How I stole my wife’s phone number at a store —Oduntan
When he launched the new revolution in okada business, Gokada, Deji Oduntan was breaking a new ground. Recalling his daring entrepreneurship life story, he told SEGUN KASALI and SYLVESTER OKORUWA that appears to have always be a norm for him.
HOW was your growing up like?
I started off at the University of Lagos Staff School. That was the annex at Idi Araba, LUTH, for five years. From there, I moved to International School, Lagos (ISL) at the University of Lagos (UNILAG). I was obviously trying to remain in the confines of the University of Lagos. After ISL, I attended the University of Lagos where I studied Computer Science Student.
Why did you risk quitting a job of certainty for an idea that would not bring money instantly?
When I left Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB), I went to IE Business School and Cornell. IE was in London and Cornell was in the US. I chose IE business School because it was the number one in terms of entrepreneurship. I didn’t want to go to the United States because it was a two-year programme there, but in Europe, it was one year. I didn’t want to skip two years out of work. While in the Business School, their programme was structured in a way that suited entrepreneurs. Part of the programme was what they called Tech Hub. They had Tech hubs where you could come up with an idea and have investors coming in. You were able to sell your idea and got feedbacks. That process of going to school and learning the tenets of business education was what I was able to go through that period. When I finished, I decided it was time to come back to Nigeria and use my skills in this industry.
Who’s got more of this entrepreneurial spirit between your parents?
Who would I say I took after? I think I got different elements from both of them. There is an element of knowing what you want and aggressively pursuing it. I think I took that from my dad. The combination of both can actually be powerful. In life, whatever you want to go for, you can’t do it alone. You always need people around you to help you along the way. If you think you don’t need to understand the people around, it may be hard to achieve your set goals. On one end, it makes you to understand how to manage people. It helps you to assist people and know how to give them what they want. I think the combination of that really pushed me.
How did the idea of Gokada come to be?
I know my philosophy is shared by few people that ideas are just one per cent and execution is 99 per cent. I know I was not the first to dream about Gokada. There were millions of people who thought about it. You know it’s been a long time for me. When I came back, I joined Jumia. There was an experience I got when I was in logistics at Jumia Mall. I also focused on customers’ experience. I also had a lot of engagements working with the logistics arm. Knowing how to work around that space, I was able to come up with the idea of Gokada. There was a lot of transferable experience: Someone came from Konga. When we were doing this together, we discovered that we had the required skill sets. We had experiences to start this kind of business.
What were the challenges of starting Gokada?
One challenge I would say was adoption, initially. For a number of years, there have been narrative with respect to motorcycle. We were busy with that. Adoption was something that we really needed to figure out. But we later figured it out with something like branding our bikes, use of helmets and enforcing usage of disposable nets. We felt the initiative had to be implemented to change the narrative faster. The first few months were tough because of the adoption issue, but now, I feel we have been able to communicate what we really want, letting people know that we are safety-conscious, enforcing the usage of those things. Now, I don’t think it is hard for people to do all these things again.
When you told your parents of Gokada idea, how did they receive it?
When they were thinking about the idea, things had changed since then. But I don’t know if you could call it positive stubbornness, the same mind-set of not following what everyone does. If you had gone to meet 100 people and asked them, “Why don’t you have an Okada company?” 95 would reject the idea. Because I knew that people would not want to do this, I would do it. The mind-set of trying to do what others wouldn’t do, trying to act when others wouldn’t, trying to stay unique, trying not to follow the crowd. Having worked in a bank and Jumia, the next for me was to start an e-commerce company, starting a payment company. So, I shared with them. They said motorcycle is the most dangerous because they felt accidents would disturb, and that NURTW, Council, governments, et al, would not take kindly with it. I was like, “That’s okay, that’s the more reason I would like to do it.” If this can work, it can transform the sector. People can go to anywhere in Lagos without facing traffic. Productivity will increase. The branding will be changed. O was sure my parents, at one point, would still support mr once they erre sure that I appreciated the risk of what I was going into.
What about the story of Mrs. Oluremi Tinubu being the owner of Gokada and you, just an overseer?
I think people have rights to their opinion. Anyone can choose to say what they want to say. There is freedom of speech. As I mentioned earlier, we are running a private business. What the law permits us to do is what we are doing. If I start a business that says I can ply all the route and I ply all the route, I don’t think we need to have any backing to be able to offer a basic service. The truth is that the traditional Okadas have their target markets and we have our own target market also. There is no competition. This is just a basic service. Bikes are everywhere. There is nothing special in buying a bike and giving it to a driver for transportation. It is nothing out of the ordinary. So, that someone would say that for us to do this, we must have had backing, it is nothing out of the ordinary. It is just a tech company leveraging on the asset in the transport industry.
How do you relax?
If I give an answer here, I am sure a lot of people would say I am lying because there is no time to relax right now. In fact, everyone knows that nobody in this office is relaxing because we are working round the clock. I am more socially-inclined, which means I have relatively strong relationship with friends. So, if I have to relax, I would call up on my friends and hang out with them. We go out to spend time. I haven’t been doing so much now because everyone is a faced with the task of moving the country forward with the opportunity we have now. And the friends that I have or that I may have lost contact with would understand that at this time, we need to put in a lot more effort to get the brand out there and to get people moving, get people to be comfortable living in Lagos.
How is Gokada empowering others?
The first set of people we empowered were our drivers We have direct and indirect means of empowerment. For direct empowerment, we directly empower our drivers because some of them were underemployed. We have given people jobs and we have given people access to an increased income level. In terms of indirect empowerment, we ensure that each household in Nigeria is fine. We also tend to lean on our experienced drivers who in turn empower their family members. In addition to that empowerment, there are also partners that we work with to ensure that we keep doing the business. Since we have started, the number of bikes that we have bought from those people have increased and this means they have been selling. With respect to the government, we have registered all our bike papers and the money goes into the Ministry of Transportation. We pay insurance on our bikes for the insurance company to also see another business. In terms of direct empowerment, we have close to 1,000 drivers now. We plan to surpass that this year because we have seen that there is now a growing demand for this service. In terms of indirect, it is pretty hard to mention that.
What has been your life-defining moment?
It was when I travelled abroad. For the major part of my programme, I was hell bent on not coming back to Nigeria. I had a lot options not to come back. But I think in 2016, when we crossed over to New Year, I felt if I were to stay in another man’s country, no matter how much I made and no matter what life offered me, it might not be like home. I felt that if there was a chance for me to try something at home to make the county better in a way, I would try it out before finally leaving. The truth is right now a lot of youths are leaving the country. A lot of them have given up. Truth be told, I was at that point. That is not to say even now I am not thinking of leaving the country. I really wanted an opportunity to make an impact. When I left the country was when I experienced the life-defining moment and when I came back, I knew I wanted to start something if it would work. If it works, there is legacy I know that I want to leave behind.
How did you meet her?
I met her when I graduated from UNILAG and was serving. I had to steal her number to meet her (laughs). So, we were at Cakes and Cremes and then she walked and she booked her cake, put her number down and she left. So, as I was waiting to book a cake, I stole her number from the register.