The IT and lifestyle products market is a great job and income generator in Nigeria. The consumer electronics market has generated $17.9 billion in revenue so far this year, while the IT services market is projected to reach $2.61bn by the end of 2023. This market is kept alive by wholesalers and retailers who dominate the streets and markets of the country. These business people are part of a large community aiding the inclusion of Nigeria in the modern world. One businessman who has been in the IT and lifestyle market for 20 years is Chuks Aylor, founder and CEO of Dreamworks Integrated Systems.
Dreamworks is an online shopping site for IT and lifestyle products. The company engages in the sale and distribution of consumer electronics and other IT products. From computers to smartphones to smartwatches. With products from brands like Apple, Samsung, Oraimo, LG, and a host of other top brands, Dreamworks has it all. Dreamworks has made itself a household name by supplying authentic consumer electronics, gadgets, and other IT products that customers can rely on.
Running a successful business for 20 years is a great feat. Running a business in an unstable business climate such as Nigeria is an even greater feat. For 20 years Chuks Aylor has adapted to changes and weathered many storms to keep his business afloat.
As a tech publication, TechCabal is always curious not just about tech but about the people in tech. We were curious about what Chuks Aylor has done differently all these years to keep his business running. Not a man of many words, Chuks likes to stay focused on running a business more than talking about running a business, but we were able to pull some words out of him to find out what running a successful IT business in Nigeria entails.
A lifeline in a sinking ship
Asked what inspired his journey to entrepreneurship Chuks Aylor credits failure as a motivator. “Two things inspired me,” he says. “In order to step into my future, I had to fail and failure brought me to that point where I had few options.” Chuks started his career as an intern at a company called Oneon Computers. While working at Oneon Computers, at some point, he decided to transition to other things. He was supposed to go get higher education outside the country but that didn’t work out. After that disappointment, he stuck to his work at Oneon Computers. But then the company started facing some challenges and the only option he was left with was to transition into owning something for himself. Speaking of this experience he says, “It wasn’t like I had a clear path to owning Dreamworks but I knew I had to stay in the game and I couldn’t deviate from tech.”
Chuks describes this experience as being on a sinking ship. He had failed at one dream and so he held onto the ship he was already in—Oneon Computers. Then that ship also began to sink. It felt to him like his lifeline from failure was to pivot. Dreamworks was that lifeline. When most people fail, they need a break to catch their breath. For most people failing at one dream defeats their spirit which is expected, but Chuks was not at peace with failure and couldn’t sit too long in it.
Why the IT business? He chose this path because he had always had a knack for computers. In the late 1990’s not many people had computers or even an interest in computers but he did. He adapted quickly to it and was excited at how smooth and easy computers made things. Being naturally drawn to computers, he couldn’t see himself deviating from that path. He knew it was the future and he wanted to connect with the future, so he went for it with Dreamworks. Now in 2023, with increasing internet penetration, almost everyone from kids, to teenagers, and adults owns mobile devices. Most households and organisations have computers and other types of IT gadgets. Recognising the potential in IT and tapping into this early has kept Chuks financially stable for two decades.
Nigeria has millions of entrepreneurs. According to some sources there are about 46.4 million entrepreneurs in the country. According to a report by the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN) over 80% of businesses in Nigeria fail within the first five years of starting. When Chuks began his business, all he had were trust and innovation to run on. He only had one previous internship experience. To go from that short experience to running his own business took a lot of gut and grit. He knew he had to find a way to stand out in the market and avoid failure with his limited resources. “I didn’t have the basic things that people would leverage on. I knew I didn’t have the capital,” he says. “The only thing I had to leverage on was innovation. I brought myself into the market by doing things differently. I always try to do things beyond how other people typically do them. Dreamworks was built on the back of innovation. It was built on the notion of trying to do things differently from the regular marketplace”
A quote from Steve Jobs says, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” Another common saying by Nigerians is, “Use what you have to get what you want.” Chuks Aylor knew computers were the future so he used his knowledge of that to tap into this future. He created a way to buy consumer electronics and IT products easily online and sourced these devices using trust. With no capital, he relied on his network to supply him with goods. Integrity became his currency and he paid his business debts after he made sales. Because he was using a new and innovative method to sell—e-commerce which wasn’t common then—he stood out and made his own market.
Chuks credits some good people who bet on him in the beginning but also states that nobody bets on you for too long. “The marketplace is busy and people cannot make you their sole focus,” he says. He goes on to say not even family bets on you for long and you will lose more friends as you grow in your business “Success makes people see you differently. Sometimes you’re still the same person but things around you have changed. When you start to succeed people set expectations for you and if you don’t meet those expectations you lose those people.”
Surviving troubled waters of business
Officially launched in 2004, Dreamworks has weathered many storms. Nigeria went through one of its worst recessions in 2016 with a GDP growth rate of -1.62% and another recession in 2020 with a -3.62% growth rate. These recessions make Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) impossible and hinder business growth. Foreign brands are also less likely to consider expanding into a country with an unstable economy and for a business that relies heavily on importation, weathering these recessions was a big feat. Starting as a novice with only an internship experience, Chuks believes growing a business in Nigeria and keeping it afloat has been the biggest challenge overall. According to him, “Nobody teaches you how to run a business, and as an entrepreneur, you’ll always have a lot of gaps. You’ll never be truly prepared for it. Entrepreneurship is like a school and it requires you to constantly review your daily actions. Your business talks, it talks to you through your customers, and I didn’t understand this at the early stage. Learning to interpret the language of my business is how I’ve surmounted many challenges.” Entrepreneurship changes people and navigating a precarious market like Nigeria transforms you over time. According to Chuks, “Nobody is born an entrepreneur but when you get into it you become a different person and in this part of the world (Africa) you have got to be tough and resilient.”
By paying close attention to one’s business, entrepreneurs can learn to read the signs of the market, what is happening, and what they can do better. Most entrepreneurs will tell you about how business ebbs and flows with different seasons. According to Chuks every season presents you with opportunities or threats. Each season has new dimensions and you have to interpret the climate you’re in and adapt. “Each season comes with its gifts and woes and your ability to read between the lines determines your survival. Good entrepreneurship lies in your ability to decode the seasons. Entrepreneurship is learning and learning, not just making money,” he says.
Changing monetary policies and unstable markets have also been challenging factors he has faced each season. Running a dollar-reliant business in Nigeria is a challenge. In 2023, the Naira has fallen in value tremendously against the dollar and $1 dollar amounts to over N1,000, as of the time of publishing this. Businesses that are prepared for seasonal changes are still thriving while a lot of others have fallen by the wayside this year. Cultivating the ability to feel the seasons and changes in the business climate for 20 years is what has left Chuks and Dreamworks unshaken through this tough year. He says he now knows when to shed and when to make money and that has been very helpful.
Plans for Dreamworks
Chuks’ plans for Dreamworks is for the company to remain customer-centric. Dreamworks has focused on customer issues and has been solving those issues for the past 20 years and they plan to continue on this path. “The day we can no longer solve customer issues we won’t have a place in the market anymore. So we’ll just continue to focus on being customer-centric in the coming years,” he says.
To shop or check out Dreamworks click here.