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I made my first 3m at 23, grew to 30m at 25, and lost everything afterwards

David Lanre Mesan is an idea strategist, digital enterprise strategist, startup advisor and many others. The serial entrepreneur popularly known as DLM who started from a humble beginning has grown into reckoning with his effort in helping business leaders around the globe achieve digital development that drive business growth. In this interview, he speaks about his life and lessons therein.

Most successful businessmen in the world today are said to either have some level of connection to make it or have started from the scratch. In your own story, what is it like from the beginning?

David Lanre Messan popularly known by the insignia DLM is originally an Idea Strategist, then, evolved into becoming a digital enterprise strategist, serial entrepreneur, startup advisor and angel investor. I am committed to helping entrepreneurs and business leaders around the world develop digital enterprise models, raise funds and drive growth.

I was raised by my humble parents; headteacher father and a West Africa merchant mother in the suburb of Lagos. I come from a family of 6, my mom, dad and 3 other siblings. We are a humble family that is contented with whatever we have and we never joked with learning.

I attended Green Pastures Nursery and Primary School where I obtained my primary school leaving certificate; Mushin High School where I obtained my SSCE papers. DLM also read Mass Communication at Lagos State Polytechnic; Marketing Strategy, Nexford University; Disruptive Strategy, Harvard Business School; Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Scalabl Global Academy.

You have a wonderful family with your mother’s business as your starting point in life.

My mom is a business woman who understood how to multiply money. She is a caterer learning by merchant by attitude. She travelled across the west coast selling smoked fish and locally ran a canteen that fed thousands of people in Ejigbo, Lagos. From her, I picked up the knack for entrepreneurship. I have helped her sell different things ranging from food to doughnuts etc.

What are those values inculcated into you by parents that shaped what you are today?

My parents are not rich but they raised me like we are from a rich home and fundamentally taught me the need to be contented and work hard. They exposed me to the power of curiosity and exploration from an early age and that helped me to become conceptually insight driven which is a cardinal characteristic of an Idea Strategist.

I developed myself to become an Idea Strategist by investing over 13000 hours in the course of 3 years or so just like Malcolm Gladwell will say 10000 hours will make you an expert in anything. I learnt the art of entrepreneurship from my mom and the science behind intelligence and application of knowledge from my father. These values have shaped me a great deal.

Could you explain to us the journey of your career development and how you weathered the storm to get to where you are today?

My life journey is filled with a lot of self-development, trial and errors, learning, unlearning and re-learning. I remember in 2001, I vowed never to be like where I am coming from and I understood that the only way out will be knowledge, so I did everything to seek knowledge.

I read most of my father’s books starting from ‘Think and Grow Rich’ by Napoleon Hill and then had to hawk gala in traffic so I can make money to buy internet night browsing time at cybercafé, so that I can read and explore the new world of information and opportunities. I later took a teaching job that paid me more and enabled me to spend more time at cybercafés just to learn how to become an Idea Strategist. Some websites like Mindtools.com and Entrepreneurs.com really helped.

I also was following the leadership newsletters of John C Maxwell which really helped me to understand leadership. From these efforts, I started a social project in secondary schools called (Lifeguard Youth Concerns) that focused on teaching abstinence, entrepreneurship and leadership to senior students.

I also got the opportunity to enroll for LEAP Africa Youth Leadership Programme in 2006 and this really helped me a great deal. My focus on the ultimate goal kept me waking up and pursuing my dreams.

Through my project, I was selected in 2005 by MTV/Staying Alive Foundation as a finalist; was rated one of 100 best authors by the WorldBank in 2006 out of 1900 authors in the world, for sharing my ideas on how I plan to solve community problems. In 2007, I founded Green Yaggy, a project under my first company, Infinite Impact, to help democratize the process of starting a business and accessing technology opportunities.

I was able to impact directly the lives of over 250 youths and indirectly 5000 youths and these earned me a place as African Business Leaders Forum (ABLF) 101 Young African Leader in 2007 and in 2008, I won the LEAP Africa Nokia Top 10 Youth Leadership Award. In 2011, I was selected as a pioneer global shaper of the World Economic Forum (WEF) and grew to become the community’s curator in Lagos and a contributor at various programs of the World Economic Forum and Grow Africa. In 2014, Green Yaggy tried to collaborate with MasterCard through a third processor to launch a youth oriented financial inclusion project but it failed.

