At the office of NairaBox executives, on Thursday, March 28th, 2019, I sat next to Jay Chikezie , the co-founder of the ticketing platform. The heavily-lit room also occupied Mr. Tokunbo – one of Jay’s business partners – and a female executive, on the occasion of the interview. Anslem Jon, Editor-in-Chief of Tush Magazine walked in, in between my chat with Jay. The complimentary exchange between the two entrepreneurs turned out to be eye-opening and surreal.
Anslem: Good afternoon
Jay Chikezie: Hi.
Jay Chikezie: Yeah. You look familiar.
Anslem: Yes, we met before, when you were at Samit Mall.
Jay Chikezie: Oh Samit Mall, our small shop.
Anslem: I came there to see you
[Jay introduced Tokunbo and Mariam to Anslem]
Jay Chikezie: Oh yeah, I remember. We were supposed to do something.
Anslem: I can’t remember what it was but it had to do with money sha.
Jay Chikezie: *He giggles* As usual.
Anslem: You were supposed to give us money.
Jay Chikezie: *Laughs* We didn’t have money that time.
The conversation between the two entrepreneurs continued briefly but the dialogue above was the part that interested me. The conversation was about a business dealing that should have happened in 2016, which didn’t happen. It is clear from the dialogue that NairaBox, at the time, was an infant company with struggling finances but the brand’s low financial state is now being talked about in past tense. NairaBox is now positioned among the leading event ticketing platform in the country with what looks like a great financial position, judging by the staff spirit at the office on the day of the interview.
A four-man team – including Jay –initiated the NairaBox project in 2015. Jay said, “What we wanted to do was solve (transfer) payment issues in the country.” The idea was to introduce an app that serves as a payment alternative, however, the mission evolved after a potential sponsor – a Bank – pulled out of a meeting with the idea men who went with the belief that they were at the point of their breakthrough. ”I remember the ride back to our small shop. We were like will we just pack up and leave?”
Despite raising N20million seed money, the license to facilitate bank transfers without the backing of the bank still proved above budget for NairaBox. The NairaBox team agreed to leave out that feature of the app and attack the lifestyle space with initiatives like the online cinema and event ticket purchase that didn’t need much bureaucracy. ”We had seen the numbers of the transfers. When we learnt the license thing won’t work our optimism flattened. We then sat down to rethink the brand idea and include new features”, Jay said. ”In the two areas that we have focused on – cinema and event ticketing – I think we are now number #1 in those places.”
Jay looks nothing like the experience he has had: he failed his medical course; he didn’t ’hit it’ as an artist manager, and he became clueless following multiple failed projects. Jay told me,”I have always been the one with the ideas. My friends know I am always working on one idea or the other, but in December 2015, I was just so clueless about where my life was headed.” A married man with kids almost cannot show a “weak” nerve in a world where a man is expected to be a role model and a leader, even when things are falling apart like a pack of cards. Jay was this man in 2015 – clueless but composed.
The turnaround came with the Nairabox breakthrough, although the root could be traced to a casual meet-up between Jay and a friend who tabled a crude idea which needed funding to come alive. This was in 2012. “I met the person that built the HiBuzz platform. Both of us would meet up and he would say ‘I have this idea and I want you to help me sell it.’ I would just say ‘okay let me call this person or that person.’” The idea got no progress until 2015 when Jay was already planning to quit Nigeria and move overseas. The N20million NairaBox seed money came from one of another fortuitous meeting with another friend of Jay’s – one who got his Uncle to invest the seed-money.
The success of NairaBox is built on the perseverance and purposeful pursuit of Jay and his team of associates which includes his friend who brought in the seed money and his cousin – the son of his Uncle. The role of love and family in Jay’s rise is also underscored in how ebulliently and repetitively he mentioned his wife and children as his support system in his narrative. At one point Jay said, “She just saw potential in me and chose to be part of it.” “I used to tell her not to worry that I will give her a royal treat.” This was a promise from Jay, who was not a made man at the time, to the lady – an Editor at a leading style media outlet – who would later become Mrs Chikezie. The couple are parents to two sons who Jay said watching them grow to their full potential is his idea of a legacy.
This article was written by Ibironke Oluwatobi. He tweets via: @ibironketweets