By Christine Onwuachumba
Listening to Mark Zuckerberg when he visited Nigeria last year, Babatunde Olofin picked one key point from the Facebook CEO’s address–“Solve a problem and automatically money will come.”
Olofin took these words seriously. Today, he is gladly satiating a need with his novelty online exchange platform, barter.com.ng, where items can be swapped. Sunday Sun spoke to him at the public launch lately. Excerpts:
There are websites that do similar things. What are you doing differently?
Those other sites, all they do is, ask people to post their items there and sell. Ours is a platform where people can say what they want and what they have and other people can come out and swap with them. The selling thing comes into it, because some people would say, hey, I don’t care what you have, give me money. As the name, barter.com.ng suggests, the central activity is exchange of items.
How did you come up with the idea?
Something happened to me in the past. I had invested in a property that was a bit far from where I worked. It was not an option at all to live there because that would mean my traveling everyday. Whilst on a trip to Dubai, this complex idea came to me. I was sure someone, somewhere has a twin duplex and he wants money for one. And here I am, with four-flat building in which I can’t live.
The thought blossomed. If that other man’s duplex is in a choice area of mine, it’s possible to tell him you want to make money from property while I just want a comfortable place to stay. Your property is worth N20, mine is N30. Let’s swap. You want money. I don’t have money to buy yours. Give me yours, take mine and lease it out.
I thought why can’t we have a platform where people can display what they have, not necessarily in exchange for money, but to say, I have this and this is what I am looking for?
How practical is this, given that both parties may have different needs?
Let’s assume that I sell cars. I have 10 cars that are not sold but I want to diversify into farming. I want farmlands and there are Omo Oniles who sell land and ride cars. Why can’t I say, come, take a car worth N600K and give me six plots of farmland? You don’t have to look for money to buy the car. We can just swap values and be happy. Barter is not about goods alone, it can be extended to services. You do makeup and I run a taxi service. Come and do makeup for my family every Sunday and anytime you are going for a makeup job, you don’t need to call another cab. Use my cab. I will take you there. We both have value.
Would you describe yourself as an entrepreneur?
An entrepreneur? My focus is always about solving a problem, which is what led to the idea of a barter website. All my life, I have worked in organisations. For years I have been an IT specialist, solving problems in the industry and solving IT problems across industries. I have worked as a business analyst, an IT analyst and an enterprise architect. Working around, I see a lot of gaps and I am always pressured to look for a way to fill these gaps.
A lot of people have asked me “How do you hope to make money from it?” I just tell them solve a problem, money will come. The idea of selling on the site was not part of the initial plan. People that are coming on the site kept asking “What if I want this for money”? We then decided to accommodate such as well. You want to exchange for money, make it clear: I have this and I want to exchange for a token–mention your price.
Is the site active already?
The site is active, though not yet publicised. We’ve launched it today, to a few friends and people that have used Google to find the site and have done few things on it.
There are usually trust issues with this kind of sites. What are you doing about it, so people coming on the platform will not abuse the site?
On the site, we have our helpline; there is a live chat too, where if anybody is reported, we take such a person out of the site immediately.
Also there are terms and conditions on the site that forbid offensive contents and which also stipulate the site is not for people below age 13. We have the people that check the site daily that pull down everything that is not supposed to be there. That is what we can do for now. Technically, we know what to do to block hacking.
How is this site going to be economically relevant in this recession?
I will give you the testimony of the first guy that did something on the site. He is an engineer at Computers Village. He got a job to fix a laptop and it’s one of the old models, but he could not find the right components to buy. He went on barter.com.ng and he got the old model laptop, took out the components he needed, used it to fix the job he got, and he made his money. If two people need something of value they can swap, they do not need agents in between. Just swap your stuffs, then just mention on Facebook or tweet “thanks to barter.com.ng.”
How long have you been in the IT industry?
All of my professional life, about 14 years in the banking industry as an IT specialist and three years in core IT industry. By and large, I have done about 17 years.
Is the IT industry in Nigeria moving forward at the same pace as our counterparts in the western world?
We cannot move as fast as them. Even if we are copying them, we cannot be faster than those who are creating these technologies. But the little we can create ourselves let’s start doing it.
One of the problems of the country is that we depend heavily on importation. Whatever you want to buy, you have to import and we are buying in dollars and our currency is not as strong as the dollar. So, we keep spending and we keep giving back to those other societies. They are over there; we are here working for them.
The more we can do here, the more we keep in our environment, the more we create more jobs, the more we create better lives for our people. So, we are not there, but we are encouraging young people to take the IT industry very seriously. It’s the future of the world; it’s the future of our country.
How would you prevent the horrors on Jiji and OLX from happening on your site?
It’s when people are greedy they fall victim. If somebody is calling you to come and take a phone of 300k for 30k, you should know that something is wrong somewhere. That’s how they lure people. We have warned on the site: Do not exchange things with anybody in a place that is not a public place. Do your exchange in extremely public place, like Shoprite and don’t go alone.
Aside that, we have also created a platform whereby both parties can bring their stuffs to our office and exchange there. For those who are not in Lagos, just find a comfortable public place.
How do you handle verification on your site?
We don’t have the expertise to verify some things. For example, if you are buying a car, we don’t have mechanics. But we can source neutral mechanics that will verify if you are getting a good car. We can source for guys from Computer Village that can verify if you are buying a phone or gadgets to be sure they are in good state and we can stamp it on our site that these items have been verified by us. We upload the report on our site, but that service has to be paid for.