When the Chief Executive, EMVIRTUE, Emmanuel Ezimai, started his brand of image consulting in 2012, the established practitioners were sceptical because his approach was quite strange. It took a while to find his entrepreneurial groove, but once he did, things started moving fast . He shares his success story with DANIEL ESSIET. Excerpts:
WHAT inspired you going into business?
Insight, hindsight, foresight. By nature, I’m ambidextrous. I found myself. I discovered I could do a lot of things well. I’m spontaneous too; right brained who thinks more on his feet than on his back. I knew I would better serve the world if I develop my capacities and create value. That was how I started.
How much did you start with?
Zero naira. What I did was to first learn how to and what it means to start a business. I registered my company as a youth corp member in Benin. I was penniless when I started organizing social events for corp members. I did one successfully and that was how I started.
What were the initial challenges?
As is the case for every typical Nigerian startup, funding was my initial challenge (not like we’ve overcome that though). Then there were few social platforms that could support growth, penetration and consumer traction like we have now. So yes, funding, market access, and technology were and still to some degree daunting for startups.
What was your first product or service?
My first service was Image 50 in 2012. It was a 3 day image consulting training. At the time there wasn’t a lot of buzz on image consulting in Nigeria. There were practitioners but nobody had taken it to the scale that I designed. The idea was to establish a major image and brand consulting academy in Nigeria just like it is in America, or UK, Paris, and South Africa.
How did the market react to it?
Let’s just say Nigeria wasn’t quite ready for that kind of thing. We grew up with television advertisements that told us “Image is nothing, thirst is everything”; how time proved that to be wrong. Image is everything. First off we looked for sponsors and got none, not even one. Instead of being deterred, I moved on with the project. On the first day of the training, we were locked out of the venue because we hadn’t deposited a dime. We had charged participants N5000, but maybe about 3 people paid. Meanwhile I had engaged top class speakers who all showed up. Anyways we couldn’t start the first day. It was tough. I went home and cried so much. Managed to part-pay on the second day and went through with the event with about 15 participants who largely attended for free.
How many hands did you start with?
We started with 3 hands and we worked as a team.
What is the worth of the business now?
Right now we make proposals to the tune of 150 million naira in a fiscal year.
What services do you offer in the market?
We own the Annual SME Economy Conference and Exhibition. It is in its second year running now. Before then we launched the Beads and Arts Exhibition in 2015. We dovetailed it with SME Economy in 2016 and now it’s growing bigger and might just become the largest SME Advocacy platform in Nigeria.
We currently opened our Business School called Startups Certificate Business Course (SCBC). This academy is designed to retool corporate executives with cutting edge entrepreneurial skills, whilst equipping entrepreneurs with the requisite business knowledge to compete globally and win. We just got affiliated with Business School Netherlands to certify candidates, that’s huge! We are determined to bring the world to Africa and help her emerge. We also offers marketing communications, media/brands consulting and event management services.
Any plans for expansion?
Yes! We are working on launching some revolutionary e-businesses and also enter the fashion world through a very unique tech-wearable product that will change the status quo. We are looking to service 35-45 percent of the market share which is by the way over 120million consumer capacity, in the next 5years.
Advice to up-and-coming entrepreneurs
Money is not your first problem. When you light up with a great idea, find people, mentally stretch the idea, work it out on paper, and seek counsel, be fervent, determined to succeed, be sure it is what you want to do, and God is up.
Move swift like the Wind and closely-formed as the Wood. Attack like the fire and be still as the mountain.