Opeyemi Olaosebikan is a co-founder of Global Corporate Logistics Hub, a co-working space, and the chief executive officer of Automold Design. He spoke with WILLIAMS BABALOLA on the need for co-working spaces in Nigeria
When did you start your co-working and design business?
They are two different things. Co-working space started officially in 2017. Designing is something I have been doing for a very long time. It is like a skill that I have right from childhood. But I started doing major work about three years ago.
How did you start your design business?
It didn’t start as a business; it started more as passion. I went online to see how I could build my idea and stumbled on this automotive off-scaling design that inspired me to try. Luckily, I got somebody in a tech company in Abuja that was interested in it. That was how I got my first job. The second one came from them seeing what I did in Abuja.
How would you describe the community at GCL Hub?
We tried something last year with our staff. We all decided that we describe GCL Hub the way we see it. What they all came up with was quite interesting. They came up with words like family, vibrant, collaboration. So, in a nutshell, we see GCL Hub as a vibrant community of young entrepreneurs that are trying to make their mark in the Nigerian economy.
This is a place where young people come together to work, instead of getting separate offices. We came together so we can do our businesses in the same place and share the overhead that comes in. That is the basic idea of a co-working space. That is what we are trying to do here. This is a co-working space cum a tech hub. Most businesses we have now are geared towards technology, and because of the lack of basic infrastructure in the country, a co-working space is an ideal place for young entrepreneurs. Gone are the days when parents mandate their wards to get an office job. That mentality is beginning to change. And that begs the question, what do you want them to do when they don’t do office jobs?
Most of the jobs are online and require internet. But the country itself doesn’t have enough internet access required. So, as a young entrepreneur that wants to break into the market with his ideas, you need a space outside your home for efficiency. There are distractions, if you decide to work from home. That is why we have come together to create an environment for like-minded Nigerians that are not lazy. These youths want to achieve something, but the infrastructure and amenities are not available in their comfort zone. That was why we got a general space for people to come in, depending on the level of their idea.
The place where young entrepreneurs that are just trying to start their business sit is called the nest. We have electricity and internet access. We even allow them to use the hub’s address when dealing with an investor or partner. These people also collaborate for work. A media person in the hub might be in need of a graphic designer, he doesn’t need to be agitated; he’s probably seated next to one. We have different kinds of subscription, ranging from young entrepreneurs to those that already have some sort of attraction to their business but still need an office space.
What are some of the challenges you faced when you started the business?
We faced the major challenge any young business in Nigeria would face. First of all, money. Especially for a business that is not conventional, it is always difficult to convince people to invest in it. Another problem we faced was personnel. You are ready and you have the right idea, but how do you get the right set of people to work with? Of course, you can’t run a business on your own.
So, getting the right people to build the dream together was challenging. Especially at a stage were you don’t have the money to spend. We try to get people together. These people majorly work on their laptops. You can’t afford not to provide constant electricity. I think power is the major challenge most businesses in Nigeria face. Service providers promise you one thing and give you the opposite when you eventually subscribe to them.
As a new business idea, did you not face the challenge of breaking into the market?
‘Look around you and try to solve a problem’ is a popular saying. When you see a problem, try to create a solution. It is easier to sell a market that people already have a need for. You might not know that you need it, but when the solution is brought to you, you realise how much you need it. Although it was very difficult, and still difficult because we have not arrived yet. People embraced it, but converting sales was not encouraging in the first few months.
Recently, I spoke with my partner about how sales have shot up. So, if you have a product that solves a huge problem, it will be easier to penetrate the market than when you have a product that does nothing.
Did you face the challenge of your family not wanting you to be an entrepreneur?
My family is peopled by entrepreneurs. My mother is a trader. Everybody understands that entrepreneurship is good. My parents are quite young. Although I grew up with my grandma, I had always insisted on taking a professional course. I tried an office job at some point in my life, but I found out it wasn’t really for me.
How do you tackle your present challenge?
For the epileptic power supply, we have a generator. I have a partner in the United Kingdom, my partner and I try to see how we can infuse renewable energy into the business. But the option we are getting is on the high side, and it’s not something the business can afford presently.
So, we are still going with the normal fuel cost. But by God’s grace, before the end of the year, we will get some sort of fund for the renewable energy.
