Welcome to our true life corner on TNC, and to another page out of Crayola Diaries. If you’ve ever lived in Nigeria, you are familiar with the culture of debt. We’ve all owed and been owed before but we normally do not like to brag about such things. Today, Uju takes us into the mental construct of debt in the business context. If anything you read here resonates with you, tell us about it on the other side in the comments box.
“What is time but a necessary manmade construct, as a measure
that could keep one in a box if he allows it,
to think he runs out of it in hours or months or years.”
I made my first million today.
A little over a million plus or not so little, but a million is a benchmark.
I couldn’t write about my 2013 last year, I was much too dispirited to do so, plus I believe every story should have a happy ending; if it’s not happy then it isn’t over. So for me, today marks my December 2013 end in reality. I’m mostly writing this for my benefit, to express myself. Writing about my 2012 really did something for me; I go back to read it from time to time for comfort, encouragement, reference or to just put situations in context. And after a while (this year to be exact) I could openly share it with my friends just because. I couldn’t at the time. Same will happen for this too in the future but in keeping with my modus operandi, I will write anonymously to begin with. So here goes.
“In the realm of ideas, everything depends on enthusiasm.
In the real world all rests on perseverance.”
~Johann Non Goethe~
2013 was a mentally tough year. I had just started a new company in late 2012 with some two other people. Everything looked promising and of course I knew it was going to be tough, but alas I wasn’t ready at all. The bane of my experience could be rolled up in one word DEBT!!! Debts and more debts, jeez my God! Before 2012, I had lacked nothing and had always been a champion of ‘pay your debts’, ‘don’t borrow if you can’t pay back’, ‘how the hell do you live with yourself owing so much’ etc. Now I’ve lived the experience of being on the receiving side of my ‘expletives’ and I’m much more understanding especially for genuine folks, if you can tell who is one. Running a new company requires funds, more so when you don’t have Angel investors, and sometimes you run out and need to borrow with honest hopes and plans of paying back, but things almost never pan out the way we projected them to.
According to the Omidyar Network stat report benchmark: Only 4% of African entrepreneurs manage to get angel capital for their business http://www.omidyar.com/insights/accelerating-entrepreneurship-africa-report … I’m sure it’s even less than that, so often times an entrepreneur is mostly trying to survive the present, while keeping an eye or half an eye on the future.
First we had a ready structure for project financing but needed to stay afloat before the projects, to keep operations running and more importantly, to pay the Due Diligence fees that would land us the said funds. We went in search for equity or debt investors for 10M naira. Money is so difficult to secure, and people promise and fail blatantly. We’d make arrangements and decisions off promises that would lead to further disappointments to others, in a seemingly unending horrific game of dominoes. The first potential promised us payment in Dec. 2012, but by February he was still toting about with loads of stories. We built hopes upon hopes but eventually he disappeared and couldn’t be reached. The heartbreak was real because we thought we would hit the ground running in 2013; still there was more in store.
We embarked on more vigorous pitching. After a while we found a corporate group who gave us a million but that wouldn’t go far, so we applied that and kept up the hunt pitching up and down. Sadly the finance houses and ‘monied’ folks are not willing to invest in newbie companies that haven’t done much, however promising the venture seems; they’d rather invest in popular folks, brands and establishments who might end up owing and not paying back because they took no collateral from them. The very same investors send you packing for not presenting collateral. I don’t totally blame them, they have some cogent reasons.
We kept on pitching and another seemingly serious potential came up, but he was also a time waster, in fact a farce. This one went as far as creating a nonexistent ‘angel’, (as far as I’m concerned that’s what it was, lol) who would invest and kept us in a never ending circle of fake meetings and lies. This is the only way I can make sense of what happened in retrospect, because even though we did all that was requested and ran around for months, it was all for naught eventually and we ended up with even more debts we couldn’t settle. It’s pertinent to note that since 2012 when we started, we weren’t earning any stable income. We were putting it back in the business instead. Pay yourself from where? I had family taking care of my basics while I survived on 10 tablets of hope and faith each day, on the really bad days of frustration, 20 tabs for resuscitation and revival lol.
It was on like this and half the year was upon us, nothing had gone as planned, and we had lost money instead in the process. One guy even duped us of 300k in the process and we were already defaulting on our brand new first potential business/client. In all of this a late virtual acquaintance, left words, (not to me personally but it felt so) before he passed that were of consolation to me, and I’m grateful because they really put things in context when I needed it badly.
