Dubai: Lagos-born, Nigerian expat Joseph Okechukwu Nwudu, 40, has been managing businesses since the young age of 12, which was when he first bought a billiard board and rented it out to fellow kids in his community at a cost.
Since then, Nwudu has tried his hand in over 100 businesses. "The thrill of being needed and making money as a pre-teen fuelled my decision to be self-employed well into my adult years," he said. And while some of his entrepreneurial experiences left him broke, he learnt not to waste too much time trying to make a business work.
"I start a business quickly and run it as efficiently as needed. When it has no potential to work or if I envisage any issues in the future, I shut it down quickly so that I do not get to bleed more funds trying to save something that perhaps had no potential," he added.
I start a business quickly and run it as efficiently as needed. When it has no potential to work, I shut it down quickly
From shipping clothes to managing real estate
Since arriving in Dubai, he has set up businesses in events management, clothing, food and beverages, and cosmetics. A year later he started a software company that builds mobile applications.
He went from shipping clothes, fabric and perfumes that were sourced from Deira in 2008, to Nigeria, and later advanced to shipping cars and managing real estate back home. Today, he only focuses on selling real estate in Nigeria and building mobile applications with everyday uses.
Nwudu had also built an appliance service marketplace for Nigerians, but sold it before permanently moving to Dubai in 2019. He is currently divorced and has two kids who live with him in Dubai.
"I lived in Dubai between 2008 and 2012, with my first foray into the business of soccer brokering. After my father's demise, I left the UAE in 2012 to run his business. I returned here in 2019 to settle down and grow my businesses as the entrepreneurial climate in Nigeria was unstable then," he said.
What lessons did you learn in your growing years?
Lesson #1: Use client's deposit money to fund your requirements towards completing the job
In his growing years, sometime in 2001, he designed websites for his customers. However, when people paid him a deposit, he would spend it on the things he wanted. This often led him to face financial issues when he needed to purchase domains for the client after spending weeks designing.
Nwudu’s mother, an entrepreneur, saw his working habits and taught him a valuable business lesson, which is to "spend the initial deposit on all the items needed for the job, the materials, etc., and then patiently wait for the balance, which could be spent any way you desired."
"My father lost his job early in 2005, and since he didn't have any savings or property investments, my mom had to pick up the responsibility. I saw how she managed to turn everything she came across into a business opportunity. Her foresight gave me an early start in life to start my own business, and I still keep doing my own thing."
There will be a time when you can't estimate cash flow, cut expenses 100 per cent, or as low as you can while you fix your cash flow channels
Lesson #2: Focus on long-term sustenance instead of just spending on the current trends
During the Christmas holidays, Nwudu and his brother got money from his mother to purchase what they wanted. While he would use his share to buy five inexpensive diverse pairs of shoes, his brother would instead purchase a single expensive one – usually something trendy or in fashion.
"As I had more number of shoes, it lasted longer. But my brother would need to purchase a new shoe after his eventually wore out. Focusing on long-term goals has been a personal aim of mine, and I try not to go with trends, believing that sustainability is the key to any long-term objective."
Career background that led you into the job tech business?
Graduating in technology, with advanced degrees in software development and website design, he started his latest business, launching a mobile app that connects employers to skilled professionals in freelancing and full-time employment.
"I started a similar concept in Nigeria for job seekers and freelancing; however, I didn't have the technology nor the business-friendly climate Dubai provided to pursue it. I abandoned the technological aspect of the business and did things manually, ultimately leading to stagnated growth."
Nwudu’s first business in Dubai was an events management company in which his friend, a Philippines expat, wanted him to invest in the business. He had sold some properties in Nigeria and invested over Dh200,000. However, that business went bankrupt in four months.
"My friend hired expensive staff, overestimated his potential to turn around the business and the strength of his network and ultimately left the franchise, leaving me with ridiculous number of bills to settle. After nursing that loss, I returned to my drawing board and focused on a business with quick cash flow potential. Cash flow became my focus right after that bitter experience."
Lesson #3: Always have a saving buffer and never spend to your last dirham
"There will be a time when you can't estimate cash flow, cut expenses 100 per cent, or as low as you can while you fix your cash flow channels. The mental assurance of having at least a fall back is much better in recouping than having nothing at all,” he added.
On the upside, although Nwudu kept trying his hand at different ventures, he was always self-employed and continued to manage an exporting business on the side, which he continues to use to export things to Nigeria. Here’s what inspired the start of his latest venture, a recruitment platform.
"I got a trade license to operate a mobile salon sometime in December. During its recruitment campaign, we posted job notices on commercial job sites and paid quite a considerable sum. One weekend, we left the office and returned on Monday with 7,000 applications."
My brother and I also own a 40 hectare agricultural farm which is currently used for livestock farming
"My manager then could never imagine how to filter all those applications. When she eventually started, we noticed that mechanics were applying for beautician jobs. We had so much to filter that we eventually abandoned those applicants - that is when the idea struck me to build a job portal."
The app was built to offer solutions for finding qualified candidates for job positions quickly without going through the troubles of writing lengthy or concise job titles, posting on expensive job sites, and filtering candidates from usually thousands of applications that end up coming in.
How did you fund the business, what were the initial expenses?
The company is self-funded from Nwudu's savings and liquidation of assets. He said, "So far, I have invested about Dh350,000, of which Dh85,000 goes for an office space. Then 60 per cent is spent on salaries. Human Resources (HR) is a significant consideration as I am looking at having my marketing, technology, and development team in-house because of the proprietary nature of my project."
"We are looking for more investment to bring in about Dh4 million before the end of first quarter to expand our advertising and marketing budget, develop further the technology and bring in more talented and qualified talent."
What has been your savings and investment strategy?
Nwudu has real estate investments in Nigeria and saves 30 per cent of his monthly income.
“My brother and I also own a 40 hectare agricultural farm which is currently used for livestock farming. My real estate portfolio funds are paid into a retirement account and towards my children's trust fund. My kids are still in early grades. However, I now have a college fund for their education."
Although he has not yet looked into buying real estate in Dubai, he remains confident to consider diversifying into real estate market here in the coming months.