The Remarkable #NairaLife Of A Design Rebel

February 22, 2021

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.


The guy in this story has two things going on for him: developing new skills and taking a leap of faith. The ultimate gamechanger for him, though, is a tech hub he joined at uni and a DM he got in 2020.

What is your oldest memory of money?

My dad always did this thing for me and my siblings when we were growing up: at the end of each term, he would drive us with his motorcycle to a restaurant in the town we lived in to flex us. We would order yoghurt and meat pie, sometimes we threw ice cream into the mix. At other times, he would drive us to the zoo.

What did your dad do for a living?

He ran a computer business centre with my mum. At first, all they did was type and print documents for people. But it grew into a printing press. I should add that my dad has done everything — he used to be a barber and then an electrician. He still runs these businesses to date. 

What was life like, though,  growing up?

The family was never hungry. We could be broke, but food was always on the table. For me, though, my childhood was tough. My dad made sure of that. I was the first child, so he thought I needed to be raised with an iron fist. I spent most of my childhood learning how to be a man. My dad always bragged about how he was an employer at 18, so it was like I was competing against him.

I would wake up at 6 am, say the morning prayers, go to school. There were extra classes after school, and then I would head to the shop to handle the business. I started helping around with the smaller tasks, but as I grew, my responsibilities also grew. I think I started managing all aspects of the business when I was 16. 

What was it like handing the family business at that age?

My job was to make sure everything ran smoothly: the computers, printers and generators. I also did the books and made sure the numbers were right. I was paid ₦5k per month, although the money didn’t come to me. It went to a trust fund my parents kept. Subsequently, my salary was increased to ₦7k, then 10k, then ₦15k.

What was revenue like?

We averaged about ₦300k per month. But when it was time for elections or other large scale events, the number went up to ₦750k. During the 2011 general elections, I think we did about ₦1.5M to ₦3M every month. 

Omo. So, when did you get into uni?

2014. I was supposed to study medicine, but I was offered biochemistry instead. 

This sounds very familiar. 

So, the plan was to do biochemistry and go for medicine later. My first year and second year were great. My grades were fine. In 2016, I replicated my dad’s hustle on campus and started a design and printing business. This brought in at least ₦200k in a good month. The best times were during the end of year events when I did about  ₦400k.

Impressive. How old were you when you started this business?

19 or 20. The only thing was that this income wasn’t constant, so it was hard to plan around it. I mean, there were months I did only ₦15k.

I was making money on the side, but something happened in my third year.

What?

I was hit with depression and anxiety. I didn’t want to do the whole school thing anymore. I had my sights set on tech, but I didn’t know how to get into it. It kinda spiralled out of control. One day in 2017, I drank an entire bottle of vodka, Moet and Baron. The plan was to go off to sleep and maybe never wake up. I had forgotten that my girlfriend at the time was supposed to visit me later that day. When she came and couldn’t get in, she called my neighbour and they broke my door. They found me on the floor, laying in my vomit and my eyes rolled in. I remember the guy pouring buckets of water on me and pumping my stomach to get the content out. I eventually slept it off. I didn’t wake up until the following night. The pain was mad. 

I’m so sorry you had to go through that.

We move. Later that year, my university started a tech hub. I was invited by a friend to join their team that was incubated to be mentored in the tech hub. All of us were rebels of sorts — we were tired of uni and just wanted to do something different. We had a building to ourselves, 24 hours of interrupted power supply and the fastest wifi on campus. Omo, I was sleeping there, just building stuff with my team. We became the cool kids on campus. The VC gave us ₦2M at some point. 

What did you do at the tech hub?

My team was building drone technology of sorts. We wanted to deliver blood to cities like Zipline does in Rwanda. When we started, I was in charge of graphic design and marketing communications. I gradually moved into product design and front-end development. I also did a lot of strategy work. It was my biggest strength. People in other teams always wanted to pick my brain on something, and I absolutely loved it. 

Where do you think this edge came from?

My dad. He’s a chief strategist. See, that guy didn’t go to uni, but he was a smart man. Also, I’m very curious about stuff. I’m interested in details as well as the big picture. So, when people tell me the big picture, my mind is looking for a million paths to get there. 

Interesting.

I basically ditched classes. My classmates and lecturers thought I was a fool. Maybe I was, but I wanted better. Finally, I got to my final year in school and I was supposed to do my project. One day, I woke up and went to my supervisor to tell him that I wasn’t interested in the project anymore and needed him to refund the ₦30k I had paid for it. 

This next person I saw at the hub was my dad. My supervisor had called him. This man came with a chain and he said: “I know an evil spirit has possessed you, so we will chain you and take you to the psychiatric hospital, then carry out some spiritual deliverance for you.” I was arrested and detained at the school security post for most part of the day. The school asked my dad to go home and that I would join him later, so we can settle our issue. This was in 2018, and we still haven’t settled it. 

What happened after your “deliverance”?

They actually took me to see about three pastors. I sat through the whole process thinking of how to leave home. After everything, I lied to them I was going to school to fix a few things. It’s been two years now. 

So, you came to Lagos.

Yup! A tech bro I met on Twitter bought me my ticket. I stayed at an uncle’s place for a while.

Wait, was a job waiting for you in Lagos?

Nah. There was no job waiting for me. I had sent applications before I came, but nothing clicked. I roamed the streets of Lagos for three months before I got my first job. I saw a tweet where someone said you could message recruiters at companies you applied to on Linkedin. So, I sent a message to a recruiter and she asked me to mail her my details. Two days later, I got an interview. 

What role were you applying for?

A Creative Designer at a software company. 

And you got it?

Yup. This was May 2019. My net salary was ₦145k. 

