I Was Making Millions By The Time I Left University –Gbadebo | Independent Newspapers Limited
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I Was Making Millions By The Time I Left University –Gbadebo

Posted: Sep 13, 2015 at 12:03 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Alafia Gbadebo is a model young man and an example of how hard work pays. While in school and at 21, he had started making millions. Today, his Strands Event Company is worth a fortune, and he is just 30 years old. The young entrepreneur invited Hazeez Balogun, to his office recently and revealed to him the secret of his success. 



Tell us about Bon Marche Fairstival

The fair is an event where hundreds of companies and exhibitors come to sell their goods and services to students at heavily discounted rates. So, we think there is no better place and time to display the card. We usually have at least 20,000 visitors every day at the fair, and it runs for 10 days; so, we expected about 200,000 people to sign the valentine card.

You are not 30 years old yet, and you have created a multi-million Naira business. How did it all start?

I started off with a trade fair when I was still a student at UNILAG. That was seven years ago. I realised that immediately schools resume, students go to different places to get their school needs. If you want clothes, you go to Yaba; if you want a laptop, you go to the Computer Village in Ikeja; if you want electronics for your room, you go to Alaba market, in Lagos. I thought instead of students going all around Lagos buying things, why couldn’t the companies bring their products to the school and be in one place within the school. Also, I know that students do not have high purchasing power; so, when I was to start, the aim was that exhibitors should sell their wares and services to students at low prices or at discounted rates. That way, students can buy their needs in one place and at cheaper prices. Also, I knew that there are many companies that have promos that are targeted at the youth. The best place to get their target market is the school. So, the fair was borne out of necessity. It is an avenue for both buyers and sellers to meet. That was how we started the first students’ trade fair in 2006.

It must have been difficult since it was a new idea 

It was not easy I must tell you. Being the first of its kind people were not interested. They felt selling to students was a waste of time since student don’t really have money. So, the first one did not go so well. We lost a lot of money. The second one turned out to be a huge success. So, were the other ones that we have done. Today, we have spread into campuses all over the country – Calabar, Benin, Port Harcourt, Ibadan and others in over 12 states of the country. We take companies and traders from across the country to all these campuses and all we ask them to do is sell at discounted prices. Currently, we are on a 30-campus tour with GT Bank and we are opening bank accounts for students all over the country free.

Are students really a lucrative market target?

Students may not have so much money, but the truth is that there are companies with products that are cheap that students can afford. Almost all students use mobile phones; almost all students buy recharge cards. So, definitely, telecoms companies will appeal to the youth. Laptops can be expensive, but students still buy them. Only very few students today do not have a laptop. So, you can say students don’t have money, but they still buy products as long as you can bring the price down. We also look at the school we go to. There are some schools whose students we know have low purchasing power compared with some others. So, we know the kind of exhibitors to take to such schools. I must tell you that the market is good. We are now seven years in the business and we are continually expanding to various campuses.

What have been the major challenges in hosting the fair?

I will say sourcing for sponsorship is one of our biggest challenges. Also, getting approval from some of the schools has been a big issue. Many do not understand the business and the advantages it has for their schools. Some student unions have also proved difficult. But like every business, there are always challenges. We thank God that we have surpassed most of these challenges and we have moved along smoothly.

What will you say have made your shows successful?

Consistency is the key word. You do not expect to start a business today and believe that you will start making money all of a sudden. We have grown to project ourselves as a brand and people have seen us to be reliable and are able to give us their money to help them reach their target – the youth market .

You said the fair continues to expand. Where else is it heading?

We are planning to go to Ghana. Last year, our objective was to go to all the six regions in the country and we achieved that. This year, we want to venture out of the country. We are working hard on this and we believe Ghana will be a good starting point for us. We are at the verge of sealing a deal with the Legon University in Ghana.

When you have so many students gathered, there is always the fear of insecurity. Have you had times when the fair was disrupted by students?

There are plenty experiences like that. It happens all the time; but we are young people as well and we try to deal with them as our friends. We relate with them at their level. When we were in Port Harcourt, some students just appeared and started demanding for money. We gave them money and some souvenirs. But what we were able to achieve is that after everything, we sat them down and taught them how they too could make money as students. We also asked them to keep in contact with us just in case they have any idea they want to develop in their school. We handle them maturely. In fact, we do not hire any private security organisation. Many schools do not even allow security organisations into their schools. But, I must commend the schools; they have been supportive in terms of security.

Tell us about the love of your life. Is she into this business too?

Ah, no. I am still a young man. There is no woman for now.

What motivates you?

What has always motivated me is that fact that I want to be independent. When I was in Year One, I started by selling recharge cards. It was a new business then, and I carved a niche for myself. I would tell people that they don’t need to come to me to buy credit; they should just send me a text and I would send them the credit and get my money later. That was how I sold cards to a lot of students in UNILAG. I have always been an enterprising person. I had always known that I would not work for anyone. So, when I was planning to start the fair, I did not have money, but I started by making friends. I knew I would need to go out a lot to get exhibitors. So, I made friends with people that had cars, and students that are from wealthy background that I could get money from. I knew I would need people who are purpose-driven like me; so, I made friends with people like myself. I had all these partners who helped make the first fair a success. Though, we did not make money at first, we knew we had a selling brand. Many of my partners left us to seek for jobs, but a few of us remained and we have kept the business strong.

So, when you left school, you did not look for job?

No. Why should I? By then the fair had started making money. By the second edition we had Diamond Bank as sponsor. At the third edition, Bank PHB came in and the growth continued from there. Why would I seek a job when my own company was doing well? I was making millions by the time I left school. Why should I go and apply for a N100,000 a month job?

Most people who succeed early in life are usually supported by their parents. Did yours support your business?

No. My mum was the kind that just wanted me to focus on school activities and come out with a First Class degree and get a good job. When I told her I wanted to go into business, she thought I was trying to be lazy and leave school. She thought my GP was dropping. The way I can say she assisted was that she gave me accommodation money which was a lot because I was to rent a boys quarter. Instead of renting an apartment, I used the money for business, and squatted with friends. I was, in fact, sleeping on the floor because all the beds were occupied.

You are a busy man now. How do you relax?

Relax? I am always so busy. I know there is money out there; so, I am always looking for a means to get it into my pocket legally. I don’t watch football; I don’t play games; I don’t watch movies. I may hang out with friends sometimes, and discuss the trends that I should use in my business. You may call me a boring man; I will agree.

There are many young people out there trying to go into business but there is no encouragement. How do you think government can step?

I have a friend who came from America. He told me that when he started his business there, the government was very supportive. He was not allowed to pay tax for the first three years. Within that time if he made a loss, government would refund part of it to him. This is the way to encourage entrepreneurship, because at the end, when the business goes well, you will have to employ people and that will reduce unemployment. There are thousands of Nigerians out there, if not millions, that have B.Sc and Masters degrees with no job. But if you create entrepreneurs out of some of them, they will employ more people, and there will be less unemployed people. Government needs to look at this.