My Business Story

We Failed At First, Tried Again, Now Business Is Looking Good – ICT Entrepreneur

Three partners who first launched an IT company in Lagos and failed, decided to relocate to Ilorin and try again. Their persistence is paying off

Ayodeji Ogungbemi, Tayo Oshibowale and Tope Salako are childhood friends who grew up together in Ilorin, Kwara State.Ayodeji studied Computer Science, while Tayo studied Accountancy at Kwara State Polytechnic, Ilorin. Tope, the third partner, studied Microbiology at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.

Like many other Nigerian graduates, the three friends dreamt of securing white-collar jobs at recognised establishments upon graduation. Tope in particular was eyeing an oil company in Lagos. When their job search yielded little result, the three friends decided to start a business.

Business brief:
Started: 2008

Tope narrated how they decided to start an IT solutions company with specialty in identity management: “We started Sylus in 2012 after our National Youth Service Corps programme and after we had roamed the streets of Lagos in search of jobs that were not there.  Although the company was incorporated in 2008, we didn't do anything until 2012.”  
Ayodeji, now Sylus' Managing Director, had the skillset as an ICT graduate but it didn't take long before the friends realised that they would need more than business acumen to successfully float a business. They needed capital. 

“The software we developed could be effectively used to store and retrieve information without disruption. Only a few IT companies know about it”

Tope, who is the General Manager, Marketing and Strategic Planning of the company recalled how capital was a challenge at the beginning and how they overcame it.

He said, “Frankly speaking, we started the business with our savings from NYSC.  We started with less than N200,000. We got some laptops and a Blackberry phone to display what we were doing. We also registered our company and were able to produce our letterhead. That was all.” 

Located at Sunday Ogunyade Street, Gbagada, Lagos, Sylus soon hit familiar troubled waters – a harsh business environment and low, even skeptical clientele. The pain of that trying period seeped through Tope's voice as he reflected on it again. 

He explained: “First, we couldn't cope with the competition (in Lagos) and then people in Nigeria don't believe in start-ups. They believe in established companies, which have made a name. When we started, potential clients would say 'you don't even have an office; how are we going to trust your work?' They don't encourage beginners in this part of the world. Many people have creative minds; they have what it takes but if you don't give them the chance how would they succeed?” 

Frustrated but determined not to give up, the three friends decided to relocate their business to Ilorin, a familiar territory. They also decided to focus on identity management and computer-based test (CBT) software devices made popular by the post-United Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) screening policy.  

Tope narrated how Sylus separated itself from the IT crowd: “We developed what we call Auto-Dent with our partners in China. It is software that is able to identify whoever you want to identify. Most of the software packages  people use for identity management is not durable enough when you're collating data. But with Auto-Dent it can be effectively used to store and retrieve information without disruption. Only a few IT companies know about it.”

The decision to relocate and narrow down the scope of their business soon paid off as the management of Kwara State Polytechnic, Ilorin, awarded the company its first major contract worth millions of naira to provide smart identity cards for 20,000 students of the school. 

Although Sylus has a few private-sector clients, public institutions dominate its client base. Thus, government policies and change in socio-economic climate directly affect business. For instance, Tope recalled how the suspension of post-UTME CBT test affected their business. 
“The cancellation of CBT affected us terribly because we conduct CBT for about three schools. In fact, we were about to conduct for Niger State Polytechnic, Zungeru, when they cancelled it. Its reintroduction is good for our business.  The recession too affected us last year. Many schools and agencies which actually budgeted for some IT-related businesses could not execute because of a shortage funds.”

According to Tope, Sylus has a growing annual turnover, eight permanent and 20 part-time staff members. He said the company hopes to become the leading Identity management solutions company in the whole of Africa “with a zero per cent margin for error”.