Every week, Zikoko seeks to understand how people move the Naira in and out of their lives. Some stories will be struggle-ish, others will be bougie. All the time, it’ll be revealing.
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The 30-year-old in this #NairaLife got his big break in 2016 when he started working in tech. When was the last time he worked though? 2020. Does this bother him? No. A lot of it has to do with a $70k equity payout he got at his last place of work.
What’s your oldest memory of money?
It has to be when I tried stealing money for the first time and got caught. My parents had a policy of not giving us money; whatever we wanted, they got for us. But I needed some money to be like the cool kids. The cool kids in my primary school bought fancy stuff from the school’s stationery shop to impress the girls. I liked that and wanted it for myself too. So I decided to go into my mum’s room to take about ₦200 from her purse. My mum walked in while I was doing that. I tried to play it down but it didn’t fly. She reported me to my dad, and I got a beating. I don’t remember the year anymore but it was between 2000 and 2002.
The most embarrassing bit of the whole experience was my parents talking about it when my siblings were around. It made me want to have my own money so I wouldn’t have to ask anyone for it.
What were the steps you took after that?
I didn’t do anything for money until a couple of years later. I earned money for the first time in 2006 when I was in JSS 3. My school was registering the students for an internal mock exam, and we could use the computers in the computer lab to complete the process.
I used to bring my laptop to school, so I started to help people register for the exam in return for a small fee. I was selling convenience. If you didn’t want to go to the computer lab, pay me and I’d do it for you. I don’t remember how much I charged, but it was very little.
When it was time to write the UTME exam in 2009, I replicated the same formula for people who wanted to register for the exam. Rather than going to registration centres, people came to me to help register them, and each person paid between ₦1k and ₦2k.
Mad. I’m curious, when did you start using computers?
In primary school. There’s a backstory to it too. My dad started out working in the armed forces. But he got frustrated with the bureaucracy and corruption, so he retired and joined the private sector. When he was in the army, the family struggled. We lived in a one-bedroom apartment, went to public schools and my dad could only manage to own a motorcycle. He left the army for a company that produced consumer goods, and we became financially stable. We moved into a bigger house, switched to private schools, and my dad bought his first car.
It was around this time my dad started a computer business centre, and he set the place up with six desktop computers. Unfortunately, the person he left in charge of the place wasn’t being straightforward, so my dad closed down the business and brought the computers home. He set one up in the home library, and doing stuff and looking up things on the computer became my favourite pastime. By the time he got me my first laptop, I had become good at using a computer.
Lit. Back to 2009.
I wrote JAMB that year and got into a university in the country to study economics. By the end of my first year, I had gotten bored of school. I was constantly ahead of the class. A lecturer would come in and start talking about something I had studied two weeks earlier. It was killing me.
I told my parents that I didn’t want to study in the country anymore. Surprisingly, they didn’t object to it. My dad called me a few days later and asked me to go and meet an agent he found. We started applying to schools outside the country and a private college in Europe came through. I was offered provisional admission to study Electronics Engineering. I moved in 2012.
Do you remember how much it cost to move?
I have no idea what it took to get me out of the country because I wasn’t involved with my dad’s financial dealings with the agent. However, my tuition was €14k per session. Accommodation was €12k every year, and my parents put me on a monthly allowance of €1200.
How did it go in Europe?
My first month was rough. My parents gave me €4k when I was leaving, and I lost everything.
It happened between the time I was trying to open an account in the bank and getting my documentation done in school. I couldn’t dare tell my dad. I told my mum though, and she sent me €500, which I used to sort out a few things I needed immediately.
Then I went to look for a job.
I found a part time job at the administrative block on campus to help with paperwork documentation for international students. I worked for 11 or 12 hours a week and was paid €8.50 per hour. That job got me through my first month.
Until the next allowance came in, right?
Right. I quit immediately my next allowance came in. I didn’t do anything for money until the summer of my second year because I wanted to focus on my studies. In the summer of 2014, I started working in an upscale restaurant. It cost between €65-€70 to eat there while it cost between €20 and €45 to eat at most of the other restaurants.
