The journey to the top for Olayinka Braimoh, CEO, Hall7 Real Estate was that of determination and persistence.
I lost my mum when I was just coming out of secondary school. Life was very tough because I didn’t have any support, coming from a polygamous family where ‘your mother is your mother but father is our father’. When emotions are high in such a setting, people make lots of promises. They’ll tell you, “do not worry, I will take care of you,” and all sorts. But after a while, reality dawned on me when I noticed that all the promises brought nothing. I had to start thinking of what I could do on my own. There was just something inside of me that didn’t want to maintain the status quo. So I started asking questions and reading books. Gradually, I started looking out for more opportunities while asking myself questions.
First business venture
The first business venture I did was back in 1998 in church. The church had stickers for sale but as far as I was concerned, the quality and design was bad. I got a graphics designer to re-do the artwork. Then I showed it to the pastor and he loved it. I went on to produce the stickers, the church sold them and gave me returns. That was my first business transaction. It felt good, not because I made any serious profit, but the fact that I could think up something, act on it and it is accepted, felt good.
While living in Port Harcourt in 2000, I sold media materials with two friends. We worked in an office which we didn’t pay a dime for. But we believed that there was a market for the products and were convinced that the business will do well. And yes, it did well.
Capital for business
When someone tells me that he wants to start a particular business but does not have money, I tell him “you are not ready yet.” Back in Port Harcourt on the media sales business, my friends and I had no money but we needed an office space. When we found a place we liked, we looked for the owner to negotiate to use the office – on credit. The owner was so surprised he let the office space go without collecting a dime. We rented the office space on credit and got the products on credit. We would sell off the goods and then pay the supplier after sales. That was how we ran the business to pay for the rent and the products. Once you have a good idea that will work, the resources you need will follow.
Working for free to learn
When I arrived in Abuja, I decided to enter real estate development business. I joined a company and worked for them for about a year – for free. I did that to learn not only the secrets of the business but also to understand what it takes to do construct a building. I studied books on real estate and other materials throughout the one year internship. This period provided the hands-on experience I needed.
Since my long term goal was always real estate development, I had worked with a couple of construction companies for free while in Port Harcourt. I was not concerned with salary, my only interest was to acquire knowledge and experience.
I started a real estate development company alongside friends. We had a chairman and managing director but I was a board member. I practically ran the whole thing since these guys were mainly investors and senior friends. But after a while, I noticed that the focus of the business was changing to government contracts and I surely did not want to be a contractor because my vision was very clear regarding what I wanted to do.
I carefully weighed the options and opted out of the company. It also became obvious to me that if I continued with them, I will derail in achieving my vision. I wanted to follow the path of being an entrepreneur. I knew I was going to start all over again but I was I afraid. I took the jump and started a real estate company with a partner but it failed within a short period. I learnt from my failures, because when you are failing, you ought to fail forward. A major lesson I learnt in my real estate experience is to always document all my failures and the reasons for failing. So I ensured that I carefully documented all my mistakes and where I got things wrong or made bad decisions. Then I took time to carefully study the entire real estate process all over again and review what I had done. From there, I decided to start something and build a business in line with my vision. This time, the focus of the company was about adding value and not money. That’s how Hall7 Project; the hallmark of perfection, started.
Hall7 Real Estate
Starting Hall7 from scratch was a huge challenge because we did not have anything. All we had was our unwavering belief in God and confidence that he can make anything happen. Our driving philosophy is creating value for all stakeholders including customers, employees, contractors and everyone involved in the process. We ensure that all our customers, associates, contractors are happy and this consistently determines what we do, the kind of houses we build and the margins we make on them.
Lessons from failures
A major lesson I learnt from the areas where I failed is customer focus. The need to focus primarily on the customers in terms of delivering value. You are prone to making more mistakes if you do not properly understand this principle. If your sole motivation is money, this is the scenario that often plays out: if you are supposed to spend N1m to give a customer extra value of about N10m you will be fixated on how much margin you can make and how you will probably spend it to purchase your dream car or house. You are also likely to compromise on quality of materials and standards if you are solely driven by monetary gain.
Another lesson is to never ever give up. When I want something, I give it my best shot and do everything humanly possible on my part to make it successful. But if it doesn’t work out, I conclude that God does not want it to happen. But I will have to get to the point where I have considered everything and know that there is nothing I should have done but did not do.
Entrepreneurship for me is creating a business. You ought to have the vision: the big vision and then you start it small, build and grow, step by step. For me, entrepreneurship is the ability to create an idea or a service in exchange for money. If you can think of an idea, put it to work and be able to get results, then you have the entrepreneurial spirit. It means you can build a business. When people complain that there are no jobs in the country, I always say to them: “if you can’t get a job create one”. An entrepreneur must be able to create a business. It is totally different from being a business manager or even a CEO because a CEO can be an employee.
Have streams of income
Every employee ought to have another stream of income as you are not expected to live on your salary alone. All my associates know my stand on this because I often tell them that the fact they are working here today does not mean they cannot begin to create jobs for other people. Today, some of them have other businesses they run and that truly makes me happy. If you start a business, and you have two or three people working for you, you have taken three people out of the unemployment market. If a thousand other people do a similar thing and hire three people each, they would have successfully taken 3,000 people out of the labour pool. I like to hire people with entrepreneurial mindset. I encourage them to share their bright ideas with me and provide advice and assistance where necessary so that they can step up from being an associate to a partner in the business.
Knowledge of skill and work
There is a difference between skills required for an activity and those needed to make money or business. For instance, the fact that you have a skill to make bead for instance does not necessarily mean that you have the skill to make a business out of it. You might know how to make beads but do not understand how to turn that into a profit-making venture. Successful entrepreneurs do not just have skills to carry out an activity but also have the knowledge of how to make profit from it. As an entrepreneur, I don’t need to know how to make beads to be in the bead making business. If I know who makes good beads and can find those who need them, I simply buy from the bead maker at a price and sell for a profit. That is what it means to be an entrepreneur.
Advice for young people
A lot of young people are scared of the word ‘capital’. They say, “I want to do this business but I do not have the capital”. If you ask them, ‘how much do you need to start your business and how long will it take you to break even?’, they often do not have the answer. So my advice is that they must first conquer that word ‘capital’. The moment you are able to get to that level, where money is the only thing that is remaining, money will come. I have done it over and over again and I can tell you that it works.
There was a point in my life that I needed N500,000 to pay for something, I checked through my phone with the mindset that if I can get ten people to give me N50,000 each, it will cover it. That is one strategy to get money to start. Another strategy is to first determine what exactly you need the money for? Is it for a product you need to buy or for a service you need to provide? Who are those offering these services? Why can’t I go and negotiate to get those services on credit? If Mr A tells you no, it doesn’t mean Mr B will tell you no too. So you realise that if you follow that route, you understand that money is the last thing you need to do business.
I fear nothing
If you take me from here without anything and drop me in another country, in time, I will reproduce everything over and over again. For me, when it comes to fear, I am not afraid of anything.
What it took to get to this point
It is a function of your personal belief and not by adventure. I can do whatever I want and whenever I want. I do not concern myself much with what people think about me. I am more concerned with what I am able to deliver to those who need what I have. I have been able to do different businesses without any form of funding. If you are able to successfully do something the first, second, third time, it builds your confidence.