Here on Whoot Africa, we not only showcase brands, but we also talk to the people behind those brands and have them share with us their back stories as well as give tips on how to successfully start and run a business.
Welcome to Whoot Africa’s – 15 Questions with the CEO.
Today, we will be talking with Olatunji Owolabi, CEO and Founder of Hutbay
- Can you tell us a little about yourself and Hutbay as a brand you represent?
I am Olatunji Owolabi. 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 (three experience at that!) 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.
- Did you know you were going to be an Entrepreneur all along, or did it happen by chance?
Somehow, I had the feeling all along from when I could remember. I noticed I don’t get tired or bored reading how successful businesses (especially tech businesses) are built and in reading biographies of scientists, engineers and tech entrepreneurs.
My initial dream was to start a factory to manufacture satellite dishes for the local market and for export. But I abandoned it when I started writing web applications and the advent of smartphones and the possibilities they all brings to the table.
- What do you love most about your business and your life as an Entrepreneur? And how would you describe your leadership style?
One thing I cherish about being an entrepreneur is the fact that I can choose my own tools (e.g. the programming language I want to work with), what to work on (the problem) and my own playing field (my primary market).
I’ll describe my leadership style as motivating and forgiven but very demanding; I demand the best from my team members and I don’t like it when people are not motivated or are idle.
- 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.
I see Hutbay in 5 years’ time becoming the first and the last place people go to when they need a property, or have a property to sell or rent in any of the markets we operate in. In 5 years, I want to see all the professional real estate agents and developers in Nigeria already using Hutbay on a daily basis to build their businesses.
- 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.
- The Real estate industry in Nigeria is a tad bit complex, how do you navigate this industry, and what are your thoughts on the Nigerian Real Estate market?
This “complexity” is the problem in the sector that Hutbay is poised to solve, elegantly. The real estate market in Nigeria is very huge and it will only increase in size. The sheer amount of housing deficits in the sector with the yet to be tapped mortgage industry are pointers to greater things to come in this sector. So the sector will continue to grow and flourish and Hutbay will be there to make the whole process a lot smoother and rewarding.
- 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.
10. 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.
11. The real estate listing business has some major players already, with the likes of Rocket Internet Company’s Lamudi, Privateproperty.ng and tolet.com.ng. What does Hutbay bring to the table that makes them different from the other reliable platforms out there?
Hutbay differentiate itself from the rest by providing a platform that helps consumers make better informed decisions. We are not a mere listing site; we are a real estate marketplace that offers our users far more utilities. From lots of details about a listing (including photos, video, and files like brochures, floor plans, and payment options), more information about the agent including reviews and recommendations to helping our users connect easily to real estate professionals. We’ve got local area reviews to bring to our users local insights into an area.
12. How do you ensure that properties listed on Hutbay are legit and scandal free, as is common norm in the property market today?
We only deal with professional real estate agents and developers. And we try to verify all listings before they are added to the marketplace. Our agents are also asked to submit certain documents for us to verify them.
13. Who was the most influential person or mentor in your life? What was the BIGGEST risk you’ve taken?
My mentor is Jonathan Edwards (1703 – 1758). As a Christian, I model my life after great men of God who use all their parts and powers to glorify God.
The biggest risk I have ever taken is starting and working in Hutbay! I have spent so much time, efforts and resources into it with little regards for the consequence should the venture fail. I love what I’m doing and I trust God to make the best use of me.
14. What do you think about college education? Should kids go to college now or get into business if they feel it’s a better choice? Considering some of the world’s greatest never had college education, your thoughts?
Education is very important and kids and all who could should go to college. The missing link, is that people tend not to see the reason for going to college which is to apply the knowledge learnt at school to solve societal problems. People who are problem solvers will always do well. Combining problem-solving passion with risk-taking attitude is what defines entrepreneurs and there is limit to how much risk anyone can take. So, it is understandable if not all college graduates start a business. By the way, being successful is not tied to entrepreneurship; one can do equally well in other capacity from serving in the military to politics to being part of a great team. Jonathan Ive of Apple and Steve Ballmer are great examples of non-entrepreneurs who contribute greatly to their industry and to the world.
15. What would be the most important piece of advice you could give to young entrepreneurs and why?
Your end objective should be to glorify God. He is a magnanimous Creator who has given us a beautiful world with so much possibilities; He’s given us the intellect and a body of knowledge (science, arts, etc.) as vehicle to tap into the hidden riches of this world. We need be grateful for this and your entrepreneurial journey should entail helping others and lifting up the downcast and downtrodden, with an eye to giving God all the glory. Thereby fulfilling the end of creation.
If you missed the previous parts of the 15 Questions with the CEO series, please click here