As soon as I graduated from university there was an invitation from the managing director of a top Nigerian engineering company to join the organization. There I learned the business of construction and after four years of strategic support work I left to start my own building engineering service firm with a partner. It looked easy!
In Nigeria, starting a new enterprise seems like a piece of a cake and it’s very convenient for people to suggest you should “start something on your own”. Lagos, where I live, has an annual government revenue one of around $1 billion. With this kind of cash seemingly flowing through the streets, it is assumed it is easy to finance one’s start-up.
My partner and I started our business with our tiny fund – around $320 – and within a few months, had invested most of it on marketing. We didn’t have a car to drive around Lagos so we used taxis to get to meetings. We pushed on until we eventually landed a construction site deal. This process taught us how unsupportive financial institutions in our part of the world can be.
The average entrepreneur in Africa finds it difficult to get their idea to market because of ridiculous interest bearing loans. As we began to talk to our banker for financial support, it became clear that the banking sector was not going to be of much help. We did not have a property, in a choice part of the city, to guarantee the loan which in itself attracts over 20% interest.
With time running out, and needing to get our workers and equipment to site, we resorted to a desperate measure. Desperate people do desperate things. In this case it was a ship sinking decision for us. A private investor offered us a short-term loan with a monthly interest of 15%. We assumed all would work out; we had millions to get people and equipment to site, and substantial work could be done to impress our client. Within 30 days, we would be paid and refund our creditor. It was unrealistic.
In an environment where uncertainty is high, relative to other part of the world, such a straight-line strategy requires many back-up plans. Our company defaulted and the loan extended to a third month, with an accumulated interest of 45% on every million naira. We defaulted because our client delayed payment. He couldn’t pay us because his funds were not released. That circle of failure is the undoing of many businesses.
In a society where moneylenders and investors place an emphasis on the reputation of an entrepreneur, one needs to have a plan to protect this. The harshness of the African business environment triggers desperation and keep entrepreneurs focusing on short-term plans. This needs to change; the longer a business’s plans are considered, the better it will be. There are other strategies that work with raising fund. In south-western Nigeria, Yoruba parlance says that “it is from home that treasures are taken out”. The interpretation is that success begins at home.
Many business owners that I have had the opportunity to talk to use their relationship with family and friends to raise funds, equipment and other resources. The benefit of this is that family is more willing to forgive you and this type of loan usually comes without interest. However, this strategy is limited on a continent where around 70% live below the poverty line.
This provides a huge opportunity for capital ventures and angel investors. It provides opportunities to bridge the poverty gap and create wealth on a continent that is thought to be the next global investment destination. To truly realise this opportunity, the purse of an entrepreneur shouldn’t be bullied.
Cryptocurrency for Africans
George Gordon is on a quest to revolutionize the financial system. The director of Africa Master Blockchain Company talks digital currencies, blind risks and board games.
What is this new African cryptocurrency you are offering?
Where the majority of current digital currencies are based on speculative models, AfriUnion Coin (AUC) and the AfriNational Tokens (ANT)are designed for a transactional purpose allowing international payments, remittances, foreign direct investment as well as day-to-day transactions at local retail stores and other outlets. While the option for speculative trade is available with AUC, the focus is not around that.
Each African country will have a specially-designed ANT which will allow users to pay for goods and services and bills easily through completely digital means without requiring any bank account. AUC and ANT will be fully interchangeable to one another and there will be no fees for the user.
It’s the natural next step for digital finance from mobile banking which most Africans are accustomed to. The ability to freely have the power to send and receive money locally and internationally will allow the freedom of choice and spending power many Africans don’t have currently.
What is your own investment philosophy?
I am a gambler! I believe in taking risks and putting things on the line. That being said, blind risk or whimsical guesses don’t get you very far. Always acquire enough information to understand to a reasonable level what the thing you are planning on investing is or how it works and then trust your instinct and gut feel.
What advice would you give entrepreneurs wanting to invest in blockchain?
First, do some research in terms of what the blockchain technology is being applied for or created in terms of its application to an industry or project. Thereafter, check the white paper for the design of the platform as well as its functionality and applicability to what it is trying to achieve. If it aligns with your personal investment rules, then go for it,however, remember that blockchain is continuously evolving and thus you need to explore outside the usual and standard.
First cash-less, now card-less. What is the future of online banking?
