Modupe Macaulay is the Founder/Chief Executive Officer of CapitalSquare, the first co-working space in Lagos. A computer scientist by profession, Macaulay quit her job with a multinational company to start CapitalSquare.
In this chat with JONAH NWOKPOKU, she speaks about the operations and visions of Capital Square. She said the platform is targeted at creating clusters of business communities that would not only share ideas but collaborate to promote economic development in Nigeria; through the ripple effects that their businesses would have on the economy.
What CapitalSquare Offers
"CapitalSquare is a co-working space, it’s a shared office. It’s a bit casual. It’s a place where entrepreneurs just starting out in business or people who have probably started their business and needs a place to work; a place that isn’t expensive and gives them all the facilities they need and still gives them the opportunities to network with other people starting or doing businesses. We provide the facilities and the space and all we are trying to do is to make it easier for entrepreneurs to do business."
"I had in mind younger people who are like me, who have made or plan to make a business for themselves. I had in mind people who wanted to do business but didn’t have the money or the facilities or any of those things you need as a serious business.
"So I wanted to create a place that people like me would come to and get all those things without paying an arm and a leg for it. And I also wanted to create opportunities for such people to come together and meet people like themselves and build a network that would help their businesses.
"For instance, I am starting a business and in the room I am sitting, there is a lawyer working beside me and also a Graphic designer working right beside me. This would help them to be able to get the necessary help they need from others. So, it was basically to be able to build a community of people who are trying to make a difference in whatever they are doing."
Response so far
"The response has been impressive because we have even observed a trend where people we didn’t even expect are embracing the idea. They consist of people doing interesting and serious things. We have some who work here that run NGOs; we have others that are involved in marketing, and most of them are good at what they do.
"You know I had younger people in mind and I was thinking mainly techies and stuff like that but demand for our services expanded beyond that. I was thinking that techies and designers would constitute the bulk of our patronage but even people involved in real estate are coming here and they find our services very useful. We have also observed that the idea has also appealed to others that are not just startups, but regular business people."
"The major challenges were when setting up. Getting the right people to put up the place and make the facility what we want it to be, proved difficult.
"After then the key challenge has been power. It is where our major cost goes. Right now, apart from public power source, we have a dedicated transformer from PHCN, we also have two generators, and we also have an inverter. We have just got another smaller inverter and a UPS specifically for the internet. So basically we have at least four alternative power sources because the public power cannot be relied upon."
To advance the vision for creating a business community, Macaulay introduced a kind of exhibition day for entrepreneurs. Called Demo Day, and introduced in March this year, she said the event is meant to provide opportunities for entrepreneurs to showcase not only products but ideas. Such entrepreneurs would get a chance to explain their ideas and/or product offering and get the feedback that would enable him/her improve and possibly attract investors, as investors are also invited to be part of the programme.
“Demo Day is an event we started in March, 2014. It’s basically a show and tell kind of event for startups. It’s not for people to come and win a prize but to share idea and get feedbacks. We also invite investors to be part of the event so that if any of them is interested in an idea, they would invest. And then participants would have the opportunity of meeting other people and share ideas, and possibly get new customers for a product.
“And for people exhibiting, it also affords them the opportunity to attract new people to their businesses, including customers and investors, in addition to people who would see what they are doing and then spread the word. And for some that come to watch, they get to see products that they didn’t know existed before.
“So, Demo Day is part of this community thing we are trying to do, where we have people who are not afraid to share what they are working on. But I believe people should share their ideas because they have a higher chance of improving on it through other people’s suggestions. This is because everything is not in your head and you are not the first person to have an idea after all, so people would always give you feedback that will help you improve your business,” she said.
Assessing Demo Day
"From our past Demo Day, our idea of building a community of business people is emerging gradually. People are beginning to chip in to help and even investors we invited for the event were very impressed with what they saw because people are doing a lot of things that would be successful in the market."
Has CapitalSquare been profitable?
"It is not yet profitable. We are making revenues and it has been increasing steadily but looking at rent, power, internet, the fact that the overheads are just too high, we have not really been profitable but it won’t be long, we will break even. We have only been in business for seven months, and let’s say in the next one year or two, we should become truly profitable."
Promoting entrepreneurship through Coworking
"From the statistics we have about the Nigerian economy, it is growing because there are a few big companies doing great things but then it doesn’t trickle down to the ordinary people. And my idea is that if you make it easier for the everyday man, through this kind of platform we are creating, we will definitely have greater impact.
"We have to be mindful that not everybody would be able to start big and probably become the next Facebook or Google, or the next Dangote but if I can run my business in a way that the costs are low enough to be able to make impacts on myself, family and my immediate community, and the next man is doing that and more and more people are doing that, in the long run, there will be a ripple effect that will make a reasonable impact on the economy.
"I think that would even make more difference on the lives of the common man than this GDP growing and GDP rebasing that we keep hearing and not much change is seen on ground. We should not forget that these little businesses contribute to drive economic growth. So we should not forget the small businesses because everybody wants to be a startup and sell for a billion dollars, but the little businesses make a lot of difference."
Youth unemployment and entrepreneurship
"Depending on a mindset of a person, unemployment can drive one into entrepreneurship. That was not entirely my experience because I had always wanted to do what I am doing now but the fact that I didn’t have a job then was an opportunity to start implementing the idea. The truth is that there are more jobs created when people start their own businesses. So if you are finding it difficult to find a job, look inwards and see what you can do for yourself."
- This article originally appeared in the Vanguard Newspaper.