I soon found out that I knew the owner of the business (we were in the same nursery school). After a few conversations, I joined the company as an investment partner. In 2017, we got our first seed funding from Angel Capital and I returned to Nigeria to assume the role of Chief Operating Officer. I am now the CEO while my partner is the Executive Chairman. Together, we are building an essential Know-Your-Customer infrastructure for businesses and government in Nigeria.
Esigie Aguele is Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of VerifyMe Nigeria, a pioneering technology company that is building an identity verification system to expand growth in financial services and other sectors of the economy. He has had 17 years professional experience as Information Technology engineer in financial services, telecommunications and the public sector in the United States of America. As Portfolio Manager at ManTech International Corporation (NASDAQ: MANT), Mr. Aguele managed a $150 million-dollar IT portfolio and a staff of over 75 across multiple engineering projects. Mr. Aguele oversaw development of the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Technology Roadmap. Prior to joining ManTech, he was a Senior Project Manager at North Star Group LLC, where he worked on systems engineering projects for the US Federal Aviation Agency’s (FAA) $4 billion Data Communications initiative and Enterprise Architecture for US National Airspace System. Earlier in his career in the United States, Mr Aguele had contributed to developing mobile banking products as a Project Manager at Wood Consulting. He contributed to the development of Systems Engineering Management Plan (SEMP) which was later approved for Financial Investment Decision (FID) by the United States Congress. Mr. Aguele has a B.Sc. in Electrical Engineering from Howard University, Washington, DC. He is also a Certified Enterprise Architect (University of California). He sees the mission of VerifyMe as driving economic growth by enabling businesses and government agencies to carry out many million more transactions because they completely trust the identities of the people they are dealing with. His company, VerifyMe, is thus a technology platform for Nigerian businesses to check, within minutes, the identity of anyone they are dealing with i.e. Enabling Growth Through Trust.
University, Science or Arts?
I earned a degree in Electrical Engineering at Howard University. Before that, I attended Corona Primary School, then Federal Government College, Ijanikin. I was in Unilag for a year. I have worked in telecommunications and financial services in many countries including Switzerland.
Biggest lesson from school?
The experience at Howard University was a paradigm shift for me. The professors and administrators had a huge impact on me and helped me see the world differently. One of the biggest lessons was philosophical. I learnt it was important to know what happiness looks like for you and craft your journey towards that goal. In that pursuit, your attitude determines your altitude. I met so many people including Stokely Carmichael (later known as Kwame Ture), one of the founders of the Black Panther movement. I saw how successful people applied themselves. I also remember a conversation with one of my professors. I discussed my struggles learning applied mathematics with him and during the discussion, I said: “God, I don’t know how I am going to grab this thing…”. What he said in response struck a chord in me. He said, “if you want God to help you, you need to get off your knees and work”. Howard University was one of those institutions where you got great advice, especially as a black person looking to succeed in America.
Who was the greater influence, mum or dad?
I would say my mum. As an engineer, my dad travelled a lot across the country so my mum was the disciplinarian. However, she also gave me the freedom to make my own decisions as I grew up. She also got us to travel a lot and see the world. By the time I was nineteen, I had probably visited over 15 countries and that experience impacted my view of the world.
How did your early working experience impact your life?
My first real job was at a firm called EcTel, a telco software building company. I worked on great teams and this helped me appreciate what it takes to succeed and build an organization. I was able to take that experience forward in my career. My biggest workplace challenge was my last position at a company called Seven Delta (eventually bought over by ManTech). At the time, the firm had just been acquired and there was a lot of uncertainty about my future at the firm. Fortunately, I got a role where I was responsible for some priority projects in my business unit. As a black person in America, I took this as a personal challenge. I felt I had to always prove myself. My job also offered a challenge of managing a business line, which in many ways prepared me for the challenge of building a business as an entrepreneur. I was forced to visualize and create solutions time and again. It was a very valuable experience.
What did you do after your first job?
Coming to Nigeria to run VerifyMe was a big move. My career was progressing very well. However, while visiting my mother a few years ago, I observed some people registering people on the street. I found out that they were working for a company called VerifyMe that was registering people so it could report on the work history of the people registered. Given my background in project management and solution architecture, I immediately began to think about how this initiative could be a great foundation for a lot of good things in the Nigerian economy. I soon found out that I knew the owner of the business (we were in the same nursery school). After a few conversations, I joined the company as an investment partner. In 2017, we got our first seed funding from Angel Capital and I returned to Nigeria to assume the role of Chief Operating Officer. I am now the CEO while my partner is the Executive Chairman. Together, we are building an essential Know-Your-Customer infrastructure for businesses and government in Nigeria.
Your best boss ever?
That would be Bill Greeves, my boss at ManTech, one of the largest engineering companies in the US. He was interested in my success, an advocate for the people he led and was the kind of person that will let you shine.
What type of music do you like?
I listen to everything. Hip hop to African music.
Who are your favourite authors?
I tend to read a lot about history, cosmology, and geology. Cosmology is like a hobby for me. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (previously titled Guns, Germs and Steel: A Short History of Everybody for the Last 13,000 Years) by Jared Diamond is one book that made a huge impact on me. I am currently reading The Making of Nigeria by Sir George Goldie.
Most expensive fashion accessory you have spent on?
A winter jacket I bought in Paris while my wife was in business school in France.
Favourite place to go in Nigeria and abroad?
In Nigeria, my home in Abuja. I like mountains and Abuja has some. Outside Nigeria, it will be Florence, Italy because the art is just fantastic and I am into that.
I have been a tennis fan all my life so I like to travel to watch tennis tournaments e.g. the US Opens.
Favourite car brand?
Toyota for day-to-day use. For Leisure, it will be the Lincoln Navigator.
I am into t-shirts and jeans. For me, I don’t mind the brand as long as the product is one that lasts long.
Tea or coffee?
Coffee. Simple French roast. No cream. Very strong.
What is your take on wealth?
For me, wealth and success are almost the same thing. I don’t see wealth only as financial means. It is everything from health, to a network and a feeling of satisfaction. I think wealth in this way gives you options.
In terms of your ideology, are you more to the left, right or simply pragmatic?
A little bit to the left though on some things I may be to the right. I believe in social responsibility.
Also Read: The Lunch Hour – Tayo Oviosu, CEO, Paga
Person you would like to spend a holiday with.
Oprah Winfrey so we can have conversations about spirituality.
Best use of money ever for you.
It is definitely giving. I try to put some structure to it.
It is tennis for me. I like to watch and I also play a bit. But in Naija, you can’t escape soccer so I like that too.
Gold or silver?
If you ran into Buhari in a supermarket, what will be your top policy ask?
Restructure Nigeria. Upgrade the organisational structure that can deliver success. Government agencies in this regard need to be changed. Concepts such as permanent secretary in MDAs need to go.
What development model across the world do you think Nigeria can adopt from what we’ve seen across the world. India or China?
We need to define something for ourselves. I don’t think Western-style democracy can work for us and what we are supposed to be is not something I think we know yet because we haven’t taken the time to define it ourselves.
The Lunch Hour was at The Cactus Restaurant, Victoria Island.