Yanju George is the CEO of IBIC holdings with a magic touch in transforming buildings into master piece. In a lavish party with influential socialites in Lekki, Lagos, he and his team unveiled The George Residence, a short let he calls a home away from home. In this interview with Ifeoma Ononye, George, who is among the youngest employers of labour, tells the story of how his struggle to success paid off.
You recently unveiled a huge building called George Residence tell us, is George Residence like many other five-star hotels around?
George Residence is like a home away from home. If you are tired of your home and need a change of environment or a change of scenery, we are here for you. Its like going to a hotel but it it not exactly a hotel. Here, you have your kitchen, you have your washing machine, your ironing table and do every other thing that you do in your home.
This is what makes it different from a hotel. Its a home a way from home. George Residence is the second project from IBIC properties, a real estate company. We have been in existence for about three year. We completed the first project earlier this year. The first project was build-to-sell apartments.
Do you believe the average Nigerian would understand this modern concept?
You will be surprised that even the lowest class in the society understands this concept. Short lets are starting to phase out hotels. In saner climes, hotel owners are transforming their buildings to accommodate short let’s apartments. Everyone wants to leave their homes once in a while but they also want to be able to do their own things, feel like they are home while experiencing a change of environment.
If you visit a website called AB&B you may see apartments for lets in those areas like Ogba that will surprise you. The world is changing.
Tell us how you found yourself in real estate business…
I started off from selling recharge cards when I was in school. I will be honest. I partnered with MTN as a sub-dealer and not a dealer because I don’t have that power.
They gave us access to one of their dealers that was supplying us. I was in Ibadan. I was in my 400 level at Olabisi Onabanjo University, studying mathematics.
As a mathematician, one would have thought you would become like a lecturer or something more academic? I can never be a lecturer.
That is for sure. Mathematics just makes you smarter in the sense that you will be able to be a problem solver. If you study biology, you become a micro biologist; if you study medicine, you become a doctor or surgeon but with mathematics, you can work anywhere. I enjoyed studying mathematics.
I was the third best physics student in 200 level before I started venturing into business. We started off with recharge cards at my 400 level. After we had our first shop, I travelled to the UK and worked a bit. When I came back to Lagos, I moved to Lagos.
Our first shop in Lagos, was in Yaba. I thought recharge cards was going to move in Lagos. Unfortunately, Lagos is a digital city. I was doing about N500,000 daily sales in Ibadan but when I got to Lagos, we were doing about N110,000 daily. We were selling the paper cards and not digital, so I had to adapt.
We started selling digital currency. My friend, Buzzer is a crypt currency trader. He persuaded me for many months to go into currency trading, which is Bitcoin, for many months. So I found myself in bitcoin trading.
We hired a couple of traders. With bitcoin as the digital business, and the Yaba shop not yielding that much, we moved to Victoria Island in Lagos because I wanted to be close to home.
We moved to Oniru and we were there for like two years. In 2017 was when we berthed IBIC properties. We did well with Cryptocurrency trading, cryptocurrency broke-trade which is buying and selling of bitcoin.
I knew that currency market is a very volatile marker and it was the only thing we invested in. I needed something that can give us the balance and that is when, we went into real estate. The proceeds from all of our dealings, we took it to real estate and built our first project in, Thomas Estate, Ajah. A set of three maisonatte and one bed flat, is six units in all. We built it and put it in the market for sale.
What actually gave you the short lets idea? What is the inspiration behind it?
I travel a lot and when I travel, I do not like to stay in hotels because it restricts me. I am left to do what they want me to do. I cannot cook and eat ogbono or efo riro. I prefer to stay in apartments where I can go to the nearest Nigerian or an African market and make some good homemade food. So I know that over there it is a big market. Locally, we have a lot of short lets. There are a lot of residence, converting to short lets, all you bring in are your clothes. That was what led us to establish George Residence.
Also I considered that, for you to stand out, you have to do something different. You cannot just continue to do the same mediocre thing and expect to excel. A typical Nigerian will set up a business and hope to break even in the next two years. Some would like to see their profit almost immediately.
We did not set up using that strategy. We know that this would cost a lot of money and to recover it would take some time but we are patient. We want that excellence because excellence is our number one value. Patience is something most young people don’t have these days.
Patience to build a career from scratch and patience for that business no mature and grow, tell us, have you always been a patient person?
I have been in business since 2009. Trust me, it has not been easy. Telling anyone to be patient seems sometimes unthinkable but you just have to. Its like giving birth to a baby and expecting that baby to become an adult after two years. At the end of the day, you need to start from somewhere.
My advice to every young entrepreneur or anyone starting up his or her own business is not to wait until you have one million naira capital. Start from somewhere. Start small. We started with one shop in Ibadan and now here we are.
Let me tell you a little story of how George Residence short let came to be. We were done with the project in Ajah and me got some leads and started reaching out to people who can buy.
One of my staff made his own call cord to sell the property and he called a woman who said she had a property in Lekki Phase One that she wants to sell. Fortunately for us, the same woman happens to come from his village.
She actually knows his father. We as a company have always wanted to go into short let but we didn’t have the money. For us to stand out, we need a prime location.
The woman told him since you said your boss is a nice man, I can give you the building for a certain amount. So my friend and a member of my team gave me the woman’s number and after five minutes, she was willing to partner with us. We started remodeling the building and furnishings and here we are unveiling George Residence. It took us one year and three months to get this place to the way it it now.
If Forbes can get your profile, you would be rated among the under 30 CEOs in Africa, how do you feel achieving all these at this young age?
I will not say that I am under 30, I am just a little above 30. I am grateful and will say that I couldn’t have done this alone. One of my greatest strength is being able to pick the right staff and that his been what worked for us till now. I don’t feel like its a personal achievement. It’s a team achievement.
Young people believe that there must be a godfather backing you up before you can make it in life. Would you say you were born with a silver spoon?
I went to Olabisi Onabanjo University, so no, I was not born with a silver spoon. I believe, except your parents are trying to teach you a lesson, they will not send you to that school. But my parents are comfortable. The most important thing about a child’s education is that we went to the best primary school. I have bosses, who happen to be my investors.
Do you have the people you target for the short let apartment?
Our target is the cooperate market. They are the ones that can appreciate this more. But at the same time, we are open to the public. Full occupancy is also our target. We also want to be all over Nigeria and with time, we want to go global.
What other careers or hobbies interests you?
I am into a lot of things. IBIC holdings is a parent company. IBIC means, I Believe In Christ. I got that name when I was in the university and it stuck with me. We have IBIC properties, which this is one of them; then IBIC acres were we do poultry, snails and fishery.
There is IBIC cleanup.NG. We do post construction cleaning, fumigation, pest control. We are registered under Lagso State Environmental protection Agency, LASEPA. And we have the IBIC Coinnest which is the crypto currency that we started with. Each company runs independently. We train and educate people about bitcoin and trading.