Femi Ogundoro… ‘Grass To Grace’ Story Of Maxima
You’ve been in business for years now, how did it start for you?
Well, I’m a man of so many parts, but I started my journey as an actor, I just wanted to express myself. I worked with the likes of Liz Benson and Anta Laniyan; that was immediately after I featured in Palace around 1997/1998. Later, I acted in Schemes on NTA network at a time. Along the line, I realised we could do more than what we’ve done, but everyone was just comfortable in that zone of, ‘Oh, I’m a star, everyone recognises me.’ I felt there could be more to it in terms of adding value to people that were watching us.
Did you make efforts to bring that idea to life?
Yes, I discussed it with a couple of people, but they felt I was too young to take up such initiative; I think I was in my early 20s at that time. So, I decided to execute them by myself. I went on, tried, but I found out it was complicated; raising money was an issue. I had a project in mind; we took the TV show to AIT and other stations, but it didn’t work. It was just a talk show for the youths; I just wanted to use media to educate people and create awareness.
What was your next step?
The second project was The Bridge, which I conceived in 1999/2000. I knew I needed to raise money, so I started writing proposals to people; I would write proposal to raise N5000. At the end of the day, some of these people would not give me anything, yet, I had used more than N5000 to call them and visit their offices trying to sell the idea. I’m sure I wrote proposal to over 200 persons; I met people at different place.
How did you eventually raise start up fund for the project?
After nine months, an uncle asked me, ‘what’s in this project that you’ve been chasing for so long?’ He felt I was consistently coming to him and persevering seriously. He eventually helped me speak to people and I was able to get some money, while I raise some myself to produce the movie. The project was huge at that time, so the best option was to get professionals on board; I wanted the best. I was able to get Tajudeen Adepetu of Soundcity come on board as the supervising producer; I got Wasiu Onitilo to be my director of photography, while Clarence Peters was my assistant director. Then I got a guy called Oliver to direct the movie because he had done some jobs before then.
How was your experience working with the cast and crew?
It was difficult; I had to wash clothes for some people just to pay them and show them how serious I was. I got Yinka Ogun to write a bit of the script, alongside Kemi Adesoye that writes for Tinsel. After a while, we went on location and shot The Bridge, which was supposed to be a campus series. Late Remi Abiola was the only known face on the series at the time; we shot two episodes in OAU, Ife and it was good. I had the material, but putting it on TV became the major challenge. At the time, I needed N3.9 million to pay for airtime, having spent almost N1.7 million on production; it was difficult.
Were you able to get the film on TV?
Well, I realised that marketing was a major challenge in the industry; so, I went round and did presentations for sponsorship. But nobody was willing to trust me at the time because, they felt it was new and I was too young. I still got the same set of people to come together again and I decided to do a shot film, put it on TV and allow these people to see what we could do. At the time, Nollywood was still young. I got a couple of friends together, people like DJ T, Oliver, OC Ukeje, who was going to play the lead character; he was still in UNILAG then. Wole Ojo was meant to be onboard, alongside Michael Ugoji and a couple of friends, who were looking for opportunities. Then, we went ahead and shot, but I made a mistake.
What was your mistake?
In the middle of the shoot, I decided to do a trailer so that I could go raise more fund. When that happened, it became clear that even the guys I thought were my friends were actually not my guys. They said, ‘oh, this is just going to be Maxima Production and not the team.’ Because the name Maxima Production and the company belong to me, everybody started making demands. ‘Pay me now before I come back on set. Pay me for this, pay me for that.’ No one saw the vision anymore; that was the end of the project.
I could remember vividly, Kunle Afolayan coming into the studio at Tee A’s office in Ikeja and he saw the trailer. Kunle was shocked that we could produce something like that at the time. He was really impressed but he said, ‘Maxima, this is good for you, but I’m going to film school first. Once I get back, I’m going to produce movies.’ But that project took me back from hundreds of thousands that I had to minus three hundred thousand.
What of your uncle, who helped you to raise the money, what was your explanation?
Yes, he gave me money and he needed to see the result by watching it on TV, but I was unable to do that because, I need N3.9 million; I didn’t know that TV stations were going to demand such amount of money to put it on air. I felt I had created this value and people could come on board as sponsors. It was like I was years ahead of my time and that was it; it couldn’t fly but I didn’t give up.
What about your parents?
My parents supported up to a certain point, but after a while, they felt, ‘you can’t be wasting your life, go and get a job.’ Before then, I had never worked for anybody; I only worked on projects. I was on Everyday People, Super Story… I was on movie sets doing different things. I had to work for free on some sets, but I had never worked for anybody. From the time I was leaving Ife (Obafemi Awolowo University), I was very sure of what I wanted to do.
