Every week, Zikoko seeks to understand how people move the Naira in and out of their lives. Some stories will be struggle-ish, others will be bougie. All the time, it’ll be revealing.
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This 23-year-old has an investment banking job and a couple of side hustles, but that’s not the most interesting thing about him. It’s how he makes much more money from his side businesses than he does at his 9-5, and how leveraging his privilege and connections got him there.
What’s your oldest memory of money?
I can’t think of a specific memory but growing up, my cousins and I danced for my uncles and aunts at weddings and other family events, and they sprayed us money. I liked balloons, and I understood that I needed money to buy balloons. I had to dance to get the money. It was that simple.
Haha. That makes sense. Can you tell me what growing up was like, financially?
My dad works in financial services and is a senior employee at a company he has worked at for decades. My mum did and still does a lot of business. I grew up comfortable although I didn’t understand how well the family was doing until I was older. A part of it was because I was too young to understand how money works. Also, I was exposed to a lot of kids who came from wealthier families, and that skewed my perception of money. At some point, I may have developed a bit of an inferiority complex.
For context: I went to a private secondary school and the kids there could spend $500 on an item when they go on vacation without blinking. There was no way my parents would sign off on such purchases.
However, once I started to get a wider perspective, I understood that my family was indeed doing well.
When did you come to this realisation?
That would be around 2014. I was 15 and about to leave Nigeria for uni. My dad had planned for me and my sister’s education and had a university fund for us. I had to go for my A-Levels first and I decided on a private college in Canada. The tuition was C$50k and my dad told me he couldn’t afford it at the time. Subsequently, I got a partial scholarship at the college and my dad still paid about C$30k. That was a lot of money, but he made it happen. Later that year, I moved to Canada.
At first, I was living on a C$100 allowance every month, but my dad always ended up sending more money before the month ended. When he realised that it was more expensive sending smaller sums of money to me, he started sending C$2k at a time. Now, it wasn’t a monthly thing. The money was supposed to last me for a few months before I could request more. On average, C$2k lasted me for three to four months.
I finished my A-Levels in March 2016 and got into a university in the US to study Economics. I moved there in May 2016
How did it go in the US?
Nigeria was in a recession in 2016, so I knew that my dad must have been stressed having huge expenses in dollars. He was sending $200 every month, and I was determined to make do with it.
In my first year, I lived in school housing and was on a meal plan which had been paid for. I wasn’t saving money or working, so the $200 was everything I lived on. I finally picked up a job at a call centre on campus in my second year but I wasn’t completely committed to it. Thankfully, the minimum wage was $14 in the state I lived in. On average, I worked 20 hours in a month, which brought in an extra $200-$300. At that point, I’d say that at least half of my income went into feeding. I managed to save some $100 a month if I didn’t party a lot in the month, but those were far and between. I partied a lot when I was in uni.
2018 was when I became intentional about making money.
I saw what was happening in the financial market in Nigeria, and I was like “Wait, this could be a gold mine.” Here’s what happened: the CBN decided that they were going to start a “promo” and would be giving between 13% and 15% returns on short-term government securities. I thought that was a sweet deal and went in.
With ₦100k, I started buying and trading treasury bills. The returns weren’t a lot but I started to understand how money compounds over time. I did the math and the ₦100k would compound into millions of naira in 30 years, and I wouldn’t even have turned 50 years by that time.
However, in the short term. I realised that to scale, I needed to increase my capital. The way I saw it, it could happen in two ways: I could work more hours to earn more money or I could convince people to let me manage their money for them and charge them a small commission. I went with the second option.
Mad. Tell me how it went.
I started with my dad. I pitched the idea to him and managed to get ₦1m from him. I bought a few equities and invested most of the money in treasury bills, and it did very well. I made about ₦200k in fees I charged him.
I managed to convince a couple of other people in my family to help me invest for them and I got small sums of money here and there. I put whatever money I made from them into my portfolio and by the end of the year, I had about ₦500k in it.
