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Thursday, 23 October 2014

CEO Hutbay Olatunji Owolabi On His Entrepreneurial Journey

Meet Olatunji Owolabi, the CEO of Hutbay, Nigeria's online real estate marketplace. It is also a platform that offers clarity and detailed information about renting and owning property in Nigeria. The young entrepreneur shares about his journey in a recent Whoot Africa interview. Read excerpts below:

Can you tell us a little about yourself and Hutbay as a brand you represent?
I studied Electrical and Electronics Engineering from the Obafemi Awolowo University. I’m a programmer with about 7 years in active coding. I’m in love with anything tech and the natural world. Hutbay started from a yearning to use technology to solve a practical, familiar problem; in this case, the problem of finding a property to rent or buy. Hutbay was conceived properly during my NYSC service year and I started working on it with a colleague the very first week we both ended our national service.

How did you get started in Business and what did it take you to get to where you are today?
I've always been an ardent follower of technology companies like IBM, Lockheed Martin, Microsoft, Google and Apple. My very first practical steps in starting a business were during my final year, while taking special elective courses in entrepreneurship and industrial economics at the Obafemi Awolowo University. One of the SEO course involved an assignment to differentiate between “a business idea and a business opportunity”; it took me weeks to grab this concept and it was the great eye-opener for me. Later, they introduced us to business plan and this was what really set me off.

I started business by first running a duly-registered software outsourcing company, Howuro Logic Systems, where I designed website for companies and custom software (windows-based) applications. Getting to where I am today in terms of technical capacity and business experience has involved intense labour and perseverance. My enrolment at the FATE Foundation for entrepreneurial training has also been greatly beneficial and useful.

What were you doing before Hutbay kicked off and why did you decide to start Hutbay?
Because I started Hutbay immediately after my service year, the journey has been from university to (the mandatory) service year and fully into Hutbay. Prior before fully working on Hutbay, I researched and read everything I could come across on starting a business and the biographies of every great tech entrepreneurs.

I started Hutbay mainly because of my experiences in finding an apartment and the opportunities in the real estate sector. I wanted to remove the stress and hassles people go through to find a property. I also wanted to bring transparency and efficiency into finding information on real estate, especially in Nigeria.

What keeps you and the Hutbay team motivated? How do you envision Hutbay in 5-10years from now?

The real estate sector is one sector that almost everyone will come to do with at one point in their life. Young graduates, couples, married folks and senior citizens will one time or the other need to do a transaction involving a property. I want to be there to give them a hassle-free and rewarding real estate search experience, making the whole process very smooth and enjoyable. This is what keeps me and my team motivated; the fact that we are solving people’s problems including that of our loved ones.

What do you think are the most important personal skills someone must have to be successful in business?
The road to success is always fraught with thorns and pot-holes. Hence, it is vital that aspiring entrepreneurs leverage heavily on the experiences of those who have gone before, making sure they understand the terrain they are travelling very well. The realization that doing anything worthwhile is often the result of intense toil for a long period of time is also very important. Also, nothing great has ever being built alone; you must build it collectively with other like-minds. So, I’ll take integrity, practical knowledge of your market and perseverance as the must-have skills for any aspiring entrepreneur.

What are the obstacles you encountered in your business journey in Nigeria and how did you overcome them?The major challenge has been finance. Nigerian business-men and business-women are not familiar with our kind of industry, the tech industry, and there is no viable angel capitalist around. So seeking for capital was one of the great challenges I faced but, to God be the glory, we raised our first few rounds from family and some discerning Nigerians.

 Doing business in Nigeria is not for the faint hearted, if you had to sell doing business in Nigeria in a few words to an investor, what would they be?
Doing business in Nigeria can be very daunting at first, but it yields far better result compared to that of a few other countries, if only you can persevere and spoon-feed your customers till they reach a point they can grab your value proposition.

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