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

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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?

“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.

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.

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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.

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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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