I had been coming to Nigeria every summer since my first year in uni to intern at investment companies, so I was plugged into the climate. This came in handy in 2020 when COVID hit. Prices of assets all around the world dropped like crazy. I reacted quickly and sold as many treasury bills as I could and started putting money in the Nigerian stock market, which was also pretty risky at that point. But when I was returning to Nigeria in August 2020, my investment portfolio was worth about ₦2m and I had another ₦250k in cash.
You want to know why I returned to Nigeria, don’t you?
Now that you mention it, please.
I’d been thinking about it since my second year at uni. For the most part, I got my summer internships in Nigeria through my dad’s connection. My privilege became clearer and I thought it wouldn’t make sense not to take advantage of it.
Also, something happened when I was in the US that solidified this decision.
What was it?
I tried to get into an internship program at a big investment bank. During one of the interview stages, I met a girl I knew from school and her dad was one of the managing directors at the bank. We were in the interview room when one of the analysts came and was like “This is so and so daughter.” They took her from the interview room and gave her a tour of the facility. It was very clear that she was going to get the internship. I felt like I had this in Nigeria, so it made perfect sense to return and explore the opportunities I have here.
That makes sense.
I knew getting a job here wouldn’t be a problem. I had an understanding with one of the investment banks I had worked with to return to work for them when I graduated. I reached out to them, took a few tests, and that was sorted. In October 2020, I resumed work. My salary was ₦100k.
That didn’t make all the difference though. What I did between August and October did.
What did you do?
A couple of my old friends had returned to Nigeria before I did, so they had their feet on the ground already. When I got back, one of the first things I did was reconnect with them. I realised how much money they were spending when we went out.
We could go to the club and by the end of the night, they would have spent ₦1m on drinks. They split the bill but each person chipped in at least ₦150k. For the first few times we went out together, they didn’t ask me to chip in but I knew it was only a matter of time. The first time I dropped ₦50k, I knew my cash savings couldn’t possibly sustain that kind of lifestyle. I figured that they must be making a lot of money if they could afford to spend like that, which was interesting because they weren’t working 9-5 jobs — they had businesses.
What kind of businesses?
They did everything they thought could work. Eventually, I spoke to a couple of my friends and asked about businesses I could do with little capital. They gave me a couple of ideas but the most viable one was pushing large volumes of commodities. In my case, it was finding a rice supplier who needed to sell their trucks of rice and a buyer who was willing to buy.
A truck takes 600 bags of rice. Now, if the supplier sells a bag for ₦24500, I could add my markup, sell a bag for ₦25,500 and make a profit of ₦600k. The good part was that I didn’t need capital to start — I was just a middleman. The hard part was finding a buyer, but I committed to it.
The easiest way to find the right buyer was by leveraging my contacts. I asked everyone in my family and someone linked me to another person who knew the right person to call. Ultimately, it was about my connections. Between August and December 2020, I was able to sell three trucks of rice, and I made about ₦1.8m from these deals.
This was also the period my perspective started to shift away from my job. It would have taken me 18 months to make ₦1.8m at my day job. Naturally, I started looking out for more business opportunities. The next one happened in January 2021.
In December 2020, I met someone looking to sell two plots of land in an upscale neighbourhood on Lagos Island valued at ₦350m. I told them that for a commission, I would ask around and see if I could find a buyer, and they agreed to it. I was pretty confident about it because a few of my friends’ families are into real estate development and are constantly on the lookout for properties. Within a week, we found a buyer. Less than a month later, the deal closed and they bought the land for about ₦340m. I got the biggest lumpsum amount ever in commissions.
₦20m. It was a complete dream. I mean, it was the kind of thing I envisioned would happen for me in Nigeria — being able to use my contacts for opportunities like that but I had no idea how it would materialise. Then this happened.
I was just looking at my phone over and over again, trying to take it all in. Once I got over the excitement, I knew I wanted to keep grinding. Now that I had some cash, I could afford to join a few of my friends in one of the businesses they were so big on — importing cars.
These moves. Inject it!
