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Grass To Grace: How One Man’s Effort Made Slot Phones An Overnight Success

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–       

  *
His humble beginning from a family of nine
  *
How he spent 4
years raising money to go back to school
  * His
first major breakthrough in business
  * Why he named his business ‘SLOT’
  *
How He Built
Tecno & Infinix From Scratch
–        
 
The name Nnamdi Ezeigbo may not sound familiar
to many, but the brand Tecno or Infinix resonates well. Ezeigbo is the
founder of SLOT GROUP whose
resilience birthed the two innovative android phones. Today, the Slot boss has become a success model of
sort for young entrepreneurs who are fascinated by his odyssey. In fact, to say
Tecno and Infinix have become the fastest
selling phone
brands in Sub-Saharan
Africa
especially Nigeria is state the obvious.
In a recent survey
carried out among the Nigerian populace, a larger
percentage of the masses
are not even aware that those two popular smartphones
were the brainwork of a compatriot.
But who exactly is this man – Nnamdi Ezeigbo?
Young Nnamdi is a graduate
of Electrical /Electronics Engineering
at Yaba College of Technology and graduated with a Higher National
Diploma (HND). He undertook the compulsory National Youth Service Corps in
1996, with Guinness Nigeria Plc. 
He also studied Computer & Electronics Engineering
at the Lagos State University (LASU) between 1996 and 2001, where he
bagged a BSc (Second Class Upper).
According to an
interview he granted Allure Vanguard last year, the now accomplished
businessman opened up on his upbringing.
“I hate to say that
I come from a humble background; my background was more difficult. I come from
a family of nine.  I remember when, after secondary school, I stayed home
and worked for 4 years to raise money to go back to school. My parents were not
able to pay my school fees.
“When I eventually got
admission to read Electrical Engineering, I had to work in a factory. It was a
very difficult period for me; my colleagues who worked with me, gained
admission and went back to school but I had to work for four years,” he reminisced
On completion of his
service, Ezeigbo confessed that he tried in vain to secure a job for two years
with several written applications ending in trash cans. It was as though a road
block was mounted against his being called up for employment.
When it became
obvious no potential employment was
heading towards his direction, Ezeigbo delved into the world of apprenticeship
learning how to repair computers. 
 
“So, barely
6 months after, I left because my friend and I were having problems. I usually
objected to him collecting exorbitant fees from customers and he did not like
it. That was how I left without any money on me,” he bemoaned.
A little bit
depressed, the Slot boss left and started squatting with a friend who owned a
bookshop in Ikeja area of Lagos.
In his opinion, nothing
gave him the inkling that he will become a businessman apart from the fact that
he sold bread for my mother as a kid. Selling, one can conclude, was perhaps
what he enjoyed doing more in his adolescent years. Ezeigbo would carry a full
tray of bread and come back with an empty tray and the money in his pocket. That
was about the only idea he had as far as business or trading was concerned.
His First Major Breakthrough
Whenever a customer
came in to buy or enquire about books, Ezeigbo engages them as they are leaving
the shop. That was how he started generating
attention and, because he was good at what he does, customers were always
coming back for him.
They even went the
extra mile to get him referrals by word
of mouth
. Gradually, the customer
base grew in numbers largely because of his honesty and the premium he places
on customer service.
“That was how
we started growing. I was even referred to fix computers for Daily Times, Standard Chartered Bank
and the University of Lagos (UNILAG).
I became busy and I started making money. Then, there was no phone alert to know how much you have
in your bank account so I went to the bank one day and saw 1.2 million
naira.  I had no car. I was living in a two-bedroom apartment in Meran area of Lagos.  I thought to
myself – is it easy or that possible to become a millionaire?
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“That shaped
my life. I began to think like a
millionaire
. I attended seminars and trainings that were relevant to what I
was doing. I saw myself as a businessman, not as an engineer anymore. We
dabbled into sales of accessories as well, computer parts, and started
assembling computers as well. We began to build computers for clients and
competing with the HPs of this world. The kind of services we were offering was
better and cheaper, in terms of after sales, than those of the multi-nationals,” he recalled.
With time, the young executive
gathered proceeds from the sale and got himself a new shop in Computer Village, an equivalent of the Silicone Valley in the heart of California, United States. At that time,
the rent for Slot Systems Limited was pegged at N180,000 .
If there was
something that worked well for him, it has to be his good customer service. It was
what made Slot stood out from the stream of other competitors milling around
the now famous Computer Village. From his new store, he began to sell computers
with his younger acting as his only employee. As his business expanded, he
started receiving demand from loyal customers to open up branches close to
either their places of work or residences.
What further caught
his attention was the constant demand for phones. For someone with a keen eye
to spot opportunity when it presents itself, the new CEO immediately expanded
his business to accommodate sale of mobile phones.
To further sharpen
his business acumen and properly manage his fledgling business, the Slot owner enrolled
for an MBA programme at Lagos Business
School
as well as workshops on
entrepreneurship
.
 
