Very few Nigerians will leave the United Kingdom where they are comfortably paid for their jobs to and come to Nigeria to start a company in Nigeria. Tolu Adelowo is one of the few Nigerians in this category. Tolu is the Founder & Chief Growth Officer at Cousant Connect. InterviewStories had a session with Tolu Adelowo where he talked about how he started the journey and what he hopes to achieve with Cousant in the future.
Who is Tolu Adelowo?
Hmm… This is a difficult question to answer. I guess at any point in time, I feel both successful and also feel like a failure. I am probably intelligent and also probably very stupid. I am both confident and insecure. Essentially, I am constantly evolving as I learn about the world around me. I believe evolution is key to being successful in life.
One thing that’s constant though, is that there is this internal restlessness within me. This pushes me to keep achieving and keep asking what’s next. It is also a trait that worries me though because it means I am never satisfied or content. There will always be something more I can try to achieve.
Your professional journey.
Soon after graduating from university, I started with Accenture in the UK as a business and technology consultant. This was my first job out of university, and I really hated it. Maybe it was just me or maybe it was the nature of the projects I found myself, on but I never got the sense my work was contributing to a bigger goal or objective.
After I left consulting, I worked as a software engineer at a financial investment company in the UK which I enjoyed a lot. The nature of software development is that writing code and seeing it work gives you that sense of achievement that I crave in any job. I enjoyed my time as a software developer, and I knew my future would revolve around technology from then on.
After a few years as a software developer, I got restless again but this time around I wanted to try my hands on something bigger. This led me into entrepreneurship and was the trigger to me starting Cousant.
Is Cousant a startup or a company?
Every startup is a company so I guess we are both. But I would say we are still more of a startup than an established firm. If we keep thinking of ourselves as a startup, then it will keep us hungry and never get us to that place where we become complacent.
What is Cousant Connect about?
Cousant Connect is a specialized recruitment and outsourcing platform that connects employers to great technology staff. Cousant Connect is actually a product of evolution. Cousant started off as a software development agency building software for banking and financial institutions. However, finding and retaining technology professionals was always and still remains a challenge.
It always made sense to me that if there was a dedicated platform for finding technology professionals, then the job of finding good technology staff would be easier.
We never came across such a platform and so we decided to do it for ourselves. Given the early success of the recruitment business, we decided to slowly diversify away from our software development agency business and concentrate on technology recruitment.
Why should people join Cousant Academy?
In any game of football, it is safe to assume that the most successful players are those that know how to time their movement to where the ball would be. If we use football as an analogy for the IT Jobs Market, then the most successful IT job seekers would be those that can learn the right technical skills just in time for when employers need those skills.
However, without the right information, how would students/graduates know what skill sets to learn or which skillsets employers need? With Cousant Academy, our promise is that we will only train on those skill sets that are in high demand by employers. We use data from our recruitment business to create relevant and timely courses that helps participants learn those skills that will land them jobs.
What problems do you face in the daily running of Cousant?
A major problem we face as a business is late/non-payment of invoices by clients. It affects cash flow and hinders how fast we can move as a company. Invoice recovery is now, unfortunately, a core activity for our business and it is puzzling to me why this has to be.
Another problem we face is how to properly sense new opportunities in the marketplace. Our clients will always have problems that need to be solved but how do we properly structure the company to ensure we are hearing about these opportunities to solve client problems. Without being able to sense new opportunities, our business is not likely to last very long.
How would you describe the software industry in Nigeria, owing to your experience?
I believe the software industry in Nigeria is still in its infancy and there are still loads of opportunities. However, the opportunities are not in the obvious segments people think. For example, I don’t believe there are many sustainable opportunities for software practitioners to develop software from scratch to meet client needs. There are too many foreign alternatives that already meet these needs and we just don’t have the infrastructure and expertise to compete internationally.
However, there are huge opportunities for customization and localization of foreign software to the local market. Because of the huge infrastructure gap in Nigeria, many companies do not have standardized operations and as such standardized software from western markets will not fully meet their needs. This is a big opportunity for software practitioners.
Aside from running Cousant, do you work anywhere else?
No, I don’t work anywhere else. I believe focus is a fundamental ingredient for success
As an entrepreneur, what criteria do you look out for when selecting your team or staff members?
Attitude and resourcefulness. With those 2 traits, you can take over the world.
Having been on both sides, which would you say is better: Been employed or running your own business?
Statistically, you are more likely to live a more fulfilled and happier life as an employee. Statistically, you are more likely to fail and end up in debt or depression as an entrepreneur. It seems to me that being employed is a sure path to a happier life.
However, because Nigeria is fundamentally a poor country with an extremely high population, there is just not enough money to go around and so employees will always be underpaid until we become a rich country. However, an entrepreneur does stand a better chance of being wildly successful in monetary terms.
So my advice is simple. If you are single, run a side business alongside your job (as long as it does not take focus away from your job). If you are married, one person should be in full employment and the other in entrepreneurship. It is the best way to even the odds.
How did you raise funds to establish the company?
Cousant has been bootstrapped from day one. It is certainly the more difficult path to take but if investors don’t show up, you find a way to keep moving.
Are social connections important to the growth of a business?
Social connections are everything to a business. Every business operates in a particular market. A market can be defined as the network of relationships between buyers, governments, sellers, competitors, regulators, media, institutions, associations etc.
The businesses that are able to build strong connections within such a complex network of relationships are more likely to be successful. In fact, I dare say it is more important than the product itself sometimes.
In your option, how friendly are the Nigerian investment community to startups and small businesses?
It is a known fact that Nigerian investors are extremely wary of startups and small businesses. Small business in Nigeria faces many external threats that are powerful enough to sink any company in its infancy.
Having experienced these threats firsthand, I really do understand why Nigerian investors need to be wary. It is far more normal for small businesses to fail than to succeed. So investors have to do their very best to protect themselves and that may mean passing up on many opportunities to invest in startups.
However Nigerian investors do get it wrong a lot of times and therefore, their approval or rejection should never be seen as an indicator of the viability of your business. Everyone is just trying to make the right choices with limited information and limited resources.
Your advice to upcoming entrepreneurs.
I once took part in a game with a group of people where we were split into teams and each team was given a deck of A4 paper to use to build the tallest standing tower possible. Some teams were also given paper clips while some other teams also got staplers to help with their construction. Some other teams only received the deck of paper.
Interestingly, one of the winning teams that built the tallest standing tower was the team that only received the deck of paper without any accompanying materials.
The moral of the story – It is not about the resources you have but how you use your resources to build a successful business…
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