Toyosi Ayeleso, Co-Founder, CSI Media, tells Tosin Adesile and Omale Emmanuel about his Company’s Red carpet experience and other sundry issues in Nigeria. (Excerpt)
Sparklight: Toyosi Ayeleso has become a national brand in events and after-parties in Nigeria. How did it start?
Toyosi CSI: I’m a lawyer, an event entrepreneur, and a product marketer and I also run a social enterprise. My story in CSI is related to the Facebook story of accidental billionaires. We started when we were undergraduate students at Adekunle Ajasin University. We were young guys who just want to do things differently. Firstly, we were interested in charities. As friends and groups, we used to go to orphanages and there is one particular physically challenged school in Ondo State that we use to visit and donate to them.
Later, we came together and taught about what we can do to raise funds and there was a combined factor for all of us in going into events planning. After that, we taught about what we can do differently in events. For me, I like hosting events and one of my friends said; let me be your manager while the other one said I will be supplying package(s) for you. We, however, got two events at that time and we saw that there was a lot of acceptance because we brought a different style into it. That was how we started.
We started selling experiences and that was how we became the first commercial red carpet host company in Nigeria. Our story had since changed from hosting a red carpet event into a proper event production and experience company.
Sparklight: You are a lawyer by training, is it safe to say that are you one of the graduates that study for parents?
ToyosiCSI: Absolutely no. My parents never had a say in choosing the course I studied. It was just that I love law and still love it. It was just interesting. I like the fact that with law, I have something to gain in every aspect of life. Presently, the majority of people who are distinct in our society were lawyers and I equally love the public relations around the legal profession. It was not just about the fact that there are a lot of things you can do as a lawyer. I admired people who are lawyers and I love how they’ve been doing their stuff. So, it wasn’t my parents who pushed me to study law. It was just something I wanted to do and I’m trying to do it till now.
Sparklight: Have you practiced before as a lawyer?
ToyosiCSI: Yes. I had my internship and I’m a graduate of the Nigerian Law School.
After I finished the Nigeria Law School, I worked with some top chambers in the country. In Abuja, I worked with Chief Adegboyega Awomolo(SAN) and I have to go to court. For example. I was involved in a case that has to do with General Muhammadu Buhari before becoming the president. The case is about his certificate issue and when I moved to Lagos, I also work with Mr. Victor Ogbeseyi.
Sparklight: How has it been since you started CSI?
ToyosiCSI: We were bothered over the fact that events in Nigeria have become monotonous, I mean people can predict what will happen in your events from the start to the ending and that is what was driving us right now. Our focus on events is experience basically when you come to an event; something has to spark you in.
Sparklight: Running a successful business involves risk and we all know that. Have you or your company at any time been a victim of risk since you work for many comedians and a lot of people in the entertainment industry?
ToyosiCSI; Yes, a lot of risks. I can say my business is a risky business. Life itself is a risk. We have done 18 States in Nigeria. We do a minimum of 100 events per year and have been on the road, we have security issues, and boys come to beat us at events thinking we have money. There is a lot of risk in doing business in Nigeria. For example, what is the assurance that they are going to pay your balance and a lot of clients will not? For the kind of business that I do, there is a perception that you have a lot of money and sometimes, this opens you to an attack, because some people think that you have to give them money. This happens to all of us that are doing show biz and the rest. My team is typically on the road almost every time of the day because we travel from State to State trying to bring great memorable experiences for people and of course, you know the risk of also introducing a new product to the market and trying to see if it’s going to succeed or not. We are taking a lot of risks and then we are exposed to lots of violence but we are excited that almost every day, we make sure that we create a memorable experience for people and they are excited about it.
Secondly, because of the kind of spirit that we are talking about, we are inspiring a lot of young people. A lot of young people come to us every day and said we are inspired by your work and this is like a push for us to keep taking risks.
Sparklight: Do you have people owing your company?
Toyosi CSI: Yes, a lot of big names in the events industry, entertainment industry etc. I remember when we just started; we had this big guy and a member of one of the big churches in Nigeria. He reached out to us that he wanted us to partner for his wedding. We asked him about the payment and he said he going to make some commitment and this was a few years ago. We charge less than N300 thousand and for any client to lock a date, such a client needs to pay 60% to 70%. This guy hardly pays 25% and we still organised the wedding party for him. Till now, he still uses our picture as his background photo on his Facebook account and after about three years now, it has been a story and this is a loss for us.
