Eno Essien is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Rheytrak, a vehicle tracking company with offices in Lagos and Abuja, as well as nationwide tracking coverage. The young, energetic businesswoman, who studied microbiology, built Rheytrak from the scratch. The Future Awards nominee shares with FinIntell the success behind Rheytrak’s vehicle tracking, vehicle recovery, and fleet management business.
Tell us your work experience and why you decided to start your own business.
Interestingly, I don’t have any work experience. I’ve never worked before. My mum was running a multilevel marketing business. So when I graduated from school in 2004, I partly did some work with her. It was while I was with her that decided to start something on my own. I’d always wanted to do my own thing. I have always been business inclined right from my University days. I was always selling one thing or the other. So before I started this, I was running a business; selling perfume and cosmetics while running my mum’s business as well.
I also had a personal experience one day. I was robbed in a friend’s house and her car was also stolen. I then wondered how someone would spend so much money to buy a car without having any form of insurance. It wasn’t even her car; it was her husband’s friend car which she borrowed to be where we were. I think that experience led me to this business because I was inquisitive about car tracking. I started making enquires including going online to source for relevant information. Coincidentally, I went on vacation in the United Kingdom and saw something about GSM car alarm at a train station. I spoke with a friend about the business and was looking into partnering with him because I taught he had the money to start the business since I don’t have.
He had worked for some time, saved money to start up a business. I didn’t have that privilege because I hadn’t worked to gather good savings. In the course of trying to do the business, I found out that he was smarter and all out to get information from me and sideline me. So I started making enquiries on my own; writing to different vehicle tracking companies that I found online. The holiday now became a research trip for me. I wrote to a couple of people and a man responded from India. He answered all my questions on the field because my background is microbiology. What I studied in school has nothing to do with what I’m doing now. The man told me there is one company doing the business at the moment in Nigeria. He advised I reach out to the company, and I did. I bought a device from them, used it in my car, saw how it worked, and with that car I started my business basically.
I would say that the holiday was cut short because when I went for that trip I wanted to relocate. I didn’t want to live in Nigeria anymore. But that encounter changed my plan. I came back to Nigeria with the passion to succeed.
How did you now raise capital to start?
I had the challenge of raising start-up capital since I didn’t have money starched up somewhere. However, I decided to market my product first. And with the help of my mum, I got some money and was able to do the basic things such as printing complimentary cards and letterheads, as well as documenting presentable proposals for marketing. The very first company I marketed my device to patronised me. That was May & Barker, a pharmaceutical company. I was even lucky to have gotten the contract. I went to the company to submit my proposal and was told I came late. But I guess my persistent made them give me a letter to come in for a presentation along with three other companies that submitted proposals.
Fortunately for me and unfortunately for one of the other competitors, he didn’t show up when presentation was to be done. So that was how I had enough opportunity to do my presentation. I was given a letter which unanimously chose me. They gave me an LPO (Legal Process Outsourcing). It was beyond my expectation. Even though the LPO had no upfront payment, I was still motivated and had to source for fund. I spoke to some financial institutions including some microfinance banks. Fortunately for me, I was given a loan by the defunct Intercontinental Bank without any collateral. The bank took the risk on me based on my integrity and the LPO I had from a notable company.
Getting a bank loan without collateral could mean you have a connection somewhere?
Not really, it was just me going and presenting what I had. And that has been my spirit for every client I meet. I tell them this is what I do and this is what I can do more if I have this. I don’t say things I couldn’t do. I’m sure the bank saw something in me. That was how I started off with the May & Baker job, then DN Meyer, Chemical and Allied Products, insurance companies, and many others followed.
My first office was my home. And all I needed to do was to go for marketing with my kits. I have one engineer who does the installation of the device. He was my first staff and he is still with me.
You partner more with insurance firms. Why is that so?
The insurance companies are more like our major clients. The law requires that you must insure a vehicle, so for us we are reducing a part of the risk for insurance companies. And I believe they are happy based on the testimonials that we’ve gotten from them.
After discovering there were some existing vehicle tracking companies in Nigeria, were you ever discouraged from starting or you were ready to compete?
It wasn’t even about competing. Funny enough, if you even ask me now who are those into vehicle tracking business, I would have to think to answer that because no name readily comes to mind. So it wasn’t even like there was competition. Discovering there was somebody here made me understand that the business was doable. All I needed to know was identify the need. People buy cars daily and they steal cars almost every day. Obviously there is a need. You can’t spend so much money acquiring a car and somebody just takes it away from you like that. And you know here, even though cars are liabilities, they are also seen as assets to an extent.
