Passion to Success: Adewale Opawale, CEO of STREAM Insight Ltd
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” – Steve Jobs
Adewale’s journey into the business world exemplifies Steve Jobs’ quote on trusting the process rather than placing too much emphasis on the future. Leveraging on his little beginnings during his undergraduate studies, Adewale turned his experiences and passion into a life-long journey of providing exceptional services in the world of social and market research. We caught up with the Obafemi Awolowo University-trained microbiologist, who is now a research guru, in his Lagos office where he provided some insights into his business and his life.
Adewale is the founder and CEO of Strategic Research and Management (STREAM) Insight Limited, a frontline new generation social and market research agency based in Lagos. The company provides research services, by utilizing quantitative, qualitative and other in-depth data analytics, to its various clients, giving them actionable insights and invaluable strategies to achieve their desired goals. The company’s clients include several international NGOs, multinational companies, international development partners, government parastatals and indigenous firms. Services they provide include data collection, data processing, and analysis, and business intelligence via insightful reports.
The company like many others during startup had several challenges, including securing businesses with clients, financing projects and staffing. With perseverance and dedication to providing exceptional services whenever the opportunity arose, the company overcame its many challenges. In less than 10 year period, STREAM Insight Ltd grew from a relatively unknown firm to a leading research company with operations across the West African Region and other African countries. The company is a reference point to building a successful and sustainable enterprise, with numerous footprints of respectable achievements.
Adewale’s inspiration to start a research company happened 15 years ago when he was an undergraduate of Microbiology at Obafemi Awolowo University. He was privileged to work as a national resource person to some United Nations groups. During his engagements with these groups, he observed the dearth of quality data in Nigeria, and the challenges of effective program planning or monitoring the interventions they were involved in. He picked interest in the field of data gathering and analysis and started planning his career in that direction. Statistics, which was his favorite subject in secondary school proved handy at this point as it became a springboard for him to launch his career. He also observed that many businesses in Nigeria lacked business intelligence that would provide them with strategic insight into how well to position their business for growth and success, leading to the failure of many businesses in the country. “It is not just enough to be passionate about business,” He says,”you need business intelligence to strategize.” After graduation, Adewale made a decision to learn more about his craft. He proceeded to study Public Health from Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria and then Market Research from The University of Georgia, USA. He worked for two of the four world’s largest market research companies for a few years, where he learned how to grow a business as a company, how to think global, how to be a good team player and meet clients expectations. Being passionate is not enough, Opawale asserts that you need to learn, you need exposure. “you can only help people to the maximum limit of what you know and the exposure you have,” he says. These experiences gave him the necessary impetus to manage his business in the most efficient way.
The company has evolved over the years, reinventing itself to keep up with modern best practices in the field of research. Adewale remembers when the company started with the use of manual methods of conducting research; from traditional data collection, which involves the use of pen and paper (called PAPI) and data clerks. Analyses would take days, sometimes months depending on volume. Today, the company leverages the use of technology to simplify the processes; from data collection, data processing to data analyses. He sees the future of research as coming up with applications that can “self-interpret data and write finalized reports without any human input.”
Commenting on major pitfalls to avoid in starting and running a business, entrepreneurs must get their motivation right. For instance, starting a business because you need quick cash or just because you lost your job is a wrong motivation. Also, an entrepreneur needs constant learning and gathering facts and trends that will aid the business. He advises would-be entrepreneurs to see business as a “hard way, the only way.” That is, having the tenacity and courage to face challenges. The ability to stick to learning and improvement is equally important. He further advises that aspiring business owners be dogmatic with their intentions but be flexible about their processes.
In dealing with customers, Adewale maintains that you must do it right; for every piece of work you do, you must ensure put in your best. Solve clients’ problems with a spin of excellence. It is a function of time, more customers will come to you. If you make your core values reflect in your deliverables, your clients will have no option but to always come back to you. In resolving disagreements with clients, he advises that you must first understand your customers. Ensure you understand their needs. Moreover, as the company grows, begin to segment your customers according to the value they bring. He also opines that business owners onboard customers according to their ability to deliver. Taking on too many projects or customers without the corresponding capacity to deliver will result in getting customers dissatisfied. One bad story can obliterate the brand you have built over the years.
When asked what the cardinals of success are, he says, “passion, knowledge and intelligence, consistency, and having the right role models.” He also advises entrepreneurs to find time to network. “Your net worth” he suggests, “is directly related to the worth of your network. As a business owner, you must “keep the helpful and very valuable network.” Useful relationships get you business referrals, collaborations, and more importantly new businesses. Long-lasting relationships are often built outside a work-related environment. Business owners should find time to have fun and aspire to achieve a well-rounded life. A work-life balance life may be difficult to achieve, as building commercially viable enterprises requires a lot of sacrifices. Nevertheless, business owners can have a well-rounded life where every area of work and life are appropriately and duly attended to. He has been happily married to his best friend for almost a decade and he is blessed with children.
Despite receiving training from some of the world-renowned leading institutions, recipient of several awards and recognitions, partnerships with industry giants, affiliations with global associations, and being featured in the New York Times, Adewale sees his journey into the research industry as never-ending. He believes there are still new grounds to break, especially in Africa where social and market research can be said to be in its infancy. He sees himself as contributing immensely to an industry that is still growing.
When asked how prepared he is for this industry transformation, his reply, and closing remark; “Our fear is not that we are inadequate. Our fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. We just need to channel our strength, charisma and unstoppable ability towards that which will not perish with time, to accomplish this revolutionary task ahead”.
Temitope Adeyemo is the author of Young, Black and Successful and a banker. Follow him on Twitter @topeadeyemo