Adetola Nola: Up Real Estate Ladder
Words By – Josephine Agbonkhese
He was listed on Forbes 30 Under 30 business list in 2019. Very recently, he got nominated by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader. He has also been recognised as one of the Most Influential Young Africans by Avance Media.
The CEO, Veritasi Homes and Property Limited, a fast-rising real estate company, Adetola Nola is interestingly just 30 years old. The company provides real estate solutions cutting across property sales, real estate advisory services, land acquisition and property development.
Nola’s romance with entrepreneurship dates back to his childhood days in Ibadan, where he traded in FOREX as a teenager, went on to luxury fashion designing and styling, before catching the real estate flu. A rare product of hardwork and determination, he has to his credit some of the best housing projects for middle and high income earners in Lagos and environ.
The Obafemi Awolowo University graduate of Chemical Engineering and alumni of the London Metropolitan University, who was in 2020, nominated for the Future Awards Africa Prize for Entrepreneurship, in this interview, speaks of his work, ethics and childhood.
You’re only 30; how did you manage to make an entry into the league of prominent real estate moguls in Nigeria up to the point of a Forbes’ recognition in 2019?
I feel it’s hardwork, doggedness, and the ability to be strategic. One of the things I can’t argue is that we rose quickly. In fact, the level it took a lot of companies ten years to get to, was where we got to in three years. I feel that the universe has helped me; the time I took the risk of starting the real estate company was one of the best time anyone could have started. This was because there was already an efficient marketing company.
So, it was kind of like a plug and play; we had products and they could sell. It was also about having the right property in the right places. I mean, we started from far away Ibeju Lekki and right now, we’re doing our projects in Lekki Phase 1, Ikate, and trying to go to Ikoyi by this year. Recognition by Forbes, CNBC, Channels and others, came when it was least expected.
You had a shoe factory; what happened to your dream of selling shoes as well as your factory?
Nothing happened to it. Selling shoes is one of my passions; I’ve always loved leather works. The business was actually my seventh business. Before then, I was selling female clothes, designing jumpsuits and blazers for women, selling ready-to-wear, and also doing fashion styling. When I moved to Lagos, I started selling top shoe brands like Versace, Gucci and all. I later partnered someone and started a shoe brand.
So, what happened to my dream? I still like leather works; I feel that’s my retirement plan. But right now, I’m obsessed with real estates.
What happened to my factory? I sold it when I was going to start my real estates company and needed fund. I sold my car, my cousin’s car, my factory, machines, generator, and others, to fund my real-estate business plan. It was a risk too expensive but I had to.
At what age were you introduced to entrepreneurship?
My first introduction to entrepreneurship was at age 16 in Ibadan. To be honest, I don’t think I really wanted to go to university despite the fact that I was very brilliant. There was this place where we did FOREX trading on behalf of people, and gave them interests. A group of us decided to back out and start our own trading company. I was really down the foot chain then; so, I wasn’t part of the decision-making. We traded and lost a lot of money but managed to give investors back their money. That taught me money management.
What drives you?
The Nigerian situation drives me. I want to contribute positively and be an employer of labour. I want to see average people own houses; the joy on their faces when they own houses, is what actually drives me. I’m impressed seeing people doing well, owning properties, driving good cars, etc. These drive me to want to do more.
What role have your parents played in shaping the entrepreneur you are today?
My mum is an entrepreneur. She is one of those that really inspire me. She has done several businesses; detergents, rentals, poultry, etc., and I’ve been part of the marketing sales process since I was young. I think the first soap company she founded was in my name. Everything I grew up seeing was entrepreneurship. She really inspires me.
Have you ever invested in a project that turned out a wreck? Tell us about it...
I’ve invested in projects that turned a total wreck. Before venturing into real estates, I had started about seven or eight businesses (all registered)—some alone, and some, with friends, that failed. But when I got into real estate, there was another kind of failure because a lot of money was lost.
