My name is Ayodeji Agboola the CEO of Silver White Studios Limited. Silver White Studios specialises in mobile and web development, digital marketing and they are also the owners of www.downloads.com.ng
Why my chosen field
I was always interested in drawing as a child and my parents did well to encourage me to do what I love doing. I actually started out as a graphics designer, but after my national youth service, we decided to add more components to the business. Most of the things I know about my business is self-taught.
I was born in Lagos. My father is a medical doctor and my mother a nurse. I thought of being a doctor and that was what I applied to study in the university. But somewhere and somehow, I knew medicine wasn’t in my blood. I was more like a free spirit person. When I was offered to study Microbiology at Olabisi Onabanjo University, I had plans of changing to medicine after 100 level but that was not possible because of lack of co-ordination on the part of the school. There were missing results which weren’t sorted out on time. At the time, I was disappointed with school, but with encouragement from my parents, I was able to finish school.
I knew that I, Ayodeji Agboola was born an entrepreneur
While in the university, I was making graphics, drawings, portraits, and birthday cards for sale. Students always wanted gift items for birthdays, for girlfriends, etc. I had a small stand on campus where I sold the items I made. My dad was concerned though; he was worried that art was not going to make me enough money. He wanted a more structured occupation/career for me. But he also believed that I should follow my dreams.
After university, I was posted to serve at Government Secondary School, Gawarza, Bokkos Local Government Area, Plateau State. This was like in the middle of nowhere. Six months into service, there was a strike action, so I took the opportunity to scout the town and I found out that there was only one cybercafé in the town and it was always crowded. The owner of the business was nonchalant about the business operations and his service was very expensive. He was more concentrated on checking WAEC results for students. He didn’t allow us corpers to use his service.
I said to myself; Ayodeji Agboola, give this guy some competition. I went to Jos (the nearest town), bought the scratch cards (going to Jos will cost you about N100) for N300 and sold them to students at N500. I used my mobile phone as a modem (internet connection to my computer), set up a stand with a big umbrella, put up a notice that read “Check your WAEC result here”. Luckily, there was a printer shop just across the road, I would go and print for N20. And I charged N500 for my service. With this, I was in business till the end of the service year.
When I came back to Lagos, I incorporated web design to my service with a friend who later became a partner. We had an hour’s lesson. It is interesting what you can do if you have the right mind-set.
After that, we went to a friend and told him we were going to build him his website. So in a week, we had our first customer. From one referral to the other our business grew. At the time, there were a lot of companies who wanted to build websites and there weren’t many web designers and developers like we have now. From one good work to another, you will get a referral. We always went out to meet our clients and it was in one of such meetings that we got our first big job with a multinational company – Samsung. We did digital marketing for them. At the time, Samsung was in the same building with HP, so we decided to go in there and leave them a brief. We were lucky to get a contract with them to do their digital marketing as well. Then we got another job with Lagos Business School. For Lagos Business School, newspaper adverts were costing a lot. Also, on any day there was an attention-stealing occurrence, then the number of glances on adverts would reduce. They were looking for an avenue to improve their ROI. We set up a good campaign for them on different websites that we knew their target audience visited and in a period of 3 months, we were able to capture 400 email addresses of people who were interested in going to the school.
The Diamond Bank grant
After the Lagos Business School job, I heard about an entrepreneurship competition hosted by Diamond Bank. The criteria was that contenders must have an existing business for which a one-minute pitch is submitted. There were over 3000 applicants. At the time, I had been web-designing for 5 – 6 years and was already working on a project. We noticed how difficult it was to find original African images on the internet. One would search all day in vain for an African image of someone engaged in a specific activity. This was a problem for businesses that rely on authentic images for adverts and whatnot. They will end up embarking on a spending spree – hiring models, photographers, etc., just to get the particular image. That is why downloads.com.ng was born. The platform is like a market place where photographers and anyone who has any media to sell will converge.
There is value proposition for everyone. Businesses can now get images at 10% of the price it costs them to produce images themselves. Photographers have a platform to sell their images on; they will be encouraged to go out more and capture more. It has the potential of keeping thousands of youths engaged.
The process goes thus: photographers submit images, we review, making sure they fit the quality specifications, then it is uploaded and the price for the image is set. All photographers have their unique store on the site and they can see whenever their images are sold.
So we have effectively created a market place where people easily source for digital files. The cost per image ranges between 5000 – 10000 naira per photo. The pictures has to be African centric. We also help sell other forms of digital items; books, video, photo etc.