I wanted to see how it would work out, so I dropped ₦1m the first time when the total cost of bringing the car in was ₦4m. My cut on that was ₦100k when the car arrived and we found a buyer for it. Afterwards, I started increasing the amount of money I had in the business.
What types of cars were you bringing in?
At first, it was the old 2008/2009 Lexus RX and Toyota cars. We have a car dealer in the US who finds these cars at auctions and ships them to us. On average, it cost ₦3m or ₦4m to bring one of such cars in and we typically added a 30% markup, but it’s not set in stone.
Later, we noticed an uptick in demand for higher-end cars, so our focus shifted to the Highlanders, the newer Lexus RX, and Mercedes C-300 cars. We could make a profit of about ₦2m each on these cars. It’s only been a couple of months but we are growing and expanding the business.
I put ₦18m in the last batch of cars we imported from the US. They should arrive soon, and I expect to make about ₦4m in profit, which I think is very fair. Fingers crossed on their arrival.
Fingers crossed. I’m curious about what your earnings look like now.
Well, I still make ₦100k from my day job. But I make anything from ₦3m-₦4m every quarter from importing cars. Usually, I re-invest whatever I make back into the business and only take money out once every quarter.
What about your investment portfolios, how much are they worth now?
Most of my money is tied up in physical businesses, mostly car importation. The total value should be about ₦30m now. My other major investment is primarily in the Nigerian stock market and my brokerage account has about ₦10m in it. Because my portfolio is liquid and I can take money out any time, I don’t feel the need to save a lot of money in Naira. I have less than ₦500k in cash at the moment.
I’m very focused on opportunity cost and returns. If I think that I can make more money from my portfolio in the period it would take to ship and sell a car, I will pull money out of the business and put it into the portfolio.
Interesting. Let’s break down your monthly running costs, please.
How much do you think you should be earning now?
At least ₦600k at my 9-5. I’m underpaid at my day job, and that’s mostly because I haven’t done my NYSC yet. I love my job but I’m starting to value my time more than I value the work and the experience. The original plan was to work in the capital market for five years, then branch out on my own to start a business in fund management. Now, I’m not even interested in managing money for other people. I’m all about generating money from multiple businesses and pumping it into my investment portfolio. That’s always been the end game.
Nice. How have all your experiences shaped your perspective about money?
Working in the capital market where my job is to bring people who need money and the people who have it together has shown me that the best way to make money is to have money. It gets exponentially easier to grow wealth when you have some of it.
Also, the people around me have always been wealthy, and the more I see the way they spend and make money, the more confident I am to take risks.
Do you think there’s a part of your finances you could be better at?
Ah, yes. My investments are not as diversified as I’d like them to be. Most of my money is currently tied up in the car importation business. If something goes wrong — like if a ship sinks — it will wipe out most of my net worth.
I could be better with budgeting as well. Sometimes I need to make a purchase but can’t because I don’t have liquid cash around. For the most part, this wouldn’t happen if I’d budgeted better.
Speaking of purchases, is there anything you want right now but can’t afford?
It’s not a pressing need but I’d like a new car. I only started thinking about it when our focus shifted to higher-end cars. A Mercedes GLE-63 will be great but I need around ₦20m for it. As much as I want it, I can’t spend that much money on a car right now. My net worth has to be at least 10x what it is now before I consider it.
What about a purchase that significantly improved the quality of your life?
I paid for a one-year subscription to an online service that provides data in financial markets across Africa. It cost only $300, which was such a good deal and since I paid for it, it’s been way easier to do research. The quality of my life has improved because of it.
On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your financial happiness?
7. I’m not doing badly for a 23-year-old, and I acknowledge that I had a lot of help to get here. I know the role my privilege has played, and I’m proud of the ways I have leveraged it. My salary from my day job is only enough for my baseline expenses, and I don’t know where I’d be if I didn’t have people to help me get into these side businesses. I’m definitely in a better place than I was a year ago. However, there’s a lot of things I want but can’t afford yet but I’m taking it one day at a time.
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