From Losing 150 Million Naira of Revenue to Building The Largest Co-Working Space in Nigeria

Hi Sam, what’s your background, and what are you currently working on?

I’m Sam Ojei, a serial entrepreneur, investor, and philanthropist. I’m the Founder of WorkCity; the largest co-working space in Nigeria.

I’m a Business Analytics alumnus of Harvard Business School and Daystar Leadership Academy where I studied leadership and entrepreneurship.

What is your story and how did you get started with WorkCity?

In 2015, I lost everything. I lost all the revenue which I had generated before that
the year which was close to $1 million, this amounted to about N200 million if we use the exchange rate then which was like N190 – N200 per dollar.

After this tragedy, I started looking for N5000, N10,000 to survive, it was very tough then.

What led to this tsunami situation which is losing that entire fund was because I was into student recruitment; we facilitate admissions for people that want to study in Canada at that time. I now thought I was the Schwarzenegger of Africa, I wanted to take over the entire world because I had the cash, so I launched an e-commerce company called Niiyo Nigeria. I founded the company in 2014, 2015, and then everything went down the drain.

After that, I went to Dubai to start a new company; my office was on the 17th floor. Then, I didn’t like to play low; I was even like the only black guy in that entire skyscraper.

To cut the long story short, I lost everything into investing in something new because then, I just wanted to do everything. My mentor always gives me a brief: master one formula first and then learn another one, don’t dabble into all, be best at one, let them know that you are good at one, so if you make that one solid, then you can now kickstart another process”.

Anyways, I lost everything, then I came back to Nigeria because I couldn’t afford
basic things, I couldn’t even afford to eat.

Unfortunately, when I have some few funds, I had to sponsor my younger sister to go to Canada to study, so I reached out to her and asked her what she could do to help, so she sent me $200, and at that time which was 2017 already, the exchange rate was like N350/dollar, so the $200 amounted to about N70,000.

I couldn’t use that to get a proper office. To get an office on the Mainland is about N300,000 – N400,000 at least. So, I had to search online for where I could get a proper office space, I saw a couple of co-working spaces where I made inquiries, so I got one at Parkview, Ikoyi, where I paid for a seat, then I gave the community manager a postdated cheque for a second seat which was for my colleague because I needed someone to work with me. The cheque wasn’t really a real cheque, because there were no funds in the account at that moment.

The community manager was initially reluctant to accept it, but I persuaded him not to worry, that he’ll surely be able to clear it on the specified date on the cheque.

I paid for one seat for N35,000, so I was left with an N35,000 balance. Then I told myself that it’s either we die here or this works. So, I had to burn the bridge, that there is no retreat, because if we get to a point, sometimes, some of us still have a backup plan in case the present plan fails, but we don’t realize that if we can pour our all inside that basket, like whatever it takes to kill that mindset of retreat, of saying that there is an option, that we are still going back to somewhere. If we can kill that mindset, and focus, all in all, our basket is going to get full.

I had to devise different strategies, so I fell back into what I was doing which was
Student Recruitment for students that want to go for Undergraduate and Master’s programs abroad.

I focused on what I call the ‘mix-match approach’ which was going to help me scale. So, I had to have an agent partnership, if you bring sales in, I give you a commission. I had to have sales officers, I had about 10 sales options because I know that if 3 fail, the others will bring money. So, I had an associate partner, internal sales officer, client relationship officer, to simply keep the sales. The sales will now let me know which department is needed.

I did daily recruitment for salespeople, some will say, yes I’ll work, some will say no, and I like this philosophy. If I need 10, I don’t go for 10, I go for 100, it’s always 10% ratio.

In the 1st month, I hit my investment (seat investment), then I paid for the 2nd
month. All these were due to hard work. I had no friends then, just myself alone, home to office and back, I get home around 9-10 pm, and I’m back in the office the next morning by 8-9 am, no car, just local buses back to back, but I was focused and very serious. If we can focus on one thing, many things are going to work.

At that time, there were a lot of co-workers just like me. I couldn’t afford real food then, the aboki behind our office who sold bread and Pepsi was my regular plug. N1,000 was huge for me then, it was that bad.

Some other co-workers will order food, they had different specialties of what they ordered, they always had altercations with the delivery man on why their food was delivered late, I’ll just be watching, hoping for better days. They didn’t like to shake me because my trousers weren’t even balanced then. If I pass by, it’s me and my bag, I just focused on what I was there for.

While I was still at the co-working space, there were these two ladies who always
moved around majestically, and with pride. To cut the story short, I ended up
employing one of them, and she was even the one who had more pride.

So, after then, the lady and I moved from that place to get our own proper office. The first proper office was at Ilupeju Town planning. Summarily, we now have over 15 branches from 2017 to 2020, just 3 years.

Building WorkCity is more like me giving back like I’m producing my experience,
that’s what WorkCity is all about. For someone to give me 2 co-working spaces, and believe in me by accepting a postdated cheque, I now think it’s time for me also to do something similar for young people, to build something for their lives. In this community, we have people that are serious and focused, because it’s built for collaboration and innovation, that’s what this place was built for.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources for you?

I have this YouTube channel that I normally listen to; I call it ‘my virtual mentor’, the name is Valuetainment by Patrick Bet-David.

I’ve heard so many motivational speakers that have not built something, but they are mentoring young people into disaster. If I’m to listen to someone, and the person has done something that has failed, has messed up just like me, that’s the kind of person I want to listen to.

I read the Holy Bible, this is something I don’t joke with. My highly recommended book is Zero to One by Peter Thiel. I also recommend Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, this is the epic book of all time. Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki is also worth reading.

