The Rollercoaster #NairaLife Of An Adman

December 28, 2020

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.

What’s your oldest memory of money? 

I was 5, and my mum gave me money to buy a crate of eggs – ₦1 coin. My own introduction to money was with coins, and this was in 1990. There was the 50 kobo coin. My boxed-up uncle used to give me whenever he visited. 

What could 50 kobo buy at the time? 

Yoo. Think about what half the price of a crate of eggs can buy a kid now. 

What was childhood like though? 

We used to get money for school, and I saved a lot of it to buy toys. It was a middle-class living in a good neighbourhood. Full-on Buttie – only English. Whenever we went to the markets, people used to say “una done carry this una American pikin come.”

Hahaha. 

We weren’t elite rich but we were comfor – bro I had a skateboard. So, a middle-class family in the 90s that Babangida destroyed? That was us. 

What do you mean “Babangida destroyed”?

For context, he increased the price of fuel four times. Still, for most of my childhood, I always saved. And it wasn’t from a need to keep money, it was just from a resource control standpoint. Our parents always told us not to be wasteful, you must finish the food on your plate. If you’re not going to finish it, don’t ask for that much. If you don’t finish it, you’ll die and come back. 

Buhaha what? 

My dad was chilled, but my mum used a spatula on my head more than she used it for Eba. 

Ah. Anyway, what was the consequence of the economic dip in your family? 

First of all, the dip became telling close to the end of the 90s. My dad had bought land and started building a house, but he didn’t have money for decking. We got a quit notice, somehow, and so we moved into a boys quarters.  A room and parlour, beds came out at night and went back in the morning. My parents slept on one, my two siblings slept on another, and I slept on a long single bed. My parents stopped buying me clothes, so I had to start going to Yaba myself. I had that one shoe that was one size small. 

Over the next decade, my hustle mode turned on. I stopped getting money from home. I even started to do what you’d consider shady things. 

What?

I was selling contrabands to boarding school students because they couldn’t go out. I’d buy at a price, and then add my own price on top of it. Look, my life was boring, and I needed some excitement. I was consuming a lot of Western culture, hip hop and all. It was a complete opposite to my life, and I wanted to experience some of that shit. But I just wanted to do everything. I was doing well at school and rolling with the geeks. Also, I was in the choir at church, but I was betting. I was also playing ball in the area and knew DMX and Famous Five. 

I got into Uni in 2004, the real rude awakening for me. By this time, money no dey. My dad was dealing with health problems. I was trying – wait, just before Uni, I did one small hustle. 

What? 

I realised that whenever WAEC was pasting centre numbers, the lists were always fragmented and incomplete. So, I went to WAEC office, bought photocopies of the complete list for ₦150. Then I went to one school where I’d see people go to the noticeboard and look out for people frustrated about not finding their names. Then I’d approach them like, “it’s not there abi? I have it here o, it’s ₦200” 

Ah. 

I did the first day, made like ₦2k, the second day, I made a little over that, and on the third day, the gateman sent me away. 

Why? 

I learned my first lesson about making money: understanding your fucking climate. If I’d been sorting that guy for ₦200-₦300 per day, he’d have even guarded me. So, back to uni. 

Back to uni. 

I was just so free. I was smoking like one pack of cigarettes in two days, but I was  broke and couldn’t afford accommodation. Now, I was staying in a single room with four other guys – only one person actually owned the room, and it wasn’t me. 

The room owner had a babe, and whenever she’d come at night and they want to smash, we’d have to go and wait outside. Then we’d come inside whenever they were done. 

Hahaha. 

That’s how fucked up my life was. Then I started floating in school – I’d spend the day in class, crash overnight and go to the hostel to shower. I did that for like a month. 

I imagine you didn’t just continue this way. 

Yeah, I got a job at a cybercafe. I was lucky because as a teenager, my dad already got us a computer – a Compaq laptop in ‘94, bruh. So I already had a thing for computers. Anyway, by early 2004, I collected my first salary at my first job for ₦2,500. 

