‘I believe one needs to be persistent in whatever one does’
She is the Public Relations Officer of the Association of Telematics Operators of Nigeria, a member of the Governing Council of the Lagos Business School Alumni Association (LBSAA) and is the only female CEO in the vehicle tracking industry in Nigeria. In this interview, she talks about starting her business with no funds and no experience, overcoming challenges and being a beacon for other women.
How did you get into the business of car tracking?
I studied Microbiology in the University of Calabar and when I finished, I wanted to relocate to join my sister who lives in the U.K as I felt it would be better to move there, as I would have more chances.
Around that period, a friend just came back from the U.K and brought some things from my sister and I went to pick them up. Believe it or not, armed robbers came calling that same night. There were two friends who were in the house and one of them had their car taken away by the robbers. I was angry and wondered how someone would steal a whole car that one laboured to buy.
Let me quickly mention that before this incidence, I used to trade in perfumes and met a man who was telling me about G.S.M car alarm (the technology before vehicle tracking) and when he advertised it to me, I said nobody would steal my car in the name of Jesus which is what most of us do.
So, after this incidence, I went to look for the man and asked him if he would have been able to recover the stolen car and he said yes. This made me start thinking of various possibilities.
However, I moved to the U.K as intended and, as fate would have it, I saw an advertisement for vehicle tracking at the train station one day while going to work and I became fascinated all over again.
I started reading about it, went on Google, trying to understand what it was and so I reached out to many people in the field and just one man in India replied me. He explained the technology, which was relatively new at the time and said they were just two people in Nigeria doing the business and he was coming in to set it up for another person and said we should meet when he arrived the country.
So, we met up as planned, I bought a tracker and put it in my car and tried to understand how it works. It took me almost six months before I could get it working and when it did, I started marketing it to others. The friend whose car was stolen a couple of years back was my first customer and that was how it took off.
So how did you get the business off the ground with little experience and no capital?
After selling to my friend, I approached a pharmaceutical company to market it and I found it almost impossible but I persisted.
One day, the facility manager finally attended to me but he told me I was late as he had already shortlisted three companies and they were to present on Monday (that day was a Friday). I told him “you said I am 99 percent late but I believe I still have one percent, can you give me that chance?” He made me wait for an hour before writing an invitation letter for me to present on Monday.
Come Monday, my brother and I were the first to get there even before the other three. We presented, using my car as “lab rat” and they were very impressed. The person who came in after me didn’t come with a laptop and borrowed mine and the directors were laughing at my action but I didn’t mind.
A week after, I got a letter that I was chosen and that was how I landed my very first job. I believe one needs to be persistent in what you do, that must be your goal. I had hitches but I refused to give up.
As a young woman, when challenges come, do you give up or do you keep going? If I had given up after the first few times I tried without getting an interview, I wouldn’t be sitting here today. From that job, others started coming in.
When I go to visit people, I take their complementary cardholder and ask to be introduced to their contacts and that is how I get many clients. I make good use of every friendship I have. Before this, I had never worked.
When I finished from the university, I started selling perfumes and I didn’t have any real work experience and when I started this business, I had some challenges on how to put things in order but I learnt on the job.
So how did you get funds to start?
I started little by little but my mother was my greatest support and rock. I asked my father for a loan but he said I had never managed money before, how was I going to manage a loan and a business? My mother was the one that gave me the loan, rented this space for me, printed stationaries for me and so on. I was proud and happy the day I was able to repay her and that was how I basically took off.
What are some of the steps you took that helped you overcome the issues mentioned above?
Going to Lagos Business School (LBS) was one of the best decisions I ever took as it helped me greatly. I was with like-minded people that had years of experience and my time there showed me I had to open another branch in Abuja as I had customers there, and then Port Harcourt. When I have challenges, I call older people and ask them to put me through. These are some of the things young women need to understand that there is nothing you cannot do and do yourself, you do not need to depend on anybody.
What are some of the other challenges you have faced in the course of doing this business?
Too many to be honest. When we started, network was and is still a huge problem. Taxes are killing us; staffing is also a major issue. I started this business when I was 25 and had staff older than me and they found it difficult to regard me as their boss, but I thank the Almighty, they have fallen by the wayside. Whoever is with me must be with me and we’ll walk this walk together.
Have there been any experience(s) that made you want to throw in the towel?
Never. I have gone through thick and thin but the thought of giving up never occurs to me. When the problems come, I always think of solutions instead of dwelling on the problem. Are there times I cry? Of course yes, but I clean my eyes and move on. I keep pressing and holding on to my faith in God
So what does Rheytrak do basically?
We are a vehicle tracking and vehicle recovery company. We install a device in your car which helps you monitor where that vehicle is at any point in the day, all from your mobile device. If your driver takes your car out, you can monitor where he is at every point in time and if the car is ever stolen, you will recover it.
