There was nothing like childhood “flair for business.” All Nnamdi Ezeigbo cared for as a kid was to read his books, excel in his exams, leave school and hopefully find a decent job where he would be earning a meaningful salary. With a degree in electrical and electronic engineering plus a master’s, the world was his oyster—so he thought.
After his NYSC where he served at Guinness, Ezeigbo’s eyes were on the big oil companies like Chevron, Shell and Mobil where he was dreaming to find a dream job. Two years of staying at home and writing all kinds of applications, he soon realized that it’s a cold, cold world out there, where looking for a job is tougher than finding the proverbial haystack needle. “After two years of staying at home and finding nothing to do, I thought of doing something on my own,” Ezeigbo says as he recalls his first, tentative steps into the unknown world of entrepreneurship.
Today, Ezeigbo would bless the day he took the momentous decision to go “start something on my own,” a move which turned out to be the game changer of his life. If he had found a job in the corporate world, say in a big oil company, Nigeria would probably have lost an entrepreneur extraordinaire, a creative spirit who has mastered the art of selling mobile phones to a country blessed with a heavy population—the biggest on the African continent—that makes business thrive. If he had gotten a job in an oil company or wherever, the corporate world would have subsumed this genius, this brand strategist who has built a strong, loyal customer base, this franchise owner whose brand name SLOT is now being rented by others to profit from, because of the solid image, reputation and strong values Ezeigbo has built into his company. For the records, he is Nigeria’s pioneer franchisor in telecoms business, if not the overall franchise business leader in Africa’s populous country.
Today, in cities and towns in Nigeria where he doesn’t want to invest directly perhaps due to insecurity, economic, political or whatever reason, Ezeigbo has franchised out his brand name.
Those applying for the SLOT franchise usually undergo rigorous checks to ascertain whether they can be trusted with the brand name. So far, most of the people who won the franchise happen to be people who had worked in banks and corporate organization, hence understand business. “Those are the kind of people we work with. We build the structure to conform with our standards, we set up the stores, we train the staff, they spend minimum of one month with us, we send our managers to manage the store for a period. We make sure it is just the replica of what we have in our organic stores,” Ezeigbo explains.
Whether it is the organic store in the ever bustling Computer Village in Ikeja or the SLOT franchise in Kano or Ado Ekiti, a typical SLOT store in Nigeria is a red-hot beehive where lovers of phones and electronic gizmos troop in to buy because they believe that buying from SLOT will give them peace.
“I came into this business because I saw the need to create value,” Ezeigbo says. “And that is what consumers want. Consumers are not just buying devices. They want value. What we have discovered about Nigerian customers is that they want to buy from a place they can trust. So, we are not just selling devices, we are also selling our reputation. We are selling peace of mind.”
The apprentice computer repairer
After staying home for two years in frustration and not finding a job, Ezeigbo followed his heart. He put aside his degree certificates and his hubris to become an apprentice computer repairer. “I was led by a passion for computer,” he explains. “I needed to do what I like to do. I joined a friend who had a computer outfit. I spent six months with him learning how to repair computers. We were friends at the NYSC camp. When I was looking for something to do, something I had flair for, which is computer engineering, I joined him. I had left the university with a degree in electrical and electronic engineering with a flair for computer. So it was easy to actually adapt and kick off as a young computer engineer.”
It was in the process of serving as an apprentice computer repairer that Ezeigbo experienced the cut-throat practices going on in the industry whereby customers were being ripped off due to their ignorance. “As at that time, everybody was struggling to make money. Nobody was adding value. It was like: how much were you able to extort from the customer today? I couldn’t really understand why it should be like that. Something inside me objected to that. I was telling myself: It shouldn’t really be like this,” Ezeigbo says.
In one instance, the computer “had a simple problem with the cooling fan. And the cooling fan as at that time was just N300. But these guys took N30,000 from the customer. And when it comes to technical issues, people are ripped off a lot because they don’t understand what it takes to fix a computer. So when you tell them N30,000 or N40,000, everybody wants to pay. Because they want their computer to work. But I was not happy with the system.”
From that moment, Ezeigbo decided to be a customer advocate. And this caused a misunderstanding between him and his friend “because there was a value mismatch.” The disagreement soon reached a boiling point with Ezeigbo being fired by his friend. He left his friend “to squat with a bookshop owner on the same street” because he had no money to rent a shop. The sympathetic bookshop owner gave him a small space to continue his computer repair business. He was there when a customer he had once fixed his computer and served well came looking for him. Ezeigbo narrates:
“He went to my former office, asked for me and he was told I was no longer there. He wanted me badly to fix his computer, so he was directed to my new place. When this man came looking for me, he discovered I was in a bookshop and he said: ‘Nnamdi, what are you doing here? You are too big to be here.’ I told him what happened between me and my friend and he said: ‘No, get a shop and I will pay.’ And that was how I got a space that we called SLOT Systems today. The office is still there today at No. 19 Ola Ayeni St. I was at the ground floor. He gave me some printers to sell and use the money to pay for the space. That was how I was able to raise N230,000 to pay for that space. The year was 1999. That was how I was able to pay for that space called SLOT Systems which is the head office right now. We eventually bought the place for N100 million. And that is our headquarters. That was how I started.”
In choosing the name SLOT, Ezeigbo wanted “a simple name that would tally with what I believe.” According to him, “Slot is basically about position, is about being at the right place at the right time. It is not an acronym. Slot is an English word which means to create a slot for something—to create a position. If you want to play your cassette or CD, it must go into the right slot. So, we feel we are occupying a position. If you don’t have a square peg that goes into a square hole, then it won’t fit.” As he grew to understand business, he wrote a mission statement which states: “Our mission is to build an indigenous company based on sound ethical principles. And then to create value for our shareholders and customers.”
Today, SLOT has 50 franchises all over Nigeria. And still counting! His story is a classic story of entrepreneurial triumph from zero to hero. I was interviewing Ezeigbo for a book called “50 Entrepreneur Success Stories.”
“An entrepreneur is the man who impacts the society positively,” Ezeigbo says. “He is somebody who is involved in creating jobs. An entrepreneur creates value for the society. Not every businessman is an entrepreneur. A taxi driver for example is a business owner. He is creating value for his family. But when you extend your value creation to your community, you country, by creating jobs and impacting on people’s lives, then you an entrepreneur.”