After feeling nostalgic about abandoning the energy trading knowledge she had gained from Cass Business School, Ugonwa Okolo made the decision to leave her position as partner at an insurance brokerage firm to pursue her dream. She is now the successful owner of Compareenergyprices.ng, an online marketplace for oil trading and supply. Read on to learn how she did it.
Can you tell me about your time at Cass?
My experience at Cass Business School was a memorable one. I studied for my MSc in Energy Trade Finance in 2010/2011 and I must confess it was one of the most intense periods of my life. I guess we all know that Cass isn’t a walk in the park!
We had lectures five days a week and often had to meet on the weekends. My friends in other schools often asked why I was so busy and didn’t have enough time to hang out as much in London. Others looked at me with admiration saying things like “You must be a whiz”, when I mentioned where I was studying. However, despite the busy schedule, the wealth of knowledge gathered and diversity of people I met made it worthwhile.
What happened after you graduated?
Post graduation I had considered staying behind and getting a job in London, but then an opportunity came up to start an insurance brokerage firm with a partner back in Nigeria. I guess I chose to move back to be a boss and escape the gloomy London weather! While my new career path was interesting and challenging, I still harboured a deep longing for the Energy business as I felt nostalgic about abandoning my energy trading knowledge acquired at Cass. So about a year and a half later, I left to start Viluton Energy, an oil trading and supply business in Lagos, Nigeria. I still run this and it has been extremely rewarding.
How did Compareenergyprices.ng come about?
I realized during the course of my oil trading business that companies and residences lost time and manpower having to call around in a bid to compare prices of petroleum products they purchased. I figured there could be a better way and Compareenergyprices.ng was born.
Compareenergyprices.ng is an open online marketplace, where you save money by comparing prices of various vendors, whilst keeping in mind other factors such as ratings, reviews, payment plans, delivery speed etc. With this platform buyers can compare prices and purchase products from cherry-picked premium dealers with a click of a button and have the products delivered to their doorstep.
The benefits of the business are twofold, on one hand the buyers are able to get more bang for their buck, save time and avoid the stress of visiting different websites to compare prices and pick dealers who would compete for their business. On the other hand the dealers get exposure and grow their business by reaching a wider audience and market which would be made available by our website.
What has been the biggest challenge?
Actually the biggest challenge I foresaw was not what I encountered. Well, “c’est la vie”! I thought it would be difficult to convince the dealers to join, however we have had to carefully select from a lot of dealers. Our major challenge has been convincing clients to place actual orders.
We get a lot of visitors who compare but do not necessarily click the purchase button and we are trying to increase our conversion rate i.e convince window shoppers to become actual buyers.
In addition as a startup, we have had to do a lot of PR to get the ball rolling and this certainly does not come cheap. Getting skilled hands to work with you and help bring your vision to reality is often difficult as well.
What has been the most rewarding experience?
The most rewarding experience has been getting feedback from site users and hearing people say things like “Wow this is such an innovative idea, how come no one had ever thought of this in Nigeria?”
Do you have any advice for anyone looking to follow in your footsteps?
With regards to advice, I reckon that you have to be prepared, do a lot of research and have a watertight business plan. Also seek advice from experienced people with knowledge about the intended business and never take no for an answer.
Lastly dream bigger than your mind can fathom, if your dreams don’t scare you, then they are not big enough!
Finally, it’s the quick fire question round!
Favourite place in London: Scotts Restaurant
Favourite holiday destination: Miami
Must-check every day website: Bloomberg
Dream travel destination: Fiji Islands
Cheese or chocolate: Chocolate