Nigeria’s bad image is making things difficult for entrepreneurs abroad — Adekunle

Opeyemi Adekunle, Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of O’Bounce Technologies was honoured by Microsoft alongside 24 other entrepreneurs in 2017 for advancing extraordinary ideas to create positive change in Nigeria. In this interview with IFEDAYO OGUNYEMI, he bares his mind on the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the tech industry, his entrepreneurship journey and other issues. Excerpts.

 

WHO is Opeyemi Adekunle and what is your entrepreneurial background?

Opeyemi Paul Adekunle, I studied Mathematics and Statistics at the Federal Polytechnic, Ede, before proceeding to the University of Ibadan to study Economics. I also underwent part time programmes in computer sciences courses at the University of the People, California.

I fell in love with computing while growing up. When I wanted to start my business in 2013, I had no other thing to do except computing. I started with blogging on articles including how people can easily fix issues on their phones. From there, I started doing projects including building websites for clients and it was then that I got the name O’Bounce Technologies incorporated. I worked at a Lagos firm for a couple of months before I started my entrepreneurship journey properly as a registered firm. What we do is that we help them to build websites, mobile apps, handle their social media, digital marketing, email marketing and server management among others before we now launched our own products.

 

What kind of services does O’Bounce Technologies offer?

One of them is a project that I started with and I love so much. It’s called TryJAMBCBT. The story behind this is quite interesting. I was about leaving school when a friend asked me to create JAMB CBT software. I felt I was too young to do it. I eventually built it and deployed the software at a school here in Ibadan. The students there fell in love with it. After the end of the session’s examination in 2014, the school reached out to us, saying they recorded an increase in the number of students who passed the examination because we created a simulation for them with the TryJAMBCBT software. And they were able to understand how JAMB CBT works better with the simulation we created. From the school, we got referrals to other schools and several tutorial centres. By 2014, we got recommended to the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU). They approved the software and deployed it on their two CBT centres. The centres had 500 systems each. We got a lot of other referrals from OAU and we even got awarded by Microsoft who visited Nigeria in 2017 to award 25 Nigerian businesses. It was through that event that I got to meet other tech enthusiasts who are doing well in the industry including TC Hub, Andela and others from outside Nigeria who showed us how tech business is done. The courses we underwent include investment, management and winning grants.

We had our first office at Alakia before moving to Sango where our major office is now. It was at the Sango office that we built 1app in April 2019. When we built the app then, it was called My VTU. Everybody wanted to pay for things online (e-commerce) including airtime, data, cable TV and we created My VTU to make it simpler for everyone to do on one app which was made public in May. By September, more than 2,000 people had registered on the app and they really loved it. By November 1, 2019, we rebranded it and relaunched as 1app.ng.

The application has gained traction all over the place. Organisations connected their APIs with ours so as to make online payments seamless. Now, on 1app.ng, we can make flight reservations, pay for data, cable TV and other online business payments.

 

You mentioned that you created your first project about the time you were leaving school. How were able to raise capital for the venture?

When my friend intimated me on the project, I had to get funds from friends and family to carry out the first project. After doing the project, we were paid N25,000. And at that time, it was a huge payment for us because we were young and didn’t have lots of responsibilities. We then sold the software to several schools, tutorial centres, universities which helped us to raise funds and move to the next level.

 

Between 2013 and now is about seven years. What were the challenges you faced and how were you able to surmount them?

The Nigerian factor where there is little or no support for SMEs and entrepreneurs. We had to do everything ourselves. I depended on my income and my friends and family to fund the projects that we carried out. Another issue is the increase in taxes that entrepreneurs pay. Charges like land use tax, LG fee, etc. and they are not so interesting. Getting jobs in Nigeria is quite easy but getting jobs outside of Nigeria is quite difficult because some people have bastardised the image of Nigeria in the international community. And those outside have developed a notion that they cannot get something good out of Nigeria. It is really a challenge for us.

 

What are your expansion plans and how do you see O Bounce Technologies in the coming years?