Nice. How did that go?

That job got me settled in Lagos. But damn was it challenging. It was a lot of sleepless nights. The biggest challenge was navigating the commute. Where my uncle lived was too far from where I worked. After trying to wing it for two months, I started sleeping at the office. I would wake up early to go have my bath at a friend’s who lived close to the office. The work was crazy, but I didn’t do badly.

In 2019, the company flew me and a few other people to Dubai. That was my first time out of the country. 

How did that feel?

Omo, it was mad. On the day we were leaving the country, I called my mum on my way to the airport and she broke down in tears — tears of joy and fear. 

Lmao. Why fear?

It was that panic parents feel when you’re travelling. She has never been on a plane, so I guess I understand how she felt. 

2020, how did that go for you?

It started with some massive gbas-gbos. I left the company where I worked because I got an offer to do something different in another company. This one was an actual product design job. And it came with a bump to my salary: ₦250K.

The company was on the Island, so I paired up with a friend and got an apartment together. I was also getting a few side gigs, so I was doing ₦400k-₦500k every month. Then Covid happened, and I got fired. 

Whoa!

I didn’t adjust very well to working from home — with poor power, internet, and the emotional side of things. I got back to back queries before they terminated my appointment. It was a fair decision, sha. 

The sad part about this was that my contract did me dirty. By the time they finished picking out the small details in the contract, my salary for that month came down to ₦160k. Naso I take broke oh. 

Damn. How did the subsequent months go?

I had no job from May to August. What kept everything together was a few side gigs I got. Towards the end of August, I got another job. The salary was ₦300k monthly. It was actually one of the best places I worked. I quit at the end of last year. 

Sometime in October 2020, I got a DM from someone wanting to know if I was interested in a job. I looked at it but the application process was too long, so I left it. One night, I went back to it and sent in an application. Two weeks later, I was invited to interview. A design test followed and a series of more interviews. In November, I got an offer from them. 

*Drum Roll*

It was ₦16.6M per annum. $35k in addition to $4k in gadget, insurance and internet allowance. That’s ₦1.4M per month. Also, it’s a fully remote job.

Omo. What has this jump meant in this little time?

It feels good. It is more than any validation I could have gotten about my work, and it’s not even all about the money. Throughout every stage of the hiring process, they kept talking about how impressed they were with my work. See, I work hard. I deserve it. 

Energy. Let’s break down your monthly expenses now.

I have this tradition, any lump sum I make, I spend at least 10% getting myself something 

Is this break down pre-new bump or based on the new bump?

Pre-bump. Oh, I didn’t mention; I make about ₦500k-₦600k every month from side gigs. 

What do you do for people on the side?

Product design as well. I used to do WordPress but stopped for a while. I also get gigs to help prototype products launch into full products. Then people pick my brain for a price. 

Walk me through how your skill sets have evolved over the past decade.

I started designing with CorelDRAW 9 and Adobe PS 7. After that, I went into print production. I don’t think there’s a printer out there I don’t know how to operate. In uni, someone I met online taught me brand identity and strategy. At the time, coding was the rave, so I learned a bit of frontend technologies (HTML, CSS, JS), but computer engineering wasn’t something I wanted. UI/UX and product design were the perfect alternatives, so I explored and grew in it. I dropped graphic design totally and moved on.

The years you picked them up?

2010: I was already typing faster than my mum.

2012 – 2013:  My design skills were getting better. By 2014, I was solid

2014 – 2017: I picked up most of the skills set. Brand Identity design and strategy was key at this time.

2017: I picked up UI/UX.

Growth. So, what do you imagine the next 5 years will look like?

I should have one or two products in the markets. I have enough resources to start — human capital and funds. I’m currently enrolled in a university in the UK and will be starting classes this year for a degree in computer science. And yes, getting married to my girlfriend is also top of the list. 

Back to the present. What’s something you want right now but can’t afford?

A collection of media production equipment for my church. It cost about ₦36M. This is very personal to me. With my current bump, I think I can afford most things I want. Last last, I’ll  save up for it. 

What is something you wish to be better at financially?

Saying no, maybe. I’m very reckless about giving people money.

What’s the largest amount you’ve given away at once?

₦330k. I was the president of an organisation in 2017, and we were planning an event. However, we were low on funds. I borrowed ₦200k, but it wasn’t enough. Then I started dipping into my personal funds. By the time we were done, I had spent ₦300k. I never got it back. 

Lmao. What’s the most annoying miscellaneous you paid for recently that cost a lot?

Maybe my trainers? Got them for ₦25k after searching for months for my size. I am a size 50. The annoying thing was not the price but the fact that it had to be shipped from Germany, and I have been searching for three years for a size 50.

SIZE WHAT?

All my shoes are custom made.

Haha. When was the last time you felt really broke?

My first four months in Lagos. I trekked to places a ₦100-₦150 bus ride could have gotten me to. There’s this lady on Twitter that shares food in my area. One day, I joined the line to collect rice oh. 

Wild. Have you ever imagined how life would have turned out if that Tech Hub didn’t get built in your school?

I would have found another way to survive. I may not have gotten to this point, but I definitely would have survived. I believe that the places we go to and the people we meet are all paths to a destination. Taking a different path might mean having a different experience, but they all lead to a result. Now the uncertainty is, nobody knows how good or bad the result will be. 

What’s a purchase you made recently that significantly improved the quality of your life?

Ah, that trainers oh. In one week, I have lost 6.5 kg.

On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your financial happiness?

A solid 7.

What would get it to a 10?

$140k/annum.


If you’re interested in talking about your Naira Life story, this is a good place to start.

Find all the past Naira Life stories here.

Toheeb Lanlehin

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