The Founder and Managing Director of Color Me Digital, Frederik Obasi, is a dark, fairly built young man who has a simple and efficient dress style – on this day, he is in a dark T-shirt, a blue jeans trouser with a pair of snickers. He has the appearance of a gentleman, one that Lagos single girls would not hesitate to shoot their shot at, especially after hearing his profile. He wears a ring on his finger; although not on his engagement ring finger (so maybe the window is open after all).
However, the energy he communicates is mostly work. With him, there are two IPhones and a mobile computer – which I suspect are his usual companion – most certainly for ease of business. For someone like him who occupies principal roles at two leading marketing agencies whose clientele includes Alex Iwobi, Maraji and Lola OJ, his office goes wherever he goes. “I travel a lot and I have a team on ground that does the day-to-day running”, he tells me as we discuss. “Now that I am in a kind of chairman’s position, I have a lot of engagements that causes me to travel”, he adds with some shyness in his tone.
There are hardly any overnight success stories anymore and his story isn’t different. “I have always been entrepreneurial. I have always started businesses”; From his food-selling business in college, to building a replica platform of Jobberman at age 18, to more recent enterprises like UniStart, Study Search and HypeBuzz; Frederik Obasi has shown a keen and unending interest in doing business and it is natural to attribute his interest in business to the entrepreneurial nature of his kinsmen from Eastern Nigeria. “I think being an entrepreneur is something you can learn but for me it is something that’s like a gift”, he says.
While he was sure of his calling to do business, he never thought Nigeria was the place to do it. He says to me, “I never thought I would come to Nigeria to start businesses.” His earliest experience of Nigeria was when he returned from the U.K., at 12. He shuffled between Imo and Kano during his stay and recalls how he had to adapt to the Nigerian setting. “My fondest experience was jumping bus from Imo to Kano”, he tells me as we progress with our chat. However, it was until he returned to the U.K. and started working that it occurred to him that home is where the prize is.
The Eureka moment came when he was working in the U.K., for a company owned by a German billionaire who had investments in emerging markets like Nigeria. “I was basically part of the team. I was an analyst. I was 21 – 22. His whole thing is to create businesses outside of established markets, in emerging markets like Pakistan, Ghana, Senegal. So I thought to myself ‘wow!’ I read that Nigeria was evolving and I see the changes when I come around. So I thought that this guy is in Nigeria building businesses and how many Nigerians are going back to build businesses. That’s was the first time the idea sparked in my head and I started to look for opportunities.”
These opportunities he found in things he could relate with as a fresh graduate. What was obvious to him at the time was that every season, there’s a mass of Nigerians aspiring to further their education in foreign schools but they often face challenges of funding, processing and fraud. So Frederik started UniStart – a platform that acted as a middleman between Nigerian students and their preferred foreign institutions. “I knew that student discount business was quite a big business in the UK”, he explains. The business gained grounds in Nigerian institutions like University of Lagos and Ahmad Bello University where tens of students saw their dreams of securing admission in a foreign school, turn into reality.
The but was – the business satisfied the clients but the owners needed a more viable platform. “It was tough”, Frederik says. “We got a lot of people to register. The interest was there but it was difficult to make any money from the business.” With a seed funding, the business was morphed into “StudySearch” which operated on a higher level. Frederik says “it was doing okay” and was even on its way to being acquired by a much bigger company but the deal fell through at the last minute, after a year of negotiation, because they (himself and the acquiring company) asked themselves: “is it really going to fly?” He tells me his doubt was not in making money but in the sustainability of the structure.
The business “fizzled out” eventually, but one of its components was retained. Helping students with processing admission into foreign universities involves a heavy use of digital marketing, particularly the use of social media influencers; and that was a goldmine which Frederik saw. Frederik tells me his experience of witnessing the boom in that industry, helped him see an opportunity for his next line of business. “Some of the biggest opportunities come through social media,” he tells me as we both sip coffee from our cups. “People nowadays would rather send you a DM than send you a mail”, he adds. He drives his point home by saying, “social media first connected people for fun, now it connects them for business.”
These realisations of his inspired “Hype Buzz” – the creative marketing super brand that works with social media popular figures like Maraji, Lasisi Elenu to optimise their content. He tells me their role as an agency is to “come in and help with the monetisation.” “We see this cool content and we connect them with the brand. Content creators are best at knowing what their audience wants. We just look at the data and give advice”, he adds. He likes his clients to be original with their content. “There is a community for everyone”, he states, convincingly.
Now, we’re talking about another high profile client of his – Alex Iwobi – and Fred let’s me understand how exciting it is to work with a soccer star of Alex’s stature. He tells me the brand marketing of the soccer star involves a lot of consulting, meetings, traveling and most of all, strategising. And we get to talk about his controversial topic: “Arsenal ace Alex Iwobi at 3am drug-fuelled party hours ahead of Cup defeat to Nottingham Forest” – the news story appeared on TheSun Newspaper on January 6th, 2018. Fredrik explains to me how their strategic moves caused the tension to douse, even though he reiterates that it was a false story. He lays emphasis on their media network – how it was known to them that the tide was coming, which helped them prepare an effective reaction – a statement to the “less than 50%” of the members of the public with genuine interest in the athlete and “his truth”; but he explains that in some other cases, especially when the tide comes from the gathering of trolls, “it is best to just ignore.”
Adding up all these narrated events, the figure I have, for his age, is in the late twenties or a little more than that. Frederik has embraced evolution with both hands; evolution of ideas and philosophies. He says to me, “the older you get, the better your view is to changes and it is good to evolve.” This openness to new thoughts is why he likes working with people smarter than him, so long there’s interest. Fred’s ability to evolve is not the real secret of his success. It is his eye for potential growth in a trend that is principal in his success. And it is similar to what is known of Peter Thiel, although Frederik won’t accept my comparison of him with the billionaire. He prefers not to be compared and that’s why his mantra is: “my own lane, my vibe, my own time.”
His early experience in Nigeria also features in his success tale. “I think many visits to Nigeria sowed a seed in me that later developed”, he tells me. He has been investing in bridging the gap between Nigeria and the world outside. Culture and heritage is not a myth to him. “I have always been that boy that connects with my Nigerian roots. Till today I understand Igbo. I speak Igbo and it is one of the things that helps me when I come back to Nigeria. A lot of business and market people when they hear your British accent they think you can’t understand what they say,” he says. At this point, Frederik Obasi says to me, “I embraced my culture and I embraced my roots”, trying to impress me with his pidgin skill: “me I dey try small small”, he says; but there is still so much of his polished British accent in his statement.
He talks about business with the tone of a gambler, explaining how instincts and insight are important in decision making, especially for him, when it comes to investing in an idea. He agrees with me when I mentioned my observation, “well, to a certain extent, the more experience you have, the better you become at making bets because you have seen trends and patterns; and you know how they work.” There is a trend in the “Tech” field that excites him. He tells me, “I have never been distant from Tech. I am a big big fan of Tech. I have been keeping in touch and I would like to do something about it.”
However, it is the entertainment sector that his interest is heavy. He shares his fascination with how music travels from the remotest area to the most farthest place within a short space of time, often barring limiting social factors; but his interest is still in the process of forming a significant idea. HypeBuzz is the current project in his hand and he is building it later by layer with a team of between 8 to 10 different specialists who have a shared vision which sounds simple but is exactly the world needs. This vision is “to inspire people.”
This piece was written by Ibironke Oluwatobi. He tweets via: @ibironketweets
Culled from Issue 21