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.
If we had to describe today’s Naira Life subject in one word, it would be “Hustler”. From selling handmade greeting cards in secondary school to running six concurrent businesses in university, then juggling design with everything he could find, this man does a lot, and still wants to do more.
Tell me about your first memory of money.
I was eight years old when I stole ₦10 from my dad’s pocket to buy sweets. This was 2002, so ₦10 could get me something decent.
The concept of getting pocket money didn’t exist for me or my two younger siblings. Whenever I asked my parents for money, they said no. They were only responsible for paying fees, buying books and feeding us.
Nobody caught me stealing, and I continued for about a month before I heard a message in church about stealing being a sin and repented.
Is it that things were hard at home?
Yep. Money wasn’t easy to come by in my house. My dad was a pastor and my mum was a teacher. My mum brought more money because apart from her teaching job, she also sold items like second-hand clothes, belts and cufflinks whenever she saw the chance. I remember helping her hawk puff puff briefly.
Her businesses weren’t for long-term profit-making though; she did them to help us survive when things were very bad. Watching my mum do all that to keep us afloat simplified my idea of making money — I had to do business to survive. I didn’t have dreams of becoming a banker or an astronaut. It was just business. And that’s what I did when I got to boarding school.
In JSS 3, we were given an assignment where we made greeting cards, and somehow, mine was better than everyone else’s. I was so good, my classmates started enquiring if I had any more cards for sale. A few weeks later, I sold my first card: an apology card from a girl to her boyfriend, and I charged ₦50. From there, word spread that I was doing cards, so I kept getting orders here and there. Making that money was exciting.
By the time I got to SS 2, I found another business opportunity — people were always hungry at night in the hostels. My solution was to buy lots of biscuits from the tuck shop and sell them for double the price once it was lights out. It worked like magic. I sold out every single night and used the money I was making to buy snacks for myself. It was also from that money I started to pay offering for myself for the first time.
By the time I was going into university, I knew I had to do business on a larger scale, not just because I wanted to, but I didn’t have a choice. My parents had struggled to put me in a private school and didn’t have the means to give me pocket money, so I was on my own.
What’d you do?
One thing I realised quickly in university was that there were a lot of rich kids who had money to spend. I continued my card making business, but this time, the cards weren’t handmade. They were printed. I was printing so many cards, I decided to get into the printing business too.
Two whole businesses in your hands. Bezos is shaking.
Ordinary two businesses? LMAO. I hadn’t even started.
My room in the hostel turned into a shop. One half of my locker was for provisions, biscuits and gala, the other half was for my personal belongings. One time, my friends started talking about how good my noodles were, so I decided to start selling cooked noodles too. People would come to my room, order noodles and come back to get their food.
One more thing — because I studied architecture, I always needed to buy new practical materials like drawing boards and other types of stationery. Luckily for the entrepreneur in me, they didn’t sell these things in school, so people had to take exeats to go and buy them. I quickly announced that if people needed stuff, I could help them get it, so whenever people needed materials they’d send me. I even sold toast bread in classes too.
How did all of this affect your finances?
By my second year when business was moving steadily, I was making about ₦40,000 weekly. Immediately I started making money, I became the one in charge of taking care of my younger siblings, so I sent them weekly allowances and paid school fees when I had to. I even started paying my own school fees at some point. My parents were super happy. They made it my official duty to cater for my siblings.
I was also expanding my business, so I went from having one small printer to having three big ones. Those cost ₦120k each. Amidst all of this, I became the friend people came to when they needed money. So, I had zero savings, but money was coming in, and that was nice.
Wait, were you even facing your studies at all?
Not really, no. I didn’t have time to study, but I’ve always had a magnetic memory, so I made sure I attended every class and then read just a bit before the exams. I managed to come out with a second class upper.
One thing I did struggle with was self-esteem. I was a bit embarrassed to sell I had to sell things to survive in a school full of rich kids, but a conversation I had with a friend in my first year changed the way I saw things. We were walking from the place I’d gone to buy a new carton of noodles to sell and had to walk past a few female classmates that stayed near my hostel. When we passed them, I told him about how humiliating it was that they probably knew I was buying not to eat but to sell. When I was done speaking, he smiled, looked at me and said, “Owó ìgbẹ́ ò kín rùn”, which is a Yoruba proverb that roughly translates to, “The money you make from packing faeces doesn’t smell.”
As long as it was legal and I was making a profit, nothing else mattered.
In my final year in 2014, I picked up an interest in graphic design and decided that instead of architecture, I wanted to focus on design, so I started watching design tutorials on YouTube.
How did that go?
I learnt fast because I was practising everything I was learning in my free time. Because I knew people who were making money from design, I expected to start cashing out soon. At the beginning of the three-month break between when I finished my bachelor’s and when I started my master’s, I got a design job at the place where I did my school internship. It was my first job, so I didn’t know I was meant to agree on salaries before I started. I believed we’d pick it up at the end of the month. After a month, they offered me ₦40,000. I felt insulted. I didn’t collect the money, I just left.