What was your drive at that time?
I did a number of projects and none really came through. But I didn’t give up; I saw it as a training ground and I read quite a number of things as regards the future. It’s about the seed you sow, which determines what you reap. It’s like when you plant maize, within a short period of time, you harvest. But when you plant coconut, it will take time before it germinates and get to the point of reaping the fruit.
So, how did you survive that period?
In between that period, I sold zobo on campus. The idea came to me when Coca Cola was banned on campus; I saw an opportunity to make Maxima Zobo. I came down to Lagos, bought the leaves and went back to produce my zobo. At a time, I would carry it to sell myself. In fact, I was so sure I wasn’t going to work for anyone.
How did the breakthrough come?
Finally, in 2007, we won a contract to do activation for Power Fist, an energy drink that signed on D’Banj at a time; that was the major break. Even at that, we ran at a loss on that project because, D’banj and Don Jazzy refused to perform at one of the major shows in LAUTECH (Ladoke Akintola University of Technology) on February 15, 2007.
What exactly happened?
Apparently, this is about the corruption that is happening in the industry as well. D’banj was signed on for about N10million, but some people from the inside had collected kick back out of that money. Based on that, D’banj and Don Jazzy were very unhappy and they were not willing to continue with that project. Instead of showing up at the show, D’banj apologised to me that they were not going to continue; I think we lost over N4million on the project.
What happened to the production arm of the company?
At that time, we had actually started producing content for TV. I got the idea for Views & Tunes in 2004, but we couldn’t do anything until 2005/2006 when we started shooting. Eventually, the show went on air in 2008. The vision for us was to add value to the industry. We grew up on TV; TV gave me a lot of education when I was much younger, so, I expected us to be able to give that in return. But our TV wasn’t doing that; our TV was more about money. That was one of the reasons we came into what we are doing in the industry today.
Tell us about Maxima Production?
Under Maxima Productions, the very first major production that went on TV was Views & Tunes; it was syndicated on different stations. From there, we started working with brands. Our company is a media and marketing communications outfit; we do creative for brands like PZ and we have a sister company that do branding. So, on the side, we were doing printing; we were producing branded T-shirts for Nestle, P&G, Rekitt Benckiser and co. Then, we produced TV soap, Allison’s Stand as well. But beyond Allison’s Stand, we formed another company within the group that services multinationals. Under that outfit, we did something with Guinness and later Nigerian Breweries, helping them to leverage on event for their brands. So, we’ve done TV commercials for Maltina, Star and others. We’ve worked on Star Trek, we’ve worked on Star Music App, Star The Winner is, Crossover Night with Star and others. We’ve done activations with Heineken brand, we’ve worked on Fayrouz L’Original, we’ve worked on Dare’s Love Like A Movie and we were doing all these from the perspective of the brand. Meanwhile, we are still producing our own contents, which are on TV as well.
What are the challenges for you?
At the initial stage, we had major challenges because; most people want to work on freelance. But I don’t believe in just building people; I believe in building people and building institutions. It was critical for us to start looking beyond self, even for me as the MD. For instance, I earn a salary at Maxima; I pay my tax at Maxima just like everybody. So, we are living by that policy. We’ve had experiences where we hired equipment and it gave us a lot of issues, so we started buying. For the branding company, we started buying machines; we were investing in the business. Our cameras, lights… we started buying those things because, it doesn’t make business sense to continue to hire equipment from other people when that’s the job you are cut out for; it would also reduce your cost as you go. So, if you are building a business, it makes more sense to do that; we don’t hire any equipment. For Allison’s Stand, which is a series on Africamagic, from start to finish, all of the equipment is owed by the organisation. In fact, we build our own wardrobe because we sow; we buy to own them. You need to own it to control it.
Looking back now, how do you feel?
People see you that you can afford to do anything you want; you can afford to travel when you like, you can pay over 30 staff monthly… but it didn’t start over night. I slept in my former office for one year; my office was my home because, I couldn’t afford another accommodation. When I had about eight staff I was paying monthly, I couldn’t even buy a car. It’s a thing of discipline; it’s about focus. I see myself as being fearfully focused, not just focused. I would deprive myself and pay the price for whatever I want to achieve and I think that accounts for it. So, when I look back today, I give God the glory that he has taken us out of where we used to be, but I still remind God that we are still not where we want to be. We have not even started; there’s still a lot more work to be done.
Besides business, what other plans do you have?
Right now, we are building businesses, but we need to be able to solve national problems; we need to solve continental problems. This generation needs leaders, true leaders that are not driven by money and gift, but by the vision for change. Not only for their family, but also for posterity and that’s one thing that drives me as a person.