Gidanka Smart Residences Limited operates over 80 tastefully furnished apartments in Abuja. The company is providing the next generation of hospitality services enabled by technology, and a broader array of beauty and functionality for travellers to and across Africa. Gidanka is creating serviced homes and apartments in preferred neighbourhoods across African cities, thereby redefining the concept of serviced rental accommodation. The Podium Magazine’s Taiwo Adekanye undertook a tour of the apartments and spoke with the man behind the vision, Olajide Abiola. Enjoy her report:
Olajide Abiola is a 37-year-old smart gentleman who has added to the beauty of Abuja with his smart residences that were recently commissioned. Simple, humble, unassuming, and highly focused, Olajide Abiola told The Podium Magazine during an exclusive tour of The Destination and Glass Residence apartments that the main objective of the company is to offer value for money through smart houses. Truly, everything about the apartments is smart!
Education and career background
Olajide Abiola is a graduate of the Nigeria Military School, Zaria. He has a B.Sc in Computer Science from the University of Ilorin. Prior to venturing into entrepreneurship and building structured businesses, he was a Regional Manager for ConSol, one of Nigeria’s leading BPOs. He is the co-founder and CEO of KiaKia, Nigeria’s pioneering Fintech that is focused on digital lending. KiaKia, which was founded in 2016, has so far facilitated about N12bn credit to small and medium businesses.
Olajide is also the Co-Founder and CEO of Smart Residences Limited operating under the “Gidanka” and “HomeAway” registered trademarks. They are developers and providers of upscale and prestigious residential and hospitality accommodations in choice neighborhoods across the cityscape. “The Residence”, “Glass Residence” and “The Destination” are some of the company’s upscale serviced apartments in Abuja, located in Katampe Extension, Jabi and Wuse II. Gidanka, was founded in 2019. The name Gidanka is a brand that is fast redefining the hospitality business in Abuja and can best be described as the “Apartment Destination”. Perhaps that explains the coincidence in the name of Gidanka’s facility, “THE DESTINATION”.
A man of many parts
Olajide is a serial entrepreneur. He is:
- Founder and CEO of House of Commodities Aggro-Allied Services Limited, a company that produces primary and secondary raw materials for local industries and multinationals. The company is also the manufacturer of Jendo Oil, a NAFDAC-approved premium groundnut oil that is Cholesterol-free.
- Founder and CEO of The City Kitchen and Jendo Kitchen, a chain of restaurants in Abuja. His companies currently employ over 400 staff across the country.
The Real Estate Disruptor in Abuja
Olajide Abiola is the “new smart kid on the block”; he is the entrepreneur to beat with over seven years of success building financially and socially viable and profitable ventures across the finance, technology, and hospitality sectors, executing over $25m worth of projects and generating over $30m in combined turnover. He believes in the limitless economic opportunities of Nigeria and Africa, hence he is actively walking the talk through proactive and strategic venture building. Olajide Abiola can best be described as the younger version of Dangote.
His desire has always been to develop within the private sector. So, in 2015, he joined Consol, the pioneer and leading business outsourcing company in Nigeria. He was the pioneer Regional Manager in Abuja and the North. He worked with Consol for a year in order to gain management experience and save in preparation for the take-off of KiaKia. He met the co-founder of Kiakia on Facebook and they teamed up to start the company. They pitched the idea to people and organizations, but could not get anyone to buy into the idea.
The comments often received were “you guys are crazy, you guys are mad, you want to do online lending here in Nigeria”. At that point, he told Chimezie, “if we believe our solution is viable, and we believe in the efficacy of our technology, why don’t we put our money where our mouth is? I have savings, let’s start! If I cannot lend out my own personal money, is it people’s money I want to be lending? Let’s lend out my own money! If we start lending it out and people see that it’s working, people will start coming on their own”. That was exactly what happened.
