Chris BishopBy Chris Bishop|August 11, 2021|11 Minutes|In Billionaire Tomorrow

Billionaire Tomorrow

A flight of football fancy on a puzzle and a prayer.

Many billionaires have taken a chance in the glittering multi-billion-dollar world of English Premier League football – the Glazers of Manchester United, worth an estimated $3.8 billion; Egyptian multi-billionaire Nassef Sawiris at Aston Villa and Roman Abramovic at Chelsea. As England goes into another Premier League season, on the side lines is an African-born entrepreneur staking his business on a puzzle and a prayer.

They spent the summer piled high in a London warehouse; 15,000 jigsaw puzzles, made in China. They carry not only emblems of the pride of English football, but also the hopes of a battling entrepreneur born in Africa.

As English football limps towards a new season, after cash sapping months of empty grounds and COVID-19, Patrick Adom, born in Accra, Ghana, is betting on these jigsaw puzzles along with football’s financial revival. He hopes for a resurgence in merchandise-buying fandom. For years, fans of England’s biggest clubs – from Manchester to London -have spent more on merchandise than match tickets.

Revival can’t come soon enough for Adom. With every passing month, there is another hefty bill for the storage of the thousands of boxes of puzzles that football fans may, or may not, pay for one day.

“It is a learning experience. I have taken a punch in the face, or a slap in the face, whatever you want to call it,” says Adom.

“They are not perishable. The badges aren’t going to change. We are trying to sell them through digital marketing and Facebook ads.”

This gamble could be the making of Adom’s fledgling company Very Puzzled, under the holding company Osebo Ltd. The name of the holding company is a nod to his roots in Ghana, where he was born in 1977 and spent his early years. He left Accra, at the age of seven, to join his hard-working mother in London where his step-father drove a mini-cab and dealt, profitably, in property.

“In those days people thought the streets of London were paved with gold – someone had carried out a good marketing job!” quips Adom.

Back home in Ghana, he was brought up by his grandmother and great aunt running free in the maize fields. By his own admission, he was treated like an emperor; in cold South London, it was a different story. He had to start in the remedial class at St Mary’s Church of England School in Lewisham.

“It wasn’t fashionable to be an African in those days and that was difficult to navigate in 1985,” he recalls.

“It was a big culture shock coming from a country where you were in the majority, where everyone looked like you; then being the minority…The food was different and everything.; I remember being given hot dogs; I wasn’t sure whether or not it was dog meat ground up. I had to ask my cousin and he said: no!”

Adom put his head down and worked hard for a degree in computer information systems and an MBA from the University of Liverpool. He worked for a number of years before launching his start-up with a name from Ghana.

Osebo is a family clan name made for a start-up– it means a leopard: quick, tenacious and fierce.

Adom needs all three qualities, in abundance, if he is to bring to fruition his audacious bid to earn a small slice of the English Premier League billions. The football merchandise has proved a bumpy ride.

It is a story that began back in 2016 when Adom established his puzzle making company and went online, through Ali Baba, to find affordable suppliers. He found a factory in Shenzen, in China; ordering 100 jigsaw puzzles of the map of Africa . Adom drove around London looking for places to sell them.

“I went to African-owned shops in and around London. It is not a huge group; 10 or so shops were approached. I also went to pop up markets that were black, or African, owned. I sold a quarter of them at the Africa Centre in Southwark,” he says.

“Within a month I had sold out. I ordered 250 more from China, as things were going well, in October 2019. In November, I ordered 500 Ghana jigsaw maps and 250 Africa more of Africa.”

Adom decided to diversify from the African theme in an attempt to grow his business. It was an ambitious move that proved difficult.

“It was a bit of a risk for me. But I was determined not to be pigeonholed as the company that makes African jigsaws,” says Adom who took a chance, striking out into new territory in the depths of the The wrist DoctorCOVID-19 lockdown, in mid-2020. He wanted to expand and tried crowd funding to raise 30,000 pounds, but managed only a mere 7,000 pounds.

Talks with likely companies: Virgin Megastores and Gibson Games, led nowhere.

“Business is business, when there is money to be made you can sit still, or keep moving,” says Adom.

Then, a thought struck him: why not try football? Adom always used to cheer on the Black Stars of Ghana, but was not really a football man. Despite this, in the belief that loyal football fans spent heavily on club merchandise, he wrote to several English Premier League clubs in the glittering competition of dreams.

“Basically, I just shot off emails to email boxes. Ninety-nine per cent of them were ignored. I think, I wanted the strategic big five clubs: Chelsea Arsenal Man Utd Liverpool and Man City. Nothing. I cast the net wider and wrote to Crystal Palace, West Ham, Tottenham and Fulham. They didn’t want to know either,” recalls Adom.

“Three weeks later; Arsenal responded and asked for a proposal. I didn’t even know that I had to put in a proposal; thankfully, they sent me a template. They asked for a sample and I hand-delivered the puzzles.”

Adom sat through a couple of meetings with the club. There was to be a licence fee paid to Arsenal and insurance paid for any product recall. He admits he underestimated what it takes to launch a new brand. 

Arsenal and Adom also worked on a design for the puzzles.

“There was a lot of back and forth. They had their own ideas and we went down a few blind alleys,” says Adom.

The club and entrepreneur agreed on a puzzle design. It was to carry four Arsenal badges from the club’s history and be double-sided so children could colour in one side. Arsenal put the puzzles in their club shop and others followed suit:  Chelsea, Man City and West Ham.

It all looked good then, in 2020, COVID-19 struck with the power of an Olivier Giroud header. There were delays in deliveries, football grounds shut down and the fans stayed at home; keeping their money with them.

The challenge for Adom now is to move 15,000 jigsaw puzzles to recoup more than 200,000 pounds in investment.

“We are not going to sell them all in one day. We are aiming to move 500-a-month,” says Adom. He is looking into social media influencers to help move the puzzles online.

Luckily, his company is pretty much debt-free and can wait for the football clubs to reopen their gates in August; where, hopefully, fans will put down their hard-earned cash for a puzzle with the club’s crest on it.

“I don’t see why I should quit now. There was an anecdote about a man who wanted to mine for diamonds. He bought equipment and land, but didn’t find any. He sold the land and equipment to someone else who found diamonds on day one! That story keeps me going.”

Pictures : Patrick Adom