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MBTN- “Find the Gold in the mud” – Ommo Clark.

Hey, I am Ommo Clark, a bona fide Software Designer and the Director of iBez. iBez is a technology company that develops software solutions and provides software development consulting services. Our plan is to solve problems in our community using technology solutions. We launched our very first online platform – Handy Jacks On-Demand, (www.handy-jacks.com) in March 2016, after a lot of blood and sweat. Handy-Jacks is a web platform for finding good quality handymen and tradespeople (artisans) in neighbourhoods; it is also an alternative way for handymen / artisans to get work. Other applications that we have in the pipeline are – Lets-Share, which is a web portal for finding spare bedrooms to rent in a house or flat share; My Office Manager, which is a cloud based office management application specifically designed for entrepreneurs, micro and small businesses to manage their back office operations; Lagos Rocks, which is an e-commerce site to buy handmade sterling silver jewelry and Essentially Lingerie, which is an e-commerce site to buy lingerie. Big plans!

That’s great! Let’s start from the beginning, tell us a little about who you were before you became the woman that you are today.

Lol. Well it was kind of an evolution into the woman that I am today from the child that I was yesterday. I am the fourth of five children; my early years were spent in Delta Steel Company Camp Extension near Warri, Delta State. I had the best childhood ever, it was happy, fun and carefree. We lived in a small gated community where everyone knew everyone, went to the same schools and everything worked. I attended primary and secondary schools in Delta Steel Company Primary School and Technical High School respectively then I went to College in Luton, England. I used to be a keen athlete in my primary and secondary schools and was also a house prefect, and I also swam quite a bit. I still enjoy a wide variety of sports but also like music and a bit of fashion.



Sounds like you had a very interesting childhood, really cool. So, why did you choose to study in the United Kingdom?

I went to the UK to study because after my SSCE, there were many problems with Nigerian universities with incessant strikes and so on and we wanted uninterrupted education. I am an Alumni of London Guildhall University UK with a BA (Hons) in Business Admin, and from Brunel University UK with an MSc in Information Systems.

Thanks. Please share your reasons for choosing to do an MSc in Information Systems.

It’s a love story. A friend convinced me to do my final year project in IT. This was during the process of my research, and I fell in love with IT and so decided to build my career in this field. Although I did some courses in IT during my first degree, I found that I didn’t know too much about IT and felt that the fastest way for me to bridge my knowledge gap was to do a post graduate degree course. I didn’t want anything too techie so chose a course that had the right mix of business and technology and that is how I ended up with an MSc in Information Systems. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life as it fully prepared me for a career in designing and managing IT systems.

Interesting! So, what was your experience like in the UK job market?

After University, I wanted to get some practical work experience before returning to Nigeria so went into the UK job market. It then became harder to come back home, the longer I remained in the UK. My experience in the UK job market was generally positive.

I started my professional career with a software house called Real Asset Management, as an Application Support Consultant. We built Accounting, Budgeting and Project Management Solutions amongst others. In R.A.M, everything I studied at University about software development came alive. I got involved in the entire end to end software development process from analysis to post implementation support. I left after 4 years when a better opportunity came up to join the Mortgage Capital Division of Investment Bank; Lehman Brothers, as a Team Leader tasked with leading the Electronic Trading team in online mortgage origination, product development and application support. Lehman was a great learning curve. It was a very fast paced and competitive environment, and very different to R.A.M. I was trained in every way to be a manager and leader. I built up my team from scratch and gradually evolved into also managing an offshore team in India. I had a fantastic mentor who helped me shape my career path. She gave me the confidence to believe that I could be the best, do whatever I wanted and not settle into any boxes or stereotypes. I left Lehman after 3 years to join an Icelandic Investment Bank, Kaupthing Singer and Friedlander as an IT Project Manager, leading the Software Development team in developing various banking applications. By this time I was fully equipped to run software development teams and was managing very high profile and business critical projects.



Did you always intend to move back to Nigeria?

I started thinking of moving back to Nigeria a couple of years before I actually did. My plan was to set up an IT Company building software systems. In late 2008, the Investment Bank that I worked for was affected very spectacularly by the global and Icelandic financial crisis of 2008 and returning home became a very easy decision afterwards.

What were your first few months back home like?

My first few months are kind of a blur. I had not physically set foot on African soil for about 14 years so you can imagine the culture shock. The heat was also unbearable and apparently people couldn’t understand me when I spoke, they would call me American even though I can’t speak in an American accent to save my life! I moved back to Nigeria expecting the worst and prepared myself mentally for just that but I was pleasantly surprised when I came. Things were far more developed and advanced than I expected and the Lagos social scene was buzzing. I dived straight in. My plan coming back was to set up an IT business immediately but after a few months it felt too much like I was on holiday – I think I was partying and sleeping a bit too much, but more important I did not understand how business is done in Nigeria so figured that it would be wise to get some hands on experience before launching out on my own, so I got a job with a software company.

Re-integration into Nigeria though wasn’t seamless at all. The good was always mixed with the bad. Nearly every day my patience was tested to the limits. Getting little things done was a challenge and the work culture was so different from anything that I had ever known. I could never work out if the average Nigerian understood what it meant to do a job properly or if they were just lazy. Its difficult to adjust to this nonchalant work attitude if you have come from an environment were people value excellence and take pride in a job well done. It seemed Nigerian workers just wanted to cut corners and make a quick buck. There was a lack of professionalism at all levels. I can tell you horror story upon horror story but in the midst of all the horror there are so many amazing experiences and there is gold in the mud.