Because of this, the pay was a little high-end too. I was earning €14 per hour and working an average of 40 hours a week. I didn’t make less than €2k a month and my parents were still sending me a monthly upkeep allowance.
€3200 a month. Must be nice.
I was literally balling, man. I had two days off in a week, and I’d use the time to fly to cities in neighbouring countries, spend a day or two there and return to school. The only project I did with my earnings at the time was buying a car for €4k and sending it home to my parents as a surprise gift.
In my final year, I realised that I had no interest in staying in Europe once college was done. The idea was to return home and start a business, so I needed to return with a good amount of money to get myself off the ground. However, I didn’t have much in savings.
What did you do?
When my parents sent me money for tuition, I went to my college director and told him that I was having financial challenges and would not be able to pay my tuition fees in full. I proposed offering my services to the college in return for a reduced tuition fee. He agreed, and the college assigned me to work on a research project on solar electricity in North Africa. It worked for me: it ended up being my final year project, and I paid half of my tuition and saved the rest.
What were your finances looking like after your final year?
I returned to Nigeria with €11k in 2016. It was a few million naira, which was pretty cool.
I agree. You were back in Nigeria now, what came next?
Job hunting. I wanted to get a job without having my parents call anyone. I left home and moved to a new city. I paid for an apartment and started to job hunt. While I didn’t have a lot of expectations, the salary offers I got were laughable.
The first offer came from a media company where I interviewed for a marketing role. When they said they were going to pay me ₦120k, I was like “What?” I got four other job interviews and the highest offer was ₦250k. I didn’t get a single interview in the three months that followed.
Frustration started to kick in. I was alone in a new city and without a job. It didn’t help that I was always on instagram and seeing how my mates from college were moving to major cities around the world and seemingly doing good for themselves. It was a tough period. I wouldn’t say I was depressed, but I wasn’t happy.
I eventually got a job at an IT consulting firm in August 2016. I was hired to work in their IT support department, manage internal databases and provide network support.
The salary was ₦50k.
After deductions, I was going home with ₦43k. I worked there for nine months before I realised that I couldn’t do it anymore. I resigned from the job in May 2017.
What did you do next?
I moved out of the city and returned to where my parents lived. Remember I said I had always wanted to do business? I thought it was time to get on that. I took ₦2m out of my savings and rented 15 hectares of land to plant rice somewhere in Nasarawa State, close to River Benue. I rented another plot of land and planted 10,000 heaps of cassava. In my mind, I was going to be the biggest farmer the country had ever seen. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough money to afford insurance for my rice farm.
And that became a problem?
River Benue flooded and washed away more than half of my rice farm. When it happened, I just left my dad in charge of the farm. We ended up harvesting less than 2 metric tonnes of rice from the farm when the initial projection was 150 metric tonnes.
That sounds rough. I’m sorry.
Thank you. Luckily, I got a break shortly after the farm flooded. I randomly checked my mail one day and saw an email that had been in my spam folder for two weeks. It was from a tech company in Nigeria, and they had reached out to me because one of their engineering directors saw a presentation I had sent in when I returned to Nigeria and was applying to jobs. I reached out to them, and the role was still open. After a series of interviews, I got a job as an engineer on the team. The salary was ₦350k, and I started work in August 2017.
Must have been a relief.
Yes, it was. Also, I easily did the best work of my life at the company. I got promoted after four months and my salary increased to ₦600k.
However, I resigned towards the end of 2018.
I had a clash with my manager, and it became clear that it was time to leave. The good thing was that working at the company helped open my eyes to possibilities I didn’t know existed. When I started job hunting again, I was looking for opportunities in international tech companies. A friend from college referred me to an American tech company, and I spoke to their director of engineering who passed me off to their HR team. I did the interviews and got an offer to work on their development team as a developer/engineer in December 2018. My new salary was $75k/year.
I started working at the company in January 2019. I got a raise few months into the job, and my salary increased to $100k per year.
My income had changed and so did the quality of my life. I realised that I wasn’t overly worried about price tags anymore. This was the period I started to invest in real estate.
Tell me about this.
