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ENTREPRENEUR: Why I never chased a university degree –Damilola Jegede, financial technology expert

By Bolatito Adebayo

Naira Box is a digital wallet which enables you to shop without the burden and risk of carrying cash. It was founded by Tokunbo Adetona, Damilola Jegede and Jay Chikezie. Recently, Sunday Sun spoke to Damilola Jegede, the CEO and head developer at Naira Box.  Damilola Jegede, a financial technology expert, has developed several mobile applications for banks in Nigeria. In this interview, he reflects on how they started the  business, their challenges and issues about tech  business in Nigeria.

What motivated you to incorporate Naira Box?
I have a background in financial technology as I started my career developing mobile applications for banks.  We have designed a few applications for Stanbic IBTC and GTB as well as some other banks. Naira Box was motivated by our experiences with these banks. We had some suggestions which we felt will make so much sense from  their customers and we realized that these banks were spending much time chasing approvals rather than innovating and satisfying them. There were so many things we felt the banks could do but they felt some  didn’t fit  their image. I then thought their  customers were losing out on a lot, because these banks just refused to budge. We thought it would be interesting if we could connect these banks by creating “a wallet”. This is a service which these banks were averse to because of their policies and culture but which their customers can enjoy. So, that’s why we incorporated Naira Box.

How long have you been in businesss?
We launched our business in December last year and of course before then, it was a pet project which we had been working on since 2012. In December 2014, it took a new shape and a new life.

Could you tell us about your education?
Well, I never chased a university degree. Once I was done with high school, I spoke to my parents that I wanted to venture into technology and they supported me. They bought me my first computer which I started learning with.  I spent 2 years  learning how to code, so I worked from 9pm till 9am regularly and I learnt to code on my own.

Did you grow up in Nigeria?
Yes, I did. All my childhood  was in Nigeria. I had my secondary education here in Lagos. I am 31years old and in all, I spent twenty seven years in Nigeria and for four years I was traveling overseas and coming back.

After you taught yourself coding, did you proceed to any technology school?
No, I didn’t. After my secondary education that was it. The likes of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates didn’t do too much schooling. School is a great thing but there are certain things you do when you know exactly what you want to do. I remember back then when we were about leaving school we asked ourselves what we would do after graduation. I had an Igbo friend back then who stood up and said he was going to face spare parts business and you can imagine the kind of laughter that erupted when he said so. But really, that sort of laughter is very predictable, but today, I can tell you, if we call out the top ten who left school in that set he will be among. He also didn’t attend  university; he just faced his spare parts business.

What are your challenges?
Well, the challenges include user acquisitions. Making your users  come back is something you need to keep working on. You know, I started calling some people and we got some data analyses on how to make the port more interesting so users could stay. So, that is basically one of our challenges and now we are acting on feedback and so with that, we are learning to deal with our customers better. That’s the best way to build patronage.

What’s the feedback like?
It’s amazing really, because they have been quite good. Even people from other African countries are asking about using out Apps now. So, we are growing and we are doing well but it can be better.

Where do you see Naira Box in the next five years?
If I spill it out, it will sound as if I am too ambitious, but that’s what keeps me going because I can see that Naira Box has great potential. I see Naira Box rising above all others and also as a leading technology firm in Nigeria. Also, I believe that in the next few years, we will have stronger momentum in Africa.

How profitable is this business?
The margins are pretty slim because it’s a numbers game with a condition. You have to attract so many users who will stay glued to your firm for better margins.  At this stage, we are still looking at the acquisition of the portal, so profit is a long term thing.

If I am going into this kind of business what do I need?
You need technology acumen but technology is very expensive and that’s why a lot of people are not venturing into this kind of business. Our advantage is that Naira Box has the technical acumen which enables us  to stay in business. It’s our business and so I am able to spend a lot of time on it without losses. So, it’s pretty competitive.

In a country like Nigeria, do you think Naira Box can thrive?
Yes, it can and that’s why we are still in business. We have seen the potential and perused feedback from customers. We built our business on  customers’ desires. Now, it’s mainly targeted at the Nigerian market hence we named it Naira Box, so that everybody can understand what it is easily.

Did you obtain a loan from the bank to start up?
No, I didn’t, but I have partners as you already know.

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