BusinessBox interview with Spencer Soyemi, CEO Pinehurst Estate Company


GeneAfrique BusinessBox is a section focused on spotlighting on African entrepreneurs who are making an impact in their chosen field. The purpose of this section is to promote and encourage entrepreneurship among young Africans.

This week, Spencer Soyemi, the CEO of Pinehurst Estate Company, Viva Networks and Webintuned shares with GeneAfrique his entrepreneurship story amidst all odds.

GA: Entrepreneurship is a bold step that many dread to take, what inspired you to start your own business? 
SS: My late father Solomon Sunday Soyemi inspired me; he was a Chartered Accountant and Tax Consultant who setup a firm known as Solomon Soyemi and Spencer, with 25 kobo (The equivalent of N100 today in 1980. He had a team of less than 10 members of staff that handled 4 offices in Nigeria, and his leadership skill amazed me, one of the earliest quotes I heard from him was that “Business is all about self-promotion”.  I am still friends with the founding staff of the firm, who saw me grow up a child into a man.

GA: You owned the first cybercafe in Lagos and the second in Abuja, why did believe that this novel enterprise will succeed?
SS: Well to acquire a phone line was a nightmare then, so having a phone line and internet access (dialup –AOL &Linkserve) at the time was a big eye opener to implement such a solution, my partners at the time had not been paid salaries for months so we just used the internet in the office (at Ikeja Plaza), and started setting up email addresses, downloading and printing email addresses for small business and individuals, most of those small business are multi-billion Naira corporations today, later on I teamed up with Wale Soyinka who also setup the 2nd Cyber Cafe in Lagos at the back of his gym and pub, called CUE in Ikeja, from there it was consulting for the first in Surulere, second in University of Lagos, third  in Owerri and second in Abuja.

GA: From accounting to IT to estate management which of these business challenges you the most?
SS: They have all been challenging in all honesty, there is no business on the face of the earth without its own challenges. The most important thing is to have a future proof process of getting things sorted out from Customer Care (Relations and Retention) to even invoicing.

GA: How do you deal with increasing competition in the property industry?
SS: Well I believe Lions and Gazelles are 2 different species; I and my team do what we can legitimately to stay on top of the game and use future proof solutions to be the Lions in the game of real estate and other business in Nigeria and beyond. We are taking on the UAE, UK and US as real estate there is beginning to boom again. We just signed up with DAMAC Properties, Dubai and it’s looking very good.

GA: If you had the chance to start any of your business all over again, what would you do differently?
SS: I would set up in a country where the government invests in small businesses, if it had to be Nigeria; I would get a whole lot of foreign financing from investors at single digit interest rates.

GA: What was the biggest challenge you faced when you entered the world of entrepreneurship?
SS: Financing, but it was always easy to make money by just doing something innovative.

GA: What’s one marketing strategy that has really worked well in promoting your business?
SS: Social Media – You can never go wrong with social media, if done honestly and invested in heavily.

GA: What business achievement are you most proud of?
SS: Being entrusted with over 240,000 mandate cards of ECOBank Plc Nigeria to convert the data from paper into electronic document management solution and leading staff strength of 80 young and vibrant individuals to meet up with the timelines on a 24 hour shift and watching this individuals become very successful in other spheres of IT & Telecoms after leaving the project.

GA: What are your guiding principles as you have built your businesses?
SS: Integrity – You can never buy it with a billion US Dollars.

GA: What is the riskiest business decision you have ever had to make?
SS: Risking an investors fund in a business I was new to at the time, that was Real estate brokering and joint venture solutions, instead of the importation of cars which looked more promising.  I don’t have regrets about that today though.

GA: What is your average work day like?
SS: I luxuriate in bed till 7.30 am, talk to God while in bed, and meditate on how I want my day to go, start picking calls at 8 am even if I am still in bed. I love my coffee in my big red mug, it practically travels with me. The calls I make before 10 am usually affect the places I visit, my team usually give me a lot of feedback in the mornings and late at night, most times I make sure I am on site after the end of business to see how the projects we are managing are going.  I hang out with business partners, clients and friends in upscale hangouts in Lekki Phase 1 before getting back home for 9-10 pm.  I work till about at least 12 midnight on a daily basis.

GA: What do you think is the biggest threat to the success of small businesses in Nigeria today?
SS: Clients who just don’t want to pay you, and would tell you they love the courts, since our judicial system doesn't work, it’s a major threat for small businesses to grow even when they have proper infrastructure in place, to cap it all lack of electricity and funding can be a nightmare too.

GA: Who is your role model as an entrepreneur?
SS: Sir Richard Branson, we share a lot in common asides his account balance.

GA: What in your opinion is the key to your companies’ success?
SS: Looking up to God for guidance and direction, it is not by the best team in the world, it is not by finances, it has been strictly a whole lot of grace.

GA: How is Nigeria doing in terms of entrepreneurship? What needs improvement?
SS: It is sad that even Entrepreneurs don’t respect each other’s time and efforts to deliver on products and services, people seem to want to take each other for a ride, even when paperwork has been tidied up, my mentor once told me to only deal with Blue Chip companies and the government, I choose more small businesses, but came to realize that a lot of sentiments and lack of business acumen abound amongst entrepreneurs.  We need to be trained more, we need to have an international outlook as to how business is done in even other African countries, and we don’t have to go far.

GA: Looking back, what are the best decisions you took as an entrepreneur?
SS: Going into innovative businesses to enjoy it to the fullest. I have enjoyed every single line of business I am and I have been involved in and looking forward to conquering new frontiers.

GA: What is the secret to beating the odds in entrepreneurship?
SS: The tenacity of a bulldog with a lot of self-control and the grace of God.

GA: What non-academic skills do you believe are important for young entrepreneurs in today’s economy?
SS: Read a whole lot of business magazines related to the business you are into and other businesses on a world wide scale. Go for seminars and understand the way the governments and your competitors operate and do something a little extra, while you are at it!  This principle works wonders for even those looking for employment.

GA: What advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
SS: A good website and use of social media can take you to places you can’t get to with a brand new car and N 1m worth of gasoline.

GA: What’s next for you and your businesses?
SS: Pinehurst Estate is working in conjunction with several investors worldwide to build an estate that would be affordable in Lagos, Nigeria before 2020, in the area of IT & Telecoms, Viva Networks and Webintuned are partnering with developers of Biometric ID solutions and RFID solutions to deliver solutions to schools and Governments and I am looking at reviving my late father’s accounting firm again as soon as I become a certified accountant, currently using my Project management and anti-fraud certification to float the company at the moment as a management consulting firm.

Do you have any questions to ask Mr Soyemi? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below. Thanks!

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  1. Mr Spencer, in all of this successes, you never mentioned the woman behind your success. Well still proud of you though.