My parents are originally from the north central, and I started to buy properties in my hometown, mostly old houses and lands. I currently have six landed properties worth about ₦10m. These are long-term investments. I don’t expect to make anything off them in the next 5-10 years. But they will eventually pay off.
Ah, I see. Back to the job?
I was there until the second quarter of 2020 when I decided to take a break from working. I haven’t worked since that time and have been living on returns on stock investments. Let me explain.
I had vested equity at the company I last worked at, and I exercised it. This means that I bought the equity at a discounted price available to employees. The company also went through a 409a valuation, and the value of the stocks increased. The total value of my equity on paper was $1.4m. I sold 8% of my equity to the company, and I got a lump sum payment.
$70k after administrative fees and other deductions.
I knew I could afford to quit my job before I did. I made more money from stock trading in 2020. Most of it came from buying Tesla stocks.
I took stock trading up as a hobby during the lockdown because I wasn’t working and couldn’t travel. Tesla stock price crashed in April right after countries started to go on lockdown. It crashed again in June and went down to about $300 per unit. I bought as much as I could and bought more in September. In total, I put around $10k into this.
The stock rose to $800 shortly after. I sold everything and made about $6k in profit from that one sale.
I’ve been making money from other stock investments since that time. But this one was quite memorable. I was purely lucky by the way. It didn’t happen because I had great stock picking skills.
Whew. What has happened between then and now?
Not much. I’ve been living. At the beginning of this year, I got bored and thought it was time to return to work. I spoke to a few companies, but I didn’t think any of them was the right one for me. I finally got an offer worth considering last month. It’s with a tech startup in San Francisco, and they are offering me $190k per year plus stock options. I’m dragging my feet because it’s their initial offer, and I feel like I could earn more.
How much do you think you should be earning?
Anything above $200k/year. Not to sound entitled, but I should be earning that much because of the kind of companies I’ve worked for. I think I can get it if I really push for it.
Fingers crossed on that. Let’s talk about your monthly expenses and what it currently looks like.
I don’t really use a budget. My monthly expenses depend on how I’m feeling in a month. This is what I can think of right now.
I live in an AirBnB because I could move cities anytime. My miscellaneous expenses include tips and money gifts, airtime recharge and internet.
How do you approach saving these days?
For starters, I don’t save my money in naira. I have less than ₦800k in my Nigerian bank account at the moment. I save my money in bank accounts in Europe and the US. From my last count, I have about $110k in cash savings and stock investments on different platforms.
I have to ask, is there anything you want right now but can’t afford?
Haha, there is. I still want to do something in agriculture. The plan now is to build a crude palm oil processing plant. It costs less to produce a barrel of crude palm oil than it costs to produce a barrel of crude oil, but the profit margin is great. I’ll need between $200k and $250k to purchase and install a plant that does 10 metric tonnes per hour. That’s not even an industrial plant, but it will get me going. In addition, I’m currently talking to agriculture consultants to figure out how much an oil palm plantation will cost. I don’t have the money for either of them yet.
I hope you get it, man. What was the last thing you spent money on that improved the quality of your life?
It’s a recurring expense, and it’s probably funny. I don’t like the thought of laundry, so I buy shirts and wear them until they get dirty. Then I give them out and buy a new set. However, I don’t do this to my Kaftans — they go to the drycleaners.
Mad. What was the last thing you bought that required planning?
Nothing, actually. At least not in a while. If I need to spend money on something, I’ll probably think about it for a while, then make a decision.
God when? How have your experiences shaped your perspective about money?
I’ve always looked at money as something you must have to make your life easier. I saw how much the quality of my family’s life changed as my parents’ financial situation got better. It reaffirmed my belief that making money was absolutely necessary.
While I think it’s beautiful to have money, I don’t allow it to influence my orientation on anything. Ordinary things no dey move me again. I see how people respond to me differently when they find out how much I have, and it makes me very uncomfortable. It doesn’t have to be that way. Money is only money. Nothing more.
How would you rate your financial happiness on a scale of 1-10 then?
9. There were a couple of rough months along the way, but I’m in a very good place now. I don’t need all the money in the world to be happy. I’m doing just fine with what I have. I’m incredibly satisfied with the quality of my life, man.
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