Ah, first salary. What else were you doing in that period? 

Sooo, one of my friends was getting into music at the time, and I was quite enthusiastic, so I became his manager. He even recorded an EP, but we weren’t making any money. We were broke and it was hard. I’d drop money to print CDs and stuff, push into the music scene at the time and all.

I was doing all kinds of things, and still managed to maintain a good GPA. My last GPA was about 3.76, then my life changed forever.

What happened? 

I got kicked out of Uni in 2008, my final year. Long story short, I was at the wrong place at the wrong time. It does feel like karma. 

Wooaaah.

My parents didn’t handle it as badly as I imagined they would. Funny thing is, my dad actually had to leave his first Uni because he had issues with a lecturer and he had to go finish up elsewhere.

Anyway, I was back in Lagos, and I had this  artist who I was managing, pushing my man into the scene. In all this time, I was writing exams to gain admission into other universities, and nothing just clicked. 

By 2009, I got a job at another cybercafe where I was getting ₦10k a month. The best part was that I had access to unlimited internet. Then I discovered blogging. I started putting up my guy’s music on my blog, then I started charging other people to put up their music for ₦8k per song. Then management companies came  too, and I’d charge them over ₦20k. Since it wasn’t frequent, I was making about ₦18k. I was still at my Cyber Cafe job. 

Then I met this guy, a senior executive at an advertising company that was also working with entertainment companies. I somehow managed to secure a meeting with him, shared a breakdown on some campaigns and talent they were working with, and how I think they’d be able to manage them better. 

He was impressed. 

Loud. 

Then he asked me, what can you do for us? I told him I could help them with artists’ PR and management. Before I left that day, he gave me ₦5k. Oh boy. I first went to eat at one buka. I eventually started working with him, and was able to save up to buy a used laptop for about ₦50k by the end of 2010.

That year had its own struggles. 

What else? 

I was addicted to weed. People in the hood had heard I didn’t graduate, and I was mostly on it to cope. It was depressing. There was that period in that year too where I was a sidekick on the radio, and was getting the occasional ₦200 or ₦300.

How did you beat the addiction?

I woke up one day, tired of the addiction. I read a story about how Gandhi cured his love for women by going to bed with women and not having sex with them. So I decided to go to where we used to smoke and sit with smokers for one month, without actually smoking. I did it for one month, and that was it. 

Mad o. 

Yeah. Anyway, being in the entertainment scene meant that I met a lot of the interesting people at the time, like 2Face. One of my guys working in another advertising agency was leaving, and was looking to hire a replacement. 

I got a meeting with the boss, and they said they were going to hire me at first as an account manager. Basically, I was tracking everyone else’s output, uploading and stuff. 

He asked me, “how much do you want to get paid?” 

I said, “how much do you want to pay me?”

“₦20k.”

“Let’s do it.” 

This was early 2011, and I just needed the job and access to the internet. Remember the other ad exec, he decided to put me on payroll officially. He paid me ₦35k – ₦55k from two jobs.

What were you doing at the ₦35k gig? 

Helping their talent hustle studio time, booking events, writing press releases. At my ₦20k job, I moved to copywriting: ads, press releases and all that. I was enjoying it more, and in 2012, I ditched the account management gig and focused on my job as a copywriter. My salary climbed to ₦50k. Then I started getting a  commission off the sales that I made. I was also getting bonuses from profit sharing at the end of the year. The highest bonus I ever received was ₦200k. 

When I left in 2014 though, my monthly salary was ₦80k.

How much did the next gig offer? 

₦300k.

Mad o. 

I’d already built a reputation, and you know what’s funny? I actually left for for ₦125k, but as I put word out that I was leaving, I got more offers. Two of them were offering me ₦400k. I tabled it to the ₦125k people and they bumped me up to ₦300k. I took the ₦300k offer, and I’m glad I did. It wasn’t just an agency doing the advertising side, they were also a full-blown digital agency. I joined as Head of Digital. 

