Mr. Sola Fajobi, the MD/CEO of Digital Interactive Media, creators of Xcite on TV, Next Movie Star, Super Mom and so on is a very, very patient man. For 10 good years, the ever happy businessman and his wife, Folake, waited on the Lord for the fruit of the womb. Still basking in the euphoria of the arrival of his first child, on Friday, May 3, 2013, YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine Publisher/Editor in Chief, AZUH ARINZE, corned him for this in-depth interview, especially on how they coped in those difficult moments. He also spoke on his incursion into entrepreneurship and more…
Businesses fail on a daily basis, what would you say is responsible for that?
Ah! That’s a very tough one. The nature of business in Nigeria has its peculiarities. First and foremost, it takes the personality that owns the business; the thought process of that personality to drive it. Idea is important, but idea has also become cheap in Nigeria. In most cases, what is most important is the drive of the owner of the business. People get complacent sometimes so easily. After a particular success, they think they’ve gotten there; they don’t understand that they need to continue to retrain themselves. That’s one challenge. Another challenge is the fact that when you are working for someone or working for other people, you think that within one year, two years, you’ve learnt all the tricks of the business, but you’ve not really learnt so much because you don’t know the challenges that the owner of that business is facing underneath. You come into the office as an employee and you think everything is rosy. They don’t understand that there are challenges that they face. But I think the most important factor that affects small businesses in Nigeria; the one that 80% of startups feel in the first 5 years is not being determined and ready to persevere. Because Nigeria is peculiar. Peculiar in the sense that we have infrastructural deficiencies, we have capacity deficiencies, we also have energy issues. We can’t run a barbing salon as easy as it seems. To set up a barbing salon in Nigeria, you will probably need N50,000, but to run a barbing salon, you need more than the N50,000 in knowledge and in your guts and wits. There is power issue, there is fuel issue, there are so many issues that compound it. But I think one of the key issues is capacity, because when you have really good people around you, they keep urging you on, they give you more reasons to want to continue to do well. Like in my office, each time I look at my youthful team, I will say look, I can’t disappoint these people, I can’t mess them up. So, I would double the energy that I put into the business and make sure that I achieve better results.
What is your staff strength collectively?
Collectively, I think about 160 directly, and indirectly, I think I provide employment to about 500 to 1000 people.
What is the costliest mistake that most business owners make?
Complacency. You make a success and you don’t understand that that little success you’ve made is a challenge to bigger things and you believe you have arrived and it affects you. Secondly, I think people are either selfish or it is the environment we live in. A man that is doing a N10 million business and uses N7 million to go and buy Range Rover must be a mad man. And I think a whole lot of that happens due to peer pressure. I want to be like Mr. A, I want to be like Mr. B. And I think it’s affecting a lot of people.
How about attaining success and finding it difficult to sustain it?
It’s the same thing I talked about in terms of complacency. Every single success you achieve is a challenge towards the next. We never get satisfied in life. 10 years ago, I was telling myself that my dream and my goal was to do the Next Movie Star and make it successful; get a sponsor for it. I got a sponsor in 2006, got excess of N100 million from multiple sponsors. That’s big money supposedly. At that point, I thought I had arrived. But the reality on ground – I had two schools of thought then. One school of thought, from friends and partners, was don’t spend all that money on that show; make sure you keep some for yourself to do other things. The other school of thought, which was more from me, was invest the bulk of the money on the show and I remember that year we showed on AIT network, we showed on NTA network, we paid the debt of the previous year and by the time we were through, the money was gone. But I did something! I built a brand. Now, since that year, I don’t need to spend so much money on Next Movie Star because at the mention of Next Movie Star, everybody knows it. So, that particular year allowed me to build the brand. But people just lose it and you wonder how they lose it. They just stop dreaming. You will find out that it happens to even me. It’s mostly when I have money, plenty money, that I don’t have new ideas in my head (Laughing). But the minute I go broke, ideas will just start dangling in my head. So, what I’ve done is that I’ve disciplined myself to the level that even if I have money, I don’t see it as my money; I see it as the business’ money. So, I pay myself salary, I do normal things that employees do. I pay myself leave allowance; when I’m traveling, I take off-station allowance. I don’t just put my hands in the coffers of the business and take money. Someone asked me the other day, why are you not driving a big car like your friends? I said I can’t afford it. Now, there is another experience. I remember like 5,6 years ago, my dad was always disturbing me that Shola, build your own house you that you can call a home. As at that time, of course, I had a small property and I was already planning to build the Next Movie Star house in Akute (Ogun State) and I decided to build the Next Movie Star house 4 years ago. But as I was building, my dad was more or less telling me indirectly that I was stupid; that I wasn’t building my own personal house and I told him that if your business is at N50 million level and you put your hand in the business and you remove N45 million, that means the business is now worth N5 million. No more N50 million. But you can turn N50 million around to become N300 million. Removing N35 or N45 or N50 million from that money will not be a challenge. So, I think there’s a lot of misplaced priorities among business owners and we really need to work on them. I think one of the key things that can work so well is mentoring, because in the course of my growing up and I’m still growing, I had a couple of mentors since 2005 that I started audio visuals . Taju Adepetu is one of my mentors, Wale Adenuga and a couple of others. I’m free, I go to meet them and say what will you do in this scenario, what will you do in this position and they will tell me. So, you can learn from people that have been successful and then you can build on it.
