Why we failed to launch under35.ng and what you should expect next
It was a rainy day and I just resumed in the new office. In my usual characteristic manner, I exchanged pleasantries with almost everyone I met. I had planned lunch ahead with Ismail, an old university mate whom we had planned an event together but couldn’t pull it due to the death of a member of the team. It was such a refreshing reunion and to think that we are now occupying the same building, plenty things would happen. We discussed at length, tried to catch up with old days, what each of us is doing and like every gathering in Nigeria, we didn’t fail to talk about Nigeria as well. I knew Ismail to be passionate about Nigeria back in the days and I was not surprised when he brought in an in-depth knowledge into the discourse.
As a passionate believer in the future of Nigeria, I told Ismail about my social ventures which I do on the side apart from running a business. He was impressed and asked how I was able to juggle all of these together. After a long chat, I discovered Ismail’s passion for Nigeria is still very strong and had always looked for ways to contribute to a cause that would move Nigeria in the direct direction. We came up with some ideas to pilot within a controlled space. If they work, we would go ahead and implement fully and if not, we find another means. What is more important for us is to build a sustainable social project that would engage young people and enable them be more responsive and responsible citizens.
The first challenge for us was to get people to understand why we do what we do. We spent several days on the best branding ideas we could come up with. He is more experienced in brand and technology operations while I am the sales and business guy. We decided to split the work and get necessary help when needed. This is the first project we would be doing together and I was very excited considering his background and experience.
Our idea is simple- we want to enable young Nigerians to contest, gain popularity and win elections. Our goal was to leverage the platforms to get 35 people under 35 years into prominent public offices by 2019. We drafted our work plans, business strategies and how we planned to generate revenues. My work on emerging channels and markets gave me some insights into technology adoption in Nigeria. Our internet penetration is still low, even though growing rapidly. If we would achieve our goals by 2019, then we need to adopt both traditional and technology approaches. While we bring people online to gain popularity and run campaign ads, we also need to ensure that they have grassroots presence in their various communities and constituencies.
We decided to split the work again as partners would do. While I leverage my current social project that focuses on building pupils of public schools (age 6-12years) to initiate an offline governance conference to bring young people between 18-35 years together; he would leverage his technology expertise to bring together a group of developers to design an app and a social website. We would then work in sync to drive traffic from our offline conference to bring more people online. This was the birth of two different registered brands- YNAGNG™ and UNDER35.NG™.
YNAGNG™ (Young Nigerians And Governance) will be an annual conference that brings together young and emerging leaders across different spheres- business, technology, politics, government, religion and move from state to state across Nigeria to start a conversation with today’s leaders in the same sectors. The idea is to start building leaders who will emerge for our nation’s future prosperities.
under35.ng T-shirts at #YNAG2017 with GRV, BrymO, Seun Fakorede and Ms. Fatimah
UNDER35.NG™ on the other hand is purely a click and play platform for young leaders emerging from the conference who would be interested in contesting for political positions and run for a new Nigeria. A new Nigeria where things work. A new Nigeria where every man or woman irrespective of background is given a chance to succeed. A new Nigeria where everyone is disciplined and law abiding. Each interested candidate can create campaign pages on the platform and link to their social media accounts. The good thing about the platform is that each ad on the platform can be targeted to the candidate’s constituencies and people according to their profiles on different social media.
We started YNAGNG™ in 2017 on the campus of Obafemi Awolowo University with 120 participants (18 – 35 years old), 5 speakers and 2 panel sessions. We had the rare privilege of bringing notable people like Gbadebo Rhodes Vivour (GRV) and BrymO to give more credence to the event and help promote it across the country. Getting these people to attend a non-paying event was not an easy task considering their busy schedule but out of shared passion for a better Nigeria, they made it.
At this time, I should let you know that none of our projects has external funding. These ventures have been running on personal savings. Money meant for vacations in the UK or the Bahamas were pumped into making sure we have a sustainable enterprise. While my mates would go on facebook and display pictures of their vacations in Geneva, the Netherlands etc; my vacations were spent in local communities on social immersion and uncovering opportunities for a better society. The focus is to build sustained and scaled ventures and then present to government, investors, donors and international organisations.
Going back to the story, #YNAGNG2017 was a success and we had participants throwing in their testimonies. At the end of the event, I presented our idea for the next 10 years and how we want everyone to sign-up on UNDER35NG™ on October 1, 2017. This was the date committed by the team of developers we worked with. Oh sorry, I had not told you that part of the story.
In our quest to get the best developers in town to get this product up and running, we put an ad on placements.ng and also talked to guys in the technology sector in Nigeria. We met the CEO of TechpointNG, Wale Yusuf. He was very willing to help but his company is a digital media outfit not a software development company. After a rigorous week of searching, we came across a guy who works with one of the top fintech companies in Nigeria. He is a regular speaker at technology conferences and we thought that was the big catch. We scheduled a skype meeting and later decided to meet offline. We had a good negotiation and the deal was sealed. At that point, we were almost running out of fund but we still went ahead. We agreed to make payments in installment according to percentage of work done. While I was responsible for looking for funds for the project, Ismail’s responsibility was to design the brief, specifications and ensure on time delivery of the job.
We paid an initial deposit of 50% and agreed to spread the rest as he delivers the job. He came back after 3 weeks with something but it wasn’t exactly what we described in the specifications. The guy disappeared afterwards only for us to start chasing him when we realized time was fast spent and we had committed to a delivery date. He came back with a story of how he had been busy and looking for someone else to manage the project on his behalf. I didn’t tell you that at the initial stage, Ismail had actually suggested that we should contact developers in India since they would be more efficient and disciplined. I discouraged the idea because this is we trying to promote Nigeria and we should first explore internal possibilities before going external, if there would be any need. A week before October 1, 2017, the developer came back with another product which was a bit better than previous one but the syntax and UX were extremely poor. The developer’s recommendation was that we should first launch that and afterwards, he would start making changes. We declined and told him our model is not built on mediocrity.
At this point, we had missed the launch date. We did an in-house evaluation on our strategies and what the next steps would be for us. First of all, we cancelled the contract and requested for a refund (75% of the budget was already paid). Then, we requested to have all our documents back as they are part of our intellectual property. What we failed to do was to sign a confidentiality agreement which would have protected him from sharing or reapplying the idea or do something similar for another client.
Few days ago, I sent a link (a website doing something similar to what we asked the develop to design) on Instagram to Ismail. We went through the website and realized it was just a rush to media show. None of the links was working and it looked more like a dummy page. We could neither claim the idea nor sue the proponent for idea theft. One thing was certain, our idea is a good one and that’s why some other people can try to copy it.
We have taken the learnings and now exploring new ways to succeed. I told you Ismail has a background in technology; he has since been gathering a group of new developers and taking lessons on programming. We have also got another friend, a graduate of computer engineering to design the user interface. While this may take longer than expected, we believe this is the right approach at this time considering our shallow pockets. It also gives us the flexibility to manage the product internally and respond to changes faster.
We are vigorously working towards launching this product at #YNAGNG2018 Conference and make it public as from May 2018.
PS: Ismail is an hypothetical name to protect my friend’s identity.