After we started our first project, which was a success and sold out quickly, we decided we wanted to key into the Blue Ocean which was on the Mainland, and a lot of developers were not really looking into. We took there a lot of millions of naira; investors money. We eventually realised we had bought a very bad property. We got the location wrong; and then it wasn’t even moving.
…and how did you manage your reputation with regards to capitalists who had invested in that project?
It took a while; calling clients, calling investors, trying to manage them and telling them they had to give us some time to take every mini wreck of the ship to another project. It was tough. Our first project was very successful, but our second, third and fourth projects were not successful. It was crazy; I almost wanted to run out of real estates but the dreams could not allow that. Thank God I’ve got the support of a lot of people in the industry. In all, I’m proud of the way we managed those failures. We managed our investors very well and were able to pay them because we invested the rest of the money in another project.
Why do almost all real estate professionals think luxury and never housing for the middle and lower class?
Yes. Some developers think luxury and some do middle-income. What I’ve heard other developers say is that the same problem you get into while trying to service low-income, is the same you get into while doing luxury. But then, you get like ten times more profit. However, for us, we have catered for both ends; low and middle income earners. Maybe later, we will cater to luxury; we will form another company which will cater to that side of business.
What is trending with real estate in terms of design and finishing?
In terms of new design finishing, maybe you should go to Camberwall Court, our recent project, to see what we have. The neatness of our lines, the minimalist designs, the way we’ve played with colours, the strength of our concrete, and the overall way we’ve approached the project, is just wonderful. We intend to do more. Because we are a technology-driven company, we always usually, look out for the best practices from around the world.
I’m a well-travelled person, so, I know when new things are in vogue in other countries. I try to see the ones we can replicate in Nigeria in our projects. Our project coming up in Banana Island in Lagos next year, in terms of designs and lightening architecture (which is very uncommon in Nigeria), is definitely going to be one of the best around that space; if not the best.
What obstacles or challenges have made you felt like giving up on your dreams?
I feel like I get obstacles every month in real estates. But I really don’t allow them get to me anymore. Before, when we started, when I get these obstacles which I now see as challenges because they are solvable, I would take them to heart and want to give up. One of them was when we bought a land for almost one million dollars, which is around three hundred million naira, and then suddenly, got a letter that it’s been revoked by the government.
That day, I decide I wasn’t doing real estate anymore. For some reasons, we found a way around it and were able to resolve that. Right now, I have a very strong legal team, so, when the problem comes, I smile at them and look for the best possible ways to solve it.
Nigeria has a 60% youth population, of which you are one of the very few who are successful. In your opinion, what is the problem with the Nigerian youth?
Listen, I feel the Nigerian youths are driven and smart. But you know, you cannot put an eagle in water and expect it to perform at its very best. It’s difficult to function in a very bad society; either you do not function at all, or you function in a negative way. That’s why you see some youths feel only fraud can make them successful. The environment to function in should be changed and equipped with basic amenities so people can thrive. This should be done not only by government but also, by business elites.
Another thing I noticed about the Nigeria youth is that, for some reasons, they stopped believing in themselves. Maybe because of the bad education we are exposed to.
What opportunities do you wish your younger self had and what will you do differently if you were to start all over again?
To be honest, I’m in love with my journey and story. If I were to start again, I wouldn’t have done anything differently. Every single step and business, including the ones that have failed, have all taught me something. So, I really don’t think I want to do anything differently. I’m just 30 and I love the pace at which I’m going. The goal is to affect my generation positively while making money; and I’m doing that already. We have good staff and artisans—I am indirectly feeding people; and that gives me joy about what I do.
What childhood memories do you cherish the most?
That should be the togetherness we used to have as children. While growing up in Ibadan, kids from different places, without knowing each other, will come together, play football and have fun. Right now, everybody is just on their own.
What takes your time when you’re not working on a housing project?
If I’m not working on housing projects, I’m either traveling, visiting new countries and enjoying new cultures, playing tennis, or in meetings, trying to raise funds for new housing projects.
Describe yourself in three words…
I’ll say I’m kind, very determined and I love humanity