I just told myself the business is doable. I bought a sample in my car and that was the starting point. Before I even discovered the one in my car could work, it took me months of trials. For many days I tested the device and it never worked, but the very day it worked I almost went crazy because of the concept behind the device.
Funny enough, I never thought that there will be challenges. I never thought I wasn’t going to get clients. I just always picture myself setting up a business, how my office will look like, going out to do proposals, and getting the jobs. I always picture things like that so I was never discouraged from starting. I believe your dream is like a seed. If you have a seed you should grow it. Never give up; just hold on to the dream.
Rheytrak is number one in this business as far as I am concern. We are the best and we are still aiming for the top. When people think about vehicle tracking, Rheytrak should readily come to their minds. We are here to provide better services and solutions to people.
How has it been doing business in Nigeria?
Doing business in Nigeria is very tough. I probably can write a book on that. First of all, when I started power was a major challenge. Although it has abated a bit lately, particularly in the last three months as against when I first started. Stable power saves you the cost of fuelling your generator to get electricity.
Network service too has been a challenge because our work is an Internet base business. I remember when we started we would sit in the balcony in order to get network signals. But talking about now, sometimes the Internet can be slow but it is a lot better. What we even have now is GSM network challenges. We use services provided by GSM networks. We use their SIM (Subscriber Identification Module) cards. Sometimes there isn’t enough coverage, so you have fluctuation in network. But how do you tell a client that the network is bad? They don’t want to hear that.
Another challenge is fund. In Nigeria, people can owe a lot. You have provided your service, but when it is time to collect the money for the service then people start to act funny. There is also the challenge of moving around because of the traffic. Having to meet up with a schedule appointment can really be tough. I have also had challenges with staff. They come and they go. You employ some and they are just difficult to work with.
How have you been able to surmount some of these challenges?
We just keep hoping that things get better because most of these challenges are beyond our own control. Well I actually love challenges because they bring out the best in you.
What happened if you have to track a stolen car and you encounter serious network problem trying to get the car tracked?
We just have to keep trying. As soon as I am informed that there is a case of theft, we first get the location of the car through the Global Positioning System (GPS). GPS-based tracking services or similar global satellite navigation system enables one to track vehicles. Once we’ve been able to identify the location, we immobilise the car through a Short Message Service (SMS), then we inform the police. Network or no network, once you send a message to shutdown a car it will go and immobilise the car. The only challenge could be getting to the car on time. We’ve had a case where the vehicle was quickly towed by the criminals after the car was immobilised.
How has your collaboration with the Police impacted on your performance?
Our collaboration has been very cordial. I would like to commend the police for their efforts. Whenever we have cases of theft we report to them, especially the Special Anti-robbery Squad, and they are always on hand to respond to us.
(Interject) Without demanding for any incentive?
(General laughter) To be honest, nobody (police officer) has ever demanded for any form of incentive from us. Maybe to other of my staff, but I doubt it. The police have a control room, so whenever there is case of theft I always relate with them. In fact, the last case of theft we had few weeks ago, when we shutdown the car they were angry because they wanted us to turn on the car and track the movement so that they can trail and catch the thieves. They are out there to catch the criminals while my job is to recovery my clients’ vehicle.
How rewarding has the business been?
I would say maybe the joy that I feel doing this work is a reward, and also for the fact that we’ve been on for five years now. I absolutely love what I do. In fact when I leave my office I always want to come back. I love recovering stolen cars. With it we can pay bills, increase the number of our staff and make clients happy. The fact that I now have supportive staff that loves what they do also gives me joy.
How did you feel when you got The Future Awards nomination as The Entrepreneur of Year (Technology)?
I was very happy because there are so many entrepreneurs out there doing good business. It was very encouraging to know that somebody is actually looking at what you are doing. The nomination gave me exposure because I met like minds such as entrepreneurs, innovators etc.
As an entrepreneur, what are your expectations from the Nigerian government?
I don’t have much expectation from the government. As an entrepreneur, I’m busy minding my business while I believe the government should do their own business too.
However, to do vehicle tracking business you need a licence from the Nigerian Communications Commission. But the process of getting a licence is very slow. It took me years to get one. There are so many people who are providing vehicle tracking without a licence. So I believe if the government is keen on issuing licences, then they should make the process fast.
How do you relax?
A lot of time I just lie down and put my phone on silence. Also enjoy talking with my family. I read my bible and attend church related functions. I also travel to relax.