Today, we bring you the story of Emmanuel Udeagha, the founder of Pukena.ng, a platform that connects employers to blue collar workers. He believes that the relationship between this set of people and the employers isn’t in a very good state. His story is a total mix of struggle, pain and victory at last.
Emmanuel Udeagha lost his mother at the age of 9. According to him, it was unexpected and happened on a Christmas eve just a year before he started secondary school. At that point, life took a bit of a turn from him. His father was there, though he had to remarry 4 years after the tragedy. The new wife came in and made life a living hell for Emmanuel and his siblings. Fast forward to 2005, he lost his dad too just as he was about to graduate from the University.
Why he became an entrepreneur?
Emmanuel’s dad was a successful business man dealing on imports and hospitality. He had always wanted to be like him. “I admired how he had control over his time. He would come in for “break” in the afternoon, have his lunch and head back to the office. He had boys working for him, giving him reports of sales every evening. Some lived with us in the boys’ quarters. I loved all that.”
This was what informed his resolve to be an entrepreneur. After graduating from school, Emmanuel settled to build businesses. He sold shirts to bankers. At some point, he would have to go to Aba, make some nice shirts and take them to Owerri and Okigwe to sell. In 2007, while in Okigwe, Imo State, he started HomeCare Services to clean houses, offices, laundry, etc. Having an enterpreneral mindset, he noticed that the small town was dominated by students and lecturers with few bankers, who don’t have so much time for domestic chores. So he started the business to solve that problem.
“From knocking on doors with a vacuum cleaner hung over my head, I managed to grow the business to being cleaning vendor to two banks. However I soon realized it was a nice business idea in a wrong environment. Okigwe town is well known to have no electricity year in year out. You can count a few times you have 2 hours light in an entire year! And then, whenever the ABSU students are on break or on strike, the town is dead. No business. These factors affected my business adversely. I finally decided to close shop and relocate.”
Coming to Lagos and realizing Technology as a business
In 2011, Emmanuel moved to Lagos where he had to start from scratch again. Subsequently, he realized that Lagos played by a different set of rules in business. “You either upgrade or die off! Technology is in vogue. No computer litracy, you are the new illietrate.”
So he taught himself MS Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, CorelDraw, Photoshop, website design etc and began teaching others too.
“I knew I stand a chance of learning these things well if I taught others too, so I started a small computer teaching business using a small portion of a friend’s shop. My first student came with her laptop so it was easy for me. I would just read a line and ask her to practice!”
“I soon got a grip of all the packages to the extent I don’t use manuals to teach anymore. Infact I have written and sold countless copies of computer manuals to over 200 students in the last 4 years.”
The internet inclusion
At a point, he figured out that if he added internet to the business model, he would make daily income. So he did. Emmanuel borrowed N100,000 from a friend to buy stuffs for a Cyber Cafe business which he was to pay her back N15,000 every month for 6 months! That was a 90% interest rate but he couldn’t reject as he needed the money at that point and no one was willing to lend except that friend. He paid her off in less that 6 months.
“From squatting in a friend’s office, I have moved offices twice to accommodate growth. It was all going well, but the cyber cafe business model has it own demons.
You don’t make money if you don’t have light. Fuel was a priority. NEPA was a plan B! I realized that thought, the business pays my bills and keeps me alive, it can’t take me to my dreams in life. It’s not scalable. It depends dangerously on the owner to survive. The moment you try to hands off, the business collapses.”
Months into the cyber cafe business, Emmanuel discovered that he needed a change, a business that is scalable, has a huge market, attractive to investors, can run on systems and afford him “time to talk”.
“I love to speak in seminars and conferences. I am a pastor in my church.
But the cyber cafe business made me lose touch with touching lives and new meeting people except for the same faces I see everyday. I had to take a break….I sold the business to a friend.Got involved with an NGO, @cchdnigeria to rehabilitate inmates at KiriKiri Max Prison for 3 months.”
The idea of Pukena
“While at it (rehabilitation), I got the Idea of @PukenaNg. I had no money to hire a tech guy. So I folded my sleeves and designed http://www.pukena.ng with few technical inputs from a friend. I spent 3 months on the site, fixing the details, putting the exact words to communicate my vision. At Pukena, we believe that the relationship between employers and informal workers is broken.”
Given that the issue of unemployment remains a source of concern for Nigeria’s economy, Pukena is being positioned to provide an innovative solution to the hundreds of thousands of young people looking for jobs in the informal sector.
“We envision a world in which everyone can enjoy job security, fair wages, a safe work environment, and the opportunity for career growth. Additionally, for a household, hiring someone for a job should be safe, convenient, and fair. Our platform is designed to address each of these issues, offering a network of professionals that grows and improves over time.”
Pukena aims to be the go to marketplace for blue-collar jobs on-demand ranging from plumbing and electrical work to gardening, painting and car repair. They use technology to organise and mobilise informal service providers to give a superior and cheaper experience to employers. Good service providers don’t have the marketing nous or tech savvy to differentiate themselves from chance takers to confused employers.
Hence, Pukena Academy was launched, a 6 week intensive to educate the average Nigerian artisan and handyman on professionalism, integrity, technology and world class service delivery. Now Pukena is an online marketplace that showcases clear information and provides tools to allow employers peace of mind when using service providers.
Emmanuel Udeagha never knew anyone would take him serious on this. But when a few orders started coming in for tiling, carpentry, house cleaning, etc, he changed that notion. Then the big order soon came in, a corporate website development project.
— Pukena (@PukenaNg) October 16, 2017
The name Pukena came from Emmanuel’s childhood nickname, “Pukena UD War”. He needed something personal since Pukena is a composite of all his passions: home care services, technology, teaching, events, etc. Hence, he could get to do all he wanted to do in life through Pukena. That’s exciting!
So how is Pukena.ng faring?
The founder have assembled a team of smart leaders to help push the project. This is what he wanted for years! A chance to truly build a business not a job!
“I have spent virtually nothing so far except for transport, stationery, CAC registration, domain name and hosting.”
“Challenges? Of course, you can’t bootstrap for ever for a massive project like Pukena. We need money to really execute our marketing strategy, get insurance for our workers, buy some laptops for the team, pay for rent and pay for recurrent expenditures like data, fuel, etc.”
“But we are not just looking for investors. We focus on increasing our traction. Get more people to use the platform, so we can fine tune the business model and make sure we have a working system. Our target is to hit 200 users by December this year, exactly 6 months after launch.”
“2018 is huge for us. We can’t wait. By then am sure we are ready to take on the market.”