What excites you most about what you are doing?
Fulfillment. I am fulfilled. Like now that I own a TV station and a good programme just finishes showing and I see joy on the faces of people, I rejoice. The first edition of Next Movie Star; I had done a couple of things on my own before that time. I have been an entrepreneur for so long, but doing a show that the whole of Nigeria was watching and somebody emerged as the winner, everybody was happy. I burst into tears; I started crying. Why? Because oh my God, I discovered someone or some people – that’s the set of Tonto Dikeh, Annie Macaulay. So, these people can become true stars? I asked. Nigerians were excited, and it gave me fulfillment. That’s what I enjoy most. Anytime I do a show; the power to convert what’s on paper into reality gives me some form of heartfelt happiness.
How about those things that you do not like about your job?
Being exposed! Personally, I don’t like to be known. I keep a very low profile. If I like I can take okada, if I wish I can take Marwa. I don’t want to be seen. But the fact that my work kind of exposes me in a way is the only thing I really don’t like.
You have a television station, you have the Next Movie Star, you have Super Mom, you have Troy, you have Xcite on TV, you are into too many things, how do you juggle all of them?
Like I told someone recently, I said I’m young; this is the time to do all of these things. Especially when you are enjoying doing them. There are lots of other businesses I have that are not listed. I have a water factory. Yeah, we do bottle water, pure water. It’s called DVix. I have a couple of consultancy jobs that I also do. We also own Enzymes Communications. It’s an activation agency. We do a lot of entertainment activities, we do events, we do activations. I have a lot of stuff too that are coming up. But of course, I enjoy most the part where I create new entertainment programmes and people are excited about them.
The interest in business, what aroused it? And why not Civil Service or the Military?
I worked with P & G, I worked with Metro TV in Ghana and I became an entrepreneur at the age of 22. I set up a company with my mentor then. We launched World Space in Ghana, we launched World Space in Senegal and that exposed me to entrepreneurship. But aside from that, I came back after that to go and learn more. When I came back to Nigeria I worked at Cellulant as County Manager for Nigeria and Ghana – that is Cellulant Africa. Then, I joined Tevia Technologies from Cellulant, owned by Ayo Olaseju. They are into web development and parallel services for mobile operators. So, it was also a content business. I started with them as the Content Manager and I became Head of Business Development and I said to myself I’m gonna work here for 6 months, because I wanted to learn the Nigerian terrain. So, in between that, I worked for one year. Then, from there, as an entrepreneur, I also didn’t go straight to set up my business. I partnered with an existing agency. That’s the first media independent agency in Nigeria – Media Supermart, being run by Sola Odejo then and I also worked with them for a year, understudying and learning the media environment in Nigeria. So, like I always say, young people will come out today and they want to be what you are in one day and they do not understand all the processes that you’ve gone through to achieve what you are. What I know about myself is that when I have a vision, I set goals toward that vision and I identify all the key things I need to do to achieve them and I start doing them one after the other.
Of all the things you do, which one do you like best?
