Dubbed Africa’s most influential investment coach, Dr. Stephen Akintayo’s experience with poverty fueled his resolve to become successful. Growing up, he slept on a bare floor and scavenged to feed while his parents struggled to pay rent.
Today, Akintayo is an author, serial entrepreneur, investment coach, property developer, and digital marketing consultant. He is the MD/CEO of Gtext Global, a real estate empire operating in Nigeria and Dubai.
He shares his story with Business Elites Africa interview and gives invaluable success nuggets every entrepreneur must hold dear.
BEA: Tells us about your childhood experience with poverty.
Stephen Akintayo: We lived in Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria. My mother was a civil servant, and my dad’s business had crumbled before I was even born. We struggled to pay house rent, which affected my education because landlords kept chasing us out due to rent issues, and we moved to different locations. My parents had to move to this house we built, but it had no running water or electricity. In fact, my dad and mum were the only ones with the luxury of having a bed. The rest of us slept on the mat or bare floor. When they travelled, we would experience laying down on a bed. And there was no toilet; we used pit toilets, and, in some cases, we would defecate on our farm, which served as “direct fertiliser.” I saw a WC toilet for the first time at 13. It was a huge deal. My siblings and I were practically jubilating; it was new to us. Life was really tough, but we thank God for where we are today.
BEA: How did you build your company, GText Homes, into a real estate empire?
Stephen Akintayo: The advantage I had was that we started as a digital marketing firm. We knew how to use email marketing, social media marketing, SMS marketing, and that was what we used for other companies we managed, and it was a major game changer for us in the evolution of our brand. Today, I’m grateful to God that we leveraged that technology; we couldn’t have been here without it. I think that was the key edge. I already built a trusted brand in digital marketing, and when moving into real estate, it was easy to use the same strategies.
However, the problem we then had was that we didn’t have liquidity when going into real estate. Somebody gave us 50 acres out of the 250 acres of land the person had, which was our first estate. Unfortunately, the property was water locked. We couldn’t even get to where our own land starts from. When we took clients to the location, we would point into a far distance to show them the land they wanted to buy. They could not even see what they were going to pay for. It took doggedness to continually take clients to that location for inspection, knowing nine out of ten people would say no. But we kept at it, and that’s why I always talk about the importance of consistency in business. That played a key role in building GText.
BEA: What were the other factors that contributed to your success?
Stephen Akintayo: One was exposure. I have had a lot of international exposure. I went to Silicon Valley, Google campus, Facebook campus, Yahoo campus, and Apple campus, and I saw how all these tech giants have this massive real estate, from lands to buildings. I went to these places thinking I would see one big office, only to see bigger campuses than the University of Ibadan. It dawned on me that real estate is the bedrock of every economic activity. So I had to prioritise real estate. The exposure opened my eyes to many ideas. That’s why we were the first to start building smart homes in Nigeria’s real estate sector. Others are copying us now, and that’s okay. We are the leader as far as smart homes are concerned.
BEA: What is the most challenging thing about running a business in Nigeria?
Stephen Akintayo: The most challenging thing about running a business in Nigeria has been the need for access to bank loans. The bank loans available come at ridiculous interest rates, so we had to run away from the bank. Till today, we have not taken any dime from a bank as a loan so as not to kill the business before it gets started.
Another problem is the lack of government support. Even the intervention programmes they claim to run are given to their cliques. You have to be your own power generator, you have to be your own security, and any land you buy, you still have to deal with the so-called ‘omo oniles’ (Nigerian parlance for land grabbers), you have to factor how to take care of them and incorporate them in your development.
We have issues of salary, where the mindset of an average worker is that as long as I show up at work, they have to be paid, regardless if the company makes money or not, as against you asking yourself these questions: what part of my work is actually helping this company make money because it is in the company making money that my productivity lies? How do I make sure whatever I am doing in that company eventually leads to generating liquidity?’
I always tell those who work with me, from the driver to the Personal Assistant, that the only way you are indispensable is to bring the highest form of sales for your boss, and we saw this happen with Joseph in the Bible. We saw this happen with David and many people in the Bible who understood the key aspect of their bosses’ job that leads to income; they projected that more, making them indispensable.
So, it’s been quite tough with our workforce. Most times, you have to train people and just at the point they get to know the job, they resign. We had to create a structure where we provide accommodation close to our office for staff that needs it. We still train our staff aggressively regardless of whether you will stay or leave. We had to create a culture where we make all-expense-paid trips and a culture where we share profit with staff just to give them that sense of ownership.
BEA: Do you sometimes feel so overwhelmed that the thought of quitting crosses your mind?
Stephen Akintayo: Of course, I feel discouraged every week, if not every day. It’s funny how people think that because you have offices or live in Banana Island or Burj Khalifa, it suddenly means you are immune to challenges. It’s tougher at the top because it’s not about you alone. There are many people involved. When you make one wrong step, it affects so many people in one way or the other. So the higher you go, the tougher it gets.
Poverty is hard, and prosperity is also hard, just that it gets more luxurious as you go higher, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s tough and you will face many battles. For me, it’s worth it because you’re changing lives and impacting society. Ultimately, it’s a worthless life that is just rewarding an individual. Your life has to become a flow like a river that enriches other people’s lives. It gives me joy when I look at the almost 300 staff in our company and over 15,000 independent workers and the impact the company is making. It’s not just a business for one individual, it’s a business that’s adding value to others as well.
