Solomon Awajigbana Obongo, a graduate of Human Anatomy, is the Chief Executive Officer of Realbole and Grills, a quick service restaurant in Lagos State, Nigeria, that specialises in grilled plantain, yam and potato served with native sauce alongside fish, turkey and chicken. The Rivers State-born project manager and start-up enthusiast, in this chat with KATELEMI CLAUDE, sees business opportunities in the country
Why did you leave your course of study to roast plantain and other tubers, a trade dominated by women?
Basically, I don’t roast the tubers myself; I manage a team to satisfy the lovers of bole and fish. However, grilling, I think, is not dominated by women. I saw an opportunity and I jumped at it.
When did the business idea come to you?
I had just relocated to Lagos for a job from Port Harcourt, so my friends in the office asked me why I left all the bole and fish in Port Harcourtandcame to Lagos. So, I thought, ‘why don’t we bring this bole and fish to Lagos?’ And here we are.
Don’t you receive taunts, as a graduate, for engaging in a business considered by many as menial?
No, not at all. People love it and I get appraisals. Our bole and fish recipe is not like the regular; it’s well prepared and packaged. It is a business we intend to expand to other parts of the country.
How lucrative is the business?
So far it has proven to be lucrative. And we intend to havemore outlets across the nation, because it is acceptable by every ethnic group.
Would anything make you leave the business for a salaried job?
I love business, and instead of going for a salaried job, I would build more businesses. I hope to diversify from this business.
Would you encourage any of your kids to join this line of business?
I would encourage their entrepreneurial pursuit, regardless of which. I feel that our African parents suppressed so many ideas; that is why Africa is where it is at the moment.
What challenges do you face in the business?
Following the demands from very far locations. It’s not easy and cheap to send food down to far locations. But we intend to launch more outlets to serve the demands.
How supportive is your family in the business?
I get support from friends and family. They help in advertising the business. Some even go as far as making sure the referrals patronise us.
Do you think Nigeria’s business climate isfavourable to entrepreneurs?
I may sound very optimistic by saying it is favourable because there is alot to be done to make Nigeria a developed country. So, yes it is highly favourable. Nigeria is a virgin land of opportunities. The best thing is the rapidly growing population ready to buy into any idea as long as it is viable.
Is there anything you expect from the society or government to encourage entrepreneurs?
I believe that business-enabling policies will go a long wayin boosting the development of more businesses. Also, it is the government’s duty to provide basic infrastructure. For example, it is very difficult for a manufacturing company to run without electricity. It will increase the cost of production and may lead to the disappearance of the company after a few months of operation.
Where do you see yourself and your business in the next five to 10 years?
We hope to expand and have, atleast, 40 outlets across Nigeria, mostly in the west, south and east, because people in these areas know about it and won’t find it difficult to accept.
Do you think you have reached your life’s goal?
The more you live, the higher you want to go in life. So every step forward will give me some sense of satisfaction, but not arrival. There’s more to be done. I hope to diversify into other options like media and content creation, real estate and the hospitality industry. Maybe when I have my hands on all these, I may feel satisfied.
How would you advise budding entrepreneurs?
I will advise budding entrepreneurs to lookout for the needs/problems of the society and see where they can assist in solving them. And they should have fun while at it. The world is messed up in a lot of ways and it’s our duty as youths to fix it instead of pointing fingers.