Tony Aspire Kolawole is the president of Billionaire Realtors Group, a leading real estate brokerage firm in Africa that boasts of a team of over 20,000 realtors. Kolawole, in this interview, tells JOSEPHINE OKOJIE about his entrepreneurship journey and the Billionaire Realtors Group.
Tell me about your entrepreneurship journey?
From the outset, I was involved in entrepreneurship. While I was on a teaching job after my secondary education, I could not survive with the low wage of the teaching profession, thus, I started supplying books to students as another stream of income. I could do this because I spotted a problem and created a solution. The problem was that most students did not have literature books and all I needed to do was to provide some for them.
Afterward, I went on to start a telecommunications company, Aspire Talknet, offering SIM swap solutions to people in my neighbourhood. We partnered with top network providers to aid our work. The rationale behind this was to help people find solutions faster, rather than going to head offices of these telecommunications companies at Ikeja and Surulere. This was how my entrepreneurship journey started.
What happened to your telecommunications company and why are you in the real estate business now?
In 2015, I lost my telecommunications company because of changes in government policy. Things got hard and it was the same year I went into the real estate industry as a marketer. That period was not a season of wine and roses for me. It was time for hard work, but more importantly, the quest for survival was a goal. Well, I did not sell any property for months when I started as a marketer in the real estate business.
In December 2015, I made my first sales. I was already in debt so the commission seemed insignificant. Nevertheless, in February of 2016, I made huge sales and my commission was in millions. Immediately I saw the alert, I knelt on the main road and raised my hands to praise God. I am sure some people thought I was crazy, but the craziness is still working for me till date.
How did you start the Billionaire Realtors Group?
After I made my first millions from real estate, I started organising real estate marketing training events for aspiring realtors, and from a thirty-seater capacity, we rose to thousands performing realtors in a short time. We registered Billionaire Realtors Group (BRG) as a brokerage firm and started partnering with firms like Veritasi and Landwey in 2016. Today, we sell the properties for all the top real estate companies in Nigeria.
What are some of your expansion plans?
I started Aspire Heights in 2016. We needed to do something interesting and offer more creative solutions. Our first property was Beachfront Courts. After a while, we changed the name Aspire Heights to Tribitat. ‘Tri’ means three, depicting the past, present, and future of real estate. ‘Bitat’ stands for habitation. BRG is the sales and marketing business; it handles sales and marketing for Tribitat and other top real estate firms.
What new project is Tribitat involved in now and what major projects have you done asides Beach Front Courts?
We are working on three projects: Royal Bay at Ibeju Lekki, Lekki Boulevard at Ibeju Lekki, and Lekki Pearl Garden Abijo/Lekki.
What is the most interesting fact about you?
I read a lot and I invest in personal development. As a low salary earner when I taught, I spent most of my salary on books and this eventually shaped me as a person. I read myself out of poverty before coming out of it in physical reality. Reading also taught me good leadership skills, especially how to manage people and it is proving effective in the business right now.
Why do you think Nigeria in the diaspora should invest in real estate here in Nigeria?
Real Estate in Nigeria flourishes even in recession. When you buy real estate in dollars, it grows and can skyrocket within a short period. The huge Return on Investment (ROI) covers up for the devaluation of the Naira. Also, Rental income as a passive income is a very good investment. Finally, land banking is a good reason for Nigerians in the diaspora to invest in real estate.
What is the biggest risk you have ever taken?
I risked all my savings to start a business, I was not sure of anything. While I was still in paid employment, we moved from Ajegunle to Okokomaiko in Lagos State. On getting to Okoko, I told my mum I would not be going back to paid employment as I wanted to become an entrepreneur. She advised me against it but I took funds I had saved from teaching job to start my telecommunications business. I bought a land line when the phone just came out and started a phone call business. It took a while to pick up but it did. This time, I was an undergraduate at Lagos State University and before then, I already had an Ordinary National Diploma (OND) from Lagos State Polytechnic.
How do we ensure avoidance of fraud in real estate, especially for Nigerians in the diaspora?
Every real estate investor has to do due diligence. Before you buy a property from someone, try as much as possible to learn about the company – the CAC, social media pages, and the company’s website. If you are not in the country, get a trusted person on the ground to do these investigations before investing your hard-earned money. Our staff are trained to follow up on clients until sales are completed. We also provide after-sales services to ensure clients’ satisfaction.
What is your next big move?
At Tribitat, we are set to deliver very affordable houses in Lagos. We want to marry real estate and technology in a way that simplifies transactions in real estate.
How many employees do you have?
For Tribitat, we are three founders. We started together and right now we have 15 people in our employment, while BRG has over 20, 000 realtors at the moment.
What are the challenges you have faced?
One of the major challenges of doing business in Nigeria is inaccessibility to capital to carry out major projects. Real estate companies outside Nigeria enjoy access to funds and the mortgage system works well for them, but here we struggle for funds. Banks and investors offer us loans with high-interest rates that are not realistic. Another challenge that we face is the high cost of property development due to the difficulty of getting skilled labour, building materials and proper documentation of properties. Bribery and corruption add up to the list. Most property developers have cut corners to get the property documentation for their properties. This, in turn, results in inflation of property prices. The government initiates a straightforward process of getting property documentation easily.
How have you been able to overcome these challenges?
If your sales force is strong, it will help the business to stand in the face of financial challenges. At Billionaire Realtors Group, we have a sales team that spans across the nation and beyond—a team of 20,000 is not a joke. In solving the challenge of getting skilled labour, we strive to work with skilful Nigerians instead of importing labour. Our partners ensure that they train their staff from time to time. We are getting fantastic results at lower rates.
What’s your advice for anyone starting a business?
Business is not as easy as it seems or as it is being painted. You need to have a lot of iron-clad determination, courage, and exceptional leadership skills.