On one of the rooftops overlooking the tech community in Yaba, Lagos, Hammed Okunade, CEO of Hingees, tells the story of how he found love for computer science, graphics design and how he came to start a company named Hingees. The company, he says, “is passionate about creating connections and promoting positivity, while still staying true to the love for creative design and simplicity.”
Okunade’s love for computer technology began in primary school, he says, and he was willing to pursue that love to the university. The problem was that he didn’t make the cutoff mark, so he was offered agronomy, in LAUTECH. “I actually wanted to study computer science but I ended up getting agronomy because you know this JAMB thing. I was grumbling at that time and my dad was like “hey be calm, agric is not bad, there is a lot of potential in it and you can do something with it.
But I was still bent on the “computer side of things,” as he put it. Using a desktop computer and a laptop his mother had purchased for him, he started to learn about computer, all on his own. “I was fortunate to meet some people who were already in that field so they served as mentors. So, I was learning on my own and I was learning with them. I mean that was how I started my journey into IT designing and tech.” He has since worked with several clients and multinational agencies. Below is an excerpt from his chat with Entrepreneurship+
WALK me through your journey from university, where you self-taught yourself computer programming and graphics design to this day as founder and CEO of Hingees.
Immediately after secondary school, I enrolled in a computer institute to study network and computer engineering. I had this friend then, Sam, who was studying design, he didn’t understand colours very well, but I have always had flares for colours, I’ve always read comics as a kid, so I know a little bit about colours. Then, Sam will always come to me with some of his works, saying “Hammed, what do you think? Is this ok?” and I would give him ideas. In exchange for that, he was giving me basic design training and I was teaching him basic engineering too. And then when I got to the university, I was still practicing little by little, but the event that really turned things around was this: I had a friend in computer science department then, there was a day he came to my room and he saw my stuff and he was like “Hammed this stuff is really nice” and he told me about a group of students, Computer Science and Engineering Muslim Students Association and asked “can you come and teach us web design?” That was what changed everything. From there some students saw that and said “come and teach us!” and gradually, I was taking so many students, which also served as an extra source of income for me.
There was this particular guy I trained, who had a business, so after the class and everything, he came to meet me personally and he was like, there is this business he is doing and would like me to be involved. There was a company that was handling the whole thing for him in Lagos, so we came to Lagos together and I met some other guys in that company, which eventually served as another turning point for me because those guys were professionals. So I built a kind of relationship with those guys, and then more jobs were coming in.
Along the line, someone I met there introduced me to one Mr Kayode Olowu the CEO of One Wild Card, who turned out to be my biggest mentor. He was the one who later saw my designs and said: “dude, these things can always be better; there is great potential in it.” And that was exactly what I did. I moved from my grandmother’s house down to his place, which was quite a distance because I wanted to be better at it by all standard. He served as a very big mentor to me, and up to this point, he is still a great mentor to me.
What was that dramatic moment which served as a launchpad for you in design world and eventually led to you starting two companies?
Yes. Before I had that meeting, I served in Warri, where I worked in the oil and gas sector. I was really thinking I will end up in Chevron because I had an aunty working there at the time. So, after National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), I made so many attempts to get into Chevron but that didn’t happen. Meanwhile, I was still getting some money from my design hustle, so when Chevron wasn’t happening, I decided to face that. So, there was this day I went to Lekki for a meeting and someone stopped me on the way and asked, “are you a designer?” And I said “yes.”
How did he know?
I don’t know! It must have been divine (laughs). He said to me “I want you to come and work for me.” I was like “I am not ready to work full time, I like my freelance style. If you need anything, tell me, I will do it for you, then you will pay me.” The following day, that was how this man called me, saying “guy I want you to come and work for me, it’s a really big opportunity, it’s an e-commerce company, it’s big it’s that.” He saw prevailed on me and that was how I joined the first e-commerce company. One day, eight to nine months down in the job, I received a mail from Hello Food that they’ve been searching for a creative director to head the African market. At first, I was scared! I was like “me?! What do I know? I, eventually went for an interview and the interview was with a white guy, James Gibson. I got the job after the interview. What really excited me about the job was that I was working with different people from different countries. Most of my former colleagues are still in Kenya, Morocco, Tanzania and I still get in touch with them.
Why did you leave?
At the beginning what I was doing was very new things. I was designing billboards and campaign for other countries, so it was quite interesting and challenging. At some point though, I got to my peak. I kept doing the same thing over and over. I felt like I wasn’t doing anything new anymore. I felt like I needed to move out and learn more. You should know that I still had clients I was working with as a freelancer, so that gave me the opportunity to weigh my options. If I stayed, I would still be collecting cool cash, but I would not be developing myself, I so decided it was better to leave.
Before I left, I gave my income statement from my side business to two financial advisers asking them to please help me analyse it. I asked them of what they thought I would lose if I left my fulltime job. We looked at that and we looked at the number of clients I have and yeah, we concluded that it was fine that I can actually survive and then I started planning my exit.
How long did it take to plan your exit?
It took me about like six to eight months.
And what did you do after you left?
After I left, I focused on freelance design services and Hingees. You know, the idea behind Hingees is about inspiring the community of storytellers (artists, designers, entrepreneurs, photographers, doers, magic makers and everything in between). Those who feel something in their hearts and are compelled to do great stuff. It’s about fostering connections and positivity. That is where the idea behind the name ‘Hingees’ comes from. It’s a play on the word hinge.
So it is safe to say Hingees started off as an idea?
People knew me as “GoodMan” the Graphic Designer. So, I just wanted to create a brand out of nothing and I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of inscriptions on t-shirts. That was how Hingees started. Right now, it’s more like a community. The aim here to inspire a community of doers and achievers, entrepreneurs, designers, people who want to do great kinds of stuff. So most of the products I have in mind are products toward these categories of people. For instance, the notepad, you want to scribble an idea when you are on a bus, etc.
Do you have any particular product line currently?
The Hingees product line currently includes apparel, accessories and print. Over time we hope to expand, based on the preferences of our community.
How did you get Hingees off the ground?
I read an article about how you can actually start things small, so I booked about 50 shirts. I had a colleague then from Hello Foods who has a brother in the US, who brought the shirts for me. I did a lot of research even before I bought the shirt; I spent a lot of time researching on t.shirts quality and print quality. When the shirts came in, I didn’t have any names for the company but I had them in my house, knowing that one day, I would start. I was talking to a lot of friends, asking them for an idea of what the company might be. I talked to my mentor who was like, “what do you want the brand to do?” He told me I had to figure that out and then I stumbled on a video again online, which talked about Apple’s philosophy, what they want people to feel when you hold an apple product. Then I started thinking, “what do I want people to feel when they use my product?” I wanted them to connect with the product, to start conversations and to feel good about themselves and about wearing the product.
Was that how you eventually got a name for the company?
Something like that. I was in the office that day, thinking, brainstorming, I saw a door with a hinge, and I started thinking, Hinge, connect, hinge, connect and that was how the name came. I registered the domain immediately – hinges.com and I signed up on all social media platforms. There was no logo, there was no branding. I think it took about another two months before that came. I was just playing here and there. And then I bought more shirts and I launched with four designs.
How’s your delivery logistics?
Awesome! Very efficient. I partner with third-party courier services. We use DHL for some deliveries