L-R: Eason Duan, Brand Manager – West Africa, Tecno Mobile; Nnamdi
Ezeigbo, MD & CEO, SLOT Systems Ltd.; Attai Oguche, Deputy Marketing
Manager, PR, Offline Events and Sponsorships Tecno Mobile Nigeria; and
Jesse Oguntimehin, Deputy Marketing Manager, Tecno Mobile Nigeria.

Disappointment over Nokia Snub
From era of one-sim to three or four-in-one sim phones, Nigerians have had to make the
best of a bad situation. Reason? The rise of telecommunication networks created
many opportunities in the Nigerian market. It
was in the advent of GSM in 2001.
The Umuahia-born entrepreneur saw the
privatization of the telecoms industry as an opportunity to launch himself into
the telecoms sector and started doing more of mobile phones than computers. Truth
be told, Slot was the first GSM store and business in Nigeria.
The poor services rendered
meant that Nigerians would have to purchase more than one mobile phone, so they
could try a different network when the other was bad. The numerous
opportunities opened to investors were not lost on Ezeigbo. He therefore made a
proposition to Nokia.
The mission was
simple!
Convince the phone
company to manufacture dual sim phones
for Nigerians that would ensure only one mobile phone is carried at a time
instead of two. His proposal was thrown
out
by Nokia which preferred to see people move around with more of their brands.
The logic is simple too! The more Nokia gadgets people brandish, the more phone
sales for the company.
China to the rescue
Following the snub by
Nokia, Nnamdi Ezeigbo narrated how he picked up himself after the blow.
“My attention turned
to China. I went into alliance with a guy who had worked with a company called Bird. Bird was into
phones but they got choked and lost market share. I came up with a name and we
registered it and brought the guy to Nigeria. That was the high point
of our business. We came together and I designed the first Tecno product, Tecno T101. Unfortunately the Nigerian market
did not accept it. We also had problem with the dual SIM not working together
and had to make corrections. Eventually we came up with Tecno 201 which was partially accepted in the market. At one point,
we were basically giving marketers to sell the phones on credit and pay us
later. All the while, I was practically funding it alone.”
 “Since I was funding it alone, we were finding
it difficult to get the right quantity to sell until the market started accepting
us. Once that was achieved, we started asking the dealers to pay us in advance.
Subsequently we started using their money to order the products.  This was
around 2007. Let me categorically say the introduction of Tecno brand was the turning
point of our business.”
Tecno remains my baby and we hope to keep improving it. I knew a
day would come when the middle class would accept Tecno. Initially, it was perceived
as a phone for low income people but based on improvement and upping of our
game, the middle class has come to accept it.
“When the economy
went down in 2008, the momentary economic recession helped to shoot Tecno to
the top. As the purchasing power dropped, people were compelled to go for
something that have same capabilities but cheaper. So with N15,000, you could
buy a Smartphone and thank God for 3G
network.
The advent of 3G network actually helped Tecno to move up. What
this meant was that students who could not afford to buy phones in the range of
N30,000 could buy one for N15,000 and enjoy features of Smartphone like Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp and other
social apps
.”
How
did he come up with the name SLOT?
I derived the name
‘Slot’ from the big desktop computer that had a robust processor called ‘Slot’. I always recommended them to my
customers. The slot processor is very rugged. You can imagine the kind of
environment people placed their computers; I will always recommend slot. People began to call me Mr. Slot. So, I
checked that word in the dictionary and realized it actually fit in to what we
were doing and I came up with a colour which is red and white. 
What a story!
Today, Nnamdi Ezeigbo
stands shoulder high among his contemporaries in Nigeria and indeed Africa.
From a humble repair man, he has succeeded
in building himself a MULTI-MILLION
DOLLAR company
and one of the most recognizable brands.
From the small shop
he leased for N180,000 in Computer Village (and which he later bought that same
store many years later for 100 million Naira), Ezeigbo has several Slots mini branches across the country.
His quest for further
education took him to Ladoke Akintola
University, Ogbomoso.
Today, he has Masters in
Information Technology (MIT) degree

