Preston Timeyin Ideh is an LSE alumna, Grapevine member and one of the founders of the media publication company, StearsBusiness. Preston studied Law at LSE in the class of 2014, went on to complete a training contract at Linklaters and recently moved back to Nigeria to focus on Stears.
You recently moved back to Lagos; how has the change been from London?
Unlike a couple people I know or have spoken to who have recently moved back to Nigeria, I moved back voluntarily. I was ready to move back and that allowed me to plan a lot before actually moving back. I think it has been quite a smooth move, I can’t really say that there have been too many shocking challenges or that it has been too challenging. The only thing I would say that has been an adjustment is driving in Lagos. If you learn to drive in London, it’s a different experience; but when you stay on the road in Lagos long enough, you learn the madness. The rest of it has just been adjusting generally to Nigeria. I think the more you know about the country the easier it is to predict the worst that could happen. I don’t think there is anything that I have experienced so far that has really shocked me. However, I acknowledge this is not a common experience and moving to Nigeria can be so tough for people, and I’ve just been lucky.
You have your own media publication company -- Stears; when did you set it up, and how would you define/describe your growth since then?
Stears is primarily an intelligence company, focused on financial data and media. We started with the media aspect, a platform to focus on finance, the economy, development and governance- that was the easier part of Stears and what we call the media division. Legally, Stears is incorporated as two separate entities. Stears began in 2014, just after my final exams at LSE. I met up with a couple of people who I thought would be interested in the idea, and they were, and we moved on from there. We always had it at the back of our minds, this intention to focus on financial data.
Although the media company is interesting and necessary, the media scene in Nigeria is not what it could be nor is it very profitable. So despite our good intentions, we knew we needed a more robust business model, and that was why the financial data was important. At the same time, it was easier to kick off with the media side because it was cheap to set up. We got a couple of writers who volunteered, and we set up a website ourselves (without any pre-built content). Bode, Michael (LSE) and Abdul (LSE) were the main people I was working with. There weren’t any real costs, and we were not also building it for profit.
As time went on, we began drawing up a broader plan for the financial data side; that is why I made the decision to move back, because as Nigerians would say, you have to be “on ground” to really know what is going on and make that side work. The nature of the company evolved to being much more capital intensive, which is why a lot of effort over the last couple of months has been around funding and getting external financial support for the company. This is essential in order for us to be able to work on our financial data side and deliver the sort of data that the Nigerian market needs.
What did you find most challenging setting up your own company whilst doing your training contract/undergraduate degree? Or even right now that it has already kicked off?
The funding has been one of the challenges, but also, making the shift into the financial data aspect and monetising the financial features you’re beginning to see on the website. The website is not where we will be delivering the information from the financial data analysis. It will be more of a platform or terminal that is subscription driven. It is a well established business model for Bloomberg and Reuters and similar organisations.
Regarding this, we have to find software developers and the core of this development is the funding effort, and to do that we need to have sorted all our business projections, strategy and the rest. So I would say that what has been more tasking has been the funding. Interestingly, we have a Fintech conference planned in July on the media side, pulling from my experience at the LSE Africa Summit, and also working as president of the ACS in my time. Although it’s a little difference as we’re pitching from a business aspect rather than as an event.
Thinking retrospectively, what would have been useful to your experience of LSE that you did not have then?
It sounds very lame, but the importance of reading. In secondary school, there was always the begrudge of reading at Loyola (his secondary school in Nigeria); it was always a case of after you with this book or that book. However, at LSE, it was different. Obviously when your degree hits you hard, which is usual for LSE, you don’t have the time to read outside studying. But the moment I moved to Linklaters, I realised that because there is so much you have to learn in the world, especially if you want to do something outside your traditional career or degree, then you have to really read books, and there are so many books out there on so many different issues. There is so much knowledge and I have learnt so much from building up a library of books, on management, entrepreneurship, business, law, technology, Nigeria, and so much more. A lot of the knowledge I have on Nigeria and Nigerian history is from reading. When you read more, you broaden your horizon -- I wish I did not stop between Loyola and Linklaters, I think it would have done so much more for me.
If you could be known to have impacted one thing, or could only impact one thing on people, what would that be and why?
I would say, obviously in the Nigerian context, to raise the standard of living of the average Nigerian. I would use that phrase because it allows me to capture everything. So the media aspect of Stears for example is really motivated by the realisation that the average Nigerian (educated in nigerian system absolutely) does not have a lot of exposure and is not taught the ability to critically think and view think multi-dimensionally. I think that translates to the sorts of life they go ahead to live, in their careers and their workplaces, even in church, wherever they’re going they will be able to think critically and it opens more doors for them. I think more specifically, the way to raise the standard of living of every Nigerian is through policy making -- either through the legal or political or quality job creation route. It has to be active; it cannot be passive. You cannot just do what you’re doing and hope that by some multiply effect, the standard of living of the average Nigerian will increase. Whatever it is, the core aim is the remember to be [pro]actively contributing to changing that standard of living