Cornerstone Associates’s Ola Dantis: Doing Business For Free In The Initial Phase Could Be Very Helpful

“Creativity becomes the infinite product that the loneliness of entrepreneurship breeds”

– Ola Dantis

It Is interesting what Ola Dantis is doing with Cornerstone Associates, especially at this time in Nigeria with start-ups spring-up. Cornerstone Associates is an indigenous strategy consulting firm helping companies, institutions and governments require outside help (in form of strategy) in order to be sustainable, scalable and focus on their core competences. Ola talks about his challenges of, how older folks assume that young people don’t have much to offer, how people just don’t get why consulting is even necessary; how doing business for free in the initial phase could be very helpful and many more.

We had a chat with  Ola Dantis of Cornerstone Associates, and he shares with us his start-up story.

What is your start-up story?

I read reports and analysis about the “growth” in Africa (to some extent Nigeria) had nothing but an irresistible magnetic effect on me. In Dec 2011, my entrepreneurial side (risk-prone) took the best of me and I jumped on the plane to Lagos, Nigeria clearly to be part of this growth. I had a passion for creating winning strategies that ensures organisations perform better in an ever-changing global landscape.

But on getting to Nigeria, I was introduced to consult for a non-profit organisation called ACE Africa. From giving out meds and repairing a borehole in Bassa Village, Abuja to receiving a simple email saying, “thanks I passed my exams”, all because of the work we did at ACE to empower the lives of so many people gave me, and still gives me great pleasure. One of the delightful moments I had in the period was raising ₦3,000,000 (£12,000) from the members of the Lagos Polo Club in a single Gala event [March 2013], then as President of the charity I was thrilled to see the impact of our collective hard work and honoured to be part of that epic success.

With this consulting experience in the bag, I decided to set up my own consulting firm, hence, the creation of Cornerstone Associates

The idea was simple really – companies, institutions and governments require outside help (in form of strategy) in order to be sustainable, scalable and focus on their core competences. In Nigeria, as much as anywhere globally, many companies are bloated with a myriad of functions that shouldn’t be placed in-house. I was fortunate enough to have received a scholarship to study for a MSc programme at the University of Birmingham Business School, with a great focus on Consulting, so it was rather prescribed that I would go into the consulting space after graduation. Started Cornerstone Associates and positioned it as a strategy powerhouse to help fulfil a need here in Nigeria.

Our latest client, Emmsmith is an investment vehicle based in the financial hub [Marina] of Lagos. Emmsmith’s portfolio includes real estate, financial services and franchising [Mr Bigg’s]. Our firm was tasked by the MD/CEO to review their corporate and business unit strategies. Specifically, the short-term loans segment of the firm’s diversified portfolio had been struggling with their customer processing time. Undertaking critical evaluation of the process, we developed, tested and deployed an e-form with a slider loan calculator feature on their website. Solving this problem was not easy, as we had to get the client’s team to support and embrace the change in their organisation. The website we helped create for the firm went live, which has now completely modernised the way microfinance is accessed by the average Nigerian online, and so far we have seen positive traffic coming through the site.

What were your major challenges?

Culturally, some older folks [≈ >50 years of age] in this neck of the woods intuitively assume that young people don’t have much to offer. Sure, this may sound politically incorrect, however it is the reality here on ground, sometimes it does feel like trying to get a ‘T-Rex to lay a bed’. They just don’t get why consulting is even necessary or what the heck strategy is all about! Conversely, I have met and worked with a few amazing people who are open to change and have ripped the benefits of their forward thinking approach within their organisations.

The solution is educating business leaders young and old about the importance of planning ahead, strategically i.e. succession management, corporate strategy and vision implementation.

How would you assess your industry/market right now? What next for you and the industry?

The strategy consulting industry in Nigeria is still fairly in its infancy stage, having said that, some of the big firms are beginning to pay attention with McKinsey & Co. opening shop here in Lagos. These top-notch firms have the big brand leverage as well as a big fees, which some of the SMEs we target may not be able to investment in, this is where smaller firms like ours come in and add tremendous value.

Our job creating approach has led to my next idea: Impact Sourcing. I am particularly excited about this idea as my proclivity revolves around helping and empowering others.

Impact Sourcing [IS] is basically outsourcing that provides jobs to the Base of Pyramids [BoP] individuals in low employment areas. Rapid population growth rates creates a youth bulge, with about 74Million unemployed aged 15 – 24 years old Nigeria youths needing jobs, a way of tackling this problem is by creating simple tasks technological jobs to mitigate the high unemployment in Nigeria, as well as in Africa.

This idea will be a spin-off from our firm and we will keep CreativityTurf updated.

A word on raising funds

Candidly, it isn’t synonymous to the norm; angel investing, seed investing, private equity and hedge funds are few, very few. Though, the landscape is changing, not fast enough, so you may have to result to high net-worth individuals instead, who may or may not offer the equity arrangements that matches your perceived “fair” terms. Banks offer between anywhere 18 – 22 % interest rates. Bootstrapping is one solution to this issue until you start getting some traction on your idea, nonetheless, I am under no illusion that bootstrapping can be challenging in some cases of innovation.

Any advice ?

A cliché, but please find something that gives your life true meaning, that you could easily do for free!

I love what I do: Here I am on a Saturday evening writing this feature you’re reading. Undoubtedly, I could be anywhere else in Lagos, LikWid [a nightclub] perhaps, champagne-popping watching, my newfound amusement! But no, on my home office desk writing this piece, hoping that it is well articulated. Are you still wondering what it means to be an entrepreneur? Well, here we are!

For those in Diaspora contemplating whether or not to return home, well, Nigeria as of today is, well interesting, mind-boggling power outages, terrible roads not spared by terrible drivers, unexplainable antagonism from people you’ve never met before in your life [such as a random policeman], a government mainly full of clowns is a land full of opportunities [bet you’ve heard of all that before, especially the last bit]. Confused yet?!! You should be! What you may not have heard is that everything you known or learnt about everything and anything does not apply here in Nigeria. Very vague and an eyebrow raising statement, yes I know!

So what am I suggesting then? If you have an idea, a technical career skill, innovation, service, product(s) that you truly believe in your mind will some how add value to people, organisations, governments in Nigeria, and/or the country as a whole, this is THE best place to be in right now.  Otherwise, you might want think carefully or if you’re religiously inclined pray about it, deeply.

Follow Ola on Twitter | Facebook | Instagram @OlaDantis

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