BEA: How have your priorities changed from when you first started, and also knowing what you know now, is there anything you would have done differently?
Stephen Akintayo: Incidentally, my priorities have stayed the same. I knew what I was going into. I knew what I wanted. I had prayed to God to bless me and put me in a position to be a channel of blessing to others and not just me and my family. This is where Africa needs to make progress because many so-called wealthy people on the continent are just about themselves and their families. There is nothing wrong with giving your family the best, but you have to be a channel of blessing; it has to flow. That’s the joy of being wealthy. For me, I live every day like it’s my last. My only regret is that my mother is not alive to see how her sacrifices paid off. She borrowed money to send us to school and sold her jewellery to prioritise her children’s tuition more than anything else.
BEA: With many property scams in the real estate industry, how does one identify genuine properties?
Stephen Akintayo: Good question. I have repeatedly said that you can be scammed in anything, but the first ingredient of being scammed is your desire for something cheap. It takes some element of greed to be scammed. Many people are always chasing after cheap properties, which is mainly the number one reason they get scammed: property is not cheap anywhere in the world. However, there can be a flexible payment system that you can leverage. That’s why you see the western world having a mortgage of up to 30 years. If you’re a first-time buyer, they make you pay just 10%, and you can get a loan for the rest. All these are schemes by their government to make accessibility to real estate easy. When people want to get it cheap, they get their hands burnt. So stop looking for cheap properties; look for genuine and credible ones.
The next thing is also that you have to check the track record of the company selling the property. A company starts the business in two, and because they have billboards everywhere, you start buying properties from them. One day, they will pack up and disappear. You need to look at their credibility: who are they? What have they done before now? How long have they existed? Who are the owners?
It is difficult for you to hold a company whose owners are invisible accountable in the future. It would be best if you found out these things to prevent you from being scammed. And, of course, you should do business with Gtext Homes; we underpromise and over-deliver.
BEA: How do you deal with failures?
Stephen Akintayo: Failure is an experience and not a personality. My attitude has always been that failure is not me. That I failed is not personalised, it is an experience, I learn from it, and I move forward. I have known over the years that success always comes out of failure. Many great innovations today in the world actually came out of failure. Some of the greatest scientific discoveries came from failure – the Law of physics and aerodynamics are some of them. So, you must understand that the best comes out of failure, and you should fail quickly and faster and learn from your failure. Also, you want to get mentorship and training to reduce your failures. That way, you are learning from the failures of others rather than learning from your failures.
BEA: What is unique about Gtext Holdings in an industry with many real estate companies?
Stephen Akintayo: GText is a big company with many subsidiaries, but the most popular is the real estate arm. We are into agriculture, technology, eCommerce, logistics, events, etc. But for our real estate, what makes us unique is that we are the pioneers of green and smart real estate in Nigeria. We are the first to do 24/7 operations – so you can call us at 3 am, and someone will attend to you – we are the first to start delivering customers’ documents to them worldwide using DHL and without charging extra.
We are the market leader. We keep innovating, and we keep stepping up. We are the first to have the vision of building 25,000 residential homes in Nigeria.
BEA: What advice will you give someone trying to start a real estate business?
Stephen Akintayo: Have a unique selling point if you’re going to start real estate. Have something you are bringing to the table that others don’t have. Number two will be to make sure you get training. Not even money is a substitute for training. In other words, coming into a new sector with much money is no substitute for training. Many consultants will just eat your money and leave you hanging there. So personally, for yourself, go and get training. Look for somebody who has done it, even if it is to request one-on-one training. There are two ways to achieve that, you either serve the person or pay the person but get training and get a mentor.
Sometimes on my social media platform, you will see me sit down and learn from my own mentors till today. Every father has a father. People have gone ahead of you, and they know it better. They know what you are likely to encounter and can give you so much counsel to give you peace of mind.
BEA: What are the qualities a good entrepreneur should have?
Stephen Akintayo: Firstly, vision is very key. You should know where you are going because if you don’t, you will not endure the challenges you will face along the way. Once you know that, as you are facing a headache, it will be a lot easier to endure.
Number two, be a doer than a talker. We are in a world where everybody just wants to talk. There are too many talkers and few doers. So make sure you invest so much in execution and be an action person.
The last point is to do everything you can to be consistent. Some people will not even do business with you for the first three years. They just want to check out how consistent you are. There will be a phase of your life when you are not even doing much, but everything will just be working. It will just be as if the universe has compressed all your blessings of over ten years into one year. Stay at that business but keep changing strategies. Don’t jump from one business to the other. When the business you are into has grown big and become a household name, you can start diversifying. But in the beginning, focus on one thing till it’s successful.
So that when you expand, you have enough resources to hire the best set of people for your next venture. But if you stretch too early, you will die so soon. Everything great starts small. So start small, think big, and grow fast. Don’t rush to the top; they don’t catch latecomers in the school of success.
Colonel Sanders, who founded Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), started after age 60, and KFC is worldwide now. What is important is how you finish and not how you start.
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