Evans Akanno, 27, is founder and Chief Executive Officer of Cregital, a creative and digital agency that nurtures talents and helps brands make smart impressions. Akanno, the 2016 winner of the Future Awards Young Creative Professional category, tells BUKOLA BAKARE how the internet, design and digital technology have changed the face of business.
Which schools did you attend?
I was a science student right from secondary school. I enjoyed the calculations, logic and learning about life (human, plant and animal). I finished in 2005 from Innocent Comprehensive High School, Surulere, as the overall best graduating student. I also won awards for the best results in Mathematics, Biology, Physics, Further Mathematics and Agricultural Science. I went on to study for a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Chemistry at Imo State University where I graduated with a second-class lower degree in 2010. When it comes to design, I am self-taught. I learnt a lot on the job and I am still learning. The Internet has liberalised the way we learn and for that, I am grateful. I watch videos, read articles and follow a number of brilliant brands.
What is your work history?
It started with an internship at Nigerian Petroleum Exchange (NNPC – NipeX) in 2008. The design bug caught me in 2010 and I ventured into graphics as a freelance designer. I did that for two years and finally landed my first real job as a brand and social media strategist with Jumia Nigeria. I really enjoyed combining my love for design with my writing abilities. In 2013, I moved to Konga.com as a Creative Strategist. The following year, I set up Zegist.com – now a lifestyle community. The response was overwhelmingly positive and in 2015, I left paid employment and set up Cregital Agency. It has been a rollercoaster ride but a worthwhile one.
When did you set up Cregital?
Cregital launched on  April 20, 2015. This was approximately one year after I left my last job at konga.com. I had saved some money from freelance projects and started out with registering the business name, then a small office and team of four comprising of a project manager, web developer, graphic designer and a creative lead (myself). I still remember the day clearly; it was a mixture of anticipation, fear and hope.
What are some of the challenges that you face in running the company?
Launching a start-up in Nigeria with a lean budget especially in our economy is a herculean task. The challenges include high cost of Internet services, the liability of these Internet services, epileptic power supply and high costs of acquiring a conducive office space. It is not easy to find young creative people who are really passionate about their talent and are willing to build a career in an organisation. We also look out for the right balance between attitude and skill which is a little difficult. As a creative start-up which has been bootstrapped since our launch, we have been prudent with our finances; working twice as hard to win big clients since we could deliver better services with a fast turnaround time. We have also hired attitude over skill because we believe in team collaboration. We also invest in human capacity development. We all learn from each other and constantly push ourselves to fully exploit our potential and talent.
How do you handle competition with other creative agencies?
To be honest, we don’t really consider any creative agency company in Nigeria as competition. We set ourselves apart by being a new breed of creative agency which is technology driven and with smart young people who deliver exceptionally. Also, with 200 million people in Nigeria alone, we say the sky is big enough for all kinds of birds to fly. The real competition is within. We are constantly competing with our past to deliver an exceptional future experience for our clients.
In your view, how can digital technology help to boost business?
Digital technology is the present; it is here to stay. We will be in the digital age for a very long time. The sooner businesses realise this, the better for everyone. Today’s consumer is digital savvy. So if you want to connect and engage with your customer, going digital is the way forward. It helps to break down barriers, and humanise the business. We share our experience and work digitally which has meant that people in different parts of the world have been able to experience the Cregital brand from the comfort of their phone or tablet or computer screens. How cool is that?
How were you able to raise the start up capital to establish your brand?
Through personal savings and bootstrapping. We also reinvest our earnings into growing the business.
Who are your role models and mentors?
My parents, Mr. and Mrs. Akanno, for showing that hard work and honesty truly pays. They have allowed me to choose my path and have been very supportive. I also look up to my former boss at Konga.com, Mr. Sim Shagaya. His work ethic is admirable and his technology expertise is worthy of emulation.
How would you define success?
I see success as personal satisfaction in the outcome of whatever it is one has set their heart to achieve. Emphasis here is on “personal satisfaction” because it’s a very competitive world.
What are some of your guiding principles in life?
Never give up or look down on people. Some of us have been placed on earth to guide and nurture others. They say the grave is the richest place because many died with their talents undiscovered and put to use. I also believe that what is worth doing is worth doing well. Give, Give, Give. Finally, work hard and play hard.
What is your advice for young people who want to turn their passion into a viable business venture?
Save some money. Research your market. Make sure profit and fame are not the only driving forces. Pray. Go for it!
If you were not working in the digital space, what other career path would you have toed?
I enjoyed science when I was still a student. If I wasn’t in the digital space, I would most likely be in the medical field or some other science related field.
What are the key tips needed to weather the storm in a business terrain such as Nigeria?
If I knew the answer, I would be a very rich man. Nothing ever prepares you but for me, know why you are in business and make sure it is for the right reason. Then work hard, trust God and hope for the best.
How would you describe your personality?
I am an easy going guy with big dreams. I could be a workaholic sometimes because I am passionate about my work. What you see is what you get, literally. I enjoy a good laugh and sometimes, I can be shy.
What are your hobbies?
I enjoy reading and listening to books, spending time with family and friends and, of course, being creative. I also enjoy cooking though I rarely get the chance to. I watch movies and chill at the beach with friends.
Share some success nuggets with young people.
Treat your customers as Kings and Queens. Pay your tax. Give back to society. Build your team. Never stop learning and improving. Have fun! There are no shortcuts to success.
Credit: The Punch