Alexander Amosu is a prolific entrepreneur whose business interests span from ringtones to bespoke, luxury goods. He has appeared as a "Dragon" in the Nigerian version of Dragons Den and he has many celebrity clients clamouring over his bespoke, luxury goods brands which include suits and technology items.
Alexander recently brought the highly successful OK! Magazine to Nigeria and publishes it through one of his companies, the Kamson Luxury Group.
I caught up with him recently to talk to him about his entrepreneurial journey and what drives him to success.
You started your entrepreneurial journey from a young age and started your first business at the age of 16 promoting sports events and club nights. What motivated you to start so young?
Alexander: I grew up in a family where money was not easily obtained and my family were not exactly loaded with money. From a very young age I've always had the mentality that if I wanted to get anything, I would have to get it myself.
My first experience of business was a paper round which enabled me to buy the latest trainers and that gave me an element of prestige at school. It dawned on me that I had to work hard in order to be successful and to be recognised. The promotions business and subsequent ventures grew from there.
I've always been searching for that knowledge. I subscribed to a business start-up course in college that aside from my actual studying would give me a better understanding of entrepreneurialism. I also did my research and found Business Link and Business Charter - anything I could basically lay my hands on that would further give me that information or power to be successful.
As a result, I was able to get a grant with the Princes' Trust, which enabled me to start a cleaning company at the age of 19. The idea for the cleaning company came after my pregnant aunt asked me to clean her house and I straight away recognised a demand for such a service. I used the £2,000 grant for advertising.
So do you believe that people are born entrepreneurs, or can it be learnt?
I think it's all about your drive. I don't know if you could be born into being an entrepreneur, I'm not sure about that. I think everyone has a different drive. I think a classic example is Duncan Bannatyne or even Simon Woodroffe (founder of Yo! Sushi) who started their entrepreneurialism late.
In order to be an entrepreneur, you need to find a unique gap in the market and fill that gap. That's what makes people truly successful. In my situation, it was slightly reversed. I was motivated by the need to make money and then I found ways to do it. If you don't work, you don't eat.
Copyright: Alexander Amousu
You made a lot of sacrifices at a young age in order to become successful. Did you ever feel you were missing out on anything?
I wouldn't say I missed out on anything. I think somebody who is looking at it will probably think I missed out. I don't think I did. Whilst my mates were going out spending money on clubbing, I was creating my own club nights where I was having a good time, and making money.
You had a very successful ringtone business. How did that come about?
It was almost accidental. I used to work in the shop Tandy at weekends to fund my business ideas, and I got a mobile phone. So I was playing with my phone one day, and got bored of the sound of it, so I started to recreate songs on the keypad. Within 2 - 3 hours, I had what is now known as a ringtone. I played it to my brother who took it to school and by the time he came back, I had 21 new orders from people demanding the same ringtone.
As an entrepreneur, I saw a demand and I also noticed that there were no European companies selling RnB and Hip Hop ringtones. I started that business from my mother's living room and was promoting it via flyers, etc.
Within 2 months, I had 21 members of staff and had moved the operations from my home into 2 offices. That company turned over £1.6m within a year and I sold the company 2 years later in 2004 for just under £9m.
So what made you decide to break into the luxury goods market?
When I sold the ringtone company in 2004, there was a financial crisis and a lack of mortgages. I took a year out to think about what I wanted to do. I noticed even though things were tight, the brands that were not suffering was luxury goods.
I noticed a gap and decided to start my own bespoke, luxury brand. However, as I sold my last company for £9m, I wanted to sell my next company for £500m. That's how driven I am. My first foray into this came about, again by accident when a friend was asking me what to buy his wife for Christmas. He wanted to buy her a mobile phone and I suggested that he re-create a bespoke version of what she wanted. He asked if I could do it, asked me the cost, and I literally plucked a random figure from the sky and said £10,000. He wrote the cheque, and I didn't look back. It started with that, and we now sell bespoke iPads, bespoke suits, etc. The company is going really well.
That is amazing. You have been very successful.
But I don't consider myself a success. I see a lot of people like Richard Branson or like Duncan Bannatyne or like Simon from Yo! Sushi - a lot of successful entrepreneurs and I haven't done a third of what they've done, in terms of achievement. I wouldn't really call myself a success until I've done at least a minimum 80% of what they've done. There is so much more in me. Failure is part of a success and I've made mistakes along the way. Failure is important. Getting up and moving past that failure is more important.
Finally, what three pieces of advice would you give to a business owner, or someone wanting to start his or her own business?
You need to have dedication, because I think dedication is what inspires you and drives you every morning. We all have problems, but you need to become a problem solver. You need determination. Determination gives you that energy, that push, that drive that you require and that's the one thing that I think is the key.
My other advice is to always be better than what you were yesterday. That drive, that ambition to always be the best at what you do. You need to know what your best skills are and run with them.