The next week, I sent them a proposal saying I was going to redesign their logo and give them a new brand identity. I billed them ₦285,000, and they accepted it. That’s when I realised that as a designer, I could make way more money from commissions than from a 9-5. I used the money to pay for my master’s, went back to school and continued business as usual.
Master’s was supposed to be between 2014 and 2015, but I had an extra year that meant I had to stay till 2016. Thankfully, I didn’t have to stay in school, so I got another job as a brand designer. We negotiated ₦150,000, but two weeks after I started the job, they sent me my offer letter and it was ₦105,000. After some back and forth, they increased it to ₦125,000. I left after three months because it was both a toxic place to work, and I found a new job that was paying ₦150,000 monthly on a one year contract.
Were you still doing your other side jobs?
I was still printing and making cards, and in 2016, I started a new business. A friend was getting married, and I offered to make props for her wedding. I designed them, got someone to print them and they turned out great, so I decided to start making props for events too.
I opened an Instagram account and posted pictures of her wedding props and then some other mockups I’d done in the hopes that I’d get more people reaching out to do props. In two weeks, I got a DM for my first design gig worth about ₦50,000. A year later, I was making ₦200,000 on an average month. My design job was the main thing, but card making, printing and props making were also bringing small cash here and there. I started taking care of not just myself and my siblings, but my parents too.
By December 2017, I got another job that paid ₦200,000, but I quit after a month because I had to move from Lagos to Abuja — I was chasing a babe who moved to Abuja in January 2018, and I followed her.
So you caught flights for… feelings?
LMAO. Moving to Abuja ended up being a great decision. First of all, the city is cheaper than Lagos. Then I didn’t have to pay rent because I lived with my aunt for almost a year. I started printing and selling cards here too, but I didn’t completely stop Lagos operations. If an order came in, I sent someone to help me and we shared the profits.
Shortly after I moved, somebody contacted me for designs for their social media. It was ₦10,000 per post, and they were doing 10 posts in a month. That was my first ever online client, and that experience opened my eyes to the opportunity in freelancing for individuals, so I started telling people to refer me to anyone who needed a personal freelance designer. The next one I found paid me ₦100,000 to design two pages of a brochure.
As time went by, I got many more referrals and my workload became so heavy, I needed an office space to be able to work efficiently. I had two friends who had a startup in Abuja, so I reached out to them and told them to allow me work from their office in exchange for free designs for their social media. They agreed, and I worked from their office until October 2018 when they offered me the head of marketing role at their company. They didn’t have a head of marketing and thought I would be a great fit because of the communication and design skills I had. I took the job but quit after one month. I can’t remember how much they paid me, but it wasn’t great.
What was your plan at this point?
I just wanted to keep doing design as a freelancer. My finances weren’t great, so I was hoping to land a big client. The next month, a friend who was also a designer got a consultancy job he couldn’t take because he had too much doing already, so he passed it to me. It was for an NGO, and I needed to travel to different states to be in meetings. I spent eight days on the job, but it paid over ₦400,000 minus hotel and feeding. These people didn’t stress me, and they paid well. I’d heard about NGOs paying good money in Abuja and here I was, eating their money. The next month, they came again and we did the same thing. It was sweet money.
By 2019, I knew what I was going to focus on — NGO jobs and personal clients. I still did my other hustles but on a more professional level — I had built a website for people who wanted to order stuff. In 2019, I also got married to the woman I followed to Abuja, so we paid rent for ₦1 million, bought a car for ₦1.6 million, and did some back and forth between Lagos and Abuja for the wedding. My wedding was small so I spent ₦674,000 in total.
During the pandemic in 2020, I was a bit more settled and had some free time, so I went hard on getting clients, NGO commissions, bulk printing orders, e.t.c. Things were going great, but they were about to get better because, by October 2020, I got a part-time job with the Nigerian arm of an international NGO. The pay was ₦52,000 per day that I worked, and I worked for three days a week. My salary was typically around ₦650,000 a month.
The contract was for three months, but they kept renewing it until December 2021. Now, I don’t work for them anymore, but whenever they need a designer for a small project, they reach out. The rates have changed to ₦84,000 per day.
What’s your average monthly income right now?
Maybe about ₦500,000, from design jobs, printing, selling cards, props and a customised t-shirt business I started with my wife last year.
What’s something doing business has taught you?
Most recently, I’ve learnt that I need to optimise my business to work even in my absence. I do the major running around for my businesses, but going forward, I need to make a few hires and set up a few models for the businesses to run without me so I can focus on doing other things.
Can I get a breakdown of your monthly expenses?
What are your target savings for the house?
There’s a 45 million naira house we’re eyeing, but we’re still a long way from there. Maybe if I get a big contract, I can allocate some funds for it. Right now, our rent is ₦1 million and we’re okay with it.
What’s one thing you want but can’t afford right now?
My wife wants to travel abroad to enjoy her life. I want to bankroll her.
And your financial happiness on a scale of 1-10?
I’ll put it at a 10. It’s ironic because my finances right now are pretty bad. I barely have any savings, the only major investments I have are in my business — machines and inventory — and I don’t have a steady income, but I’m happy because I have everything I need, I have my family, and I know that I’ll do more business and make much more money in the future.