David Lanre Messan is an idea strategist and creative social entrepreneur with key interests in start-ups, music, fashion and technology. Messan is the Chief Executive of TroggeUrban Limited, a talent management, digital marketing and business project management company. He spoke to Vanguard’s Agbonkhese Oboh on his life, business and ways to sustaining businesses for centuries in Nigeria.
Who is David Lanre Messan?
David Lanre Messan, popularly known by the in Signa, is originally an idea strategist, then evolved into becoming a digital enterprise strategist, serial entrepreneur, startup advisor and angel investor. He is committed to helping entrepreneurs and business leaders around the world develop digital enterprise models, raise funds and drive growth. Raised by a headteacher and a West Africa merchant in the suburb of Lagos.
Attended Green Pastures Nursery and Primary School, where he obtained his primary school leaving certificate; Mushin High School where he obtained his SSCE papers. Also read Mass Communication, Lagos State Polytechnic; Marketing Strategy, Nexford University; Disruptive Strategy, Harvard Business School; Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Scalabl Global Academy.
What are those values you got from your parents that shaped what you are today?
My parents are not rich, but they raised me like we are from a rich home and fundamentally taught me the need to be contented and work hard. They exposed me to the power of curiosity and exploration from an early age and that helped me to become conceptually insight-driven, which is a cardinal characteristic of an idea strategist.
I developed myself to become an idea strategist by investing over 13,000 hours in the course of three years or so — just like Malcolm Gladwell will say 10,000 hours will make you an expert in anything. I learned the art of entrepreneurship from my mum and the science behind intelligence and application of knowledge from my father. These values have shaped me a great deal.
Explain your career development journey and how you weathered the storm to get to where you are today?
My life journey is filled with a lot of self-development, trial and errors, learning, unlearning and relearning. I remember in 2001, I vowed never to be like where I am coming from and I understood that the only way out will be knowledge. So I did everything to seek knowledge. I read most of my father’s books, starting from ‘Think and Grow Rich’ by Napoleon Hill, and then had to hawk gala in traffic so I can make money to buy internet night browsing time at cybercafes, so I can read and explore the new world of information and opportunities.
I later took a teaching job that paid me more and enabled me to spend more time at cybercafes, just to learn how to become an idea strategist. Some websites like Mindtools.com and Entrepreneurs.com really helped. I also was following the leadership newsletters of John C Maxwell, which really helped me to understand leadership.
From these efforts, I started a social project in secondary schools (Lifeguard Youth Concerns) focused on teaching abstinence, entrepreneurship and leadership to senior students. I also got the opportunity to enroll for LEAP Africa Youth Leadership Programme in 2006 and, trust me, this helped me a great deal. My focus on the ultimate goal kept me waking up and pursuing my dreams.
Through my project, I was selected in 2005 by MTV/Staying Alive Foundation as a finalist; was rated one of 100 best authors by the WorldBank in 2006 out of 1,900 authors in the world for sharing my ideas on how I plan to solve community problems. In 2007, I founded Green Yaggy, a project under my first company, Infinite Impact, to help democratise the process of starting a business and accessing technology opportunities. I was able to impact directly the lives of over 250 youths and indirectly 5,000 youths and these earned me a place as African Business Leaders Forum (ABLF) 101 Young African Leader in 2007 and in 2008, I won the LEAP Africa Nokia Top 10 Youth Leadership Award.
In 2011, I was selected as a pioneer global shaper of the World Economic Forum (WEF) and grew to be come the community’s curator in Lagos and a contributor at various programmes of the World Economic Forum and Grow Africa. In 2014, Green Yaggy tried to collaborate with MasterCard through a third processor to launch a youth-oriented financial inclusion project, but it failed. That is what has become agent banking now in Nigeria, but it is okay. Beyond this, I have founded other companies that have positioned me as an idea strategist, where I have raised over $7 million for small businesses and have provided strategy for growth for over 250 businesses and start-ups in the country.
I have written papers on digital enterprise integration for international magazines and have spoken on various international platforms on strategy, fundraising digital and business growth cutting across the United States of America, Dubai, Iran, Turkey, United Kingdom, India, etc. In Nigeria, I have spoken on various enterprise topics at over 200 top events such as Junior Chamber Conferences, RISE networks, Lagos State Government etc. In the course of my career, I was appointed Communications Consultant to Lagos State Public Service Staff Development Centre and have worked with some top politicians, providing technology strategy and grassroots insights and then worked for five months as Senator with the World Business Angels Forum.
I am currently on the international scene serving as an International Partner for Nigeria with World Business Angels Investors Forum (WBAF), Turkey; Scalabl Global Ambassador for Africa and a community organiser for Harvard Business School Online. Harvard Business School recently published an article on my works on their website as recognition for what I do as a strategist.
An interesting part of my career journey was when I made my first three million naira at age 23 as an entrepreneur, grew it to about 30 million at age 25 and lost it all in business the same age. One thing that never left me was the template to make another million. That was a highlight for me.
I have also built a brand name in the international community with key bodies spread across the Middle East, North America, South America and Africa through my fundraising campaigns for businesses in Africa, especially Nigeria.
I have explored the business world, the entertainment industry, the political space etc and now I am just focused on helping people and businesses go digital through my new-found company, FirstFounders Inc.
Your first shot at business was Green Yaggy. What was it like when you started?
It was the business of my youth and I treated it like a young person. I had fears as I was making money and when I was getting popular with Green Yaggy and it struck me. But lessons learned and today I have grown and have helped people understand how best to maximise the youth age.
