3 January 2017

Hafiz Adewuyi

My most successful business yet - Internet modem rental

In my penultimate year at the University of Lagos (2011), I had a Starcomms modem which I used for browsing the internet through my laptop. It had decent upload and download speeds but the ultimate sell was that there was no data cap. You could download as much as you wanted to.

However, I had a little challenge. I had to pay a subscription of N6000 naira every month. This was quite a huge chunk of money for me back then and not something I could easily take out of my N20000 naira monthly allowance. To finance the modem, I had to dip my hands into my savings account, which actually contained money that should not be accessed for trivial purposes. I wasn't happy with this fact and I sought to find a way to solve my dilemma. I did not want to forfeit the internet access which the modem provided. Neither did I want to part which that chunk of money when I was only going to be using the modem for a fraction of the twelve-hour period during which it was active daily.

Enter sharing economy. To solve my problem, I simply had to ensure that the modem was getting maximum utility. And since I only needed at most, 3 out of the 12 hours of internet access it provided every day, I had to find someone else who needed it and was willing to pay to use it for the other 9 hours.

Luckily, I was living in a hostel which housed hundreds of other students with equally data-hungry devices. If I advertised well enough, it probably would not be difficult to find a couple of people each day who needed a portion of the internet time and were willing to split the daily cost with me. At first, all I wanted to do was break even, just make enough to ensure that the modem is self-sustaining.

In my first week of moving into the hostel, I quickly got to work designing a poster using Microsoft word. I'm not sure that took more than an hour. Once done, I went on to print a few copies and make several photocopies. I knew to make a lot of copies from previous experience trying to advertise a business. According to the hostel management, running a business in the hostel was illegal, so if any hostel official saw your business poster, it was very likely that it would get pulled down.

I waited until the early hours of the next day when most people were fast asleep before I got to work posting my advert in conspicuous places all over the hostel. I was not ready to deal with any form of criticism of my idea, even from fellow students. Timidity.

I had competition. But then if they were doing very well, I would not have to buy Starcomms internet in the first place. One was Alatileyin link; a wireless internet business which had been successfully run by an occupant of Jaja hall for a couple of sessions. Also, the university management had recently installed internet routers in all hostels on campus; and with these routers came free internet for all valid students. For Alatileyin link, speed was good but coverage was limited. As you can probably guess, the free internet provided by the university came with hardly anything to write home about.

Within one or two days of posting my adverts in the hostel, I got my first customer. I was so excited. When it was time to hand the modem over to them, I followed them to their room and helped them with the process of getting the plug-and-play modem software set up on their computer. I also ensured that they were successfully connected to the internet and that they were fine with the browsing speed before I made my way back to my room.

Business picked up quickly as more students moved into the hostel in subsequent weeks and after the first couple of weeks, I realised that I had underestimated the viability of my idea. The demand was way more than the supply. It was a single modem. When one person was using it, no one else could use it. And every single day, I had to turn down a couple of willing customers because someone else was faster than they were at booking.

Backed by advice from a couple of friends, I soon decided it was time to up the prices to ensure I was turning a good profit while still maintaining competitive pricing. That turned out to be a very good decision because, after it, there was no observable drop in sales.

Once I settled on the latter set of prices, I maintained those and ran with them for the entire session. And business was good all through the year except for during the semesterly examination periods. Apparently, surfing the internet was a major distraction for most students whose success depended on increasing focus on their academics during such periods.

I divided the excess 9-hour period into a 3-hour and 6-hour plan. And then, simply fixed prices for each of the plans. At the end of the 3-hour session which usually ended at midnight, I would simply proceed to the room of the customer to retrieve the modem and then hand it over to the person who had paid for the overnight 6-hour plan.

Running the business created something to look forward to each day. The most anticipated call of the day was the booking phone call when either an unknown number or a regular customer called in to reserve the modem for later in the day. Initially, I would be scared of a disappointment on days when all plans were not fully booked by 6 pm. However, after a few weeks running, I simply knew to expect all plans to be purchased before the end of the day. At the end of each month, I made enough in revenue to pay the monthly subscription twice plus a few thousands of Naira in excess.

The session soon ended and in rolled my final academic session in UNILAG. Of course, based on the success of the previous session, I totally planned to continue with the business. Unfortunately, things did not go as planned. I was relocated to another hostel which had a terrible reception for the Starcomms network. The internet speed was appalling and it would have been sheer idiocy to think I could sell it to anyone in such a state.

Today, I look back on this experience and wonder if I can still pull off a successful venture out of my own sheer will and efforts. At the moment, it's been quite a while since the entrepreneur in me has engaged in rewarding exercise.

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