Correction: this article originally stated that Kanayo Okwuraiwe was let go from his previous employer Ad Dynamo. We have since updated the article to reflect that Okwuraiwe left Ad Dynamo on a mutually agreed basis.
Kanayo Okwuraiwe is an entrepreneur that has been through an incredible amount of hardship over the last few years. Even with these problems, he sees disaster as a blessing rather than a curse and shows us that entrepreneurs can come from anywhere, regardless of circumstance, or personal loss.
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A taxi lies overturned on a Lagos highway. Moments ago, its tire burst, sending the vehicle skidding along the road and eventually to its final resting place. A young man pulls himself out of the wreckage and walks for help without realising how much damage has been done to his body.
At the time of the accident, Okwuraiwe was 21 years old and in his final year at varsity with only one semester left to graduate. He needed to venture into town for supplies for his final project, but the taxi he took would change his life forever.
After the accident, Okwuraiwe managed to stand up and walk to the nearest bus where the injured were being transferred to hospital. Upon admission, the doctors informed him he’d sustained a serious spinal injury.
I spent six months in hospital healing, battling and learning to cope with my new reality, then got sent home to start a new life.
He was confined to a wheelchair from then onwards. Okwuraiwe was still able to work, but had to be admitted into hospital every so often.
Okwuraiwe would later complete his studies in 2011 at the University of Stellenbosch in Socio-Informatics. He obtained certificates in Business analysis and Project Management.
He had his first taste of entrepreneurship in 2008, where from January to November he ran and owned Listen Again Limited. The company provided support, as well as audio and video related value to companies in education and other related sectors.
After several other jobs, Okwuraiwe landed a job at Ad Dynamo, an advertising network similar to Google’s AdWords system. There he was engaged in managing several Nigerian accounts as well as operations activities. It wouldn’t be long before his life was turned upside down once again.
In July, even after surviving several accidents and having to adapt to life in a wheelchair, Okwuraiwe’s kidneys began to fail. Because of this, he would have to attend dialysis twice weekly until a new pair could be found. In a later email to Ventureburn he states he attends sessions three times a week, which means the situation was more dire than before.
He subsequently left his job on a mutually agreed basis with Ad Dynamo. For Okwuraiwe changing careers was a blessing. He would now be able to focus on his entrepreneurial activities, which he says comes naturally to him.
I like to say how it has made me a stronger ‘soldier’ than I already was.
His latest venture is somewhat unconventional, but has an interesting air about it. Having launched in September, Birthday-Mates looks to connect people who share similar birthdays — roughly two to three weeks apart — and allows them to share gifts, created joint birthdays and groups, crowdsource parties, and more. Okwuraiwe says he’s core market is everyone on the planet and aims to make Birthday-Mates the largest niche social network.
Following the series of bizarre events from his accident, Birthday-Mates has its own interest story of how it was conceived. It came about from two separate events in 2013. The first was when Okwuraiwe met a woman online who’s birthday was only a few days before his. She invited him to come and celebrate with him, but he was unable to make it.
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The second happened in December when celebrating his brother’s birthday at a restaurant in Cape Town. A group at the table next to them were celebrating their father’s 70th birthday. It became a large celebration as the two groups sang, took pictures, exchanged numbers, and the group was still talking about it days afterwards.
After those two experiences, Okwuraiwe decided to create this niche social media platform that would allow people to comment with one another based on their birthdays.
The website finds its footing with social media and carefully crafted SEO. Looking at other measures such as direct referrals from existing members. The founder will look for investors to help the site’s growth.
Okwuraiwe’s personal story shows that entrepreneurs can make their ideas come true regardless of personal circumstances. While it may be difficult it may be possible as well. Even though you didn’t get that VC funding, or your initial pitch wasn’t approved, don’t always throw in the towel.