A few weeks back I did something I have held back on for the longest time and splurged on a couple of Range Rovers for my wife and I. I have long been able to afford such things, but largely on advice from my wife have held back to demonstrate how good a ‘custodian of capital’ I am. She steered me clear of the ‘Lagos Big Boy syndrome’ (a coming post), but focused me on building a bigger more undeniably awesome company based on fundamentals not VC money. In January a couple of amazing things occurred so I thought, fuck it, and just splurged. New money is stupid like that. Who cares? Now the point.
I usually have around one thousand (1k) unaccepted friend requests on Facebook at any given time. It’s usually in flux depending on what media has recently come out about me. A post on Linda Ikeji about me or the company and I usually get a 2-300 request surge. Being who I am, I usually just accept most of them and then engage in lively debate about whatever, when I have a few dead minutes. On this occasion one of my so-called friend requesters, commented:
Another rich kid spending Daddy’s money.
This annoyed the hell outta me, but then instantly turned to intrigue. Even though I don’t know this person as an individual I still found it strange how he came to such a conclusion. He must have read about me somewhere before reaching out and adding me on Facebook, but still felt my apparent success was somehow attributed to a ‘Godfather’ - old money having Daddy who was financing me playing at business. Basically I was keeping busy awaiting the trust fund (inheritance) to mature. Last weekend at the 90Min speaker series in Ikoyi (one of the most exclusive and wealthiest areas in Africa) someone more succinctly implied the same thing and asked whether Raymond Njoku ’street’ in Ikoyi was named after a relative of mine. It’s not. Not even close.
I have never met my father. He left 6 months after I was born.
This apparent obsession with whom someone’s father is is something you rarely come across in the West. In Nigeria it is something I have come across numerous times but because it doesn’t impact my life, I just kept it moving. But it appears super important in Nigerian business, in society and in general everyday life. On occasions, when someone is introduced to me, they will mention the surname with a gentle nod, expecting me to know who they are. Thereafter they will give me a quick bio of their father and his ‘achievements’. Before writing this post I ran it past several Island people to understand why this happens. Theory. Nigeria is the land of the gatekeepers. Most of the wealth is concentrated in so few hands in decades’ old industries amongst prominent families or politically endowed people. Everyone else is simply shut out.
Because of this, unless something new and shiny is created, the godfathers control access to that wealth. The godfathers will bestow or pass the old money to their heirs apparent. Their children. There are many very rich ($50Mn+ in assets) people in Nigeria who, if asked to point to the ‘source’ of their funds, will probably struggle. They can tell you about the deals they were part of but not necessarily a company or corporate entity which created such wealth. Usually the company doesn’t even exist anymore.
This obsession is mildly toxic over the long run. Someone once told me they couldn’t come back to Nigeria because they needed the right ‘connections’. For too many young Nigerians the path to wealth is usually via a connection, rather than their own wits and hard work. Connections, especially those unearned, yield funny money. In the end that’s why I love the Internet; it’s the new shiny thing. No godfathers, no gatekeepers, just an amazing opportunity. You could be Nigeria’s ex-president Obasanjo’s son and it doesn’t guarantee a large important consumer Internet company. You may have $10Mn to throw at playing business, but it doesn’t make you a success. It means you’re well funded. iROKOtv isn’t a success yet. We generate millions of dollars (USD) in revenue yearly and are extremely well funded. That’s it. Successful in terms of the first steps. In the end we are 13 months into what is ultimately a 5-7 year journey. Success to me is a $Billion market cap legitimately listed on the NASDAQ.