If we are looking into what is currently science fiction, I would say the future is digital contact lenses that will be able to connect you to all your social media accounts, internet, news as well as make payments by just looking at QR codes or specialized barcodes to approve and accept payments.
Now, realistically we are not far off from such innovation and technology, but for the time being, I think the next step is scanning of QR codes at retailers and having the transaction automated from your wallet to the retailers digitally.
What is your most prized investment and why?
My mind. I believe that the work I have put into developing my mind, and continue to do so every day, is the number one investment that I have ever done. It allows me to look at things in a unique perspective as well as provides me with the tools to push boundaries and create new opportunities.
Money, success, fame? Which is most important to you?
I would have to say success… because it is most likely going to bring the other two as well, right? But success in the form of starting something and letting it grow and succeed and knowing that something new exists because of your efforts.
What do you spend your money on mostly?
Board games. I love board games and believe it’s a fantastic way to expand your mind as well as have fun with friends.
King Price CEO On Why He Invested On Insurance
King Price Insurance’s CEO Gideon Galloway, who built an insurance company in South Africa worth over $226 million in six years, talks investments, industry trends and how self-driving cars will change the entire car insurance landscape.
Offering The American Dream
Gar Lippincott and Daniel Ryan of Atlantic American Partners were in South Africa recently looking for high-net-worth individuals wanting to invest in the US.
It’s a warm spring day in September, and Gar Lippincott and Daniel Ryan have just arrived in South Africa. It is Lippincott’s first time in the country, and he is jet-lagged.
A little over two months ago, he was booked to fly here from the United States (US) but was turned back at immigration.
“At Atlanta airport, the lady looked at Daniel’s visa and let him through and she looked at my visa and she said ‘I am afraid you can’t get on the plane because you have to have a blank page on your passport’. I said ‘I have three blank pages’ and she said ‘no, it’s supposed to be the one that says visa on it’. She said it’s the rules in South Africa so I had to sadly go back home… now when I was coming, I was told that’s not an issue anymore so I am happy they have made traveling into the country easier,” says Lippincott.
With a brand-new passport, he’s here with Ryan looking for people who want to invest in the US in exchange for a green card.
Lippincott, the Managing Partner of Atlantic American Partners, says he has always been keen on South Africa for its growth opportunities and prospects.
“From what I understand, the things that are causing short-term decline in the economy in South Africa are set up to provide long-term growth and hopefully people will understand this,” he says. Ryan, the company’s Managing Director of Emerging Markets – Africa, agrees: “I lived in Malawi for 12 years and South Africa is still considered the shining one throughout the continent. Even with all the problems, everyone still wants to come here because of the opportunities.”
According to an AfrAsia Bank report, South Africa comes second to Mauritius in boasting the highest number of high-net-worth individuals.
These are the kind of people Ryan and Lippincott target through their work at Atlantic American Partners. The company has real estate investors and professional private equity fund managers that manage money for banks, insurance companies, and pension funds. In addition, they help people get US green cards and ultimately US citizenship through the US government’s EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa Program.
“Basically we look for people who want to move to the United States and we help them do so legally by investing and the nice thing is, with our program, they are also able to get a nice return on investment,” he says.
According to Lippincott, for a $500,000 investment that creates 10 jobs for American workers, you could get a green card in about two years and be a US citizen in about six or seven years. “Twenty seven countries have an investor visa program but with most of them, it’s essentially a fee you pay, or you need to be actively engaged in the day-to-day operation of a business. For example, you invest $1.5 million in Australia, but you need to hire employees and generate a certain amount of revenue. One of the biggest advantages with our program is you actually invest the $500,000 into a fund. We act as a trustee of that money and within five to seven years, they get that money back with a bit of return on investment and you are a permanent citizen in the US.”
Atlantic American Partners invests the money in real estate developments like hotels, apartments and student accommodation.
“What’s nice about the program is it doesn’t only cover the investor; it covers the spouse and children under 21. Our biggest family was a Hungarian family with seven children so they got nine green cards for $500,000,” says Lippincott.
The company says it has had positive response in South Africa. “Two months ago, we were here and we had scheduled six presentations for 100 people and we ended up speaking to 450 people. Most were business people, people worried about the economy, people worried about the political future of South Africa and people concerned about the education future of their children,” says Ryan.
According to Lippincott, despite the news of the clampdown on immigration, the US economy is booming and will perish without immigration. In the era of Donald Trump and his anti-immigrant views, that’s heartening news indeed.
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