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic where classes and learning have moved online, we are developing Nedorx, an online learning platform where we can make courses available for people everywhere. With Nedorx, you can have access to our training anywhere you are. It means an average Nigerian will have access to learning at any time without having to spend too much money on it.

Now we are in Nigeria, in the next five years, we want to expand to five countries including South Africa, Ghana, the United States and the United Kingdom. We’re deploying Nedorx to South Africa as an educational system for all Africans. And they really need this kind of product there and South Africa will be like the headquarters for Nedorx. In expanding the payment platform, 1app.ng, to the UK and the US, we want to create an avenue for Nigerians home and abroad to send money to each other easily.

 

With the coming of Nedorx to an industry where there are competitors, what are you going to offer differently?

The already existing platforms are not so welcoming. The language they deploy is foreign in nature and as such, people have to really calm down to understand. And a lot of people give up in the process of trying to understand the language deployed. What we would do differently is that we bring the physical classroom into an online classroom. The same way your teacher will relate with you physically is the same way you will be interacted with online.

 

How would you describe the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the tech industry?

Our office is at present very scanty and that is because of the pandemic. Our developers are working from home and only a couple of our most essential staff members are present at the office. We presently operate online from where we get their projects and upload them unto our servers. The pandemic affected us suddenly and the purchasing power of people went down and they couldn’t pay for services they wanted the way they wanted and companies grew gentle. Now, there are lots of requests for tech firms to deploy more technologies to get things done. The truth is that the infrastructure we have is not there yet to accommodate the load we want to put on it. The internet service we have in the country is not sufficient to put everybody online at once. The speed is slow and expensive. Tech firms find it difficult to really offer the kinds of services they want to offer.

 

You will agree that despite the fact that we are a bit far from flattening the curve of the pandemic, we can still look forward. How do you expect individuals and organisations to deploy technology post-COVID-19?

We have been preaching technology to everybody. To take their businesses, services and classes away from the four walls of the physical rooms to online. Now, everyone has now seen that online is the way to go. Post-COVID-19 will not be like pre-COVID-19. We can now see that there is the need to prioritise our online activities and presence. What will be expected is that most firms, schools and organisations will embrace technology more than they had ever done. Robots have been deployed in countries including Nigeria. We expect that there will be an influx of hi-tech post-COVID-19 and more people will go into technology, programming, artificial intelligence which will bring in more innovations in the industry and companies will have no choice than to embrace tech to move in profits.

 

There appeared a surge in online transactions during the pandemic and the attendant lockdown and restriction of movements. Some people believe there was a complimentary surge in internet fraud. How did your organisation curtail cyber fraud during this time?

There was actually a surge in online transactions. A couple of times, I had to order food online over the fears of going into restaurants. It became a norm that everyone must rise up and be their own security officer. Banks were not opened and you must know where your credit card is at all times, know where to supply BVN and other personal information. And there was also a surge in internet fraud because these fraudsters also have to eat. What we first did was to continually enlighten our people and make them understand how to, what to and who not to transact business with. They understood better during the pandemic because we have been doing the enlightenment even before the pandemic. We also fitted our system in such a way that it can identify fraudulent transactions. Whenever there is a fraudulent transaction of a look-a-like, it bounces back. We work with the EFCC, Nigerian Police Force and other security agencies to ensure those found wanting are arrested and prosecuted. Our financial institutions were also on our neck to report fraudulent transactions so they can be tracked and so that justice can be done to them.

 

About how many cases were flagged during the pandemic?

We built our systems to stop fraudulent activities before it is completed. Our engineers are always on the lookout for look-a-like transactions to be fraudulent. And during the three months of the pandemic, only four or three cases were recorded and investigated.

 

It is common knowledge that the pandemic has affected business enterprises across the board and there has been a clamour for tax waivers for businesses from the government. Do you subscribe to this?

A lot of Nigerians have been sacked or laid off from their places of employment and which, in turn, reduced their purchasing power during the pandemic and also because a lot of businesses live from hand to mouth. The businesses can only make money to pay the government when there are more sales. As such, the government needs to come up with tax waivers, tax holidays, grants and loans to businesses and outfits providing solutions to the problems of the people so that they can mitigate the effect of the pandemic.

 

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