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MD/CEO, Slot Systems Limited, Nnamdi
Ezeigbo, is a symbol of the indomitable Nigerian
spirit. The Umuahia, State-born
entrepreneur who founded the technology
company that sells original phones and mobile
devices in 1999, has since become the clear
leader in the sector.
He started from the scratch with no job for two
years after his National Youth Service Corps
(NYSC), unknown to him that fate had other
plans for his future. Equipped with degrees in
Computer, Electrical and Electronic Engineering,
he got tired of roaming the streets. Armed with
a six-month Computer Engineering
apprenticeship, he took his destiny in his own
hand. For him, the emergence of GSM was a
turning point; from computers he diversified to
phone accessories.
He started small but today, he has over 700
employees and runs the Tecno and Infinix phone
brands. In this interview with Daily Sun, he
shared his entrepreneurial journey, years of
struggle and what government can do to
improve budding talents in Nigeria.
Interest in engineering
I guess it was basically because I was doing well
in the sciences, especially in mathematics and
physics. I was good at sciences, but did not
have any idea about what engineering entails.
What prompted my interest, I didn’t know. What
I noticed as a child was that once you are good
in a particular subject you would be encouraged
to do something you have interest on but today,
what is seen is when someone is good in a
particular subject like literature, English language
the Arts, you would be encouraged to take
courses like Mass Communication or Law. That
was my case, I did not like Medicine. The whole
essence of opting for engineering was to go to
school and get a good job in an oil servicing
company like Chevron or Mobil. It was my dream
as a young man.
The birth of Slot Systems Limited
What actually propelled my interest to set up my
own business was born out of necessity. You go
into business when you don’t have what to do. I
never planned to do business but necessity, they
say, is the mother of invention. I ventured into
business due to the need I had because after my
service I wanted a job in an oil company but
after several months I had to think of something
else to do. I remembered then that while I
served as a corps member with the Nigerian
Breweries in Lagos, there were a number of
young guys I met there who read Computer
Science, and I became interested in it.
At that time, computer repairs was not popular
though and because I had searched for a job for
two years to no avail, I was ready to become an
entrepreneur after I met with my friend who runs
a computer outfit. I had the knowledge about
these guys who earned a lot money in few
minutes they spent with the company at that
time after doing some installations compared to
what I was earning then. One of them became
my friend and since I knew his name, I was able
to get his contact. I could not find a white collar
job and I needed to do something to keep
myself busy.
Shortly afterwards, I had a meeting with him and
made an arrangement to be an apprentice under
him. I spent six months as an apprentice without
an income doing repairs. After acquiring the
skills, I had to set up my own business but I was
not having cash. I would have stayed with my
friend but because as an apprentice under him, I
was beginning to gain popularity because I
added some excellent touch to what I was doing
and people preferred that I handle their jobs
when they brought them. This became an issue
because he felt I was robbing him of sales and
he sent me out of his business place and I had
no choice than to leave, without cash to rent a
shop, nothing to start up with but I didn’t give
After separating from my friend, I thought of
what to do. While I was managing under him I
was able to build relationship with customers
that came for repairs. What I did then was that
when people brought jobs to me, I told them the
price of whatever was bad and equally charged
a service fee. I would return whatever was taken
out and replaced it with the new one I bought
and the customer would take it away and
dispose of it himself. I was able to establish
trust between my customers and I.
Business innovations that grew the firm
Customers started demanding for phones and
requesting for other branches of Slot nearer to
them. I saw it as an opportunity. More so with
the increasing challenge of phones with poor
network coverage at that time and the challenge
with poor network coverage. I approached Nokia
with the intention of convincing them to
manufacture dual sim phones, a proposal that
was rejected by Nokia company. They believed it
would slow down the sale of their single sim
phones, which were in vogue at that time. I was
not discouraged.
I went to China where I met a guy who worked
with a company called Bird. Bird was into
phones but they got choked and lost market
share. I met with the guy and asked him to let us
do something. I came with that name and I
registered it here and brought the guy to Nigeria.
