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Nigerians not taking advantage of online business —Otitoola

Nigerians not taking advantage of online business —Otitoola

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Oladunmade Otitoola, 28, is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Rentyourhall.com, an online platform for event halls. In this interview, he shares his story with MAUREEN IHUA-MADUENYI

How long have you been in business and what prompted you to become self-employed rather than seek employment?

I have been in business for about three years now. I used to work as an auditor in one of the big four audit, tax and advisory professional services firms. As I was getting closer to completing my third year there, I resigned.

One of the few things I considered was that I didn’t want to be an auditor/financial accounting worker for the rest of my life. It is a great job to have but I just didn’t feel passionate about it. I also felt the job was stifling me and not allowing me to think about things I could do for myself as I had always had the plan to run a business.

My initial plan was to work as an employee for 10 to 12 years; gather capital through those years, then start a business. But as God would have it, things started way faster than I had imagined.

I considered that with all the lengthy hours I was putting in as an employee, if I devoted such number of hours to something of my own, I should be able to make a success of it. These were the things that prompted me to become self-employed.

How has it been running a virtual event centre booking business considering that a lot of people still prefer to walk into an event centre and make their bookings?

Whenever I have to talk about competition, I always say that our greatest competitor is the do-it-yourself tradition of our would-be customers. But then, a truly visionary business is one in which the business correctly anticipates the needs and the solution for the people even before they realise it.

It has been a challenging journey. Nigerians are largely not online. Forget all the statistics that say about 90 million Nigerians are online; they are mostly just on Facebook, Instagram and other social media.

The true tale is the number of active cards being used to make purchases online; it is well under one million. This clearly suggests that just a very small percentage of Nigerians are currently doing activities online.

We have also been able to adopt an online/offline amalgam that helps bridge this gap. More people are getting to see the value in what we do and we are seeing an increase in the number of people trying us out. This validates my earlier assertion that it is inevitable that we will all eventually do a large part of our purchasing activities online.

How does RentYourHall work?

RentYourHall.com is an online platform that connects event space owners/managers to prospective customers, enabling the customers to be able to easily find and book an event space online within a short time frame.

We save the customers the stress of having to make numerous phone calls and physical visits before they can settle for an event space to use for their upcoming event. We also put before them a plethora of choices and in this wise, get them the best rental rates for event spaces.

On the other hand, we are helping the event space owners/managers gain access to more customers at minimal costs. We also help event planners and event vendors gain higher visibility by advertising them in strategic spaces on our website, putting them in the eyes of customers who usually would need their services.

A typical user’s journey would be to get on our website and use the search filters such as price, capacity, location and event date to narrow down to halls that fit their need.

Overall, we are delivering to the user on three key areas – speed and convenience, numerous hall choices, and best pricing sourced exclusively by us.

How did you source for start-up funds?

I was saving funds while I was an employee, not really because I knew I was going to start a business soon, but because I normally have a savings culture. Hence, at the initial stages of the business, I was running it with the funds I had saved.

As time passed, I then was able to bring on board other shareholders who brought additional capital into the company. Along the line too, we received training and seed capital from the Tony Elumelu Foundation which was a big boost to us as it provided some sort of validation for our idea at the time and also brought in much-needed funding.

What are your major challenges and how do you overcome them?

Our major challenge is getting more people to want to do things online and raising awareness about our services. There is no other way to overcome this than to keep delivering quality service, telling as many people as we can about us, and also using the right advertising channels to reach our would-be customers.

Having said this, the initial challenge was getting the right web development personnel capable of building the RentYourHall platform. This took at least a year of trial and error.

In between getting the RentYourHall platform built, the challenge of funding also came up. By speaking with friends and former colleagues about my business idea, I was able to get them interested enough to become shareholders who brought additional capital into the business. Also, applying for the Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme also brought in seed capital.

What are your short and long-term goals?

Our short-term goals are to increase the number of visitors we have to our website and increase the number of halls listed on our website such that we have full coverage of at least two-thirds of the states in Nigeria.

Our long-term goal is to expand operations into select countries across Africa and upgrade our business model to be able to accommodate bookings for event vendors.

Looking back, would you have done something other than what you are doing now?

I really don’t think so. It is almost inevitable that I would have got into a technology-based business as I am generally interested in technology and I like to find ways to do things faster and more conveniently.

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