That’s a tough one. I can’t really say. But if I’m going to put it in perspective, I will tell you that Next Movie Star is like my first child. So, I’m very, very much attached to it, because it was the first thing that brought me to limelight. Super Mom brought money; brought even much more fulfillment, because I think it goes round that when you do great things, great things will come to you and because we were celebrating mothers genuinely, I think it turned around my business. Xcite on TV, yes, is another thing that I really enjoy. All my projects, I have one attachment to them one way or the other. Dormitory 8 came immediately after Next Movie Star. Dormitory 8 was what made us to have an office that is continuously running, because in the beginning, after Next Movie Star everything closes down. It’s about campus students and their hostel and we created it because of Next Movie Star. Because at the beginning, we will just do Next Movie Star and give prizes and everybody goes. So, I now said we need to engage these people, we need to put them on TV continuously, so we wrote a script; we called it Dormitory 8 and then housemates were featured in the drama series; between 12 and 13 housemates usually feature in it every year and it means every week they are on TV and that really helped us. Xcite on TV turned us into a sustainable business because what I noticed with Xcite on TV is that immediately we started it, the office increased, the challenges increased and so you are challenged to make money, you are challenged to do better things, bigger things. So, it made us to know that look, you have office, you have a responsibility to your staff, you have a responsibility to your community, you have a responsibility to TV stations. So, whichever way you must make it. It put us on our toes.
As a businessman, can you tell us the biggest challenge you’ve had and how you overcame it?
Doing the first edition of Next Movie Star. N88 million project and I had less than N1 million…
How were you able to do it?
I achieved it! I tell you, it’s something that one interview cannot accommodate, but I did the media unveil, we invited different people and I sold my idea to them and some of them bought into it. For example, Taju Adepetu agreed to bankroll production then and said look, he will get paid for it later; Bayo Adebiyi agreed to run the broadcast and those were the two biggest challenges. So, I was left with chasing the house we will use for the show, getting furniture, getting generator, buying diesel, my brother, I bartered everything (Laughs). That year I bartered everything barterable. There’s nothing I did not barter. But at the end of the day, I mean, there were challenges. We were even looking for money to buy food for housemates to eat, money for the crew to feed, a whole lot. I think that’s the most memorable challenge. Since that time we’ve had a whole lot of other challenges, but by God’s grace, we were able to tackle them. But that’s because you were a fresher, you were fresh in the country, you didn’t know what it takes. As at that time, I didn’t even know I was going to pay millions of naira to run the broadcast of my show. I thought if I had a fantastic show, I will just walk into a TV station and the TV station will pay me to run the show, but I got it wrong. I had to pay them money to run the broadcast of the show.
You always look cheerful and that probably explains why a lot of people didn’t know that it took you 10 years to have your first child. How did you cope?
It’s a thing of the mind, and like I always say, I was born by some people; so definitely, I will also have my own children. Over the years, we’ve done almost every test that can be done and we know we are alright; that it’s gonna come. Challenges came here and there, but I have this spirit – just be happy! Just take life as it comes. If you ask what’s my most cherished property in this world, there is nothing. There’s nothing you cannot take away from me, there’s nothing that if I have will make my head blow. I am me, I want to remain me and I enjoy being me.
Some people said it was 10 years that you waited for the arrival of the baby, others said 8 years, which is the correct one?
It was 10 years! We got married in 2003, but we’ve been together since 1996. We started dating while we were in school. We got married in 2003, we did our introduction in 2002, so it was 10 years.
How did you cope in those 10 years?
My wife, first and foremost, is my friend. We started out as friends, so it was easier for us to relate with our challenges. As a woman, it seemed the challenge was more on her, but I kept backing her up, I kept supporting her and I have this free spirit. You can’t offend me. If you offend me, I will tell you now, now, now or else I cannot sleep carrying it in my mind. So, I must solve it there and then. I’m a free-spirited person and I think it rubbed off on her also, because along the line, I gave her all the support that she required, that she desired and I think God just saw all of that and said look, I have to reward these people. Because then people will say go to so, so church, go to so, so person, and I said me o, I believe I have a fantastic relationship with God, I pray to Him, He answers my prayers and I know He’s gonna answer this one. It’s only a matter of time. He’s gonna do it at His time and He did it by giving me what I desired – a beautiful girl!
Were there pressures from your parents and family members to marry another wife?
Definitely, there will be pressure. It might not come directly by saying go and marry another woman. My parents were also supportive to an extent. But there is always that – what can you do? As in if I had come home one day and said there’s another woman with a child, they would probably have accepted without issues, but it never came to my mind. I knew we were going to have our own children; that’s why I took my time with her.
There were no instances where you felt like let me even try my luck outside and see whether I can score an away goal?
