There has to be all these things.
We also have to look at it from the angle of the homes. Parents should stop forcing their children to toll only the lines of white-collar jobs. There are so many angles to look at it.
AB: So, you mean we are all to blame in this problem?
OK: There are a whole lot of factors to look at. We have to look at it holistically. But it starts from the individual. The individual has to realize that he has what it takes and he can develop the skills to succeed entrepreneurially. Even when you are an employee, you’ve got to think entrepreneurially. So, entrepreneurship is not a subject for people who want to go and start businesses; it is also a subject for people who are employees.
AB: You co-authored a book, “Even Here Even Now,” which is believed to be one of Nigeria’s most insightful books on entrepreneurship today. What brought about the idea of such a book?
OK: My partner, Niyi Adekunle, and I were young guys who met somewhere after leaving school. When we met, we found out that we had a lot of things in common. One, both of us grew up and schooled in Ibadan. Two, we both share the same year of birth. Three, we both believe in Nigeria. And four, we also both believe in entrepreneurship. We believe that as young people, we need to sit down and create jobs. I have my own small business and he has his own small business. We began to compare notes – the struggles and challenges of starting and running a small business in Nigeria long ago. We saw a lot of challenges.
Then, we observed we needed a lot of inspiration. The only place we could find inspiration were in the stories of successful foreign entrepreneurs. We could find books on Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Robert Kiyosaki, and so on. We asked ourselves, ‘Where are the Nigerian success stories that people could identify themselves with?’ We couldn’t really see anything. So we said, ‘Let’s go and make a research. Let’s look for Nigerians who are successful entrepreneurs, who are not in the banking or oil and gas sectors.’ These are the traditional sectors where people believe it is easy to make money. ‘Let’s look for people like that who are doing basic services and so on, and who have built successful businesses from the scratch in Nigeria. Approach them, interview them and put all their findings in a book.’ So we said, ‘Oh! Fantastic idea,’ and set out to do that.
Later, we thought if we go and meet these guys and just introduce ourselves as two individuals, they might not listen to us. So, we formed a company and approached them with that company. We started knocking heads together and came up with a name – Awake Africa. I went to my computer and designed a letter-head. We wrote them letters. By the time we got the first and second response, it was easier getting the others.
Over a two year period we met the twelve entrepreneurs. Tow years because it was difficult tracking them. We researched; short listed twelve Nigerian entrepreneurs, and ran after all of them. It was interesting because we insisted on meeting each of them one after the other, face-to-face.
We wrote the book together. After a while, we saw positive responses within and outside Nigeria from people who read the book. When we took the book to Sierria Leone, the people there said we should come and do a similar book for Sierria Leonean entrepreneurs. We saw responses from Sierria Leone, Ghana, the UK and USA. So, we decided to turn it into a series.
AB: Lastly, do you have any advice for aspiring and emerging entrepreneurs?
OK: There are two things you need. As an aspiring entrepreneur, you need the right mind-set and skill-set. Don’t try it unless you understand these two. Entrepreneurship is a risky business – career risk. Entrepreneurship is a big word. We have the social entrepreneur, but I assume you are talking about the business entrepreneur.
When you say you don’t want the eight-to-five job, but want to start a business, it’s risky. You need the right mind-set, positive mind-set. You need to have a bulldog tenacity and focus, particularly in our own jungle marketplace here in Nigeria. You need that mind-set. Do you have it? Have you developed it? To develop it, you need the right kind of information. Read good books. Listen to good tapes or audios. Find yourself a mentor. Find yourself the right circle of friends – people who are like-minded, people who are thinking entrepreneurship. You need all that to develop your mind-set.
You need the skill-set or the know-how. How do you start a business? What do you do to start a business? You need all aspect of it. There is the accounting aspect of it; there is the HR aspect of it; there is the marketing aspect of it; there is the selling aspect of it. Go for a short-term course. Find a mentor you can talk to. Read books along that line.
The problem with a lot of small businesses in Nigeria is structure. Because you are just determined, you get in there. I had the same experience. When I started, just the determination was there. I jumped in, started and then it was learning as time went on. But, you can save yourself a lot of hassles. A lot of things I know now, if I had known then, development would have been quicker. Just imagine someone who knows a whole lot of stuff I know now – starting out – won’t make a lot of mistakes.
Develop your skill-set and mind-set. Go for entrepreneurship. I recommend it. If you have a tug for it in your heart, go for it. Don’t just go for it blindly. People tell me they want to quit their job and start. Long time ago I would say, “Yes, go for it!” Now I say, “No, slow down.” Give yourself time. Set yourself a target. ‘I will quit my job in the next one year, six months,’ and so on. Within that one year, you should develop your mind-set. You should ask questions. It’s not that you can be totally prepared for it, but preparation can help you minimize pains. That is my advice for somebody who is aspiring. Develop your mind-set and skill-set.