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 product manager may be only 30 years old, but he’s lived many lives. First as a small-time plug, then he ran the club scene in his university. Tech is his most recent stop. For him, this means working three jobs and living on less than half his monthly income. He isn’t looking back.
What’s your earliest memory of money?
I took a pack of chocolate to school once when I was in Primary 4, and someone in my class asked me to give him a bar. I’m not sure where it came from, but I said the chocolate was for sale and each bar cost ₦10. I sold five bars on that day.
I took more to school the following day and sold out. At the end of the week, I had made enough money to buy a pair of plastic eyeglasses and one of those wristwatches that had a calculator built in them. I had arrived.
I also liked saving money a lot, thanks to my mum.
Tell me more about this.
My mum was the financial planner in the family. She would sit me and my four siblings down at the end of each week and quiz us about how we spent the money we got during the week.
Everyone in my family understood the concept and importance of financial independence very early. We had open conversations about money, especially about our financial situation. Life wasn’t rosy all the time. There were points we got sent out of school because we owed school fees. My mum would explain why this happened, and what it meant.
My older sisters started picking up jobs in secondary school. I started actively making money in secondary school too, although my ways were different from theirs.
While my sisters worked as lesson teachers and sales attendants, my own strength was in selling stuff to people. I pushed a lot of merchandise in secondary school — from shoes to mobile phones.
I started with shoes when I was in JSS 3. If anyone in my school had a shoe they wanted to sell, I would take it and find a buyer for them. I was particularly popular among the senior boys because they were the ones who changed shoes the most.
In SSS 2, I started selling second-hand phones. The first phone I sold was a Sendo X, and I made about ₦6k in profit from that deal alone. I brought more phones in from my plug in the city and sold them. After that, I started helping people download music on whatever phone they bought from me. This brought in extra cash.
In SS 2, I moved into planning house parties. I organised the first party in 2004, and the gate fee was ₦500. I don’t remember how much I made from it.
I must also mention that I sold tons of other things. Once I identified a product that moved fast, I would find a plug, get the product and push them to people. But shoes and phones were the quickest to move. At that point, I was making about ₦70k every month from all my hustle. I didn’t have a bank account, so I was saving the money in a section of my wardrobe.
Secondary must have been a lot of fun.
It was. I was able to do all of this because I had good grades in school. My parents didn’t need to worry about me, so I had the freedom to do everything else I wanted.
What happened after secondary school?
I finished secondary school in 2006 but didn’t get into uni until 2007. During my gap year, I tried to pick up some computer skills. Computer networking was too boring for me. HTML was too complicated. What I enjoyed was pulling computers apart and fixing them. I bought my first laptop that year — a second-hand Dell laptop, and it cost ₦65k.
There was barely time to do anything when I got into uni in 2007. I resumed two months after class started. They had started writing tests, so my first few months in uni was about catching up. By the end of my first year, I had settled down and was already thinking about the next thing I could do.
What did you decide on?
Organising parties. Clubs were the rave during that time. Within a short time, I became the plug for the club boys in my school. Everyone who wanted to organise a lit party knew they had to contact me to help them plan it and handle the logistics.
Later, I started working with a team of organisers and we partnered with clubs in the city where my school was. Most of the money we made came from gate fees, which were ₦2k, ₦4k and ₦6k for regular, VIP and exclusive tickets respectively.
The parties were a huge hit, and BBM played a big role. Once people who weren’t at any of these parties saw that people were having fun from the BBM updates they shared, they pulled up. That meant more money for me and my team. I didn’t organise more than two parties in a semester, and I got about ₦400k from each party I planned. It was a big market.
Omo, I was living the life. I had an apartment outside of campus and bought my first car in 2009 — a Honda Civic which cost ₦1.4m. I was in 300 level at the time.
I wonder what your parents thought about this.
I was open with them. I had a conversation with them once and explained what I was doing. They came on board when they realised that it wasn’t illegal.
When I left university in 2010, the party scene had started dying. The club owners got greedy and wanted a higher percentage of the gate fees. They complained that they were running at a loss because people weren’t buying drinks during the parties, which was a lie. Anyway, I knew my party days were over and it was time to move on.
What came next?
NYSC. But first, I moved back into my parent’s house even though I had about ₦800k in my account. While waiting for youth service, I went back to computers, but they weren’t moving as I thought and my savings were running low.
