How Tochukwu Egesi is building a ground-breaking business from enhancing customer journey experience in African companies
Update: According to the Identity Team, the CEO position has now being assumed by the co-founder and CTO, Olagoke Okebukola, who took on the reins of affairs late 2018 following some internal restructuring of the organisation, that saw Tochukwu step down the position.
For many businesses operating in Nigeria, visitors’ relationship and management culture is still a bit of struggle. Most visits are largely mounted in suspicion from the gate to the desk, while many visitors feel irritated by unwelcoming dispositions that herald their visits.
Back in 2016, Tochukwu Egesi, a young man in his early twenties was a victim of this dilemma and it did change his life, in ways he never envisaged. Thanks, or no thanks to a receptionist he encountered.
In a conversation with smepeaks, Tochukwu recalls the event vividly.
When the day came for us to finally sign the deal, I was told that another agency had been contracted because board chairman of both companies knew each other. That same period I went for another meeting where the receptionist was just so rude to me and didn’t allow me to see whom I was visiting. She insisted I relate every detail of what I intended to convey to her without minding whether or not it’s confidential. I felt really bad and started wondering if we can have a system that allows visitors seamlessly access whoever they wish to see in companies without having to explain themselves or be at the mercy of receptionists’ mood.
Now, what exactly got him here?
It was 2016 and Tochukwu a recent graduate of Economics from Abia State University, had arrived in Lagos, Nigeria, same night Donald Trump was elected US President. But his purpose wasn’t political. He had come to resume his internship with FCMB after winning the bank’s Flexxtern 10 Award, a program that allows University student to work for the bank after which only one person is retained.
Young as he was, Tochukwu was nothing short of bright — both intellectually and ambition-wise. While in school, he seized a 6-month long strike to take professional exams in accounting (CIBN), law, etc and earn related certifications. What further fueled his passion to learn outside the school was his dissatisfaction in his first year.
My lecturer was teaching us with Essential Economics which I had used in secondary school. I got really angry and knew I had to find a way to improve myself.
While Tochukwu’s qualifications were instrumental in getting him through the Financial Control Department at FCMB — where he maintained his creative inclinations and analytical approach to work — they weren’t enough to reinforce his ideas.
I was quite young so my views were only appreciated in my department. I decided to leave the bank and began a creative agency.
The creative agency was founded to create ideas around campaigns and product innovations. But Tochukwu had a lot of struggle with it. From push backs to trying to surmount hurdles around building a reputable brand in the highly competitive industry, it wasn’t a roller coaster ride.
I remember we did selfie banking at the time banks were pushing account opening from home. We called it selfie banking to sort of give it an identity of its own. It really made a lot of sense, we pushed it to one bank, but they kept on dragging and that was it.
Although the die-hard entrepreneur kept pushing his luck within and outside Nigeria, it wasn’t until after a year that they ‘almost‘ landed a promising deal. ‘Almost,’ because luck seemed not to recognise him, as at then.
When the day came for us to finally sign the deal, I was told that another agency had been contracted because board chairman of both companies knew each other.
This was in 2017.
Barely after the unfortunate turn of events, Tochukwu made a visit to another meeting for his creative agency, where and when his saga with the rude secretary ensued.
“…That same period I went for another meeting where the receptionist was just so rude to me … I felt really bad and started wondering if we can have a system that allows visitors to seamlessly access whoever they wish to see in companies …”
The big bang Idea…!
When this thought hit, he called on two most promising people (his co-founders) who understands his thought frequency and they started brainstorming ideas. After responding positively to the possibility of building such solution, the trio swung into action, with Tochukwu championing the sale of a product that was yet to be born.
The day I shared the idea with them and they told me “we can do this thing”, I started selling the product.
You could tag it a surprisingly rare scenario, but Tochukwu’s unborn product began garnering interests from potential clients. The idea that companies and visitors could have a frictionless relationship, especially during dicey visits or situations, seemed so valid that one of the potential buyers expanded the scope.
We were selling the visitor’s management idea to a bank and they bought the idea. Surprisingly they said it will make sense if we deployed to all of their branches. Although we had earlier thought of that, we felt it was too big. However, when the case for its need was made, we got working.
This was the birth of identity.
The name Identity
The word “Identity” sounds as regular as any other word in the English vocabulary. It’s however, surprising to discover that it wasn’t an instant hit for the team. Naming a company becomes tougher when you are attempting to make it really memorable.
I wanted a name that people will always remember and easily link with what we’re doing. Since our product is customised visitors tracking, it ties to the question of “who?” and who defines identity. So, I believe we’ve tried. People usually refer to us in meetings and I’m happy, cause it means we got a memorable name.
The ultimate strategy
Not many businesses or product break the record of being sold prior to launch. Identity is one of the few. Tochukwu’s needs for assurance on the validity of the idea propelled him to push further.
As soon as I got the idea, I started selling as if the product existed. Since I was trying to run a business and didn’t have so much money or time, I didn’t want to spend time doing something that wouldn’t work or on anything I needed a connection to get. I needed something that sells with or without a connection.
The fact that Tochukwu was selling the product and always updated his team kept them going and building. And it wasn’t long before his gospel hit. A construction company he pitched to, paid for the product without even seeing it. This was a huge boom for the early-stage company, as well as a tough task for the founders. They’d only been given only 2 weeks to deliver.
That was our seed funding. Then, we didn’t even have a company account. And my personal account couldn’t take the money, but somehow, I was able to get the money into the creative agency account. I showed my cofounders, and they were excited, although they had that “how can you collect money without any product ready?” concern, we knew we had to start building. We had no choice.
The deposit from the construction company was neither rocket science nor a shred of luck. It was as a result of the loyalty Tochukwu earned a while back. According to him, the client had wanted to offer him a role in the Abia State Government, but because he had no interest in the government then. This, according to Tochukwu earned him more respect.
So when I approached him, he knew I was a person to be taken seriously. As a counteroffer to the job proposal, I pitched Identity to him. We had further conversations and till now they’re still using the technology.
Not a day’s dream
Hailing from Abia State, home to one of the most renowned trade centres and markets in West Africa, Tochukwu’s business mindset could be traceable to his background — entrepreneurship is a vital trait of the Igbos, who are the dominant residents of South-Eastern Nigeria. But beyond that, it may be more of natural flair.
I wanted to become a lawyer, but I needed something that will put me out there immediately, so I diverted field.
As the only male child amongst nine siblings, Tochukwu had always dreamed of something that seemed far bigger than him. One of them was already fixing up an imaginary seat for himself amid the board members of a renowned Nigerian bank while reading a newspaper report of the bank’s finances for the fiscal year.
Those days my mum bought me shares in UBA and when I read through the annual reports, and see the board of directors, you’d see they have ICAN, CIBN, etc. I started doing my research and there was a strike during the 1st semester. I thought how will I become a board of director member with essential economics?
The timeline… (Then and Now)
In 2016, a bad customer experience from a rude receptionist sparks off the idea of Identity. In the same year, Tochukwu called Olagoke and Saheed to join him and they started working on the first prototype of the product.
Identity Tech launched publicly in 2017 and ten days later, signed its first customer – Tunnel End Investment, Nigeria. This was followed by the launch of its service management software in December 2017.
The ‘following year being March 2018, Identity launched its survey management application and raised its first round of funding worth $25,000 from CcHub, Nigeria.
Till date, the customer journey management company is staying true to its value proposition. With a suite of products for managing customer experience (ID Visit, ID Queue, and ID Survey) and revenue accruing to six-figures, Identity is no doubts redefining how customer journey experience for African businesses.