The humble beginning
They were fortunate enough to be recognized to headline KPMG’s first Fintech summit in Nigeria, and that gave them the needed platform and exposure. They headlined that summit with Paystack and thus KiaKia became known. “Afterward, a lot of banks started talking with us. You guys have started lending”. Then his response to them was “that they treat all potential lenders as criminals and then you use a blanket approach on everybody, which is wrong. The same yardstick you use for real estate is the same yardstick you use for others and which is not supposed to be so. You treat everybody like a criminal because of the indiscretions and abuse of 20%, the remaining 80% have to suffer. “So, we decided to grow organically, step by step, and that’s why we are there, seven years on and we are still running. We won the Fin-tech awards by Finker”, he added.
The birth of Gidanka
Gidanka was conceived out of the desire to reflect the typical indigenous African description of the home; a name that is proudly Nigerian and that would reflect that. He needed a name that would make a phrase and a rhyme, and one that everyone can identify and relate with. Gidanka means “Your Home”. The idea of Gidanka was meant to create a hybrid between the comfort, safety, convenience, the privacy of your personal house. and the efficient services of a hospitality brand. So, Gidanka, which is the trademark of smart residences was born to provide and deliver that hybrid service, prestigious residential accommodations delivered with five-star hospitality efficiency. Olajide felt he could actually achieve this, so he started with just two units of apartments in Wuse. When it was heavily subscribed, he moved forward in 2000 by opening The Residence in Katampe Extension, 30 units of the apartment at a go.
The Residence … thriving in the midst of COVID-19
Work commenced in January 2020 before the COVID-19 lockdown. The apartment was opened to the public in January 2020. As a result of the uniqueness of his business model, nobody was essentially doing what he was doing. There was no reception. Typically they had offices at their location, they had libraries, they had workstations, they had bicycles, and these were apartments that were fully fitted out. All you need was to enter with your clothes!
When his employees were agitated that COVID-19 would affect his business, he said “No, what has been built is resilient to actually withstand the COVID”. And it was during the COVID period that they experienced the most growth. While established brands within the hospitality sector, especially hoteliers, were feeling the heat of the lockdown due to the restrictions on movement, Olajide and his team did not feel it. While the travel restrictions lasted, people were compelled to stay back at home and Smart Residences were actually building homes.
“Our apartments were homes. Mind you, those residences were fitted with libraries, workstations, bicycles, and so on. So, working from home made it easier. We were able to experience a high level of occupancy during that period. We withstood all the consequences of the lockdown that made it impossible for traditional hoteliers to survive. For us, this led to more recruitment and an increase in salaries”, he stated.
Gidanka’s vision is to build fantastic accommodations in great neighborhoods across cityscapes, thus the need to sample choice locations within the city. Katampe Extension is a diplomatic neighborhood and it was not popular; it was quiet. It’s more suited for diplomatic travelers, foreigners, and people who just want to get away from the hustling and bustling of the city centre and all of that. There were fears that Katampe Extension is not well known and this could affect patronage but he was not deterred.
Neatness is one of Gidanka’s value propositions. Despite the fact the residence has been opened for three years, the environment still looks neat and tidy. A sustainable neatness and maintenance culture is one of the issues hospitality and real estate operators grapple with in Nigeria. So, Olajide’s plan is to have a maintenance culture that can rival any international brand. “There’s this belief that you have to partner with established brands such as Marriott, Four-Point, etc, but my argument is that these were local brands that later became mainstream. Who did they look at before they started running? Today, they are case studies to learn from to build something better and more efficient. That is what Gidanka is doing”, he said.
“It would interest you to know that seven months into the residence opening, demand has already outweighed supply. Yet, there is no signboard at the residence, and there is no formal market entry or marketing strategy up till now. Gidanka’s value propositions and core values just sell the brand and do the advertising”, he added.
Glass House Residence
About 70% of Gidanka’s subscriptions came from referrals and returning guests. This impressed Olajide Abiola and his team. So, he thought they could “do something new and different from the first one”. That was what gave birth to the Glass House Residence at Jabi. The Glass House Residence is located near KiaKia, the company he co-founded. The construction of The Glass Residence took just seven months, from November 2020 to May 2021. Industry operators were confounded that at a time hospitality businesses were just recovering, Olajide was building and expanding. His belief has been hinged on the philosophy that when a majority of the people despair, you should exhibit hope. When people are afraid, you should exhibit courage. And that was exactly what he did.