From your mobile phone, you would see where it is and we’ll send a message to demobilise the car. We work hand- in-hand with the special anti-robbery squad and they’re the ones that go in and recover the car and arrest the thieves if they’re still with it. We basically offer you peace of mind and we’ll recover the car no matter where it is.
Can the car be demobilised by the robbers?
Yes it can if there is time, which is why we advise that as soon as your vehicle is stolen and you have a moment, call us or demobilise it yourself. Now, we have an anti-tamper alert, which sends us an alert that the tracker has been demobilised. When this happens, we set out immediately to recover it.
Sometimes, the robbers will steal a car, re-spray it, change some things but we would still recover it no matter what. If the tracker is removed from the vehicle, the anti-tamper alert would still let us know the last location the car was before the tracker was removed. We have recovered cars from within and outside the country, no matter how fast the robbers move, we are faster.
Once your car is stolen, it is a very inconvenient and difficult experience and even if you have insurance, it is still painful. As for affordability, I would say anybody that can afford to buy a car can afford to buy a tracker.
Apart from vehicle tracking, what else do you do?
Motorcycle tracking. A lot of us use motorcycles for delivery these days and you can track your delivery motorcycles to know exactly where they are. You know how people like to claim they are in one place whereas they are in another, that won’t happen if you can see their location yourself. You can pull up the itinerary of all the places a car or motorcycle has been and even listen in to conversations in the car.
You mentioned that you got into business young. Why do you think women are reluctant to go into full-scale entrepreneurship?
A lot of times, it is fear. I look back at my 25- year-old self and wonder where I got the boldness from. I don’t know if that would be me now as I am older.
A lot of women are afraid that it might not go well or are holding on tightly to their 9-5 jobs in case it fails.
While that is not a bad idea, why are you going into business thinking it would fail? I have never thought of failure or the business would crumble. I can’t even go and look for a job because I made a third class and I know it would be hard getting paid employment with that. Even when exchange rate went sky-high, I refused to throw in the towel. To provide this service in Nigeria, you need an NCC license and the process of getting this license is tough so a lot of frauds prefer to operate illegally, giving the industry a bad name and making it tough for us.
You’ve been in this business for 12 years, what is the secret of your longevity?
First, I would attribute my success to God’s grace. When I was starting up, my staff I.D card was 002; I left 001 for the Almighty because I believe he is the Leader. Whenever I have to leave my office, I leave it for God to take control.
Secondly, the effectiveness of my product. When I hear a car has been recovered, I’m filled with so much joy and happiness.
What advice would you give a woman looking to start a business?
If you want to go into business, identify the problems people have. There are problems in Nigeria and instead of sitting down and complaining with others, get up and find a solution and when you do this, money would come, it’s that simple.
What do you think is the importance of mentoring for women entrepreneurs?
You need people that have gone through what you’re going through to show you the ropes, what to do and what to avoid. We all need guidance especially if you are just starting out.
What would you say has been your biggest achievement till date?
All the vehicles we have ever recovered. Nothing can beat this feeling.
What are you doing to help other women grow?
It pains me that we don’t have other women in the vehicle tracking industry, as I am still the only woman CEO in this field as of today. I am trying to change this but it boils down to interest, as I cannot force any woman to like this field.
However, I help women that want to go into business generally and I am currently working on a project for women in Akwa Ibom State, my home state.
While growing up, I wanted to just marry a rich man and have four children, but I have come to realise that I could be the rich one. This is the mentality that most young girls have and we must let them know they can achieve things on your own. I have always wanted to be known for something and seeing the first female this or that spurred me to achieving greater heights.
What changes would you like to see effected for Nigerian women?
I want them to be more confident, especially younger women. Also, a lot of young women do not want to do the work. They want to carry big phones and bags, spend so much time on social media, time that could be used bettering their selves. This is unacceptable. I want every woman to be more daring, come up with ideas, be successful and support each other. Successful women usually want others to succeed, it’s only natural.
What inspires and motivates you?
The desire to be better, to be able to leave my footprints in the sands of time, I want people to remember me for something and to show others that there is absolutely nothing you cannot do. I don’t want to go through life just existing, I want to actually live.
How do you relax and de-stress?
Lagos is very stressful and I usually go to Akwa Ibom to rest and recharge, everything there is different. The air, the greenery, the food, everything is different. I love eating, I’m happy when I eat. If you want to make me happy, just give me food. I love to travel and do things that make me happy. I just want to be happy, impact others and let my joy be contagious.
What would you say to readers that have been inspired by reading this?
There’s absolutely nothing you cannot do. If you want to do something, write it down. I am a firm believer in vision boards and writing things down. My mirror at home is stuck with notes to myself, same with the notepad on my phone.
Whatever you want to achieve, write it down and make it plain for all to see. Come up with a vision board, evaluate and re-evaluate constantly, don’t ever give up no matter how the challenges come, just keep your eye on the big picture. Get good support, it’s very important. I have a very supportive, close-knit family that help and keep me going.
My parents never forced any profession on me and if today, I said I want to leave car tracking and become a barber, they would support me whole-heartedly.