Business Tips from the Streets of Lagos, by Tolu Ogunlesi
1. THE LAW OF 5/20/60
Get in Early! Get out even Earlier!
Ikoyi to Victoria Island is a journey of five minutes. In principle. On a weekday morning, it is a twenty-minute journey, if you set off at 6:45 a.m. It is also a one-hour journey – if you set off at 7:10 a.m.
It always happens like this: A visionary entrepreneur brings a new concept to the market (say, ‘Business Lunch Delivery Service’), and immediately start to “smile to the bank” with the proceeds of originality / innovation. Then the “Crowd” – having seen, from a distance, the Promised Land of Potential Profit – rush in. Alas, by this time, it is too late. What they meet is the bust. [It happened with cyber-cafes – if you remember what those are/were].
2. THE LAW OF INVISIBILITY
That you didn’t see it last night doesn’t mean it won’t be there this morning
It is night. You are speeding along Ikorodu Road. You have passed Ikorodu road every single night on your way home from work, for the last five years, so you know all the contours and “gallopings” and mysteries of the road. But tonight’s gonna be a bad bad night. Out of the blues, out of nothing, a concrete divider emerges. In front of you. In the middle of the road. A smashed bumper, smashed headlights, and a crushed radiator follow. You can only curse, and nurse your wounds.
Business in Nigeria is like that. VAT and/or the price of petrol/diesel will double overnight, and double again a few nights later. Government policies (taxes, import duties, rebates, etc) will change faster than you can say “macroeconomic.” A sudden reshuffling of a government cabinet reshuffles will set you back to square one. Multiple taxation will be your portion.
Simply, be prepared – for ANYTHING. Never give in to despair. Never take your eyes off the road. Mitigate uncertainty by the liberal use of your powers of anticipation.
3. THE LAW OF THE LASTMA(N)
Everyman for himself, LASTMA take the last man!
You may not know what the rules are. Or who makes them. Or why. Stop moaning. Accept that the Law around here is often lawless – and greedy.
Let’s use LASTMA as our example. LASTMA sets the rules of engagement for road-users in Lagos. Unfortunately, in many cases only LASTMA seems to know what those rules are. Or the correct corresponding fines.
The business field is often like that; a mined jungle. Prepare for such times when you will break rules that do not exist except in the imaginations of certain (often uniformed/un-informed) persons. What to do? Regularly set aside a percentage of your profits to cover such expenses/extortions/’taxations’ that come with business in Nigeria. Call it The “LastMa(n)” Fund.
4. THE LAW OF THE ‘TRAFFICATOR’
Catch your competitor unawares!
You are on Falomo Bridge, on a Monday morning, approaching Akin Adesola Street. But you are trapped on the lane(s) curving off into Ozumba Mbadiwe. You need to cross (at least) two lanes to get into the Akin Adesola-bound track.
The last thing any ‘proper’ Lagos Driver would do is “trafficate” an intention to change lanes. Lagos being what it is, no one will sit back and watch you displace him/her. The Lagos Driver has therefore come to learn, and master, the art of surreptitious insertion i.e. a sudden yet gentle yet determined swing of bumper, into the space desired. Then a pause, to give the ‘chanced’ driver time to realize his helplessness, and then curse.
Lagos Driver then swings the entire car in.
What does this say about business? You alert your competitor of your plans / strategies at your own risk. Unleash your innovation and hit ‘em hard and square before they can guess what hit ‘em. You are only as good as your ability to surprise competitor and market.
WikiLeak-proof your business. Now.