The rise and rise of Slot: From corner shop to the top – Toni Kan

On Saturday Novembr 9, 2019 at the tail end of the 2019 edition of the Lagos Arts and Books festival , two books will be under consideration at a colloquim scheduled for Kongi’s Harvest at 3.30pm. The two books are “Entrepreneurship The SLOT Way: Succeeding in a tough business environment” by Nnamdi Ezeigbo founder of Slot and Start up Nation, by Dan Senor & Saul Singer. Toni Kan in anticipation of the colloquim presents a review of Entrepreneurship The SLOT Way.

Nations and civilisations develop through the codification of knowledge and transfer of know-how.

The lack of consideration of this salient point has been the bane of African creatives and thinkers who have always favoured a hermeneutic approach rather than a more accessible one.

The problem lies in the age long African belief that knowledge and know-how should be the exclusive preserve of the initiate. Such knowledge be it of herbs and healing, art and craft, music and dance were seen as the preserve of members of a sacred guild or society.

A case in point would be the Ekpe society who as originators of nsibidi art transmitted the knowledge only to initiates. The same can also be said of black smiths and workers in wood.

That hermeneutic approach severely limited the sphere and transmission of knowledge and sadly has persisted into modern times.

Nnamdi Ezeigbo in writing “Entrepreneurship The SLOT Way: Succeeding in a tough business environment” has bucked the trend. His action is contrarian, a point he makes without equivocation. “As I grew in business and evolved into an entrepreneur, I gradually began to develop a sense of responsibility to share my business and entrepreneurial experiences with the hope that others would learn and acquire the power to surge ahead in their own endeavours and overcome the obstacles that come their way.” (p.xxii)

His book which is part-autobiography, part-memoir and part-business primer is an incisive and insightful addition to what is now a growing corpus of books by Nigerian businessmen chronicling and sharing their entrée and rise to prominence in the tough and uncertain business climate of Nigeria.

By putting pen to paper and detailing his humble beginnings as well as ascent, Nnamdi Ezeigbo who founded SLOT, the most recognizable name in the Nigerian ICT space, is killing two birds with one stone; he is laying his cards on the table and telling his rag to riches stories in a way that shows that unlike many others there was nothing untoward in his journey to wealth but most importantly, he is saying to everyone who reads his book that a cocktail of persistence, belief, tenacity and innovative thinking can make you another SLOT.

His thesis is a simple one; we need entrepreneurs because without them societies cannot “thrive either economically or in developmental terms.” (p.3)

Divided into 3 broad sections – Entrepreneurship, Entrepreneurship the SLOT way and Sustainability, Nnamdi Ezeigbo presents a book filled with inspiring case studies detailing his belief that innovation, which he describes as the “addition of value to an already existing product or service” (p.9) is the key to success.

The book, Entrepreneurship The SLOT Way opens with a quick excursion into Nnamdi Ezeigbo’s humble provenance, his family’s indigent situation which found him working for four years in order to raise money to go to university.

He chronicles his dabbling into business and building the SLOT brand from a shared space in a cramped bookshop where he paid N25,000 rent per annum.

The coming of the GSM era marked the turning point for SLOT and taking advantage of the telecom revolution, SLOT applied innovative thinking and problem solving skills to build a multi-billion African success story.

But the transformation of SLOT would never have happened if there was no paradigm shift in Nnamdi Ezeigbo’s approach to business and that is the major take-away from the first section where he opines that to achieve scale in business one must move from being a businessman focused on making a quick buck to becoming an entrepreneur. And an entrepreneur in his own estimation is a business man whose focus is on creating value, jobs and wealth in a sustainable manner.

How did SLOT’s approach to entrepreneurship yield results? That is the focus of the second section and Nnamdi Ezeigbo presents examples of what it means to be an entrepreneur. For him, the first mandate is to solve problems, create value, provide jobs and then create wealth. Using the acronym SLOT as fulcrum, he breaks down what it means to do business the SLOT way.

First is providing SOLUTIONS. The entrepreneur he says must be “Sensitive to identifying problems and creative in solving them” (p.51) which is where creativity and innovation come into play.

SLOT’s biggest breaks have come from providing innovative solutions and Nnamdi details a few of those.

Almost every Nigerian knows about Tecno phones but only a few realise that they were introduced into the Nigerian market by SLOT and it wasn’t because he wanted to make money. The driving motivation was to solve the problem of Nigerians who “carry at least two phones around due to unreliable networks…”(pp.92-93)

The need to solve that problem led SLOT to initiate the production of dual SIM phones but while most of us will now focus on the success of the Tecno brand, many will not realise that the initial foray ended in disaster and the loss of over 5million naira.

The first Tecno phone, the T201, provided dual SIM phones alright but as Nnamdi Ezeigbo writes “the cards could not work simultaneously. You needed to switch one off for the other to work and that defeated the objective of having two functioning lines on one phone. It took about six months before we finally got the design right. We did lose a lot of money in the process.” (p.93)

So, back to the drawing board they went until a more efficient product was made.

Other innovations include “Screen Insurance” offered in-shop and SLOT’s unique “Trade In Service.”

The second core attribute in the SLOT acronym is LEADERSHIP & LEARNING. According to Nnamdi, “leadership determines success and failure in any organization, enterprise, venture, team or project.”(p.66)

Learning is also as important because as Nnamdi writes “the entrepreneur who succeeds is a learner and a leader.” (p.73) And learning can be from books, from observing mentors and learning from the mistake of others and your own.

The third attribute is OPPORTUNITIES. A successful entrepreneur, writes Nnamdi must be able to spot and exploit opportunities and they do this by “looking at existing solutions or by looking at problems.” (p.95)

Referencing the Tecno story, he writes that “when you identify an opportunity to offer value to people and you create products or services to exploit the opportunity, then you will increase your chances of making money as well.” P.95.

The final leg is TECHNOLOGY which Nnamdi describes as a key business enabler and driver. Technology is not only key in driving business it is the foundation on which innovation and value creation rest upon. “Technology,” he writes “provides leverage for entrepreneurs to be effective, create value and be profitable.” P.103

The final section focuses on Sustainability and building a business that endures, one established on a sure foundation. Here Nnamdi says it is “one thing to grow and another thing to sustain growth” (p.134) and to sustain growth one must focus on Financial, Human, Emotional and Relationship capital.

Writing as one who has founded, run and sustained a profitable business, Nnamdi avers that succession planning is key to sustainability but then quickly warns that there must be a separation of responsibilities. “It is usually good to keep power, control and ownership. If you have someone who is the general manager of the company with operational knowledge of the business and you give him power and control, it is smart to maintain ownership. No one person should be given power, control and ownership.” (pp.153 – 154.)

Nnamdi asks a perspicacious question half way through the book: “who should be teaching others how to start and run a business. Should it be business practitioners or PhD holders in business, professors in management or motivational speakers with oratory skills?” (p.74)

 “Entrepreneurship The SLOT Way: Succeeding in a tough business environment” provides a robust answer to that question because it is chockful of insights and fresh perspectives to doing business in a peculiar environment like Nigeria and that is Nnamdi Ezeigbo’s major triumph. He has provided those in business and those aspiring to with an exhaustive road map that details all the fault lines.

Finally, the book, which is in its first edition, will do with the services of a competent editor before the second edition. References to the SLOT Academy and Foundation present three different numbers of beneficiaries of its apprenticeship programme; 1,500 on page 139, 1,000 on page 145 and ‘hundreds of graduates’ on page 182.

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