“No one deserves anything; God is in control of all situations.” “There is a time for everything, every person… Don’t be angry with people who desert you at difficult times, they can’t help” “People who help are people who will, not people who can”. (RIP NAMO)
These words helped me a lot to cope with the disappointments and not stay mad at some of these people.
After these sordid encounters, and all the pitches that didn’t yield fruit we decided to go another route, do some odd jobs (i.e. jobs below what we actually set out to do) to earn some money, then use the earnings to unlock our project funds. It was setback after setback. We got a 12M naira contract on a site for borehole drilling and water treatment; we were to be paid 70% upfront and 30% upon completion. We went ahead to borrow some more monies to get us what we needed to mobilize for the contract. Our first problem was the Project Manager (PM) cutting down the 70% in half, saying we’d get the other half when we got to a particular level. As desperate people we went ahead without seeing that as a red flag, got the materials needed and began the job. We got to the point where we needed the remaining half and requested for it… GBESE! Meanwhile, we hadn’t returned any of the monies we borrowed before now, so everything was riding on us cashing out so we could take care of all our obligations, but the PM refused to pay us saying we had to do more, this dragged on for weeks. Eventually, he demanded we get some materials on site for the next stage before he’d release the funds. We went ahead and sourced the materials on credit, gave the supplier a post dated cheque based on the contractual promises with the PM. After doing as requested, more stories ensued and finally he flat out refused to pay, refused us entrance to site (with police threats and all) and got someone else to finish the job from where we stopped. Now the supplier whose cheque had bounced by this time wanted his materials back or the money, and of course we couldn’t immediately provide both, so he took us to the Police and my business partner got locked up.
At this point I was asking God what was left, giving up wasn’t an option because there were real debt obligations in my name screaming to be paid. I dreaded my phone so much as it had become a source of worry; unknown numbers made me skip a heartbeat or have heart palpitations, having to explain the situation over and over again to creditors was emotionally exhausting, because it always seemed like we were lying. I was so pensive at this point, tears weren’t faraway at any point in time. I cried after almost every call shouting down my neck – oh the embarrassment and fear – but obligations are obligations so I couldn’t give up.
When you pray to God for a job, ask also for reasonable and sane people to work with, //Freegoodadvice.
We solved our police issues somehow. The honest truth is that one who can’t HONESTLY pay up, can’t do so. I cried so much from the mental stress, cracked under pressure and suffered a mini depression. Depression and I don’t mix well so I got back up and trudged on. We gathered some monies after another 1M was loaned to us by a friend, to meet our financiers to pay the Due Diligence fees at least, so we could have our funds finally but regrettably even Boko Haram affected us lol. Nigeria had become a high risk area for investments and the DD fees shot up by over 50%, so the figures we had in mind in January were no longer applicable by September; we were told this happened after we had applied it, but fortunately for us we would have a spot held for us, instead of losing the connect entirely.
Finally, by the end of October, an earlier not so viable option called us up and was talking business again, ready to invest for equity. They came down for a meet, after some back and forth were ready to sign an agreement with us, some hope and breather after all and I could now answer my creditors in a more confident voice. In December, they wired some funds as agreed and that made the year not to be such a horrible and unbearable one. HALLELUJAH! Finally we could pay off most of our old debts, but the big ones were still staring me in the face, 3M to be exact. Despite all the hypertension they gave me, I remain grateful to those friends (creditors) for lending to me at the time when I needed it, especially the patient and understanding ones.
In January this year, I got a debt call and for once in my life I answered without trepidation, calmly and without fear. I had to pinch myself after the call to be sure it was I who had just taken that call. After going through all that mental torture class in 2013, I had graduated and could finally control or manage my emotions towards debt. As long as I was really trying my best to pay back and kept acknowledging the debt, I felt less guilt. I couldn’t kill myself about it, it’s not the end of the world to be in debt.
I don’t want to discuss this year, but 2013 ends today because funds are finally here, and those debts are on to being repaid and the company is finally on course to stability. I am thrilled when I look at the big picture that is about to unfold, I’m on my way to building something out of nothing, to create a miracle and greatness.
Finally I’m debt free. OH HAPPY DAY! :-D.
If you had the patience to read all of this, thank you and do say a prayer for me. I pray and hope my 2014 ends both technically and otherwise right. This year alone has shown me again, why God’s timing is perfect! So we are never really running out of time. To anybody else out there having a tough time, especially entrepreneurs, I send heartfelt positive energy your way to weather whatever storms it is you face. I pray we all have favourable opportunities that will lead us to where we should be according to our abilities. Amen!
P.S: I wrote this on a fine Sunday morning, 8th of June 2014 in expectation of making my first million.