On a whim, I went to the market and bought two first-grade China wristwatches. They weren’t the original thing, but they were close. I pushed them to some people I knew, sold them in no time and made some profit. I continued to repeat the process. During that time, an uncle who lived in Port Harcourt came to visit. He had friends who owned boutiques and asked me if I was interested in trying to get them to buy from me. I contacted my plug and got 50 wristwatches from him. I travelled with my uncle to the south-south with a bag full of wristwatches. Man, I sold 30 on the night I landed. The remaining 20 were sold the following day.
Mad. How much did you make from the trip?
A watch sold between ₦50k and ₦100k depending on the brand. I made a profit of ₦20k-30k on each watch. I don’t remember how much I made exactly, but it was about ₦400k after I settled my plug and uncle and sorted out other logistics.
My uncle sent me back to bring more. I hit the road and brought another batch and there was no trouble selling those too. I decided that I would serve in that state. I started working to make it happen, but it was too late. I got posted to a neighbouring state. It was an hour away, so I didn’t mind.
I sold my car and moved to the south-south.
How did it go?
I was posted to a private secondary school for my PPA. I negotiated with the principal, and he agreed to let me come in only three times a week. This freed up time for other activities. I got a job managing a club in the city, and that took my nights. My weekend was solely for selling wristwatches.
My guys shipped the wristwatches to Port Harcourt on Saturdays. I picked them up at the park and did all my distribution that weekend. On Sunday nights, I was back on the road to the state where I was serving.
You had about three streams of income, how much were they bringing in?
Wristwatch hustle: ~₦200k.
My service year ended in 2013, and I returned to the southwest.
While I was figuring out the next thing I wanted to do, I decided to help my mum out with her business. She had retired from work and was running a pure water factory. The factory was struggling because her workers were stealing from her. It was three long months, but I managed to plug the leaks.
Then I started the nine to five life.
Where was the first place you worked at?
A telecommunications company. I was hired as a customer service officer and my salary was ₦72k. It was a lot less than what I was making on the streets, but I was doing it because everyone wanted me to work in an organisation and have a well-defined career. However, I was still pushing wristwatches and other things on the side. I got tired in December 2013 and knew I couldn’t continue, so I quit.
Funny enough, this kicked off my journey into tech.
I always heard people talking about building websites for their business. So I had an idea to build a one-stop solution for these people. Three friends came on board and we got some seed funding. Full operations started in 2013. I was in charge of sales and marketing, customer service and product management. I think we did well because a bigger e-commerce company bought us out in October 2014.
I can’t disclose how much they paid us, but seven years later, I think we could have negotiated a better deal. It was enough for me to change my car and move into a new apartment. So it seemed like big money at the time.
The good thing was that it was an acquihire. They absorbed the team into their company to lead their product development and merchant operations departments. My starting salary was ₦380k but by the time I left in December 2017, it had increased to ₦440k. Also, I was now in a full product management role.
Why did you leave?
They were downsizing and had already fired people. Besides, I’d pushed out a couple of products and cashed out, so it seemed like the perfect time to take a bow. I didn’t have another job when I quit, but I had done several interviews. Also, I had some safety nets. I cashed out my stock options at the company before I left and got about ₦3.5m. I knew I would be fine for a couple of months.
When did you get your next job?
February 2018. It was the head of product development role in the parent company of an advertising agency. My salary when I started was ₦660k, then I got a few raises. I was earning ₦710k when I left in October 2019. I was simply tired of the politics in the company.
Before I left, I had started working on some remote product management projects I got from a platform called Gigster and was also consulting for some politicians. However, my monthly inflow reduced. I was making $1500 from the remote jobs and ₦400k from the politicians.
I was pretty much winging that period of my life because none of it was a full-time job. It wasn’t until June 2020 that I found a new full-time job.
It’s a remote job at an American company and the pay is $2k. In August, I got another product management job, which pays $4500. I started outsourcing the first job and working at the second one. The third one came in March 2021, and it’s bringing in $3500. So I’m working two jobs now and outsourcing one. I pay the person helping me ₦230k a month. The others are senior roles, so I can’t afford to outsource them.
The $2k I get from one of the jobs goes into my wife’s account in Canada — I got married in 2019 — and I don’t touch it. $3500 also goes into an account I don’t touch. I run my monthly expenses with the $4500 I get from the third job. That’s about ₦1.5m.
Let’s talk about your monthly running costs.
