Debonair, delightful and down-to-earth, he’s one of the youngest chief executive officers in the country. A software developer, an entrepreneur and Chief Executive Officer of Rom-Flex Group; Founder and CEO of Nigeria’s arguably most preferred and fastest growing online shopping website, Payporte.com. Suave and streetwise, 37-year-old Eyo Bassey is a poster boy for the growing army of young Nigerian entrepreneurs. With businesses in the United States, the United Kingdom, China and Turkey, Bassey’s dream is to conquer the whole of Africa, starting with Sub-Sahara Africa. A purposeful dreamer and an energetic achiever, the Pay Porte CEO isn’t a typical businessman; his dream is to make business leaders out of his many young staff with entrepreneurial capacity. Fatherless at the age of 11, he felt he was not going to make it in life. The story’s different today. In this interview with Azuka Ogujiuba and Tosin Clegg, Bassey talks about his childhood fears, pranks and transformation. He also discusses why his company made the bread-seller now model, Olajumoke Orisaguna its brand ambassador. Married with three kids, Bassey wishes he had married earlier than when he did. He also touches on his love for education and the next level for Pay Porte.
Your company just signed OlajumokeOrisaguna; why did you sign her amidst the brand ambassadors you already have?
Basically, we heard about Jumoke’s story which is similar to the Pay Porte story – being a Nigerian story from grass to grace. Pay Porte in e-commerce space is the only truly Nigerian brand right now. So it was very easy for us to connect to her story because this is just someone hawking bread on the street and suddenly she is in the limelight! That was the same thing with us because when we came in, other brands were there which had foreign investors and all but we were truly Nigerian. Here we are in the e-commerce space in Nigeria and we were able to connect the Pay Porte story with the Olajumoke story. It was very easy for us to embrace her and sign her up to be a part of the family.
What makes Pay Porte different from e-commerce brands?
Just like I said, we are truly Nigerian. There are a lot of things that differentiate us from other brands. Pay Porte is the brand in Nigeria that is currently doing 24 hours delivery. We are the only brand, regardless of the exchange rate, of which our base currency is dollars, that still does N160 on the currency. We are known for affordability. Pay Porte is the only e-commerce brand in the country yet to retrench or downsize. We are very stable and our business model is sustainable; bringing hope to people working with us. We are also the only e-commerce brand that has got physical offices in major economies in the world. We have offices in the UK, US, China and we just opened an office in Turkey; fully staffed and operative. These are the things that make us different. Our delivery and pricing are good and these and more make us different.
Why so many offices?
We wanted to compete and get known for best prices. So we looked for where the products Nigerians are looking out for are and where they can be got at the best prices. Nigerians like a whole lot of American products and as we were colonised by the British, which we also like to dress like, so hence we have an office in Britain. We also know of China because a lot of household things and kitchen wares are brought in from there. We discovered a lot of Nigerian men wear Turkish suits so we opened an office in Turkey. So bringing affordability to Nigerians drove us to open offices in these major hubs in the world.
Why is the company called Pay Porte?
Pay Porte is actually a part of a larger dream. We hope that one day we will become a switching company to be able to do transactions in form of payments and all of that but that space is highly regulated at the moment then we need to get a lot of licence(s) to get to that. So we felt the easiest entry to that space was to start with e-commerce and the name Pay Porte is going to be a destination for payment whether for goods and services or payments in terms of money transfers, bills and all so eventually we would metamorphose into that. So we got the name from the idea of a payment destination as you look at the words ‘Pay Porte’.
Is it true your firm is planning to support Jumoke’s education?
This is very true because anything we do we base it on sustainability because we know education is really key. For a woman in this time and age, education is a necessity. Inasmuch as she has shot into limelight, she has to be educated. So we decided to offer her what will take her for the most part of her life through a solid foundation which other things she wants to do would revolve around.
What about her husband?
I would use this opportunity to reach out to corporate organisations to extend similar gesture to help him get educated. We wish Pay Porte could do everything but we hope that corporate organisations rise up to support Jumoke’s husband so that both of them can become an epitome of hope to other Nigerians who are in what they have been through.
How long has Pay Porte been in existence?
Well, we officially, in terms of operation, were one year on 25th of September last year but as a business we were actually registered in Nigeria January 2014 but opened up for business 25th September 2014. So we are one year and six months old. Pay Porte is wholly and solely Nigerian and belongs to a Nigerian but controlled by women. We have seven people in the management team but only two of us are male while the rest are female. It’s truly a Nigerian company and we hope to be the largest e-commerce in sub-Sahara Africa.
What other things are you into?
Well, I am the Group Managing Director of Romflex Group and we are a software and system integration company. My background is actually software development. So at Romflex, what we actually do is look for a problem and provide solution to it and then implement it into the business. We are also into oil and gas, engineering and Pay Porte, which is e-commerce. Also, we have haulage solutions and our own vessels. Then we also have Rom-Flex which is a revenue enhancement system for state governments. We help them deal with their revenue issues. I superintend over all this.
What drives your passion?
