Chris Folayan is now the chief executive of the US-based ecommerce platform Mallforthteworld.com, and says his early foray into entrepreneurship makes him proud
Money & Me: 'I started a tyre recycling company at the age of seven'
Chris Folayan is the chief executive and founder of Mallfortheworld.com, an e-commerce platform and expansion from MallforAfrica.com, which enables customers in Africa, the Caribbean and Middle East to purchase items directly from over 150 international online retailers including Macy’s, eBay, Saks Fifth Avenue and BCBG. The Nigerian, 40, is based in Portland, Oregon, after living for 22 years in the United States; he now visits Dubai every month since launching the site this year. He has two children; a girl aged 10 and a boy of 13, and is also chairman of the board of the African Diaspora Network, a US-based African networking group.
How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?
I was born and raised in a middle-class family in Nigeria - mum was a schoolteacher, dad founded his own civil engineering company and I had two older brothers. I grew up in a very small town called Ilorin in Kwara, with people begging and sleeping on the streets. You had to go to school and be creative with your mind. When you live in a third-world country, surrounded by poverty, it shapes you to work harder but also to give more and appreciate what little you have.
How much did you get paid for your first job?
I started a tyre recycling company at the age of seven. Being driven to and from school, I would notice a lot of beat-up old tyres on the side of the road. One day we had a flat tyre and went to a local ‘vulcaniser’, or tyre shop. I noticed he kept old tyres, some to recycle and some to use pieces to patch tyres. I asked him if he wanted me to bring him tyres. I then got friends to join me, and they would get their parents to drop tyres off at my house. Then I would take them all to a series of vulcanisers. I made about 50 US cents an hour in today’s money but as a kid that looked like a million bucks - I could buy my own soda, ice cream and cassette tapes. After about 18 months and around 200-300 tyres, my parents sent me to boarding school and work had to take a back seat. It creates pride, though, knowing you can be successful at such a young age.
Are you a spender or saver?
I save and invest; I don’t need much to make me happy. A coffee a day could cost you $1,000 a year - you could turn that into $10,000 in five years with proper investment. I manage my spending because I really do think investing it is a wiser way to spend and because, to me, investing is a fun thing. I have always been this way – when you are raised around poverty you never want to be poor.
What is your most cherished purchase?
My desktop computer. It’s about a year old and I built it from scratch. It is the one thing I own that I really can’t do without. I keep enhancing it and have high-end pieces: a solid-state disc drive with the biggest terabytes I could find, a very high-end motherboard. I just upgraded the RAM about three weeks ago. It probably cost me around $5,000. I have four monitors connected: one for Skype and internal chat, one for email, one for activities like Word and PowerPoint and one on which I run my own software to see all the website traffic for Mallfortheworld.com and new user, card and sales statistics in real time.
Have you ever had a month where you feared you could not pay the bills?
No: I do not live pay cheque to pay cheque but under my means. I’m more interested in making sure there is food on the table and money in the bank than having a fancy house, an expensive car and struggling to make the payments. I own my house outright - I don’t have a mortgage.
Where do you save?
I save in the US via a mix of mutual funds and individual stocks, mostly technology as I know about it. I also invest in start-ups, angel-funding people I know or who have been recommended to me in Nigeria or the US. I invest at seed stage and no more than $25,000. I probably invest 50 per cent of my income - I don’t need that much to survive.
Do you prefer paying by credit card or in cash?
I pay by card then pay it off in full once the bill comes. In essence, I get money off my purchase because I get, say, 200 points for a $100 purchase. It’s really the way to go if you can be disciplined enough, like I am.
What has been your best financial investment?
My investment in Mallfortheworld.com, hands down. We are growing at an impressive rate month-to-month; we sell into the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain today and will be expanding into Jordan, Oman and Egypt in the next batch. I have invested quite a lot into this company over time and have paid myself a tiny income but I’m looking to the future - if something major comes of it, the stocks will be worth a tonne.
What do you most regret spending money on?
My first car was a two-door Mercury Tracer hatchback that I bought for $3,700 after arriving in San José in California for college at 17. The car was an emotional purchase and it ran great at the used car dealership but, from that day on, it was nothing but trouble. The engine, air conditioning, windows, power steering… One time it was raining and the windshield wipers just stopped. I had it for 18 months, got rid of the silly thing and learnt my lesson. I got scammed big time.
What financial advice would you offer your younger self?
I’m tunnel-visioned now and invest in technology, a space I know, so I would say diversify your savings portfolio and get some tin, copper, gold, silver, something in the educational space - mix things up. And always remember never to make an emotional or instinctive purchase; wait a day or two. Rationalise why you really need it and how it will benefit you. If it has to be done now - count backwards from five to one and take a deep breath. I wouldn’t say I was ever an impulsive buyer, but I was not as cautious as I am today. As we mature, we gain new wisdom.
Do you have a financial plan for the future?
My financial plan is really about making the kids number one; making sure they have college funds without loans or debts, rainy-day money for health issues, enough to start their own things later, as they are entrepreneurs in their own right. That’s the baseline. My investments will manage that and my retirement, enough to retire in a very humble location I have not found yet.
If you won a lump sum what would you do with it?
I would invest in property, fine art or a rare watch or vintage car that would appreciate in value. I have no experience of these things, so would definitely be consulting an expert. Otherwise I’d stick it in a certificate of deposit or bond until I could invest it.
What would you raid your savings account for?
I would go into my savings to help family at a time of need. Hey, it’s a savings account; it’s meant to be there when you need it for a rainy day.