Finding 25 Mbonu street at D-Line was not exactly as easy as the address read. It was my first time in that vicinity and as usual, the town planning authorities played around with the numbering of the houses. As I tried to locate the building with the number 25, I remember the calm voice of Mr. Teinye whom I was to interview and try to make assumptions of his physique.
I found what I was looking for and was asked to go up the staircase into this chilly room, with strange faces looking up at me. The polite lady at the front desk goes to announce my presence and I hear him say “Oh! Constance, let her in”. Walking into the cozy space that serves as his office I wondered how the small voice over the phone had metamorphosed into the huge being with a sultry baritone. He introduced me to Lyza who was to handle correspondence and soon enough my recorder was switched on.
Mr. Teinye Vincent Isokariari is a medical doctor and entrepreneur. He may not be practicing clinical medicine but he does practice health systems management.
My first question about his business was met with another question from him. “What do you know about KoWork NG”? I smiled and replied him. It is only normal that anybody coming to interview him should know at least what his business is about. Like many other business ideas, KoWork NG was spurred by a challenge he faced while executing a project some years ago in a remote place. There was no office for them to work in so they had to rent and furnish a guest house which they only used for about four months. He says this got him thinking that some other business would be facing similar challenges and KoWork NG was born as a solution to this problem.
KoWork NG is like a hotel for businesses. It is an all in one structure that would allow businesses work on short term contracts or projects without having to worry about office space and utilities. Within its four months of existence, KoWork NG has three hubs already in two Cities- Port Harcourt and Lagos. Mr. Teinye says there are plans to open more locations.
I wondered how easy it was to access locations and if there were factors that were considered before creating a hub in a place. Transportation, ease of access and concentration of business are key to using a location. The hub in Surulere cuts across the island and mainland, GRA caters for high-end users in the private sector while the D-line hub is for middle-class users and entrepreneurs.
We talk about the different types of partnership. And one interesting one is the Premium partners which are like National residents. They are allowed to have access to all the hubs available Nationwide when needed. This is simply like a local presence for a business across different states. We talk more and see names like Senate Prime, Premium Prime, Deluxe Prime, Castle Prime for the different level of membership that exists with KoWork NG.
A call comes in and he is kind enough to put it on hold while we continue. When I first heard about coworking spaces what came to my mind was that there would be a particular niche of businesses that would use these hubs. Teinye affirms this by saying that the D-line hub has mostly start-ups and tech entrepreneurs as clients. It allows them to have an office and understand that their business needs to take off from the idea stage into implementation. The GRA hub seems to have more established businesses, finance, and consultancy firms. The different hubs cater for a different kind of business. He talks about the hubs in Surulere and D-line as an academy and goes on to say they offer business development and management services as well.
On startups and why the term is now vaguely used for everything tech he says “A startup is any idea that creates value that has stepped into the implementation stage. If you cannot create a definite value for your niche, you are not a startup. It is not about your idea. You must have begun implementation and it must create palpable value. Your implementation should cut across business development, finance, operations etc. Being a startup is more than just having a wonderful idea or coding”.
“We received different levels of acceptance in Lagos and Port Harcourt. Lagos is a thriving place where everyone is on the lookout for new opportunities so you even see people spelling out you value proposition before you can finish up your pitch.” “But here in Port Harcourt we had to work harder to ensure people understood what we had to offer. The business climate in PH here seems to have evolved from the mindset of I tried getting a job with Shell but it did not work out so let me start something. It was slow but it has picked up. Once our clients see that we care about their businesses as well, it encourages them to worry less and just focus on their targets”
As in every panel discussion that takes place around entrepreneurship, we discuss the influx and growth of business in Port Harcourt. “Unfortunately, Port Harcourt doesn’t have that enabling environment for businesses. We have a lot of idea replication which doesn’t always allow for value creation. So, we have been seeing more of an efflux of ideas that go into a more enabling environment to thrive.”
“In Lagos, I do not need to replicate ideas. I just need to look at your business and find a solution to your need. If we can have that kind of attitude here in River State then a lot would change. Over the past five years, a lot has changed but it isn’t enough. Another challenge that has also led to this slow growth is finance.”
The conversation on start-ups in Port Harcourt is very interesting as he uses relatable examples. The talk about value creation and how value begets value leads him to talk about hair making, cleaning services, IT etc. He doesn’t know it but his replies are somewhat witty and sarcastic and leave me with a smile here and there.
KoWork NG offers both real and virtual office services. The Virtual service allows users have a functional office management system even in your absentia. You can live in Abuja but have a presence in Lagos without you being physically present all the time. Again, he makes an illustration with Tuface and Dala, this makes both of us laugh.
I ask Teinye what sets KoWork NG apart from other co-working hubs and he replies by saying KoWork NG is all about improving the value change. “We are more than your office manager. We do not just give you a space to work, KoWork NG will also partner with you to ensure your value works”. “Our spread also makes us unique. In the next 2 years, we have plans to have hubs in several states, so if you partner with us in one state then you have that opportunity to have a presence across the country”.
We veer off a bit and talk about his personal life. Teinye Studied Medicine and Surgery in the University of Port Harcourt. He has a second degree in International Management of Health Systems from the University of Liverpool. His passion for organizing things made him start some businesses while in school. He says it is always weird to see a medical doctor venture into business and entrepreneurship. “Once you do a personal SWOT, you should be able to figure out your direction in life”.
We play a game where he chooses his preference from the pair of options I give him. At first, he thought it was going to be very tense but in quick time we were done. Mr. Teinye prefers Android to IOS, a lounge to a club, Spirit to Beer, Porsche to Mercedes, DC to Marvel. He isn’t a football fan so he couldn’t choose between Pogba or Lukaku.
He laughs and seems to be enjoying himself so I ask him to attribute countries to the popular social media platforms we have- Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. “Facebook would probably be America seeing that is large and seems to have control over everything. Twitter would be like the UK” He laughs and continues. “Twitter creates the background noise which is like what the Uk does for the EU. Instagram is Dubai. It is not real. Everywhere and everyone looks fly and fine”.
For fun, Mr. Teinye belongs to sports club where he plays Table tennis most Saturdays.
We end the conversation with an advice for entrepreneurs which turned out to be very insightful and interesting. “Stop listening to people who tell you to sack your boss. Most of them do not know about entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is not about not having a boss but creating value”. “Create value wherever you are, when you do this in your office, working for someone or having your own business and you are paid more for the value you are creating then you are an entrepreneur”.
This reminds me of a book I recently read – Smart Money Woman by Arese Ugwu. We talk about his interview and he goes ahead to talk about value and resource control. A mini Teinye walks in and tries to gets his dad’s attention. I use this opportunity to look around his office. There are family pictures on a side table.