What drives me is basically the excitement of results. Like I tell my people in the office whatever you do start from where you can get a little result which would give you an encouragement. A drug mustn’t be bitter before it has effect on your body. What drive me are little things so when I look at Nigeria of today, I can’t but help to see how I can contribute my quota to the country. I work with a lot of young people and the average age is 25. We have over 210 staff and this group of people drives me. When I wake up in the morning and I come to the office and I see them, I am like these guys have hope in me. That drives me too. And I have been involved in laudable projects that involve young people and when I remember what this young people have achieved, it drives me. Results drive me and turn me on. Nigeria itself drives me on and the people around me.
What are your projections for the next five years?
In five years, we want Pay Porte to be the largest e-commerce company in Africa. That’s our dream and we are achieving it one step at a time. We are getting into Ghana in April and we have presence in Morocco and South Africa and then the whole of Africa in five years. Personally, I hope to retire in five years but my initial retirement is in seven years from now but I hope to have achieved and affected so many lives. Personally, I should have been able to transfer all my businesses to those that will be able to run them and be able to bring up young Nigerians to conquer their own space.
How do you unwind?
I really hope I have time to while away; I am very busy. I try to get back to family because I am always away and also try to watch movies. I really like American high school movies as you see their lifestyles. I also love science fiction movies. Then, I get along with old friends.
Tell us about your educational background?
I have two first degrees. First is civil engineering at a very young age and went on to study pure and applied physics with options in electronics. Later, I went to do a Master’s degree in Information Communication Technology from Virginia State University and I am an alumnus of Massachusetts Institution of Technology. I am also an alumnus of the London Business School and I am yet to become an alumnus of Harvard University as I am running a few courses there.
Are you from an education-driven family?
Yes. My mum is a teacher and I have passion for school and I love going to school. I got a few courses to finish this year in Harvard and I hope to finish as soon as possible.
Do you have any nickname?
The first part of my secondary school was in Federal Government College, Minna. I was called ‘Alias Pluto’. The ceiling in the hostel was called Pluto so sometimes when they come to push us out for labour or school activities, I usually ran and hid in the ceiling. Since I was always doing that, they called me ‘Alias Pluto’ and that was JSS 1 to 3. But in my senior classes, I was called ‘Cute MC’ because I could dance but now I am called ‘Mr. B’ at the office but if you know me so well, growing up as a businessman, you would call me ‘Eyo B.’ But I miss ‘Alias Pluto’.
So you were quite mischievous throughout your secondary school?
Of course, I was mischievous between JSS 1 to 3! I was quite mischievous and one of the remarkable things I would remember was when my friend in the hostel was visited by his parents and gave him his pocket money; a N10 note. Then he left it on the bed and I stole it. Let me say so because I didn’t get his consent to take it. I hid it from him and he was now looking for the money but it was so difficult for me to push out the money from the pipe and I had to open up to one of my friends called Donald that I couldn’t own up to the fact that I stole the money but I was playing with him and it was a square pipe and I just put it in without thinking of how to bring it out. Eventually, it took us almost two weeks to bring it out and at this time the Senior Prefect had punished everyone in the hostel for this money, including me. After we got it out, we took him and other hostel members to ‘Iya puff-puff’ to do a little party because I could no longer own up because everyone had been punished. But from senior classes to university I was no longer mischievous as my perception of life had changed.
What does love mean to you as a person?
Love is about sacrifice; I am married and not just married but happily married. I have three kids. A nine-year-old called Lisa, a four-year-old called Daren and a seven-month-old daughter named Chloe. I love them so much. I love my wife and her name is Oluwaseun. Love to me means sacrifice and she has done so much.
How did you meet your wife?
I met my wife in my mother’s house. She came with one of my friends from school as they had something to do (in) Abuja and asked if they could stay in my house. I said no problem. So apparently she came to my house with my own friends and the next day, she had to leave early. They now said I should go and drop her. So on dropping her at the park, then GSM had just come out. She asked for my number so that when she arrived she would be able to call them. I gave her and that’s how we started. Of course, I have known her since February 2003 and we got married in 2010.
What are things you wish you can change?
There are things I wish I could change. One of it is my earlier perception of life which I wish I can change because I lost my father at 11; so I felt certain things weren’t attainable for me. That affected me and it was after I got into secondary school that it changed. Also my perception about money; although I am a more comfortable person today, I wish I could change my management of money because I got exposed to it so early in life. Also, I wish I married my wife earlier because I made my first million after we met. Probably, if I did I would have made more money earlier. There are other things I wouldn’t want to change and one of these is my mother. She has been my pillar and supported me so much. But I am happy with life with only few regrets.
Who inspires you as a leader?
I have lots of them in terms of business. The guys from Google inspire me. Mark Zuckerberg inspires me in terms of e-commerce. As regards leadership, Bill Clinton does and what made me like him was the (sex) saga that almost brought him down but he survived it to be one of the best presidents America has ever had. He inspires me and of course, I am Christian and I read the Bible a lot.
How old are you?
How old am I? I am an under-40 CEO. I don’t think many people know my age but I am 37 years old. I was born on 2nd of January.
Which outfit do you relax more in?
I am a strong Gucci fan. I wear it a lot and got it all over. And I have got my wife and children involved in Gucci. I am also a strong lover of Zara. I support Nigerian works too. Vodi Clothing in Abuja sews most of my clothes. If he doesn’t sew at all, he does over 100 pieces in a year.