Award-winning entrepreneur and CEO of Optiweb Communications, Timothy Adeleye, speaks with KEMI LANRE-AREMU on his career and other issues
You made the Forbes Africa 30 Under 30 2018 list. Would you consider that your greatest career accomplishment?
I must say I feel honoured to be listed as one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30. However, I believe it’s a call to do more and break more grounds across Africa and the world at large.
What would you ascribe this particular accomplishment to?
This isn’t about me alone. I take pride in the fact that I am part of a team made up of fascinating young minds. Together, we work relentlessly towards achieving our goal as a company and succeed.
What were your childhood ambition
As a child, I had a gigantic appetite for success. I would always talk to my friends and family about my belief that there’s so much more outside the community we lived at the time. To the people around me, I was considered a lazy boy who simply loved to daydream. Amongst other things I desired to become, I wanted to own one of the world’s biggest tech companies and become an Olympian.
What age did you settle on what you wanted to become?
I wouldn’t say that I was certain at any point about what I wanted to be but I’d say as early as 11, I was sure of what I loved, which is technology and all that comes with it. Even now as an adult, I am very open-minded because I have learnt that I can be anything. It sounds like a cliché but it remains the truth. The world keeps spinning and learning never stops. Change is constant, which is why anyone can be anything at any point. The most important thing is to know what you love and fuel your passion by investing in yourself and the people around you.
What fostered your interest in Information Technology?
As a boy, I usually got sent out of school for not paying my fees. For every time I was sent out, I would go to a cybercafé that was close to my school to learn how computers worked. The idea of being able to operate a computer was fascinating to me and I was very curious to learn. My continuous visits to the cybercafé caught the attention of the manager, Mr. Ayo. He then decided to teach me operations. I enjoyed every bit of my free lessons with him. Having mastered basic operations, I still wasn’t satisfied. I wanted to know more and be able to change the way things work. My curiosity never left me. This made me believe that my dream of owning a world-class tech company was possibly going to manifest.
What was your first business endeavour?
My first business endeavour was the creation of Africa’s first interactive mobile SMS educational platform which was born out of the passion to bridge the gap between classroom teaching and examination success for students at the time Nigeria recorded mass failures in national examinations.
What are the highlights of your career?
A few years into starting up, I was listed as a semi-finalist at the 2011 Anzisha Prize Africa Leadership Academy & MasterCard Innovations Award. Later on, Optiweb Communications won the prestigious Etisalat Innovations award as The Most Innovative Service Provider of the year. We have also gotten some recognition around the continent for some of our innovative solutions. In 2017, we launched a media subsidiary, Opticom Media Nigeria Limited.
Give us an insight into the operations of Optiweb Communications?
Optiweb is an innovative digital and multi-solutions company specialised in bringing valued innovation to consumers and businesses in Africa. Optiweb thrives on meeting the needs of the demanding African mobile market. Optiweb Communications now serves as the holding company to a member of start-ups and foundation in Nigeria and abroad. It has several subsidiaries including but not limited to Opticom Media – Ulaff TV – Nigeria’s first and only 24-hour comedy TV channel, Tim Homes Nigeria Limited, which is a real estate business working on affordable green housing for the Nigerian citizens with more than $2.5m worth of acquired lands for the project. There is also Tim Farms Nigeria Ltd., an agro-based business running in Kwara State; Vantage Stream Multi Trust Company – a fintech solution providing easy finance for professionals in Nigeria to drive financial inclusion; Rapid Cash Tanzania, a financial solution service providing easy finance for the Tanzanians and the last but not the least, Tim Adeleye Foundation for Africa, which offers a range of free avant-garde programmes and services that are built on the following pillars – youth, entrepreneurship, career excellence, mental well-being and STEM. The beneficiaries of TAF are Africans between the age of 10 and 30.
What do you wish you knew when you were starting out as an entrepreneur?
The principle of business finance! A lot of youths in business must master financial management in order to make wise investment decisions and ensure sustainability. Thanks to the Lagos Business School, I know better now.
I’m very keen on learning and developing oneself. Being a part of the Owners Management Programme at the prestigious Lagos Business School was a total eye-opener. In running a business sometimes, there are steps we take that give us the expected result. In spite of having the desired results, if the process that led to that result was wrongly implemented, it could cost an entrepreneur so much more in the long run. At LBS, I was privy to the testimonial of many entrepreneurs in different industries – their success, failures and come-backs. I would say my time at LBS was a worthwhile investment.
Where did you derive your business acumen?
I read a lot and I avail myself of learning from my experiences and more importantly, from the experience of others. I believe that nobody knows it all; so, I try to take a little from here and there to make a whole. Business is very dynamic and every case is peculiar, hence the call for strategy. When it comes to implementing business acumen as it is called, learning is key for me.