(2008/2009) tucked under his belt and an
entrepreneurship programme in Harvard, employing over 700 workers.
And when the need for
Slot Phones Ambassador came up, guess who Nnamdi Ezeigbo went for? The Koko
Master,
Banga Lee, Eja
Nla
,Kiniun Funfun and CEO of DBN Records – Dapo Oyebanjo who is otherwise known globally as DBanj.
In another interview
with Allure Vanguard, Ezeigbo whose birthday comes next week (August 7) was
quick to attribute his success story to divine providence.
“Over the years, I would say, I have been able to
achieve what most men would be proud of. I have a good home. I have beautiful
kids and I have been able to touch lives. I have been able to help some people
through school, which makes me happy.
“When people come
back to me to say ‘thank you for paying my school fees’ or ‘I am a product of
that scholarship’ or ‘now I have a god job’, it inspires me to do more.  I
think my fulfilment is based on the fact that people have been able to become
who they are today because of God’s grace upon my life and I have been able to
extend that to touch more lives.”

What are the lessons to learn in this story?
·       
* Pay attention to your
business no matter how small it is today, it can be the seed of a global
company tomorrow.
·       * 
Integrity in business
is extremely important, it will open doors for you, and speak for you, even
when you are not present.
·       * When you see
opportunities, grab it and run with it. Nokia refused Nnamdi’s idea, Nokia was
mighty and Nnamdi was nobody, but today because Nnamdi believed in his idea and
grabbed the opportunity, Tecno is everywhere, and Nokia is dead. How are the
mighty fallen? Run with your idea, and this too will be your story.
·       * 
Keep improving your
products and services every day. Nnamdi kept improving Tecno steadily until it
became an accepted brand in Nigeria.
·       
Most importantly, the
greatest investment you will make is an investment in yourself. As a businessman,
if you can afford a business school, enrol yourself. If you cannot, make good
use of the free entrepreneurial seminars around.
·       
* Don’t follow the
Joneses by wasting your time crying over state of the economy, there is nothing
you can do about it, but there is a lot you can do about yourself.
 Think positive,
always!
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Adebayo Folorunsho-Francis is a communicator, Journalist, blogger, business coach and, of course, a prolific writer. He has Dip (Journalism) and B.A. (History & International Relations) from the Lagos State University (LASU). The self-effacing young man has worked for national, regional and local newspapers. He had worked with THISDAY covered community news for ISLAND NEWS and corresponded with P.M. NEWS (evening tabloid). Presently, he is the editor of CITYPULSE MEDIA and senior correspondent of PHARMANEWS, West Africa foremost health and pharmaceutical journal.

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