The numerous issues I had with the first place I rented directly led to the creation of my online platform Handy Jacks On-Demand. I have come to realise that to survive in Nigeria, you really need to take a step back and understand where the average Nigerian is coming from and why they do the things that they do; imagine that the majority of Nigerians have never set foot outside of Nigeria, they do not know what it means to have uninterrupted power supply for a full week, they believe open gutters with flowing sewage is the norm and the list goes on. So when you try to explain some things to them it makes no sense to them, you sound alien because they cannot see or picture what you are saying and do not get where you are coming from. Television and the internet has helped a bit in opening up people’s vision but I think we need to seriously address education and training at all levels in this country and maybe rethink our values.

Tell us about everything that led up to setting up ibez and what you offer.

I started iBez because I wanted to provide international standard software development services. In my first job in Nigeria, I found out that Nigerian businesses had a low opinion of indigenous software developers and solutions because they did not think they produced good software solutions. As a consequence, there weren’t many software companies that actually produced software from scratch, most software companies were resellers of foreign developed software. Now these foreign software solutions needed a lot of customisation to work the way Nigerian companies operate and want them and the entire process was fraught with indescribable issues. Furthermore, I realised that although there seemed to be quite a vast number of people working in IT e.g. ‘programmers’, the majority of them were not software development experts and they did not fully understand the process of creating good quality and international standard software solutions. I wanted iBez to show that international standard software solutions can be produced in Nigeria and I wanted to build software that actually fit the way Nigerian companies operated instead of relying on customised foreign software that sometimes still doesn’t produce the desired results.

On the back of all that, as I went about my daily life, I found that there were lots of day to day problems people were experiencing that I believed could be solved easily using technology solutions. And these solutions did not have to be very complex. Solving problems using technology became an exciting proposition so we found a niche. Handy-Jacks On-Demand was borne out of one of such everyday problems. We have a number of other solutions in the pipeline that we will be rolling out sequentially in the coming months.



Being a GWEI (Global Women Entrepreneurship Initiative) 2015 fellow is pretty impressive, how did this happen?

Yes it is. I wasn’t even aware of it until I got the call. It is one of those things that make me believe ‘Diaris God’ and puts all the hard work into perspective. In March 2015, a South African blog called Lionesses of Africa featured a bunch of Women in Technology from across Africa making a difference (it was Women in Technology Month); I was one of the women featured and this brought me to the attention of the organisers of GWEI (the Global Women Entrepreneurship Initiative by the Ivan Allen College, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, USA). I guess they were impressed by what I am doing because I was nominated and then subsequently selected to be part of GWEI2015. I was one of four female entrepreneurs chosen from Nigeria. In total we are 16 GWEI2015 fellows from 5 African countries – Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

From experience, has gender ever been an issue in the tech space?

Women run or hold very senior positions in some of the biggest technology companies around the world including Nigeria. However, the techy space is notoriously male dominated and sexist worldwide. I remember someone here in Nigeria, (a male coder) telling me that women cannot make good coders because coding requires a lot focus and women wouldn’t be able to give this focus because of their responsibilities at home! Outrageous! Personally it has never been an issue for me because I am gender blind, tunnel visioned and just do what I want to do. I have many female friends in the tech space doing what they do without permission. There are many factors that hitherto limited women from participating in IT mainly to do with societal expectations and cultural stereotypes. But organisations and governments have recognised the problem and are actively doing something about it. These days there are many STEM initiatives to encourage and increase the participation of women in technology.



Please share your thoughts on how entrepreneurship can positively affect the Nigerian economy.

Entrepreneurship will to a large extent help resolve some of the problems of unemployment and restiveness in Nigeria, reduce our dependence on oil and boost the economy. It will also eliminate the hand to mouth culture prevalent among many Nigerians. In the current economic situation where oil prices have crashed and pipelines vandalism has resumed in the earnest, people need creative ideas to generate income. Entrepreneurship will also reduce our culture of dependence on hand-outs and on others.

Most Nigerians are entrepreneurs though, from the mallam that sells at the corner of his oga’s house to the young men hustling selling goods on our roads. They just don’t regard themselves as entrepreneurs, don’t see what they are doing as sustainable and so don’t go into it with a long term view of actually making something out of it. They think what they are doing is not viable and just to make ends meet until they get a ‘big’ job or hammer. There needs to be a mindset shift in this country. The government needs to set up a Ministry of Entrepreneurship or an Agency specially dedicated to Entrepreneurship that focuses on advising and training entrepreneurs on setting up, structuring and running their businesses so that they can properly harness their ideas and talents. Entrepreneurship at the micro level needs to be done in an organised manner and Entrepreneurship should be a compulsory subject right from primary schools so that from a young age Nigerians can start developing an entrepreneur’s mindset. Another aspect is that a lot of entrepreneurs complain about lack of finance to either startup or grow their ventures. In the last few years there have been various government initiatives to provide funds to small businesses which is very commendable, however the policies around obtaining these loans should be revised so that the people at the grassroots who need these loans can actually access them.

On a different note, what are your top social hangout spots in Lagos?

Too many places to mention. I run a virtual business so work out of café’s quite a bit. My new favourite hangout place at the moment is Café Neo on Agoro Odiyan, V/I. The manager Tunde is very welcoming.

On a final note, any move back tip(s) you’d like to share with prospective returnees?

Try not to compare Nigeria with the country that you are moving back from. Nigeria is very unique with a lot of paradoxes and the way we do things is different from any other country. There are good, bad and ugly aspects of Nigeria like any other country in the world. The bad and ugly aspects provide many opportunities to innovate and make a difference. Find the gold in the mud.

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