Back to the Diamond Bank process, I was among the 50 selected for the next step. We had a 3-month training in the Enterprise Development Centre (of the Pan Atlantic University). After that, there was a 4-month consultancy programme where we were attached to mentors. Thus did the list continue shortening till there were 5 of us left. And by the grace of God, Silver White Studios was one of the Top 5 that received N3 million naira with which to scale their businesses.
The quality that best describes me
I know my strengths and for the things I don’t know how to do, I find someone who does. I look at problems as opportunities. I’m stirred up to look to create a solution so people who have the same problem can come to me for a solution.
I will say my father was very influential on me. He is a very entrepreneurial person who encourages the talent in me and my siblings to do what we like to do. From a young age, if you love music, drawing, playing the piano, etc., he will support you. If he hadn’t been like that, I would have gone ahead to study medicine and be miserable. Though I know I would have still pursued my dreams but it would have been much later. My father is my mentor. We do have business chats and he advises me and I advise him as well.
My company culture
We are a forward-thinking business and service-oriented. So, we meet our clients in their offices. We run a virtual office and a lean start up with technical partners in different countries. Once we work out time differences, we can follow any work as it progresses. But constantly, we are a 7-man team.
Our competitive advantage
Our competitive advantage is our human relations side – customer service. If you do it right, you become a super star. So we understand our customers and their uniqueness. In reality, a happy customer is your marketer.
If they are happy, you get referrals. It is a natural human tendency. Make sure that every customer is satisfied. And mind you, it is not necessary that you take on every customer that comes your way. You need to decide whether you are ready to take on a particular customer who behaves in a certain way. It is an art that every business owner must learn. If you win over a difficult customer, it means you are doing something right.
The challenge for Silver White Studios has been marketing and communicating how downloads.com.ng works and who we are.
Beyond the financing, it is about keeping records of sales so as to measure where we are going. It is very astonishing to see the numbers. We do best in keeping cost down. Our laptop is the office.
I won’t say they are secrets. But really, there are three things we do:
1) Do good work. Just do good work. If you are able to elicit that kind of emotion where people are happy and can refer you, 80% of the job is done. After that comes branding. Package yourselves very well – you and your staff.
2) Grow a beautiful company culture. Communicate very well with your staff, let them understand why they do the things they do and the results of such actions. Be honest and transparent. When you have loyal employees, you can rest easy. They will go over the board for you if you are not there.
3) Customer service: Everyone can copy your strategy, your website, but they can’t copy your customer service. It is very important.
What I would have done differently
At some point I feel very confused. I believe it is in every entrepreneur’s journey. They always evaluate if they are in the right path or if they should just leave this whole thing behind and get a regular 9 to 5 job and move on with life. There’s a saying I love about entrepreneurship: “an entrepreneur is someone who jumps off the cliff and builds an airplane on his way down.” Entrepreneurs have a good idea of what they want, but how to achieve it they don’t know. There have been times when we end up creating something that fails because we didn’t do a proper market survey. You find out you were solving a problem that nobody has. We got into building without knowing if there was a market for it. We didn’t have better information. For example, there was a time we bought servers that was enough to host 1000 sites but we found out that you can only host 60 sites at most in a year and we ended up losing resources, resources that could have been put to better use. One of the good things I learnt at the Enterprise Development Centre is how to scale cost down consistently.
Our CSR initiative
We want to give back, improve Nigeria. So we have an on-going project that allows anybody to donate to a cause. It is a technology platform. So what we do is to look at an existing problem, for instance, a school building that needs repair. We put it up on the platform so people can donate and follow the progress of the repair work. We want to re-engineer the community spirit.
What I will tell aspiring entrepreneurs
Go out and learn. You can’t give what you don’t have. For every level of your expertise, you will find people to service. As you grow, your type of clients improves. Read, find materials focused on what you want to do and finally, put yourself out there.
My greatest achievement
It will be winning the grant from Diamond Bank. It is huge for me that a Nigerian bank has validated an idea which started in my bedroom. Another great thing is the fact that my family believes in me.
My typical day
Ah, do I have a typical day? Every day is always different and doesn’t always go as planned. But typically I will say wake up, go to the computer and check and respond to emails, go to digital downloads and make sure the community is running well, if there’s an on-going project, then do a follow-up with the technical partners. Another piece of advice – make sure you are the first to reach out to your clients if there are any delays. They pay you back with trust and confidence. You shouldn’t wait for them to reach out to you first.
How I unwind
I love movies and video editing because I see myself as a movie director someday. I also listen to slow sensible music.
Romantic relationship of Ayodeji Agboola
I am married to my beautiful wife, Uchechi, and we have a beautiful daughter.
Photo Credit: Ayodeji Agboola