(Laughs) – What I want to say to that is – that is never the solution. If you’ve gone through a lot of medical checkups and you are alright, your wife is alright, what makes you think that if you try outside it will work? So, why complicate issues for yourself? Why don’t you have faith and believe it’s gonna work? I mean, it’s like most of the things we do. It’s just about faith. The fact that you sleep in the night and you wake up in the morning and already you set an alarm, believing you are going to wake up in the morning, it’s faith. Because there are a lot of people that sleep in the night and do not wake up in the morning. So, that faith and understanding, the strength of faith and you apply it in your personal life, in your business, it works. When I come up with ideas, I don’t have any idea about how I’m going to get sponsors for them. One thing about my company, for the past 8-9 years that we started, is that we do not do jobs for companies, we do not do projects for companies. We have an audio visual studio, we can do a whole lot – commercials. But we have never written a letter to any company that we want to do something for you. My belief is you create your product, you make it competitive, you open it up for people to asses it and the ones that are interested and think it’s going to help their brands to develop will plug into it. That’s faith! Believing that I will create something and people will plug into it. It’s faith.
The first day your wife broke the news that she’s pregnant, what did you say to her?
I knew before she knew that she was pregnant!
How did you do that? Are you a magician?
No, I am not a magician. But over time; once you’ve been friends with someone for a long time, you tend to probably understand the person’s body more than the person. So, there was a time when we always did test at home to check if she’s pregnant. But for like two years, we stopped doing stuffs like that. But how I knew; there was a time I think I was away for a few days, when I came back I just saw it in her eyes, in her legs that she was pregnant and I asked her to go and do a test and she did the test and she was pregnant.
The first time you saw your baby, what did you say?
Whaaoh! (Smiles). My wife was operated upon, it was a Caesarean Section and I was there while she was being cut up; when the baby was removed we saw her. I was overwhelmed, I couldn’t say anything. But about 2 minutes after, when they cleaned up my baby and I carried her, all I did was first and foremost, a thanksgiving to God and I prayed for my baby that she would witness beautiful moments in her life and she will use her hand to bury me, not the other way round. I said a lot of prayers for her. But importantly, for one hour I was dazed. They took my picture when I carried my baby, I could not post it on my Blackberry. I was amazed, as in I’m now a father (Voices rises). I’ve carried a lot of children and I love children so much and it was amazing to me that I’ve become a father and I give all glory to God. He’s ever faithful.
With the arrival of your first baby, how many more are you expecting?
Any number God gives me, I will take. I said it during her naming. I said if it’s twins, I will take, if it’s triplets, I will take. All I know is that God will also bless me with what to take care of them. But I’m looking forward to more children of both sexes.
Tell us all the names you gave her and how you arrived at them?
This is the first time anyone is asking me this. Angel. I named her Angel right from when she was in the belly. That’s the only name I gave to her, because she’s an angel in my life. I believe she’s going to make my life more blissful because I have a whole lot of things. I have a business that is booming, I have a house of my own, I have a couple of property, I’m pretty comfortable to an extent and the only vacuum then were children and so, she’s my angel. Her mum named her Adesire. Adesire means someone that has come into good things, and it’s because she didn’t come when we were struggling, suffering, but she chose to come when we were pretty sure we can take care of her. Her mum also named her Oluwasindara; it means God is still doing miracles. So, it is more like an advice to other people out there that look, if God can do it for us after 10 years, God can do it for you any time. God is still doing miracles in people’s lives. My father named her Adebosinuola; similar to my own name. My own name is Adesola. We can shorten Adebosinuola to Adesola. It means someone that came into wealth. My wife’s father named her Omolola, which means child is wealth. My own mum named her Oluwatumininu. It means God has caressed me, or God has blessed me. Oluwagbohumi was given to her by one of her godfathers, Lanre. Oluwagbohumi means God has answered my pleas. She has Faith from my daddy also. Faith is because we were faithful to God; that He’s gonna give us children. Those are her names. They allowed me only one name (General laughter).
A friend told me that women looking for the fruit of the womb can wake their husbands up at 2am, 3am to cry sometimes, did that also happen to you?
Yeah! It’s natural. The pressure is more on the women. It’s usually hell for them, because of the African setting that we are in. People don’t care to find out: is it a challenge of the man, is it a challenge of the woman? People just generally believe that the challenge is of the woman. So, it puts them under pressure. So, at different points in time, she had demonstrated some form of sadness, but that’s where I come in. I provide support for her, I tell her look, don’t push yourself. We did IVF, I told her it’s not money. Money cannot get this. We did IVF, we spent millions of naira on IVF, it didn’t work and this came natural. So, I told her God is going to do it in His time and I think she believed me and He did it.
NB: First published January 2014