The Okpaleke brothers, Elvis, Charles and Jeffery have their eyes set on changing the social landscape in Nigeria through their lounges and a new addition to their chain of business, PLAY Network. In this Interview, they tell FUNKE OSAE-BROWN about their lives and business.
The Okpaleke brothers walk into the spacious lounge at the signature hotel Lekki. There are just the two of them. The third, the youngest of the three brothers would later join us I was told. We settled into one of the sofas as I placed the tape between us and it starts to purr.
Elvis (a lawyer), Charles (medical and laboratory scientist awaiting Phd) and Jeffrey Okpaleke (economist) are the famous three Okpaleke brothers who are making a great mark on the Nigerian small business scene. They rarely make noise about their achievements but for the thirty minutes our interview lasted, I discovered they have been doing so much on the social scene establishing restaurants, exclusive bars, fashion line among other things. Through their registered business name, PLAY Group they have their eyes set on changing the way social media works in Nigeria.
They are now focused on capacity building, entrepreneurship and networking among young people in Nigeria through ‘PLAY Network’
“Play Network is for business and lifestyle networking which connects people,” explains Elvis, “such as entrepreneurs with investors. It’s all about blending business, lifestyle, networking and leisure in one spot. We have been doing test-runs, and the response has been great. We did something last year called ‘How to Be a Boss in 15 Seconds,’ where contestants were required to pitch a business idea in 15 seconds, and the winner was awarded N1million.
“It entailed coming up with a business idea in 15 seconds. Over the past few years, the followership has been tremendous we haven’t launched officially, but we already have about 10,000 subscribers. However, we’ll be launching officially later this month. Our target audience is young people in general, and they find it interesting because the network is very interactive; it’s a combination of Facebook and Linkedin. Some of the features on offer include posting pictures, chatting with friends, seeing other people’s timelines and interacting with them. You can send friend requests, and also block people you don’t want to see. It’s a bespoke service that is tailored to meet each person’s needs.”
With Play Network, the target audience for the brothers are entrepreneurs and young people who are looking to expressing their talents in all forms. It’s a lifestyle and business network.
“There’s no application yet,” explains Charles who had been nodding in support of his brother’s earlier explanations, “but if you click on the website, it would ask you if you’re a member or not. Once you sign up, you can communicate with other people on the network. The website address is www.playnetwork.ng. PLAY in this context is beyond what the ordinary meaning conveys. For example, the full meaning is Political Leadership Among Youths (PLAY).”
One would easily agree that there are many similarities between Linkedin and PLAY Network but Elvis is quick to clarify that thus: “Well, PLAY Network is a social network first of all, Linkedin connects professionals. But PLAY Network doesn’t only connect professionals, we connect investors, young men and women who just love to socialise, entrepreneurs and so on. The platform is bespoke and we’re trying to connect you directly to people who are within your setup.
“For instance, if you’re in agriculture, you just click on agriculture and it brings the list of name of people on the platform, same with other sectors, you’d just connect with whoever you want on the platform. You can discuss business, share ideas, spot opportunities and discuss potentials. For instance, if you want to invest in aviation, you just click the name of the sector and it would bring you list of those who can share ideas with you on the way to go. We’re marrying both the business side and the lifestyle side of the game.”
The Okpaleke brothers founded The PLAY Group eight years ago but the PLAY Network platform is barely four months old. It has not been launched yet. “For now, we’re not competing with Facebook, Linkedin and the rest, our focus is on Nigeria,” says Charles.
Recently, Charles was endorsed with Shina Peller and some young lifestyle connoisseurs as brand ambassador for Remy Martin Nigeria. Charles is the influencer, the very sociable among the three brothers. Elvis describes him as “a networker who knows how to bring a lot of people together. He makes things happen. For Remy Martin to pick him, they already had that experience in working with us.”
Charles was discovered by Remy Martin through the lounges they owned in Abuja , Calabar and Lagos. “My brothers and I have a club/lounge we have run for eight years. We have PLAY Lounge (premium) in Abuja, we have something similar here in Lagos called BLD by PLAY and we also have one in Calabar. So, it’s easier for Remy Martin to sell their products in these three lounges,” he explains. He says the endorsement deal was worth less than a million dollars.
Charles has a knack for luxury items and when TRL asked him what is the most expensive accessory he has acquired? He says: “You know the term luxury is relative, what I see as luxury may be basic to someone else. I think to answer your question straight- it’s my Rolex watch.”
Their taste for luxury must have led them to establish exclusive lounges in three major cities in Nigeria. “All the lounges we have happened in stages,” adds Charles. “We started with the Abuja lounge, three years after, we added Calabar and we added Lagos last year. So, it’s not like what happened just at once. We invested in one, we watched it grow and we extended to other parts.”
Elvis says all the lounges are the same. “We’re more bespoke than basic. We don’t serve mass products to people. So, we just look at the city and look at what it needs. For instance, in Calabar, we are not open all year round because Calabar is not that type of place. We go with what the trend suggests in places.”
The drive behind their establishment of exclusive clubs is to create an atmosphere where people can network and strike good business deals. This explains why their services are tailored to meet this need. “First, out slogan is ‘we’re not a club but a network of friends’, explains Elvis. “We meet to discuss, if dancing comes in, fine but primarily, that’s not what we render. It’s more like business network of friends who just come together and bond sometimes through referrals.”
It is amazing how the three brothers have been successful business partners for so long. They agree there are moments when they have their differences. “Even the best marriages get to that point where differences affect spouses,” says Elvis with a chuckle.
“First of all,” Charles adds, picking up form where his brother, Elvis, left off, “I think the fact that our dad is late always remind us that no matter how deep the fight is, we must reconcile as fast as possible. Our mum also reminds us that all the time and since she’s all we have, we listen to her and reconcile as fast as possible.”
Just then, the youngest of the brother walks in spotting full grown beards like his other two brothers. The trio were born into a family of three girls and three boys to a mum who is retired police officer turned lawyer.
“I think what we have in common is that we all attended Kings’ College,” says Jeffrey after introducing himself. “I can’t really pinpoint how this side of us evolve, but I know that we interacted with guys whose fathers are past presidents, senators, captains of industries and very influential people.”