Barry Okojie, tech entrepreneur, international business man, family man and Founder, Jaraa, a fast growing e-commerce platform in Nigeria, speaks about Jaraa, his career and the future of tech in Nigeria.
Let’s start with knowing you. Who is Barry Okojie?
Well, Barry Okojie is me, I can tell you that for free. Barry was born on the first of January, 1987, somewhere in Lagos, South West, Nigeria.
I’m from Esan Central LGA in Edo State and I grew up in Benin City where I had all of my childhood. Of course, that meant I had all of my early education in Benin. I graduated with an Advanced Diploma in Accounting from Ambrose Alli University Ekpoma at the age of 20. Not too long after that, I got admission to study sociology at York University Toronto, in Canada.
While in Canada, I also went ahead to attain a Diploma with Honors in Graphic Design from CDI College Of Technology Mississauga in Ontario.
Presently, I am a professional graphic designer. I am also a family man, married with one daughter, and currently residing in Abuja Nigeria.
Let’s talk about your career journey. How would you describe it, and how has it made you into the person you are today?
Truth be told, my background has always been business. However, I worked with Willing Plus Personal for about two years in Toronto while still studying in the university. Upon graduating however, I started a shipping line called Kojfield Logistic LTD. We are a company that exports cars and Heavy equipment from Toronto to Nigeria and pretty much the entirety of West Africa. I still own and operate this business till date.
So, I would say growing up to see a lot of businesses happening around me, instilled in me the drive and passion for starting and growing businesses to stability and profitability. I love that process of starting something from nothing, building value and spreading it to multiply. That is the fascinating satisfaction that running a business successfully brings. It has its tough days when you have to grow a spine of steel, clean your eyes and trudge on. However, that potential for value growth and value distribution, has remained my natural driving force as we keep exploring the very many ways we can bring more value to society us through products and services that make life easier to live, navigate and enjoy. Because ultimately, if we’re not living and working to make society better, what’s the point, right? So yes, business had made me this way.
So, can you take us through a run of your career journey in full? That’s if you don’t mind.
BARRY: Of course, I don’t! By all means, please. So, I already spoke about Kojfield Logistic LTD where I have been Manager and Owner since 2017 till date. I already spoke briefly about my time at Willing Plus Personnel. That was as a Quality Control Manager sometime between 2010-2012
Then, there was the time I spent with Beliverz Accounting sometime between 2012 and 2015. Handling T4 &T1 Processing.
Let me add, I started a real estate company in Nigeria in 2016 called Penthouse Integrated Services, co-owned by my brother. We develop and build new estates, sell estate plots and own multiple rental apartments across Abuja.
Also, seeing how I had always had an interest in Business and Web design, just before COVID, I decided to dive further by applying for a Graphic Design Diploma with CDI College of Technology. After completing the Crash or Accelerated Diploma in Graphic Design, I decided to focus more on tech and merge those design skills with business, and that was how I came up with Jaraa Technology Limited.
Jaraa. Brings me to that question. You have just created and introduced this new e-commerce platform in Nigeria. Tell us about it. Why e-commerce? Why the name Jaraa?
Yes, I just launched Jaraa, which is the first app that will be designed and launched under Jaraa Technology Limited, but it won’t be the last. We are currently working on a free educational app for skills acquisition across Africa, something that would be interactive, totally free, and impactful.
I have always had the heart to give back to society from the opportunities I have been privileged to have and explore to my benefit. And when you talk about the word “Jaraa,” as you know, it refers to extra, like a gift added to a purchase. I picked the name because it presents my heart of giving and helping others find opportunities that improve their lives. The marketplace itself was developed solely to help small businesses and individuals who truly want to attract customers, sell more without having to spend so much or even at all, achieving that. For example, the Jaraa platform provides unlimited ads for verified users. Now, that’s very rare for a digital marketplace.
Also, in Nigeria, I noticed people sell stuff and run businesses from their homes without having a shop and in most cases, these business owners are students or young people who either want to make extra money from their craft, or want to grow a business from their homes or university hostels. Jaraa gives them an online shop for free, and helps expose their craft or businesses as the case may be, helping them sell faster and grow their businesses, all the while, protected by a very respectable level of security.
We are very particular about ensuring the platform is safe and secure at all times. Which is why we have a verification system to help build customer confidence. So, Jaraa is the marketplace for the small to medium business owner who is looking to sell more and grow their business faster, whether golds or professional services.
You have lived through and have been an active witness of tech evolution through the years. How much more influence disruptions do you see happening as we go into the future?
