Co-founder, RSVP, Chukwuemeka Mba, 29, talks about his business and how unemployed graduates can improve their fortunes.
Tell us a little about your business
RSVP is a collaborative payment service for socially driven people. People send invites to friends, contacts and receive payments. We let people group together and give them the tools to do very interesting things with money. On RSVP, one can sell out tickets for one’s events with our event channel. If one is getting married or planning bridal shower, one can send private invites to one’s friends and receive money from all of them without sharing one’s bank details with everyone. Everyone invited, can communicate with each other on the platform. If one has any goods or services to offer, we also have a store channel to engage customers. A good cause channel is also available for those who want to simply raise money for their favourite charity or a project they care about.
In all cases, there are guarantees that ensure the return or refund of purchases, donations or payments. Although we opened the doors around March this year, we’ve been at this for a while.
How did you get trained for the type of business?
I think it’s a summation of my experiences from personal development to formal, informal education and previous roles I held in organisations. While in the university, I read a lot about business thinkers and leaders and their feats against all odds was quite empowering.
Immediately after school, my first business attempt was an online business focused on property search and rentals. It was quite a journey, learning on the go while trying to help people looking for properties online. This was in 2008/2009. I picked up a thing or two about customer acquisitions and sales.
Examining myself, I saw a serious knowledge gap, I desparately needed to fill that gap if I was going to scale up the business, so I shut it down and went back to school to study Technology Entrepreneurship at University College London.
Along the way, I managed complex technology projects with a focus on mobile for a South African consulting firm before I become restless again. I learned quite a lot (there), then I quit.
I later joined a colleague and now partner that I met at University College London to help fund and launch RSVP – A collaborative payment service that lets people raise money, collect cash gifts or sell things online.
Have you always been entrepreneurial?
I don’t think so. I suspect the desire to be entrepreneurial was gradually seeded in me when I began reading about business leaders back at Covenant University. It was compulsory then to read and present in groups one business leader every week. I guess this exercise and the stories I read shaped my thinking and how I saw opportunities in my environment.
What inspired the creation of your business?
RSVP has evolved a lot but the core inspiration came about when my partner and co-founder Femi Ogunkolade got married several years back in Nigeria. He and his wife got lots of physical gifts (blenders, bucket, and cookers) because they lived abroad. The gifts weren’t of much use to him. He thought cash gifts would have been way much better and decided to do something about it.
Additionally, we’ve seen that Nigerians care and give a lot, so much so that ‘Diasporans’ remit over $20bn every year to Nigeria for mostly social reasons. Inspired by these insights, we built RSVP.
What were the main challenges you faced early on in your business?
One of the challenges most entrepreneurs face and we did face is lack of sufficient capital in the early days. This makes you prioritise with the available resource you have knowing you could do much better if you had more.
Another is attracting and hiring the right people. Most people want to join you when it’s all green and good, so putting together a team that really see the BIG picture early can be challenging.
And do you still encounter them to this day?
Attracting the right people still poses a challenge but it’s a good one to have. We rather run with a few who really believe they can make a difference than fly with many who are in just for the money.
How much did you invest in starting the business?
Unfortunately, I can’t disclose that amount as we have other investors involved now.
Do you offer trainings?
We have interns working with us and (they) are paid to learn on the job. Also, at the moment we engage young exceptional talents via an initiative called COLLABO. We set aside a N1m fund for young people with exceptional ideas in arts, inventions, technology, education or entrepreneurship.
Are young entrepreneurs in Nigeria receiving enough support?
There’s been an increase in support mechanisms for young entrepreneurs but these endeavours need more visibility. Some don’t know the initiatives that exist around them unless heard on radio or from a friend of a friend. It will be helpful if every state had a resource centre (online/offline) where people can go to discover and participate in current support offerings.
Personally, I think young entrepreneurs will need to ‘take’ support rather than ‘receive’ it. The good things in life are taken through purposeful and diligent actions and not by waiting to ‘receive’ because nothing may drop. If you need support, search for it, find it and take it.
What is your best piece of advice for unemployed graduates?
‘Unemployed’ is something other people call you. Don’t call yourself that. Refuse that. Productively engage yourself with personal development, acquire a skill that’s relevant in the market place. Also examine yourself from time to time, if you’ve searched for so long, acquire a skill to help solve a problem in your community. I recently saw a video of a guy who makes N20,000 – N25,000 daily cooking noodles. Be engaged. In all labour, there’s profit.
Get the relevant knowledge, be humble and start small. Don’t give up. Don’t give in and never call yourself ‘unemployed’.
If you could go back to the time when you were just getting started, what would you do differently? And what advice would you have given to yourself?
What I’d do differently? Nothing, all experiences have led me to where I am now and I’m thankful. My advice would be ‘have fewer excuses, be more aware of the problems in one’s environment and proffer solutions.’
Do you think that entrepreneurialism is something that is in the blood? Or is it something that can be learned?
I haven’t heard of any blood test to determine if there is ‘entrepreneurialism’ in anyone. Every child is born with a blank slate, a blank mind if one wills. It’s what that child’s environment imprints on it that sticks. Entrepreneurship is something that is learned.
From the story of Aliko Dangote to Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, one will see how associations with a parent, relative or a mentor figure shaped their perspective to life. I am of the opinion that anything can be learnt, many times, in an informal format. Essentially, it’s about exposure and the type of relationships that shapes you and me growing up. It could come early or late. The stories I read about Mary Kay, MacDonald, Domino’s Pizza, Gillette and others really peaked my interest – the possibilities and challenges thrilled me. I thought, if they could, I can.
What are your plans for the future?
RSVP is like a mission for us. A very huge one and it can only keep unfolding as we progress. Something of interest to me personally maybe (very) much later is to collaborate with like minds interested in creating specialised institutions capable of promoting young people’s initiative and innovative spirit. Providing the best schools, colleges and university is good but we should not settle for this alone. It’s one of the reasons RSVP set up N1m fund to give micro-contributions to people with exceptional talents and ideas.
What do you think about the state of unemployment in Nigeria?
Even beyond Nigeria, it’s becoming a frightening global phenomenon and there’s a need for us to rethink how we’re currently tackling it. In Nigeria, while some employers tell one, “many aren’t employable”, job-seekers say “there aren’t enough jobs” and lecturers believe they’ve done a good job preparing students for the work force.
One can’t argue with a man or woman with the necessary skills who can solve one’s problem. If at all one can, there are others who won’t. I’ve seen many figures on unemployment rates but I think what matters is how all stakeholders (graduates, educational institutions, government , businesses) can collectively participate in building a formidable skilled labour force that will and can participate productively in the economy.
In the long run, this will pay off for everyone. Imagine a nation filled with experts who really know their craft or game? One can’t compete with that. Everyone has to accept responsibility in their respective capacity.