The Chief Executive Officer ( CEO) of Gavaar Solutions Limited (gavaar.com),
Michael Abisuga, in this exclusive interview with TEMITOPE ADEBAYO, explains how entrepreneurs can run a successful business in Nigeria, source for start-up capital, among others. Excerpts….
Can we meet you, sir?
I am Michael Abisuga, an entrepreneur using the synergy of Tech and Business Strategies to provide world class result oriented business solutions with multiple economic impacts. I have over 20 years experience using tech to transform various sectors. I started my tech journey in Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), over 20 years ago as an undergraduate, where I developed the websites for 3 departments and a faculty, in my 1st and 2nd year. I have worked with various businesses and organisations. I have a B.sc in Architecture and Diploma in Computer Technology from OAU.
I am currently running Gavaar Solutions Limited (gavaar.com), a technology and digital marketing company that uses various digital tools and technology to aid business and organisation growth. I also co-founded a furniture and interior design business which was designed to be a profitable business from day one, by using a made on order model in furniture manufacturing. I am also currently working on a startup, that uses Augmented Reality (AR) to aid interior décor and furniture purchase.
I also study, monitor and trade the forex market in my leisure time, and I am married to a wonderful woman and we have 2 kids.
You are into multiple businesses, Tell us more about each of your businesses?
Certainly, I’d be happy to share more about my diverse entrepreneurial ventures. Firstly, Gavaar solutions is a technology and digital marketing company, I started the business more than a decade ago, when the buzz around tech and digital marketing was just gaining momentum, and we were able to set a lot of organizations and businesses on the right path to include tech and digital marketing into their operations.
At a time, around 8 years ago, I needed to diversify and have a real life business that is not virtual. Interior and furniture making was the easiest option because of my Architectural background. So I and my partner started an interior and furniture making business. We discovered it was not easy to break into the industry in it’s entirety, so we started by niching down to kids spaces design and furniture making, and became a leading company in that space with our business, minime_ng on instagram. We have been able to grow the business to have our own furniture manufacturing factory and has done various outdoors, full house, and offices projects for companies and individuals.
In my years in digital marketing I have been following and intrigued by the development in Augmented reality (AR). I always researched the application of AR to real life businesses and scenarios, and I’ve consulted for some organisations in that regards. Recently, the development in AR has been more democratized and made it possible for people to view digital images in their spaces using their mobile devices. One of the best applications of AR in businesses is in furniture purchase. So, it wasn’t an eureka moment for me to have a startup to help people visualize their furniture and décor items in their spaces, in real time before making a purchase. This will birth Corlurx, décor luxury at its finest.
At what point did you decide to become an entrepreneur and tell us when you have been in each of the businesses?
I think I have always been an entrepreneur since my undergraduate days, and went full time as an entrepreneur in 2013. I have spent 11 years running my digital business- Gavaar and about 7 years running the furniture and interior business.
No doubt about the effects of the subsidy removal and the new federal government’s Forex policy on businesses. How have these developments impacted your businesses?
This is a very good question, because this is one of the major challenge we are currently facing as a business and manufacturer. Our furniture and interior business is heavily dependent on logistics and there is a limit to the amount of the cost we can pass on to the customer, as it could make our fees and products prices look too expensive, considering the current economic situation.
So, we have to reduce our own profit margin to cater for some of the extra cost of logistics. Also, most of our raw materials are forex sensitive while some of them are imported, so the costs of materials have increased by more than 100% in some cases in the last 2 years.
Do you have any set growth targets for your businesses?
Yes, we have set milestones to take our products to every end of the country and expand to 3-4 African countries, and also serve some markets in Europe and America. We also intend to be a powerhouse for Augmented Reality and it’s applications across the continent.
What are you doing differently to remain in business and ahead of your competitors?
We are a profit-first-focused business and using tech has also helped us to reach people that would have been impossible. The furniture business is filled with players that invest heavily in showrooms, though some of them are very profitable, while some are running at a lost. We have devised a model to sell furniture and interior décor without having to invest so much in maintaining a showroom. So any furniture we make has been ordered and paid for, and will not just be sitting in a showroom waiting for someone to pay. Although we had a showroom for like a 2 year period to see how that model works, but discontinued it. So we have been able to reduce our operational cost by using tech and digital marketing.
The next level is the introduction of Augmented reality to our furniture business. That will bring the showroom to all our customers spaces through the camera of their mobile devices. We will still have walk-in experience centers (showrooms) in the nearest future, in various cities, cos it offers it’s own immense benefit also.
We also have an advantage by having an arm of our business that focuses on kids spaces and furniture. It’s a great competitive advantage.
Can you share with us the strength of your workforce?
There are different companies and we maintain a flexible workforce arrangement across boards. At some times we have like 24 people working with us for a single project and some times 4. To keep our expenses and overhead low, we have a per contract arrangement for most of our projects, especially for our interior and furniture business.
We all know funding is a core challenge for many entrepreneurs and business owners, How difficult it is for you to secure funding for your businesses?
Sincerely, I have not tried to raise funds for all our businesses, they have all been self funded. The business itself drives it’s own growth, albeit slow, but consistently. However, for our new startup we are looking at exploring some funding options so at to speed up scale and growth.
Considering your experience as an entrepreneur, educate Nigerian youths on how to start and run a successful business amidst the current economic situation in the country?
Considering the economic situation and the shrinking middle class across the globe, especially in Nigeria, My first advice is to look at the market and study those that will need the products or services you want to build a business around. You can build a Business to Business or Business to Consumer Model or both. Develop the competence or partnerships to be able to run and scale the business. If it’s something unique, try and test how the market will react to it before going in with you two feet. Focus on marketing, sales and having a good product and service and you will scale just fine.
Do you have any awards and recognition to your name?
Gavaar Solutions Limited won the social media marketing company of the year in 2015, at the Nigerian Technology Awards.