I pay the person I’m outsourcing one of the jobs ₦230k every month. There are always additional expenses. For example, I send my younger brother ₦30k and a younger cousin ₦10k every month. My dad also gets between ₦50k and ₦100k.
I made a terrible financial decision last year, and I’m still paying for it.
I knew a guy who was helping people invest in forex. I vouched for him and got some of my guys to invest money with him. But the whole thing went south and my people had about ₦8.5m in it. When it happened, I promised my guys their capital. I’ve been spending ₦800k every month to service that debt. I should pay everything back by December.
Damn. That’s heavy.
It is what it is. After I settle all of these things, I typically save what remains which could be anything between ₦100k and ₦150k. I have ₦400k in my account at the moment. However, I always go back to take out of it because problem no dey finish.
Lmao. What do you mean?
People in my extended family always need me to come through for something. So I use the money I have in the bank account to take care of these requests. I don’t stress it though. I do it when I have the money and say no when I don’t. I’ll admit that I don’t stress so much about it because I have more money stashed away.
How much do you imagine you have in those savings accounts right now?
About $20k. They are my core savings and will play an important role in my long-term financial goals.
How do you navigate investments?
I’m always investing in something, mostly forex. At the moment, I have two forex traders who do the heavy lifting and trade for me. I started with $10k last year and have topped it up over the months. I currently have $42k in it. I know forex is volatile. In fact, the people I outsource it to make losses. But so far, they’ve made more gains than losses. Once we lose 10% on a trade, we activate the stop loss. We cut our losses and move on.
What’s interesting is that I’ve made more money since I got married. I don’t know how to explain it, but getting married has been a blessing for me. My wife is also involved in every money decision I make and signs off on them. Once whatever it is will take more than ₦100k, she has to know. All of our expenses are documented on a google sheet, so she sees everything.
How much do you think you should be earning now?
Between $12 and $15k. I’m probably earning less because I’m living in Nigeria. It’s the only reason I’m considering relocating. I’m not big on the whole japa thing, but I’ve gotten to a point where I know that it’s the best thing for me. It’s currently in the works.
Good luck. Where do you see all of this in five years?
For starters, I’d like to build my savings and investments to $2m by the end of 2023.
The plan is to reduce overhead costs, work, outsource, save and invest. A lot of it will come from investments, which is why I save a lot. My investments can only grow as much as my savings. We’ll see what happens.
What do you want right now but can’t afford?
The Mercedez-Benz ML 350. The 2019 model I want costs about $30k. I can close my eyes and splurge on it, but it will affect my 2023 goals. I like it and want it, but do I need it? It’ll have to wait. Besides, what’s the point of buying a car when I can buy a house, which is another thing I really want. I’ve started looking at some properties, but I don’t have ₦40.5m lying around right now.
What’s the last thing you bought that required proper planning?
I didn’t really have time to plan because it was impromptu, but I thought long and hard about it. My wife’s Macbook crashed three hours before a presentation. The new one cost ₦1.1m, and I had to pull money out of a couple of places to buy it.
When was the last time you felt broke?
2014 or 2015. I had less than ₦200k in my accounts at the time. That taught me to set up a minimum threshold. That number is at $10k at the moment. If I have less than $10k in all my accounts, I feel like I’m in trouble.
What’s the last thing you splurged on that improved the quality of your life?
I finally bought myself a MacBook after thinking about it for months. This baby cost me $2350, but I don’t regret it. It’s all about convenience, really. The old one had started slowing down and affecting my work.
How have all your experiences shaped your perspective about money?
I think mindset plays a big role in proper financial planning. If you think all that you can earn is ₦500k, then you may not be able to go past it. Of course, there are other factors, but I’ve realised that the more I expand my mindset, the higher I set the bar. Also, I put in the work to match the mindset. My approach to hustling has changed a lot over the years, but I still put in the hours.
Another thing I’ve learned is to live within my means. I earn more than ₦1.5m every month, but it’s what I live on. I’m good with the life it gives me. It’s great to have money but I think it serves more purpose than just showing off to people.
On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your financial happiness?
8. However, I think I’m still struggling. First, I wish I didn’t have to work two full-time jobs and supervise the third one before I earn what I currently do. Also, there is stuff I can’t do without affecting my long term financial goals — I can’t buy the car or the house I want. I can’t travel to see the world. I’ll probably hit a 10 when I hit $2m. Then I’ll set a higher financial target and move back to an 8. Human wants are insatiable after all.
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