There was a time, around 2008-2009, I had to go to a Cyber Café, there was no
android phone, so I had a Nokia phone with a memory card, so I just put that
memory card into the card reader put it in the system, I visited a site, MP3 downloader and I downloaded Rich Dad Poor Dad, it was 3 hours straight, and I just put the memory card back into my phone, got an earpiece, inside danfo, inside the local bus, I’ll listen to it.

What is your morning routine?

I’m a spirit being, my morning routine is to read the Word of God. I make sure to
read the Word of God for 45 minutes – 1 hour daily. So, I have different scriptures that I read, soak in daily that I don’t like to take for granted, if I don’t read that in a day, that day is not a day for me.

So, driving down to work, I listen to one gospel music to spark up the day and I back it up with Valuetainment sometimes. I don’t listen to the radio, I listen to something that will inspire me, someone that will activate my day, this is very important, because my day is a day, that day is gone, it can’t come back again, it’s gone forever, I can’t call yesterday to come back again, it’s not possible, so I must make sure I fuel it.

So, for my morning routine, that’s fueling my day for greatness. I fuel my day for
greatness to make sure I’m active.

I always make sure I’m active, your mind needs to be active, and your body needs to be active. The kind of information you consume must be active, the kind of friends you hang around must be active too, so I don’t have many friends like that because being an entrepreneur sometimes can be lonely.

What’s your view about entrepreneurship?

Entrepreneurs are our hope; they are the only ones that can make key decisions. Dangote makes decisions right here in Nigeria, he’s part of the decision-makers in this country. Entrepreneurs rule our world, we make things happen, your clothes, shoes, even the clipper that barb your hair, the barber, the water you drink, are all connected to entrepreneurs in one way.

God is an Entrepreneur, God is a Creator, Creators are Entrepreneurs.

JOB is an acronym – Just Over Broke, that’s what job is called. People don’t want the tough times, people don’t want to go for it now, a job is like an escape route.

“Do it, Fail, Go and fail.”

Everything will remain at the state of rest until a mental force pushes it, it’s a law. If you keep procrastinating and you don’t want to take action, you are just dying, action always precedes something magnificent.

I normally tell people, God has given human beings two key assets which are; our time and our mind. There are resources for you, they are all here, but for you to convert these resources to something tangible, you need to use your time and your mind.

When you are just starting, sales is the way, it is king. If you start up, don’t focus on structure or putting the right process in place, they are important, but not now. You should instead focus on survival, how you can survive from where you are now to the next phase. What can give birth to that survival is sales, if the business is not making money, the business is dying, which is you are not giving value, you are not an entrepreneur, you are just a wannapreneur.

You can’t expect some of our leaders in Africa to produce miracles when they’ve not gone through some processes, they’ve not gone through leadership training, they’ve not created something, they’ve not built something from scratch.

Don’t ever study from someone that has never gone through the journey you want to embark on, if you do that, that’s a big mistake. Study from someone who has weathered the storm, he’s going to help you cut out those mistakes and tell you what and what not to do.

You’ve not gone through it, you’ve only read a book, or watched a video; you’ve not been punched in the face. Everybody always has a plan, until they get punched in the face.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

I always love to advise entrepreneurs to make sure that they focus on creating
something that will outlast them, which is a long-term goal. Don’t build something for yourself, build something that people will want to use and experience true fulfillment.

That’s why there is a great opportunity here in our own part of the world because people are not focusing on building something that can outlast them, products and services that people will use and experience true fulfillment, so we have the opportunity to leverage on these loopholes, and build something that will outlast us.

Recently, I was just thinking that I need to start preparing a plan B – if I’m not here again, who’s going to take my place? The brand isn’t for me, it’s for people, it’s to contribute to the human race, there should be continuity.

The truth is that if you give your best shot to one, you are creating another ladder for a bigger version, that’s why I normally encourage people that give your best shot to what you are doing, be ambitious so that the next version of that best shot can be a great shot. But, if you give mediocrity, you build something similar whenever you want to build another one. If you build something shabbily, if you want to build another one, that’s what you are going to build because you are going to give back to what you have within your subconscious mind.

It can be tough, but just have a long-term projection, that this tough and rough
situation isn’t what you are designed for. Have a long-term projection, what you
need to do, set a goal, start putting plans in place, what you need to achieve your goal. Everyone has fantastic ideas but set a specific goal on how you can achieve it, this isn’t just about writing on a sheet, but also about taking crazy actions.

“Die hard now, so you can live more later, so you can live fulfilled later.”

There is nothing that’s greater than human beings on earth; we are the greatest
assets on the planet. We can do anything, think anything, dominate; we only limit ourselves by the way we think.

If someone says this road is blocked, we can go back into our closet and think of a way out. If anyone says it’s not possible, they are right, that’s their own opinion, you don’t argue with them, they can’t give what they don’t have, that’s what they understand, don’t argue with them, you can convert that time into something valuable, go, and think your own way out, not the way they think.

“You don’t compete with people that you need to complete.”

Focus on the brand you are building, build it to the peak moment that the brand can run itself, so you can travel to the Bahamas, and the brand will be running itself.

Make sure you go after generational revenue because revenue will fuel your mission, and push you forward. Business is all about revenue and to treat your people right, treat your employees right, treat the people that work around you, your partners, your investors, your associates, let them feel good also.

Where can we go to learn more about you?

I’m working on my website which is Sam Ojei, so I want to make sure that I
pour all my resources there. The website will be launching 2nd week of August.

You can also connect with me through my LinkedIn

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

I’ll like to work with a Web Developer. We are working on a new project, so we
believe that working with Web Developers is going to be amazing. So, we are
recruiting for that, the recruitment is not a permanent job; it’s something on a

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