For many quite conversant with the creative industry in Nigeria, the name Steve Babaeko is one name that commands respect because of his exploits in the creative scene. Usually termed a guru, Steve Babaeko who prefers being called a serial entrepreneur has successfully demonstrated that every right dream is worth following. Aside his exploits, Steve Babaeko in actual fact he is humble; his willingness to accept he is late for an appointment and then apologize isn’t a trait that can be found in so many CEOs. Below is the excerpt of Tush Magazine’s interview with him in his magnificent office here in Lagos.
How and when did you start X3M Ideas?
I started X3M Ideas August 1ST, 2012 with a pretty small team of about 8 persons. I had studied the business landscape of the advertising world in Nigeria, seeing their strengths and weaknesses and ofcourse with my experience, I felt the business of advertising could be conducted in a different manner and I said to myself, let’s give it a shot and that’s how it all started.
How much experience did you have then and was it sufficient enough for you to have to gone to set up an agency?
I think I had just about enough experience for me to pilot a ship by myself. I started with McCann Saatchi and Saatchi where I spent 5 years working there, then I left to Prima Garnet Ogilvy where I did another 5 years before been seconded to 141 Worldwide as creative director where I did 7 years; so in all I had about 17 years experience which is just about the amount of experience I needed.
While working for these other agencies, did you ever foresee yourself owning an agency?
To be honest, I never did. It never crossed my mind that I was going to own an agency, it all happened circumstantial at best – being unplanned or not dreamt about.
When did the transition happen?
It happened just about when I turned 40 years; the moment I turned 40, I started seeing the world from a totally different perspective. I started asking myself what legacies I would be remembered for and what would I leave my children with. I mean we all would die and for the Christians not until that proverbial book of life is opened would anyone ever mentioned their names and to me that scared me. So I took a different approach and that spurred me up.
Aside X3M Ideas, do you have other investments?
Yes I do, I am a serial entrepreneur. There is X3M Ideas which is a full fledge advertising company, there is X3M Music where Praiz and Simi are signed unto, there is Zero Degrees – an audio and visual company, there is also Media 100, we also have stakes in another media company and I just acquired 10 hectares of farmland as well. I am always looking for opportunities and for me success is finding a gap, developing ways to bridge the gap and creating values. I ventured into farming because come 2050, statistics have projected that Nigeria would be the third largest populous country in the world after China and India and there may be a food crisis then, so people with farms would be kings by then. There is also something Bill Gates said ‘success is the ability to know where the world would go to and be the first to get there before anyone else’.
In what order did you form these companies?
X3M Music is actually the oldest; I was already running the label while I was working with the other agencies I mentioned. I signed Xcetera, OverDose and Bantu and I also did management for Nneka before I started signing Praiz and Simi. X3M Ideas was next and I started Zero Degrees at almost the same time because we wanted to service clients properly.
How do you relate with your staffs here seeing that you joke a lot on social media?
I am very free, infact my staffs call me Steve, and we don’t have a prison plan structure here. I mean if you are a modern CEO, the title might be a burden because the aim is to be able to engage your team without limitation. I don’t see them as working for me; I always tell them to see this job as working for themselves. If I hadn’t been serious with my job at 141 or the other agencies I worked, there is no way I would be serious now. I basically built everything now while working for these other agencies. We live in a different era now where some CEOs prefer sending their staffs for training to empower themselves with more knowledge.
There is this famous story of you coming to Lagos with just 500 Naira, can you shed more light on that, what was going through your mind and all that?
Well, 500 Naira was actually the money I had left on getting to Lagos after paying my fare. After school, I always knew I was going to do advertising and I really had to come to Lagos where we had the big leagues of advertising agencies so I packed my bags and came down to Lagos.
What was going on through your mind during your journey knowing well that you had no place to stay?
Whenever I am making an important decision in my life, I always leave my head and mind as blank as possible to avoid distractions or confusions. I knew I was coming to Lagos and all through my journey from Benin to Lagos I left my mind blank. It was until the bus dropped us off at Ojota bus-stop then I knew I had to make my next move. I remembered an uncle of mine whom I worked with in the past used to work at Durban hotel present day Golden Tulip, so I went there and luckily for me the manager there was a Hausa man and I speak Hausa fluently even though I’m Kabba in Kogi State; I told him my story and he allowed me squat in a room with one of the chef which happened to be my home for two years and every day I would stare myself in the mirror and say ‘for me not to be successfully in this town, then the beach must dry up’.
What is your general business philosophy?
Excellence. Excellence in thought and excellence in execution; sometimes thinking about an idea may be awesome but looking at the execution is something else. Clients don’t have too many times to give you an option to fail; you deliver a good job today and mess up the next day, you probably may get butted out. So every time you have to go out there to prove yourself, that’s why it is excellence in thought and excellence in execution.
With our current business setting, would you advise young people to venture into advertising even with the unfavourable factors?
Ofcourse, the more the merrier; I always preach the gospel that more young people should get into the creative space. One of the boosting factors for our GDP as a country is the creative industry. We have more population of youths than any other age group and the unemployment rate is hitting 40 percent and above. So instead of using their strengths for illegal vices, why not engage them in the creative space and allow them utilize their strength and passion there.
What is next for you and X3M Ideas?
I am working really hard now so I can have more time to myself later on. I love sailing and playing golf which I haven’t had much time do because of work, so basically for me it is work now and relax later. For X3M Ideas, putting X3M Ideas on the stock market as the first advertising agency to do that would be the next phase, with more money and investment.