And that was the high point of our business. We
came together and I designed the first Tecno
phone, Tecno T101. We started it but the market
did not accept it and we also had problem with
the dual SIM not working together and we had to
make corrections and came with Tecno 201 and
that was a bit accepted by the market.
But we were virtually giving marketers on credit
to sell the phones and then pay us later and I
was funding it all alone. We were finding it
difficult to get the right quantity to sell until the
market started accepting us. What I now did was
to make them pay in advance; I mean the
dealers. So we started using their money to
order the products. This was around 2007.
The introduction of Tecno brand was the turning
point of our business. Like I said, Tecno is my
baby and we kept improving. I knew a day would
come when the middle class would accept
Tecno. Initially, it was a phone for low income
people but based on improvement and upping
our game, the middle class had to accept it and
when the economy went down in 2008 that
helped Tecno to move to the top. Since
purchasing power had dropped, they had to go
for something that has same capabilities but
cheaper. So with N15,000, you could buy a
Smartphone and thank God for 3G network. The
advent of 3G network actually helped Tecno to
move up. So students who could not afford to
buy phones in the range of N30,000 could buy
one for N15,000 and enjoy features of
Smartphone like facebook, twitter, whatsap and
so on.
Tecno now gave birth to Infinix. It is the same
company. You can see how the brand has
evolved. So looking at the Nigerian people, you
would see that a phone like Tecno will get to a
point when premium customers will like to use
Humanitarian/charitable works
It gets to a stage when you say, I have acquired
so much and what can I give back to the society
and the community? And that was what gave
birth to the two foundations I have. One is in
memory of my father because he believed so
much in education. His name was Anthony
Chubuike Ezeigbo. It is for undergraduate
students. We have about 25 students enjoying
that right now. You go to school and your
internship or youth service can be done with us.
The other one, the Slot Foundation, came on the
need to impact on the youths. Helping them to
be employable and to develop those skills that
will enable them to become CEOs and
entrepreneurs. The Slot Academy also came as
a result of this. To acquire the training, you need
about N150,000 but this is being subsidised by
the Slot Foundation.
The Slot Foundation came about because I was
in a conversation with some youths a couple of
years back. In the course of the conversation, I
asked them to give me five names of people
that inspired them. I was shocked that they
mentioned names of a musician, an actor,
footballer and a politician. I asked for another
five and when they named another musician, I
asked them who would produce the goods and
services? The musician is just making people
happy and making money for himself. That is not
what the society needs. There and then, I felt I
needed to do something. We can train you in
three months and you become a phone engineer
and if you like, we absorb you and for those who
want to run on their own, they will be allowed to
set up their own businesses. Every year, we will
train 1,000 young people in this area.
Getting to limelight
I served as a corps member with the Nigerian
Breweries, Ikeja. While I was serving, I met a
number of young guys who where into Computer
Engineering service. They would be done in few
minutes and leave the company with smiling
faces because they were paid handsomely. As a
young man, there was nothing more arousing
than being the best in everything. It became my
driving force as a child; aspiring to be the best in
everything. An instruction I got from my father
made to always want to come first in all of life’s
activities that I engage in whether sports or
academic work.
When a customer brought any job, I would give
you the faulty components so you could go out
there yourself and verify how much they cost. I
was actually building trust, so at a time, I was
able to build relationship with customers. They
had no choice but to come back to me any time
they had issues and that was what helped my
Obviously, there was maligning and violence, so
I couldn’t stay there but thanks to my friend and
other people who helped me acquire that
training, I had to leave there.
By the time I left, I had no money but it was not
for the money like I said. This was a young man
who was very competent, who had trust but did
not have money. I had to look for somewhere to
squat because I couldn’t afford to rent an office
space. Luckily for me, there on the same street
was a bookshop. I used to go there to buy
books, so I went to the owner and told him I had
been asked to leave my place and I wanted to
know if I could share his bookshop with him. He
said it was no problem and asked me to pay
N25,000 per annum for half of the space
because his rent was N50,000. That was how we