It is said that sometimes what you need to take the first step is a flash of inspiration. I got that last night. RentALodge is barely 3 months old and while chatting with a team member last night, it occurred to me that it would be a good thing to document our progress and share my insights and knowledge about entrepreneurship, leadership and I guess, occasionally, whatever catches my attention.
Who are you?
I knew you would ask. My name is Tosin Adeoti. I am a corporate member of the Nigerian Society of Engineers with over 8 years working experience in Construction, Information Technology, Sales and Marketing roles. Everything about me revolves around these: Eclectic Reader, Critical Thinker, and Problem Solver. I am also lucky to be the Founder and CEO of RentALodge — a web platform committed to providing Nigerian students access to hostel accommodation in off campus locations. We do this by having providers of student hostels bring their properties on our website.We are the premier hostel accommodation portal for Nigerian students.
We did a beta launch on 16 October 2016 and began full operations on 21 November 2016.
I have had this idea since 2007 when I had the most stressful hostel hunting experience in all of my student life. The technology to make this happen was not yet available in Nigeria at this time. I heard about the problem again in 2011 while speaking to some students at the University of Abuja. Again, in 2012, it reared its head while I was at Akwa Ibom speaking with students of the University of Uyo. It was obvious to me that this is a nationwide problem. I perceived that the best way to go about this problem was through technology.
I had no experience using technology and the web to solve a problem like this. While reading Jim Collins’ “Built To Last” (which I think is the best business book around for entrepreneurs), it occurred to me that it would not hurt my chances if I take up a job at a technology company to learn the ropes. When Steve Jobs passed away, Mark Zuckerburg noted that the Apple founder had been an invaluable mentor. The founders of Dropbox, Drew Houston and Arash Ferdowsi, are mentored by Ali and Hadi Partovi, two successful serial entrepreneurs in the Valley. Endeavor insight analysis did a study were it showed that 33 percent of founders who are mentored by successful entrepreneurs went on to become top performers. This is over three times better than the performance of other companies it studied.
Therefore, when the opportunity to work with a software development company came up, I had to jump at the offer.
However, two things happened to me that I did not know would affect me so much:
- I was earning way less than I had earned in my construction job as a site engineer. Way less! Try and imagine earning less income in Lagos than you were earning in Ilorin and Jos. That was me!
- Since I would be moving to Lagos to take up this offer, it meant I would lead a very stressful life. It was in fact the most stressful period of my life till date. Since I lived very far away from Lagos Island where the company is, it was my normal routine to wake up 3:30am to prepare for work (I kid you not), else I would be stuck in Lagos traffic and get to work late. It is a personal principle of mine never to go late to work or any appointment for that matter. It has served me well in life thus far. Leaving work in the evening, I would not get home until 10:00pm in the night. It bears repeating that this was the most stressful time in my life. Nothing I had ever done prepared me for this. I only had weekends to recover. More days than I can count, I would wake up vomiting and seriously thinking I would die if I kept this bad routine up for much longer. I think it also helped that I am committed to my daily exercises. I do push-ups and press-ups during workdays and I jog on weekends. Yet, I still do not know how I survived that phase in my life.
Throughout this period, I was saving almost all of my salaries for the project development and actively looking for someone to partner with. Peter Thiel said in his book, Zero to One, that when you start something, the first and most crucial decision you make is whom to start it with. He said that choosing a co-founder is like getting married, and founder conflict is just as ugly as divorce. I contemplated many options, many of which did not work out and finally decided on my partner who I have known since 2005. We get along very fine.
We do not know what the future holds but we are positive that this can birth the beginning of great success stories. We have many ideas of solutions for everyday problems that would make the difference in the lives of Nigerians. My vision for RentALodge is for it to be an incubator for African entrepreneurs. We want to have a startup culture where people would be free to follow their dreams and get involved in what they are passionate about, while not losing focus of the customer.