A lot actually. I still believe there’s so much that can be done especially using tech to aid education and giving people access to services regardless of their location. And if you look at Nigeria in particular, there is so much that can be done to ease the quality of services, accessibility, improvement in education and generally help connectivity across the country. We are just getting started in Nigeria when it comes to tech, a lot will yet change as we move more towards a digital economy, and I want to be in the forefront of that transition. It’s here already, it’s happening, it’s relentless and the possibilities are almost unbelievable when you think about it. So, I am very excited about the future and what it holds with tech.
What would you say is the difference Jaraa is set to make in the Nigerian e-commerce experience, especially for users?
I would say seamless and smooth usage, secure and free of charge, so you can sell unlimited stuff. And again, this particularly helps a new business owner to stop worrying so much about not having a shop before starting. Eventually, I want it to be like an entire market online for people to exchange goods and services, a secure and free market for all and I’m certain that we can achieve it in good time. We are putting in the work, and we are seeing the results.
What are the most important lessons a digital entrepreneur must learn, to navigate successfully and profitably, especially with this burst of tech innovations and product founders?
Well, there are quite a few actually. But above all else, as a digital business man, start with a clearly defined purpose and stay true to that purpose. It is crucial to everything you hope to achieve. That single minded determination to hold your pay strong and push for it.
Again, let that vision you have in front of you, be transformed into experiences that deliver great outcomes so that when you merge them together, you find that you are closer to your goal than you were when you started.
Harness the power of communities. There is so much to be said about this but I’ll just keep it simple by saying, your success as a business man is tied to people. So, the more communities you can build or harness strategically and with empathy, there are no limits to what you can achieve.
Recognize the value of data. Data is King. Never play with data. Everything may lie to you but data will not lie. Respect it. And lastly, embrace agile innovation. Don’t be stuck. Be dynamic. Be strategically nimble.
As a business executive, when you must make tricky and difficult decisions, how do manage your decision making process to make sure you’re swinging the right way?
I often time, consult multiple people or sources and then I carefully investigate each and compare without being bias or moved by emotions. In fact, I separate emotions from decision making. I make decisions purely based on data first, and then instincts. Instinct is very important, I need to add that. More times than not, instinct will save you from a very bad decision. I call it the human antenna. So yes, consultation, data and instinct are my three decision-making helpers.
What are the most important lessons you have learnt as a businessman?
A lot of them but of particular reference, I would say, always remember to put profit last. If you can remove money from your mind for a bit, and focus on the impact your product or service can make, and how you can maximize its capacity to help others, you exponentially increase your chances of success just by that, and this goes for all businesses, not just tech.
With the burst of tech education among the younger population in Africa especially Nigeria, how do you see that affecting the economy and unemployment?
I think we can do a whole lot with Nigeria. Again as I said earlier, we have so much potential that we can completely end unemployment just with tech, Take for example, an app like Upwork. Today in India, over a million people make a living from just that single American app. So, things like this, I think, can reshape the continent if our people are properly educated and equipped with the right skills and direction on how to make use of them. Which brings us to what would most likely be my next Launch as I mentioned earlier. An educational skill-based application.
What are the critical metrics to watch out for, before seeking VC funding as a digital product owner looking to scale further?
Personally, I would say, see how much disruption the services are making and how much impact it is creating in others. That’s very key. You must be sure that your product is actually solving something critical in a way that has not be done before. Even if at all, with a tweak that makes it better and a more attractive option to the market. If you can achieve that, which is something that happens from the ideation process, getting funding becomes a good idea after figuring how it will run smoothly.
What would you describe as the most fascinating factor about tech, in its influence on social structure?
Connectivity. That simple. That’s the most incredible thing tech has done. Connect people from all over the world a whole lot faster, a whole lot easier and most certainly, a whole lot more real, interactive and sustainable.
How much would you say, the COVID -19 situation contributed to tech mainstreaming in society?
A lot! In fact, that was turning point for everything. You will see more profound effects of COVID and tech in Africa and the lifestyle of the continent, in about a year or two more. COVID was the page turner and I dare say, human culture will no longer remain the same again, especially as it concerns work and business.
From your global experience, how do you rank Nigerian tech talent with their contemporaries all over the world?
Honestly? Quite low. We have amazing talents here and have begun doing amazing things but, I think we are still a way behind. You only have to move around the world to see what I mean. We have a long way to go but again, I think right now, we are on the right track. So, that’s the rainbow I am looking at. The talents are amazing, they are multiplying and together, we have a height less cap for growth.
What are your plans and projections for Jaraa.ng?
I think eventually, it will become a household name in Nigeria for sure, and it will help a lot of people build their businesses or sell their skills and services from whichever location they may be, and regardless of their location in Nigeria.
I think the world is heading towards a full Digital Economy, and I am desperately desirous for Nigerians to be a very big part of it. And with minds like myself and many others coming back home to help grow the industry, alongside the home grown talent coming up all over the place, I think we stand a good chance.
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