For instance, we work for some big people and if you try to ask them for your balance, some of them will abuse you that you are chasing them for balance. Although, some don’t behave like that, as a lawyer too, we are very definite about our agreement and conversation with our clients. We had to change our terms to say that if you don’t pay our balance we will not show up at the event. A lot of people don’t consider us. Some of them can afford to pay, instead, they forget that these young people are just trying to build the business and also make through, build a brand, create opportunities for other people, and employ people. So, yes a lot of noticeable people that if I mention their names people will know them but they have refused to honour their part of the agreement.
Sparklight: Aside been an Entrepreneur and a Lawyer, it was learnt that you organise training for teenagers, young people who are trying to come up to make something for themselves. Is this something you set out to achieve when you started CSI?
Toyosi: Everybody who is a founding member of CSI or part of CSI has an intricate society enterprise value inside of them. We want to ensure that we give back to society. As an organization, we have handed for them Foundation where we donate to indigent children, train people, empower people and bring them out of poverty. Yes, it was something we wanted to do. We have some percentage that we make from CSI to the charity foundation and we still have people that have constantly been part of our charity project and that make a lot of sense.
Sparklight: How do you manage admiration from girls?
Toyosi Ayeleso: Girls will always admire me because I’m a human being made by God. So, when they admire me, I admire them back. But I like to be admired because the more people like you, the better for your business. I don’t think there is anybody who can succeed without discipline which has been part of me. My discipline has been helping me in my business.
Sparklight: What are your greatest turn on and turn off?
Toyosi Ayeleso: There is no typical turn-on or turn-off because everybody has good and bad. My turn is that I like kind people because it blows my mind. It is not necessarily about money or anything but when people create time out of their busy schedule to check on you. I have some people in the industry that I respect like P-square, MT Lion, Dr Smile even though am looking at them like my blood. But kindness is something that turns me on. It blesses my mind. For turn-off, I don’t like negative people. I believe that my mind is my biggest asset, so I want to make it secure and in a safe mind every time. Another big turn-off is when people are very selfish, selfish to the point that you don’t understand what people are going through and maybe people don’t pick up your calls and you become angry.
Sparklight: What is your favourite Nigerian dish?
Toyosi Ayeleso: I like Spaghetti and turkey with fried plantain. When you fry plantain, there is a feeling that comes with it. I like it.
Sparklight: All work and no play make jack a dull boy. So how do you unwind during your leisure time?
Toyosi Ayeleso: I like to go to the beach. I like visiting where am not working. I love nature, particularly water and with some of my friends, I have visited almost every waterfall in Nigeria from Calabar, Ekiti, Ondo, Araromi, and Cross River etc. This was just to experience nature and sometimes, I listen to good music and stand in front of my mirror and dance and relax.
Sparklight: Are you married? If No, when are you going to leave the bachelorhood?
Toyoso Ayeleso: No, I saw this question coming; I’m getting married on my wedding day (Laughs).
Sparklight : Looking at the challenges faced by business owners in Nigeria. Since Nigeria is a country where people have to provide every social amenity for themselves. What is your advice?
Toyosi Ayeleso: The biggest problem that Nigerian businesses have is access to funds. For example, look at a business in Nigeria that has access to grants and funds and see how they have transformed their business to impact society, and people’s lives and then contribute meaningfully to society both in terms of business and impact. It means that if many have access to funding, there is a lot to do. Government should create policies that allows for innovation. For example, a lot of Tech Hubs are contributing very well to the national economy both in tax-paying, and solutions from outside Nigeria.
For entrepreneurs, your mind is your business assets, build a structure, and make sure that your sales channel is going very well.
Sparklight: For your Old and future customers in all 36 States of the Federation, what do you have to say to them?
Toyosi Ayeleso: Thank you for keeping us in business. Thank you for allowing our idea to make sense in business. The only way we can know our idea makes sense in business is because you pay for it and that has been encouraging us. Every time, we have to push our ideas and now, we have moved from Red Carpet to 360 Degree camera, Screen Light and we are now a proper production company. We are now a full event management company that if you need anything for your event, we make it happens.