How to learn From Unemployment
the Founder of Autosparemart Nigeria Limited, 28-year-old, Akaolisa Somto, talks about how he started his dream business
Tell us about yourself.
My name is Akaolisa Somto. I am a lawyer and I hold a master’s degree (LLM) in International Business from the University of Hull, United Kingdom.
How did you get involved in business?
I had an unorthodox training. At an early stage, I had an engaging mentor in my father who is an importer of automobile spare parts. He ingrained in me the processes of purchasing, discernment and installation of spare parts thankfully. I am a fast learner and in no time, over the holidays, I started helping out and I was privileged to accompany him on his business trips a few times. I saw firsthand how spare parts were manufactured and tested for quality.
What do you do at Autosparemart?
Have you always been entrepreneurial?
Yes. The truth is, many Nigerians are forced to be entrepreneurial. There is always a need for a second source of income. Entrepreneurship is not foreign to me; my parents have managed businesses successfully. I have over the years shaped my life along that way too. Anywhere I find myself, I am always thinking of what service I can offer or improve upon.
What inspired the creation of your business?
I have always been fortunate to get my car needs met speedily as it is what my family is into. I never thought there was a demand for quality car parts until I heard some colleagues complaining about the difficulty of getting genuine car parts and how they constantly got ripped off by mechanics, who passed off old or fairly used parts as new. In retrospect, the idea came about as a need to bridge the gap and ease the stress of the working class, who due to the nature of their jobs can’t go to an actual market to source out car parts for their cars. Every successful business is an effective answer to a demand question.
What were the challenges you faced in the early stage of your business? And do you still encounter them?
First, power has been a recurrent problem that every business in Nigeria faces. Thankfully, I have been able to solve that by providing alternative power solution. Second, e-commerce in Nigeria is nascent. We initially had to deal with the issue of trust and acceptance but with the successful delivery of high quality merchandise, we were able to exceed the expectations of our customers and the referrals kept pouring in.
Is the business capital intensive and how do you source for capital?
It is capital intensive. It entails a lot more than I had envisaged. From getting a good website designer to advertisement, getting an office space, warehouse, getting accredited as an authorised dealer for certain spare parts, alternate power options, the list is endless. Prior to starting Autosparemart Nigeria, I had worked in paid employment for a few years. So, I had some savings to take me a long way and when I got stuck, my parents and my uncle helped do the rest of the heavy lifting. I am thankful to have such a strong support system.
Do you offer training?
We are still a growing company; so, it is still somewhat difficult to offer structured training programmes. But in the near future, we intend to offer not just training but internship opportunities and other self-developing training as a form of giving back to the society.
Do think young entrepreneurs in Nigeria are receiving enough support?
Young entrepreneurs are not being encouraged, especially with funding. I come from a fairly fortunate background and even at that it was quite a struggle raising the capital needed to get the business off the ground and keep it afloat. There are no readily available funds and grants for budding entrepreneurs to borrow from, so they are left at the mercy of angel investors who in return edge out the business owners halfway into funding.
What is your advice for unemployed graduates?
They should see the unemployment period as a period to further develop themselves. This could be in form of acquiring a new skill, learning a craft, internship or taking up a free course online. They can also look at turning their passion into a viable business idea, by looking around the immediate environment to know if there is a void the idea can help bridge.
If you could go back to when you just started, what would you do differently?
Nothing. Every mistake I ever made and every wrong turn I ever took brought me here and I am thankful for them. I am thankful for the journey and all that the process taught me. I wouldn’t want it any other way or easier because I am tougher and stronger for it. As cliché as it may sound, I have no regrets.
Do you think that entrepreneurship is something that is in the blood? Or is it something that can be learned?
For me, entrepreneurship was nurtured because I had very hands-on parent. My parents are of the school of thought that if you want something extra, you have to work for it. So, I found myself working over the summer and holidays so I could have those extras. But even if I was trained in such an unconventional manner, I believe I still will be doing this. So, I guess by extension it is in my blood. I am fascinated by creation, fascinated with finding an answer to a social problem. I will call it a thirst for more. I always look for the next opportunity, what I can do. I always want to do something. I do not think I have ever been at a standstill. I am very restless; and I am always looking forward to doing one thing or another.
What are your plans for the future?
To become the most reliable, accessible and affordable auto spare parts supplier in Africa. We intend to achieve this by expanding our presence particularly in growth regions and paying attention to the evolving needs of our clients. We are also in the final stages of launching our automated garages in Lagos, to provide top notch car servicing and maintenance. We intend to set up more around Lagos and subsequently move to other parts of Nigeria.
Agriculture is one sector that can generate income for the country, what is your view?
Agriculture is one sector of the economy that has grown tremendously over the years. A clear contrast with what it used to be. Former President Goodluck Jonathan and the erstwhile Minister of Agriculture Dr. Akinwumi Adesina did a lot in levelling the playing field to accommodate both new and old entrants. Farmers are now readily provided with almost all they need from machinery to farming tips and fertilizer. The incentives are enormous, hence the increased participation by the younger generation. For budding entrepreneurs in that sector, the Bank of Industry gives loans and there is also the Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk Management System for Agricultural Lending by the Central Bank of Nigeria. There is still a lot of work to be done as regards power, logistics and government buy back of farm produce as is done is America. But for now, the sector is in a good place and it can only go upwards from here