The Glass Residence was opened in May 2021 with lots of subscriptions, especially from international organisations such as embassies, the European Union, United Nations, etc. They all came to assess the facilities, aesthetics, services, comfort, convenience, security, and safety of the 30 units and luxurious apartments. “Well, we had good patronage from the elite class and it was very evident that they got better value for their money”.
Emphasis on the right corporate culture
One major value that has been instilled in the staff is “courtesy”. You never have a second opportunity to make a first impression. Every staff you meet inside The Destination Apartments welcomes and attends to customers with an infectious smile. Gidanka is building a culture of excellent service delivery based on the warmth and courtesy awareness of its staff. This is being progressively institutionalised and internalised through consistent enforcement of certain rules and practices.
Olajide’s journey to fame and stardom
Olajide Abiola’s success story started when he had what could best be described as a “good problem”. Many years ago while working in the military, he requested a credit of N70,000.00 from his bank. Despite the fact that he got a guarantee from his employer that he was credible, that his account had been domiciled with that bank for almost seven years, and despite meeting all the terms and conditions for the credit, he still had to give a tip before his application was processed after three months. This left a bad impression on him that this shouldn’t be so, and that people should not be subjected to such treatment because they were seeking for a credit facility.
When a “bad” problem became a good problem
This feeling of anger and frustration inspired the founding of KiaKia. It was one of the experiences that birthed KiaKia. The second experience was the woman he helped with N200,000.00 in 2012 based on credibility and verifiable evidences. She paid back the money without any interest. Even her husband could not believe such an honest act could be found in Abuja. The N70,000.00 loan request experience turned out to be a good problem for him.
Rejection spurs him to greater heights
Olajide is challenged and inspired when his ability is doubted. He believes that the best way to respond to doubters is to succeed and excel beyond their expectations, and not to be bitter. “As a matter of fact, you have to thank some people for saying No, not because you are angry with them, but because they changed your attitude to that response”.
“Why you need to be grateful is that, had they helped you, or done what you needed, it might have limited you in a way. That’s why you have to thank them. For some people, it simply means that they were not yet mature to work with you at that particular point in time. For those who get bitter at people who deny them help, I tell them, if you had succeeded or if that disappointment had led you to something or somewhere better, you would not be angry at them, you would owe them a thank you”.
What are those special skills that are unique about you?
“I try to always develop myself. I told myself, if I was going to be an entrepreneur, entrepreneurship requires a whole lot of selling, and based on research, much of our success is connected to communication, listening, observing and talking to people. The remaining 15% is our technical skills. So I realized that I needed to be able to project and articulate my thoughts, my pains, and my ideas properly to persuade people to believe in me and patronise us. It is one thing to employ people, and it’s another thing to be able to convince them to buy into your vision.
What are your aspirations?
“My aspiration is to keep putting death in perspective so that life can make meaning; because death is what makes life have meaning. Many of us get entangled and carried away with unnecessary distractions and unnecessary things in life because we do not put death in perspective. You will not waste time with malice, pettiness, unforgiveness, bitterness, and so on. You can imagine, for me, doing a project like The Destination and not having one single headache throughout despite the challenges that dogged the project”.
“This is because I prioritize the important things. It is for me to continue to build and to add value just like Dangote who is taking a lot of risks with resources. He’s raising debts, he’s building, he’s creating and adding value, he’s creating jobs, and all of those stuffs. And that’s what I intend to do. To build; there’s nothing that puts smile on my face and puts satisfaction in my heart like seeing that I’m creating value for people to thrive and prosper. People are getting married on the job, people are going on holiday, people are able to pay school fees, to send their children to school and pay rent. That gives me a lot of satisfaction that because of the steps I’m taking, people’s lives are better and have meaning. So entrepreneurship is a thankless job!