When Vital Sounouvou speaks, there are a myriad of stars in his eyes. It gives you the impression that he could move the world in only one move. He has only a quarter of a century, he that learned to ignore discrimination to build his universe. His story is not common, and is not simple. From Computer engineering studies to trade, from the compound of the small Unity garden (in Cotonou) to the world, gradually, steps by steps but never without his rage and faith. When Vital Sounouvou tells his story, you have stars in your stomach. It is difficult to imagine that all started with flying cars…
Mr. Vital Sounouvou you have two bachelor degrees and you are worth more than two hundred million dollars of potential according to a Forbes Magazine projection yet.
I have a bachelor degree in telecommunication and another one in computer engineering and networks. I am a trader. I sell rice, I sell sugar. The only difference is that I’ve created a platform carried by an offshore company to manage transactions and we have accounts in private banks.
Did you become an entrepreneur because your teachers told you that your field of study was hopeless or just to follow the new entrepreneurship rising trend?
None of the two. I suffered much bullying because of my disability. I was the colossus with the feets of clay. The childhood dreams I had were too big to be carried out or realized as someone’s employee. I still want to make flying cars. From 6 to 12 years old, I spent my time in hospital because of my leg. The Life after the hospital was a life of constant challenges. The only option left to me, was to achieve my dreams that were the only way out and escape in a world where I was minimized. I sold Valentine cards, cigars, some t-shirts THEOJI. I was 3D film editor, I volunteered for the International Innovation Carrefour. Later on, I realized that it was called entrepreneurship.Entrepreneurship is not about words, it is about actions; it’s a constant need of challenges. Click To Tweet
So you started from the small and ridiculous Job of valentine Cards selling to Exportunity: an international trading platform
There were many failures; it was not as straightforward as it may look. I still remember the lady who pulled me into his stand at the International Carrefour.
She made me drink and said, so desperate: “How can you help us to find big buyers? I have to feed the kids. I can not succeed because I am too busy with production, and I got tired by of the trade fairs. Help us to sell our goods. “
I organized trade fairs but still I didn’t solve the problems of these producers. There is no bridge between large buyers, people who can pay 100 containers of rice per month and local producers. See this gap is what pushed me to start this adventure which is Exportunity today. We started the project Eworbiz with some friends. It failed. We were in debt. The others dropped the business and abandoned me, but I stood up again. I went home. The parents told me, “Go get you a job,” I said no. I made some deals and paid my debts.
Then I started again. This time, it was with Africa Mega Product. We held 6 months, and then it failed again. I was desperate. I was hanging in place of the unit of Porto-Novo. My girlfriend at the time raised me. She helped me find the name Exportunity and made me promise never to stop, at least not before having made a billion dollars. She said, “You know, these people need you to succeed. It’s not just for you but for their families that they have to feed. I need you to promise me that you will never stop. “.
There are so many people who helped me because I had faith that it would work. The ultimate goal of Exportunity is that the young entrepreneur from Natitingou can know an economy of scale. It is extremely complicated to make chicken or turkey, and then to return to earth. Because the question is where do you sell? The artist Grand Corps Malade once said: The social elevator is blocked.And Exportunity wants to be this machine to make billionaires. Click To Tweet
You must have had incredible experiences to arrive at this level of rage and determination.
The world is a nasty place. Africans must stop with this candy Africanism. Only interests count. I have accumulated anger from Seychelles to Dubai, passing by Mauritius where the world does not respect me as Black. I go into a pool, and then I noticed that some white folks are coming out of it. It is expected that I carry bricks in companies where I’m not employed for that.
An Emirati invited me to his city and he told me the most shocking thing I’ve heard in my whole lifetime. “We turned our desert into gold. You will never be rich here on our land. If you want to do something, go back to your home. “. You came here by taxi from Dubai. You eat and sleep in hotels here. When money leaves your pocket, where does it go? If you want to do something, go home. “.
He turned out my brain. The next day I returned to Porto-Novo. It was the best decision of my life.
And what are the best lessons?
Do not start a project for the money. Money is only the consequence. It goes and it comes but relations remain. Invest in relationships, good relationships. In life there are two types of people: those who respect you and others. Invest in those who respect you. I also think we must have faith in providence. I realized most of my dreams. Many people have invested as much as me but we are not all the same. Faith, love and gratitude, this is my magic combination.
The YALI, The Tony Elumelu Price, Microsoft, the Corporate Council in Africa, this is a lot of experiences for one young men…
Indeed. The YALI allowed me to have an entrepreneurship certificate from the University of Texas at Austin, the best university of entrepreneurship in the United States. It allowed me to expand my network of contacts. The Tony Elumelu Price allowed me to have a deal with a big bank that I wanted to have since a long time ago. We all had a question. I got up and I said: “Hello Mr. Tony Elumelu my name is Vital Sounouvou and I am from Benin. I have not come for your $ 10,000. I have come to do business with you. I have a business and it is registered in Mauritius. I want your bank to be the main tool of my trade platform for the Nigerian market. “. He was shocked but I got the deal.
With Microsoft, we have a project for Exportunity tablets, which are tablets adapted for African traders. The Corporate Council brought me an instantaneous access to the most important personalities of investment in Africa. It’s going to sound a little traditional, but for every opportunity that life offers you, always keep one foot inside. Never go permanently out of nowhere.
People say underdevelopment is in the details. What would you change here in Benin?
Definitely I would change the laws on trade. We must raise import taxes and lower taxes on domestic production. If the Beninese production could be managed by a platform like Exportunity, the state revenues and local production would be boosted.
The fact that you are the only Beninese featuring in 30 Under 30 Forbes Africa is impressive. But why did you left Benin? Because it was an anti-leadership country?
No, anti-business. the business environment does not allow me to create a platform of this size. On the transaction plan, no bank could afford to make payments online without rip me or take me raised commissions. However, it could work wonders in cleaning up the business environment and investment security. I am proud to be Beninese. The Benin gave me the entrepreneurial spirit. This is my haven. I always come back.
The little boy that wished to be normal while creating flying cars, is done with living his thousand lives?
Absolutely not. Live new lives, new challenges, it is my drug. There are still millions that I could be living. And I would add this, with success, people become euphoric and this is the worst thing that can happen to them. The success is not necessarily the best friend anyone could have. We learn from failures and adversity.When you are successful, bring wood, are tapping water and remember where you come from. Click To Tweet