What is your primary motivation in all you do?
Africa has got a lot of needs that require innovative solutions and rich potential for social entrepreneurs starting from my amazing team and me, the formidable youths of this continent. Furthermore, the tech industry is phenomenal, evolving every now and then and placing more questions on our minds. I see the need to do more and help others reach the top and achieve their dreams while solving our society’s problems.
I am very passionate about youth development, which is why the Tim Adeleye Foundation for Africa was set up to help Africa’s youths in STEM and other industries achieve their goals and maximise their potential to the fullest.
Which area of business would you love to go into but have not had the opportunity yet?
Fast moving consumer goods. I am currently looking at innovative ways to deliver satisfaction to consumers of beer. I can’t categorically tell you “this is where we are now” but I would say you should watch this space.
You stated your interest in making beer. How so?
Recently, there has been a rise in the abuse of drugs and alcohol by young people which is the reason for going into this line of production. We are thinking of bringing a solution that will serve as a substitute to codeine and the likes and that will not be harmful or cause any damage.
In which African countries do you presently do business and where are you planning on expanding to?
We are currently operating in Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Tanzania, Ghana and Kenya. Having the privilege to do business in other countries, especially in Africa is a blessing. Not only are we able to offer value and tangible solutions, which I consider fulfilling, this gives you a wider scope as to how much more potential lies within the continent.
For instance, there is Rapid Cash which is a product of Rapid Growth Partners Limited, a transformational financial services company that is providing instant loans to salaried workers and entrepreneurs in Tanzania. Through our innovative approach, we have become one of the trusted and respected brands in the microcredit sector within a very short time.
We will be launching RapidCash.NG, an innovative solution that will provide easy and instant cash loans using social media accounts like Facebook and Twitter as eligibility to cash in minutes.
What things need to be put in place to encourage entrepreneurship in Nigeria?
I believe strongly in Nigeria’s future which is the youth. The investment that goes into us determines the quality of the outcome in the long run. I am of the opinion that our educational system has to be reviewed to become more robust in a way that equips our youth for global competitiveness. Take a look at the situation of these “yahoo-yahoo boys and SARS”, having them beat up and harassed won’t bring a lasting solution to this menace. We must approach the matter from the root. The government should build a knowledge-based scheme and enabling financial environment to encourage youths to try out their ideas and be bold and confident to become entrepreneurs. I applaud the efforts of the Lagos State Government through its LSETF programme in producing employable citizens. As an entrepreneur, I would advise that the government should encourage start-ups by implementing tax holiday for at least the first three years in business if we want to build businesses that will help our economy. I also dream of a day when power will become more affordable and available so that sustainable development will become a reality. There was a recent statistics on Africa. Oil & gas is currently valued at $3.6trillion; manufacturing, $204billion; agriculture, $50billion; infrastructure development, $400billion; energy, $204billion; and water, $700billion.
Take a look at these figures and you’ll see the reason Africa may remain poor. Pointer: Oil and Gas is $3.6trillion while infrastructure development and agriculture is $400billion and $50billion. Please what do you think will happen to Africa in five to 10 years when electric cars will dominate this world? One of the reasons we, as a people, together with the government, must move fast and encourage our youths to innovate.
As a young person in business, are there any age-related challenges you face and how do you surmount them?
I must first point out that every young person in business now is lucky and blessed because there’s a wide room to learn, unlearn and relearn with the help of the Internet. The changing face of business is not a challenge but an opportunity for youths, considering the privilege that technology and digitalisation offer.
What are some of the personal qualities that have helped you get this far in your career?
I take pride in my ability to lead a quiet and simple life regardless of the demand to be more extravagant as some persons consider that as being cool. I believe staying focused on the possibility of a better future will help you live your best life today. I often say to people who know me well that it is better to chase after value than to chase wealth and material things.
What are the most important lessons you’ve learnt over the years?
I have learnt that people are an integral part of successful businesses and that is why I endeavour to treat everyone I meet with honour and grace. We are all here for one another.
Who’s your dream mentor?
Alhaji Aliko Dangote.
What schools did you attend?
Most of my early education was in the heart of Ilorin, Kwara State. For my post-elementary education, I attended Baboko Community School, Ilorin, from where I moved on to obtain an International Diploma in Computing at Informatics Institute, Kazaure, Jigawa State.
What are your hobbies?
I play tennis, listen to good music and sing along. I may not play like Rafael Nadal but I like the sound of my racket on balls.
How do you relax?
I love people; so, I explore places that give me that satisfaction.
How do you like to dress?
Easy does it for me. I like to be simple.