What inspired the co-working space idea?
We didn’t start as a co-working space; we started out as a logistics firm. We were trying to introduce another product into the market, which required a lot of people on board. We needed them to be in a space. That was what brought the idea of a co-working space. We believed that a co-working space would go well with what we were trying to do. That was how we branched into co-working space fully.
When we started, we also had that problem of getting an office space and also trying to run all the bills. So, if we face this challenge, imagine how many young entrepreneurs go through this same challenge. So, why not try to solve this problem for as many people as possible?
As it stands, these co-workers are adults. How do you coordinate them?
One of the very first things we do before signing people in is to look at their personality and see if they are people we can manage. You know that everyone is diverse in every way: thinking, background and mode of work. We are very selective when choosing our members. We don’t just accept people because they can afford to pay for the space. I thank God for the set of people we have managing the space; they are people that are good in dealing with people.
One very fundamental thing is that we also preach family among us. If there’s an issue to be handled, we always tell them to meet the management and we try to peacefully sort things out.
We also have house rules that everyone must comply with. We try to remind them every month that some things are not acceptable within the community.
If you could go back to when you started, what would you do differently?
I don’t think I would do anything differently. In the journey of life, I have discovered that everything you go through is for a purpose. For you to eventually get to who you are meant to be, you have to go through that process. So, I have learnt to enjoy the process. I know that every phase of life is part of the process. I enjoy the process.
How effective is co-working in Nigeria?
When we started doing business some years ago, it was something that was practically new. But now, I see a lot of co-working spaces everywhere and I think it is something people are really embracing, especially with our tech-driven generation. Co-working is becoming big business in Nigeria. I think there was a co-working annual conference that held sometime last year, and I’m glad GCL Hub was part of it. As long as tech is an emerging market, there is no way co-working will not emerge because you need a space for these people to work. And the most sensible way to get an office space for tech entrepreneur is a co-working space.
How have you been able to manage your two businesses?
To be sincere with you, one has actually suffered for the other. Right now, the design business has actually been on the low because the co-working business needs a lot of attention. The co-working business goes beyond the space; you need to be able to provide business support for the tech start-ups in your community. That means you need to reach out to a lot of people. You are like the mother of all the start-ups within your community. You need to be able to push them out and for you to do that, you have to push yourself out. It is something that needs a whole lot of your attention.
Once in a while, when I get a demand for the automotive demands, we spare like three weeks for the design. And we have capable hands within the community that can handle the business.
How profitable is the design business in Nigeria?
It’s something that is also relatively new. Right now, we are still into it for the fun and passion we have for it. We hope that some day, we will make some profit out of it. We are helping the environment because a lot of these scraps cause environmental issues. And we know that if we channel our talent into these things and remodel them into furniture, it will be of great benefit to the society.
What are you working on presently?
As GCL, we are working on a number of things. We are working on an e-commerce platform and an automated parcel delivery platform. For the hub itself, we are working on an application that will keep every member of the community together.
What expansion plan do you have for the business?
As time goes on, we’ll expand, definitely. We hope that with time, we’ll be able to be in a number of locations; on the island and more places on the mainland. What we do is make our spaces affordable for the smallest business that needs it. Knowing that most co-working spaces are very expensive to rent, we try our best to bring affordability and quality into the co-working industry. With time, I know we will expand.
Where do you see this business in the next five years?
Let us wait and see. Come back in the next five years. I know that we won’t be where we are right now. We would have gone international.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo said in Abuja recently that the Federal Government was set to establish an entrepreneur bank. How effective do you think it can be?
Truth be told, this government has done a lot for young businesses. If we don’t want to be biased, I feel that the VP, especially, knows the essence of empowering young people. And you would have seen that in his various actions. He is one of the few politicians that have gone round to interact with young people in Nigeria. At the co-working conference last year, the VP was there. If he says they are doing it, I believe they are doing it. And it’s going to help young businesses and the ones that are yet to start. Talking of expanding, we hope that when we get those kinds of funds, it’ll make life better for businesses in the country.
How do you relax?
One of the major things I do to relax is surf the internet for new ideas that can help me when I am not relaxing. I also play games; I love PES (Pro Evolution Soccer).