My name is Edmund Olotu, from Benin City, Edo State. CEO of TechAdvance Incubators. I am 33 years old. I moved back in November 2008 and I have made Lagos Nigeria my home ever since.
What has been your favorite/defining moment since moving back to Nigeria?
There have been several defining moments since I moved back. But on this particular day last year, I told my dad to come with me somewhere to intervene on my behalf. The folks I was meeting were much older and I needed him to help me break the ice. Somewhere in the discussions he said. “let me tell you something about him; If he sets his mind to something, nothing can stop him. If he tells me to sell my house today and give him all the money I will. No questions asked, he does not fail”. Considering all the pain I have caused them and sleepless nights, that moment was really priceless for me. It was validation of 32years of my life. And most especially 11yrs of my foray into technology entrepreneurship of which the hardest years have been the past 5years in Nigeria.
What is Nigeria to you and what does it mean to be Nigerian?
Right now I have a love hate relationship with Nigeria, So I have to answer this question as candidly as possible. Nigeria as a country means nothing to me. It was forced upon us and in recent times, certain people have taken themselves to be the landlord of this country.
However, I do love my co-tenants dearly. Especially the younger generation of Nigerians. We are determined to leave our mark on this world, regardless of what blight or stigma being a “Nigerian” comes with. Nigerians are possibly the smartest, most ambitious and most tenacious people anywhere in the world. We stand out everywhere and we excel. To be Nigerian is to exist against all odds. If you see a successful person in Nigeria, to understand the magnitude of their success you must multiply it by what I have called the relative execution risk factor- and for me in Nigeria that number is a 100. If a child goes to school and gets all A’s in Nigeria, you must multiply all A’s by a factor of something to begin to comprehend the success level. For example, imagine the number of days kids have to take off school for having malaria. Think about the heat in the classroom plus inadequate access to studying tools. The lack of variety in the activities kids usually do to stimulate their mind. Calculate the traveling time with traffic, which inextricably is redundant time for that kid as they make their way to and from school. These are execution risks that mitigate against ones success. So if they still get all A’s imagine what they would become if they had the opportunity to go to a sound primary and secondary school and then attend MIT? Similarly if a business man earns even just a N100,000 in income imagine what he would have achieved doing the same business elsewhere. You must multiply his N100,000 by a hundred to begin to comprehend his actual level of success.
How did you find your voice / confidence in your decision to pursue your chosen profession / how did you know you wanted to do what you do?
This “profession” came to me by chance actually. I had failed through school. My first degree grade wasn’t all that solid. I received 14 rejection letters in one day most of the top engineering, consulting and Investment banks in England. I wasn’t ready to move back to Nigeria so I had to search deep within myself to identify what I truly loved. I knew I was a good thinker, and I was also very good at sleeping. I just didn’t know how to really think or sleep for a living. I decided to craft a career that allowed me do a lot of thinking and communication of my thoughts; and hopefully will give me the freedom to sleep as I please. And that’s how I fell into technology entrepreneurship.
Tell us about a significant turning point in your life.
Literally begging the admissions lady and her subsequently agreeing to let me into Nottingham University for my Masters degree even though I had a 2:2 and they were accepting only 2:1’s and firsts. She reluctantly agreed and I graduated with a distinction. It kind of erased all my previous bad grades. I am forever grateful to her.
What keeps you going?
Knowing that unless the Lord takes me, if I sleep I will wake up and it will be another day, and life will surely go on. It stops me from worrying incessantly… oh that and knowing that come the end of the month at least 30 people and their families are depending on me to pay their salary. It makes every single decision I take, no matter how flippant count for something.
We know words are very close to your heart, If your words could change peoples attitudes on one particular issue / topic, what would it be? and what change would you wish to see.
Love. Love truly conquers all. Love something, love someone. Love is curious, love is unselfish, love is inspiring. It sounds very cliché, but people have just stopped loving. People need to dedicate some part of their day to doing something that does not benefit them. Perhaps for just an hour. If you are a hair stylist for a living do your neighbour’s house-helps hair this Saturday. Have a conversation and see how your mind opens up. If you are a consultant ask your driver what business he thinks will make him money. Listen to his response and engage him. Every bad thing happening in this world is as a result of us knowing the very least about each other. From corruption, to Boko-Haram to the Middle East crisis to the global recession. It all boils down to love. People say necessity is the mother of all invention- id say now that everything necessary has pretty much been created, love is…
If you could go to the past and give your younger self advice what would it be?
Make sure you remember every single minute of your day every single day. And then keep a diary of it. At the end of every hour ask yourself if you have created value.
Of all the places in the world to visit, where would you like to be/visit at this very moment and why?
The Caribbean somewhere- Perfect place to think and sleep. But seriously, I find it quite annoying that in my “old age”, I know very little about how other black people on this planet live and potentially what value we can create together.
What would you rather, the front of Time magazine or forbes? Why?
Time Magazine most definitely- Forbes magazine typically celebrates wealth. Time Magazine celebrates relevance. Wealth and relevance are not always the same thing. I’d rather be relevant.
Favorite hip-hop/music / song lyric?
I just landed in Europe N***, Shopping bags I’m a tourist N****. Yes it is very ratchet, but there is a certain level of elation in that line and as one who loves to travel- I relate to it very well and when I hear the entire song it provides me with 3-4mins of escapism. Judge me as you please.
Imagine your child is reading this 15yrs from now, say something to them.
Don’t listen to EVERYTHING I say. I probably will be very wrong about you and in a bid to keep you safe and comfortable, limit your ability to be the greatest you can be.
What do you think are ingredients required to the make a successful entrepreneur?
I’d say consistency of purpose, blind faith and healthy dose of stupidity masked as faux intelligence.
Success has many fathers and failures along the way are not celebrated. How do you deal with disappointments en-route to your goal?
This is going to sound trivial but I simply go to sleep, wake up and tell myself “So you didn’t die abi?”