‘It was always my plan to move back’

Obinna Okwodu, Founder and CEO of Fibre, returned to Lagos in 2015. He speaks about why he returned home and some of the advantages and disadvantages of returning.

I was born in the United States but moved back long ago and grew up in Lagos, Nigeria. My early education took place here as well, at Grange School for primary education and Olashore International School for secondary. Afterwards, I moved to Winchester College in England to finish off my A-levels and then to Cambridge, MA for University at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. While there, I earned a B.Sc. in Civil Engineering from the School of Engineering and another in Management Science from the Sloan School of Management. I graduated in 2014 and joined the Real Estate team in Morgan Stanley that summer. I spent a year there and moved back to Lagos in the summer of 2015 and I have been here since.

  • When did you start thinking about moving back to Nigeria and how did you know the time was right?

It had always been my plan to move back. I initially wanted to do so right after graduation from MIT but I felt there was value in getting some work experience in the United States first, so I gave myself a year to work after which I was going to move back. When the year was up, I did just that.

I really wasn’t sure it was the right time, and I don’t know if anyone can really be sure when it comes to making the jump back home.

  • How did the first few months back in Nigeria go?

Because I grew up here, I had a good idea of what to expect. I already knew that we drove a little crazier on the roads here and that restaurants and stores didn’t really do the customer service thing, etc. – so there weren’t many surprises from a cultural perspective. It was tougher from a professional standpoint though. I came back wanting to start a company and tried a couple of things initially, but it took me a while to appreciate the difference between the Nigerian market and other more developed markets like the United States. For examples, mobile apps do really well in the United States because they have the infrastructure and the market to support them. In Nigeria, we don’t have either of these things, so they don’t work as well here.  I had heard these many times before, but I never believed it – until of course, I experienced it first-hand. Learning these and other idiosyncrasies of the Nigerian market was probably the hardest part of my adjustment (and the learning process is still ongoing) but as I began to embrace them, I began to find openings in the market that I could try to address and eventually was able to zero into one.

  • Do you have any advice for prospective returnees?

I’m not sure I’m in the best place to give advice yet, but something that I learned through the process is that it is really hard to do business in Nigeria without actually being in Nigeria (at least in the beginning phase of your business). I tried a number of times before moving back but ultimately, none of my attempts were successful and I think this was largely because it is hard to be in touch with the realities on ground when you’re not on ground – and any business that will be successful in Nigeria has to be solving a real problem that the people on the ground are facing.

Source: Bella Naija

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