You have today fleets of local and international brands. What has been your driving force?
I have built a robust network with some of the brightest minds across the world and I am happy that I am recognised as one of the go-to-persons in Africa whenever international people want to do stuff in Africa.
Before Seedstars started in Nigeria, I was one of the key people the Founder (Alisee De Tonnac) had a meeting with at Eko Hotel here in Lagos. I am always happy to assist the international folks in doing business in Africa.
What lessons have you learn as an entrepreneur in Africa?
As an entrepreneur, I have learned that change is the only constant thing. If you must grow and build a sustainable business, you must learn to collaborate and continuously learn about people, markets, innovation, the world and opportunities.
Did you ever had your fingers burnt when you started doing business?
I have had my fingers burnt many times. I have lost money. I have been bankrupt and in debt. I have had failed businesses. I have been betrayed. It is all part of the journey.
Unemployment keeps rising in Nigeria. Is it a problem of government inept policies, infrastructure challenges or skill gaps?
The problem of unemployment is first because of government inept policies. But some young people do not know the direction to take with their lives, hence depend on jobs only. We must start to build an enterprising nation where young people need to learn skills that they can apply to the workplace as intrapreneurs or to the community at large as entrepreneurs. We must continue to be valuable to ourselves; that way we become valuable to the nation.
Innovation is key. If you are a young person looking for a job, do not apply only with your CV, but apply with an outcome of what you can do directly to benefit the employer. Your CV is not enough but your pitch deck of what you bring to the table. Once it is visible to the employer, your employment is guaranteed without an interview.
Sustaining businesses for centuries in Nigeria have been a huge challenge. Why and what is the solution?
Business sustainability is a clear case of lack of succession plan. There are just CEOs running businesses for survival and not visionary leaders collaborating for business revival. To sustain a business, the CEO has a lot of work to do by first working on the business and passing the baton of knowledge, growth, character and purpose to the people.
I always say that CEOs who think based on this aphorism succeed more— ‘It is better to be a small part of a big thing than to be a big part of a small thing’.
That is how the Americans do it. Do not try to own everything in your name and in the name of your family if you want the business to last. The solution, therefore, is that CEOs should start re-engineering their minds, their vision, their purpose and their people to live based on a single principle of ‘Growing the Business’ instead of ‘Owning the Business’..
Who are those or maybe a person that influenced your life, career growth and has stood by you?
Unfortunately, I cannot point to one person who stood by me. But I follow, so much, everything Richard Branson does and have learned a great deal through Virgin e-mails received from him and his books. Pastor Poju Oyemade of the Covenant Nation is of immense insights and his teachings have guided me a lot in business and spiritual things.
Beyond that, I am my biggest inspiration and God is my greatest guide.
Since life’s journey is a continuum, what are your projections into the future, drawing from where you are now?
I am focused on raising digital entrepreneurs going forward; teaching them how to leverage on the digital transformation wave going on in the world now and how to make impact and profit from it.
I want to help business leaders capture new value by transitioning their traditional business models to a robust digital enterprise models that help them experience increased revenue, operational efficiency and agility and strong internal capabilities that put them forward in the new future. The goal is to, through my digital entrepreneurs, launch several digital businesses across key sectors of the economy.
What lesson would you give your admirers on how to stand out against all odds?
My biggest advice to anyone is know thyself and understand the magnanimity of your purpose so when the challenges come, you will understand that it hits differently. You must know if you are a maize type of person or a bamboo type of person.
A maize dream will manifest in three months, but a bamboo dream will manifest in seven years. Just know thyself in order to have capacity to manage chaos. In summary, be patient with your dream and never stop hitting the spot you felt the juice will come out from.
Share with us your family life?
I come from a family of six. My mum, my dad and three other siblings. We are a humble family that is contented with whatever we have and we never joked with learning.
My mum is businesswoman, who understood how to multiply money. She is a caterer by learning and merchant by attitude. She travelled across the west coast selling smoked fish and locally ran a canteen that fed thousands of people in Ejigbo, Lagos.
From her, I picked up the knack for entrepreneurship. I have helped her sell different things ranging from food to doughnuts etc.
The environment also shapes a person. It plays a huge role in shaping how you think and react. I lived in a community where people go to school, but there is little strive for excellence. My wide reading and exploring habits helped me to see more. So, while I lived a communal life locally, I was living another one online and that really changed my perspective and thinking.
What’re your memorable moments in life?
One memorable moment was when I told my friends I will be recognised internationally before 2006 and it happened. My second memorable moment was when I converted 30 of the books I have read into a commercial readable automated PDF e-book and it made me my first three million Naira.
What were the challenges you faced growing up?
I did not live a normal life. I hustled for everything from childhood, so when boys say I have a girlfriend at 17, I do not know what it means. But by the time I understood and wanted to explore, I was badly burnt, but now I am happy about those times.
Are you married?
No, I am not married, but I have kids. And I just love light complexion and a woman who is highly intelligent and enterprising. I crush on all these three qualities every day.
On relationships, I have kept mutual relationships with some female folks and have kept relationships that are beyond normal.
But what is ultimate is to respect the woman folks and understand that they are more intuitive than men. As such, man can never outsmart a woman. Lesson learned is to communicate clearly whenever you are with a woman, else you may be quickly misinterpreted.
What’s your favourite food and, as a fashion designer, what is favourite colour and style?
I love pancakes a lot and I can eat Kenke (Ghana food) any day, anytime, anywhere.
I love fashion and definitely will launch my label one of these days. I love bright colours that speak to my imagination. It can be any colour, as long as it is bright and outstanding.