The 22 Year Old OAU Student Who Built A Million Dollar Hedge Fund
When you meet Christopher ‘King’ Bowofade, you are sure in that first minute of conversation that you have met no ordinary 22-year old. Your astonishment quickly grows when he tells you how, in less than two years, he went from a being a student who saw his parents struggle to send him his monthly allowance to building an investment company with 15 full-time employees and over N600 million under management.
The company he built, Better Days Investments (BTD), buys and sells futures and options daily on behalf of 7,902 individual investors who get returns anywhere from 10% to 30% monthly, a performance that I found difficult to believe when I first heard about it.
Somewhere in the middle of my chat with him, I couldn’t help but ask, how does a young kid who got rejected twice to study Economics — first as a secondary school leaver and later as an Ordinary Diploma Holder —convince thousands of investors to bet on him?
His short answer: “People work with you based on what you say you are.”
In late 2012, he was a fresh Diploma graduate, second best in his Conservation Science and Tourism class with a 4.41 GPA, but he was determined to be more than that. During the long break that preceded his direct-entry application to the Department of Economics at Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), he stayed back in school to learn about a variety of fields over free school internet. He quickly became adept at graphic design and web development. But what really caught his eye was the financial market: forex, futures, options and binary options. These quickly became an obsession.
He would lose his first investor (his mum)’s $100 in one week, but this didn’t deter him. He found some British fund managers who became his mentors. He learnt to give one of them his money to trade for him. The fund manager returned 50% in a month. He was ecstatic. Once he was able to achieve that kind of return month after month, he felt ready to raise more money.
One of his earliest investors and evangelists was Johnson Alabi, the third best student in the Conservation Science and Tourism Diploma class. Johnson was one of those who urged him to start a company. Christopher used his PHP and CSS skills to build the company website, and they were ready for business. Their first investors would mainly be students looking to earn extra money; their first part-time staff, too.
In November 2015, BTD registered as simply a Commission Agency with CAC (neither SEC or CBN regulates speculative funds in foreign markets) and started out with N1 million from 20 investors. As returns came, word of mouth spread. Christopher and Johnson created a structure where investors signed up to be agents and earned commissions to manage other investors they brought in. At some point, they were doubling investors and asset under management every month.
They were working so hard, they forgot to go to class. This was the first year as 200 level undergraduates at the Geography department at OAU. At the end of first semester, Johnson had a GPA of 2.6, Christopher had a 1.9.
Mavrodi Mundial Moneybox (MMM)
As the business grew, Christopher’s challenges were more than academic. 2016 was the year when exchanging Naira to Dollar was difficult. BTD worked around this by securing a large single black market source and by returning Naira cash flows from new investors to old ones without touching the dollar capital base. He also had trouble maintaining investor returns as capital grew.
He and his COO, Johnson, fought over many issues and finally parted ways. Some of his best student-staff would leave him or he would be forced to sack them over issues that ranged from petty to material.
But his biggest challenge yet was in December 2016, when majority of his investors who had thought BTD was some kind of multi-level marketing scheme started to request to withdraw all of their funds following rumours that Nigeria’s largest multi-level marketing scheme, MMM, had crashed.
“This was depleting our capital so much that it challenged the company’s sustainability.” That was Christopher putting it mildly. This was an existential crises that could have wiped out over 80% of his fund, as well as BTD itself, in under a month. He took firm action and froze the fund. He also revealed himself to many of his Lagos-based investors for the first time (some who had exposure of up to N30 million), and organised an Investor Conference in February of this year to allay their fears.
The road to startup success is dotted with what sometimes are the truest tests of skill and character. Bowofade, as he is sometimes called by friends, has had to quickly learn programming and trading in the financial markets while proving that he can make tough decisions as a leader. “Not many people can trade binary options,”He quipped at some point in our chat, “It requires that you make really important decisions in a split second.” He has been an ardent student of Trading Psychology, a term popular among traders that describes the emotional and mental make-up needed to succeed as a trader, built on the three cornerstones: stamina, patience and discipline. In addition, he has to embrace fear and take risk without flinching.
But Bowofade struggles in some respects, especially in dealing with people. According to Johnson Alabi, “Bowofade can be poor with human relations, he prefers online relationships.” He has an inordinate need to feel secure and be surrounded by loyal people. This means that he has a tendency to keep mostly yes-men around him instead of those who can challenge his ideas. This easily leads to mediocrity if not checked.
From Zero to One
What’s the future of BTD? Christopher sees it in the near future as being a potential challenger to well-established finance houses like ARM, FBN Capital and Chapel Hill Denham, investing in traditional financial instruments like real estate and infrastructure but also leveraging technology a lot more. For example, leveraging blockchain technology to be the first established finance house making investments in cryptocurrency. He is a blockchain enthusiast whose $75 personal investment in Bitcoins two years ago is now $2000.
“Blockchain technology has the power to disrupt conventional business models,” he says. He goes on to explain how e-commerce sites can accept cryptocurrency, businesses can raise capital through Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs), and bottom-of-the-pyramid projects in sub-Saharan Africa can benefit from the transparency, stability and trust that blockchain offers.
When Christopher unfreezes his fund by December, shedding short-term-focused investors for those who will join him for the long ride to building a sustainable company, he would have fully experienced his zero to one moment: when you build something out of nothing.
That moment is precious. You join the Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame, for starters (at OAU, it is a long list that includes the oldies like Femi Otedola and Ibukun Awosika, and the newbies like Opeyemi Awoyemi of Jobberman and Biola Olaniran of Gamsole). You may still be a student (or not; Christopher has been informed that he needs to renew his studentship), but you become a moving part of a new and growing economy. This moment is not for anyone: it belongs to those who refuse to think at the same plane as the majority of people, who have visions to truly change the game and who don’t mistake schooling for getting an education.