The problem we are solving is one that I have great interest in personally. I attended the University of Ilorin for my first degree. I majored in Civil Engineering. Even during my time when the illegal occupation of school hostels popularly called ‘squatting’ was common, less than 40% of students could be accommodated in the hostels available in the school. In other words, more than 60% of students need to find the means to get a living space outside the school’s environment. I felt this more acutely when I went for the compulsory 6-month industrial training for engineering students. When we arrived, the task of seeking off-campus accommodation was more difficult than we thought.
You see, the process of getting an off campus accommodation for a student involves going around town looking for ‘For Rent’ notices with mobile numbers of the agents on signages, posters, some even have them written with chalk (or charcoal) on the buildings themselves. Students could however be lucky to have someone give them the number of an agent who has lodges for rent.
They then go ahead to call these numbers, and an appointment is fixed for the agents to take the students to these lodges. It is expected that the students will bear the costs of transporting the agents to these locations. Therefore, if the agents take the students to five hostels and none of them is accepted to the students, they would have borne the costs of a fruitless journey. They would have to keep looking. This process is one of the most energy-sapping process a Nigerian student can go through.
- According to the National Universities Commission, there are 40 Federal Universities in Nigeria, 44 State Universities and 68 Private Universities as at 2015. 1
- For the Federal and State Universities, total enrollment in the universities is 1,252,913 in 2013. 2
- The average enrollment per university is 20,540 students, with 28 universities having greater population than this average. The largest size is 90,885, Lagos State University. 3
- It is estimated that the total enrollment in Nigerian universities is 1,252,913 in 2013. 4
- From our company survey, at least 55% of Nigerian university students live off campus. According to the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), over 75% of university students in the country are living off campus. 5
Therefore, if RentALodge can do its part by aggregating student hostel accommodation for Nigerian students in a single platform, it would have made the process of securing hostel accommodation a less stressful process. The process, which a major of Nigerian students refer to as the most stressful would just be a click of a button away. We have been able to do that.
The process of securing hostel accommodation for students is very stressful, time consuming and inefficient, RentALodge has bridged this gap by providing a web platform where students can make payments for hostel accommodation and where home owners/landlords can display their properties in a fast, affordable and convenient manner.
We are positive that our business at RentALodge will have the following impact:
- With RentALodge, students get the stress of searching for accommodation taken off them. This gives them room to be more productive and focused on their studies that in turn can lead to improvement in their academics. With academic excellence, the nation can benefit from citizens who can add to the bottom-line wherever they end up in the marketplace.
- Our platform creates visibility for properties of hostel owners hence increasing their chances of sealing more deals. With more sales, they sell more and that adds to the collective GDP of the nation.
- Since we hire students themselves, (we call them Liaising Executives), they not only develop useful skills on the job but they also earn as they solve problems for others. Through our training and opportunities to earn, we incorporate in them a corporate mindset that will serve them in years to come.
- The Liaising Executive community is growing fast to become a strong network of smart, driven individuals. A group of people that can go on to build even other companies solving everyday problems in their communities. We already have at least two potential first class candidates working with us.
We are facing the following challenges in our operations:
1. The average Nigerian graduate/undergraduate is learning how to work virtually, hence this makes us spend more time and manpower evaluating candidates before selection.
2. Poor internet connections makes the work of recruiting undergraduates more tedious.
3. Lack of funds to scale our operations.
These challenges are interesting because we are solving them and they are making us efficient in our operations. As the first mover in this market, we believe we have the right resources to make a success of this project.
I have many more things to say about RentALodge, especially the progress we have made so far. I will save those for another day. However, let me say this, the journey of life is dynamic and we are not leaving things to chances, therefore we continue to look for mentors who can guide us. It is better to learn from the mistakes of others. We know that passion and enthusiasm is good, but we also know that channeling that zeal in the right direction can make all the difference in the world.
Interestingly, I met someone I have long admired in the Nigerian tech space last week, and we exchanged ideas. I have sent many emails to several people, a great percentage of them never reply. That is fine. Not everyone will have time for us at this phase in our development. They will come around soon, right? It gives me perspective when I realize that people who have gone ahead of us have faced even more challenges. It was Robert Herjavec who said on Shark Tank that Howard Shultz had to go to 242 venture capital firms before he got a company to fund Starbucks.
So, what do you think about us? What questions do you have for us?