Two months later, I got another raise to ₦400k.

Ah, how? 

Someone on my team was about to leave the company, and he asked for ₦300k as his condition to stay. They gave him the raise, but then they didn’t want him to earn the same as me, so they bumped me up to ₦400k. 

Over the years as I garnered more experience, I started taking some consulting gigs on the side around digital strategy. I was doing well enough that I could afford to get a place – my first place as a working person. I also bought a car. 

Suddenly, all the things you panicked about in 2008 disappeared? 

Fuck all that shit. At this time, I could take care of my mum conveniently. One time, she wanted to celebrate her birthday and I just sent her ₦300k. The problem at the time was that even though I had money, there was no intention going into saving and investing. Then I started dating my wife. 

What changed? 

My wife saved my life. She’s my anchor. She’s great with money, She made me take a course on Coursera where I learned about financial literacy. I do the hard hustling, and she does the planning of our lives. 

That’s where I learned what you spend, save, invest. All the babes I was hanging out with it just wanted popcorn and cinema at the time, but she was the one for me. We’re married now. We moved. After our first kid,  we moved again. My son was turning 1 and I needed him to grow up in a place that was safe enough for us to go on evening walks. 

How much is your rent now? 

First ₦300k. Then I started paying ₦600k. Now I’m paying ₦1.5 million. I panicked when I was about to move, but I quickly learned that I just had to save ₦125k per month. 

Back to your salary. 

I got a raise in 2018 that bumped me up to ₦581k. But I was entitled to bonuses that could bump me up to ₦1.2 million, but it never really came. In 2019, I started listening to offers again. One bank came with a solid offer to lead  comms, but the amount of shirts and ties I had to wear ehn, I just cancelled. 

I wanted more action, so I chose a role in a startup instead. This time, in Business Development. 

How much did you join for? 

₦1.8 million. My salary hasn’t grown since then, but I’ve gotten performance bonuses. The highest I’ve received at a time is about ₦600k.

What’s your current mindset with money? 

You spend it, it comes back. Now, this is not on some careless shit, but I believe that the more I give, the more it comes back. I have ₦144k and someone came with an emergency and needed a ₦50k loan, I didn’t even think twice. Like, look at how far I’ve come and I didn’t die. Is it now a small inconvenience that will now kill me? 

Looking at how far you’ve come, how much do you feel like you should be earning? 

Double my current salary, for starters. I do a lot of work that I don’t get paid for, but I’m building my reputation. 

What’s something you want right now but can’t afford? 

I want to invest in companies with money that I can afford to lose – $5k here, $10k there. 

What’s the last thing you bought that required serious planning? 

I have three kids – two of them are adopted. I bought a Sienna so the driver can take them around conveniently. The family van cost ₦2.3 million. 

When was the last time you felt really broke? 

I always feel broke, bro. In fact, I never have enough money after I save all my money. I only always have like ₦200k in a month. 

What do you wish you could get better at?

We run three small businesses, all these businesses were my wife’s ideas. My own ideas never dey commot money. I also spend a lot on education. 

Tell me about that. 

I’ve done some courses with a solid business school, and some other schools. I just finished a course in Project Management and am currently studying Product Management. 

Do you have any financial regrets?

When I started earning well enough, I should have been saving more. But then, I’m glad it went that way because I won’t have experienced a lot of things. Money is good, guy. I still enjoyed it, but I wish I should have just saved more in dollars. 

How would you rate your financial happiness, on a scale of 1-10? 

5, considering where I’m coming from, haha. It’ll be 10 when I pay for life insurance and when I buy my house. 

It’s been a wild couple of years. 

I believe the universe is amoral, it doesn’t believe in good or bad, only happenstance. Being kicked out of school led me to all the choices that led me to where I am. At that point, it looked like my world had ended.

10 years ago, I was earning ₦10k. Keep going.


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.

Fu'ad Lawal

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