That is what has become agent banking now in Nigeria but it is okay. Beyond this, I have founded other companies that have positioned me as an Idea Strategist where I have raised over $7million for small businesses and have provided strategy for growth for over 250 businesses and startups in the country.

I have written papers on digital enterprise integration for international magazines and have spoken on various international platforms on strategy, fundraising digital and business growth cutting across the United States of America, Dubai, Iran, Turkey, United Kingdom, India, etc. In Nigeria, I have spoken on various enterprise topics at over 200 top events such as Junior Chamber Conferences, RISE networks, Lagos State Government etc.

In the course of my career, I was appointed Communications Consultant to Lagos State Public Service Staff Development Center and have worked with some top politicians providing technology strategy and grassroot insights and then worked for 5 months as Senator with the World Business Angels Forum.

I am currently on the international scene serving as an International Partner for Nigeria with World Business Angels Investors Forum (WBAF), Turkey; Scalabl Global Ambassador for Africa and a community organizer for Harvard Business School Online. Harvard Business School recently published an article on my works on their website as recognition for what I do as a strategist.

An interesting part of my career journey was when I made my first 3million naira at age 23 as an entrepreneur, grew it to about 30million at age 25 and lost it all in business the same age. One thing that never left me was the template to make another million. That was a highlight for me.

I have also built a brand name in the international community with key bodies spread across the Middle East, North America, South America and Africa through my fundraising campaigns for businesses in Africa, especially Nigeria.

I have explored the business world, the entertainment industry, the political space etc and now I am just focused on helping people and businesses to go digital through my new-found company, FirstFounders Inc.

Obviously, people inspire people: who are those or maybe a person that influenced your life, career growth and has stood by you in life?

Unfortunately, I cannot point one person who stood by me but I follow so much everything Richard Branson does and have learnt a great deal through Virgin emails received from him and his books. Pastor Poju Oyemade of the Covenant Nation is of immense insights and his teachings have guided me a lot in business and spiritual things. Beyond that, I am my biggest inspiration and God is my greatest guide.

The journey of life is continuum: what are your projections into the future, drawing from where you are now? 

I am focused on raising digital entrepreneurs, going forward, teaching them how to leverage on the digital transformation wave going on in the world now and how to make impact and profit from it. I want to help business leaders capture new value by transitioning their traditional business models to a robust digital enterprise models that help them experience increased revenue, operational efficiency and agility and strong internal capabilities that put them forward in the new future. The goal is to achieve all these through my digital entrepreneurs and I will launch several digital businesses across key sectors of the economy.

What lesson of life would you give your admirers and how to stand out against all odds?

My biggest advice to anyone, is ‘know thyself and understand the magnanimity of your purpose’, so when the challenges come, you will understand that it hits differently. You must know if you are a maize type of person or a bamboo type of person. A maize dream will manifest in 3 months but a bamboo dream will manifest in 7 years…just know thyself in order to have capacity to manage chaos. In summary, be Patient with your dream and never stop hitting the spot you felt the juice will come out from.

Can you share with us about your new outfit and your plans in the Post COVID-19 era?

FirstFounders led by myself have been helping several entrepreneurs across the world and Nigeria transition their business models from traditional to digital. We have invited to series of trainings in India, Turkey, Iran, USA, UK and of course here in Nigeria where I provide valuable insights and practical know-how on what to do to adapt to the change COVID-19 has brought forward.  FirstFounders is a digital enterprise builder leading a robust digital transformation for traditional businesses and new startups. We are helping companies build digital businesses by using the technology required to create new value through developing digital business and operating models, customer experiences and the internal capabilities that support the core operations of the businesses we handle.

We understand that “Successful organizations operate with a clear business direction, using a vision and roadmap that define the way forward. Together with clients, FirstFounders redefines how to be digital at scale—reimagining processes, redesigning ways of working and re-engineering process infrastructure, to activate operational agility, efficiency, and business growth.

We help envision and build better products and experiences, developing go-to-market approaches and inventing disruptive new business models—all to generate new growth, meaningful differentiation, and real economic value. Our core focus in leading digital transformation cuts across people, processes and technology.

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