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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Iya-eko - Tola Oredope #inthespiritofenterprise

Tola and I go waay back, it was him who produced my final year CD. Even then, I knew that he would be one to do great things. Of course, he has had his fair share of failed projects, but he keeps going, no matter what. Today, he shares with us his new project.


Tell us about yourself

My name is Tola Oredope and I am a your typical regular, just taking one step at a time.

Tell us about your business

Since this is an Entrepreneurial platform, I think I should dissect your question - he he he.

To be sincere, this is not yet a business. Hear me out. I may be wrong, but I see a business as an entity that is trying to execute a well-defined business plan, based on an existing business model. For example, selling sugar is a business; as the business model for selling sugar is well known. Your success in a sugar business is how well you choose to execute the well-known business model. This includes, sourcing the sugar cheaply and selling it at a marked up price while reducing operational costs to maximise profit. Simple. There is nothing new or innovative going on there.

At the moment, I am involved in a startup that has the ability to carry out a wide range of experiments with various business models and pivots for as long as we don’t run out of cash. Investors in early-stage startups are aware of this, so they don’t expect you to make money but to build value. Once you have built value, which is also known as your “value proposition” then you have the chance to experiment with various business models until you can find the best business model for your value proposition. This is when you become a business and your job is to execute your business model flawlessly or else you stand the chance to be eaten up.

Now back to the question, I am very fortunate to be involved in startup developing a platform known as Iya Eko. The whole idea is to build a platform that allows you to discover, collect, manage and share cultural images that inspire you. Think of it as a mashup of Instagram, Pintrest and WeHeartIt. For example, lets assume you are interested in seeing the trending knot wrapper styles at Edo weddings, where do you go to? Its now Iya Eko because we have the largest dedicated collection of not just knot wrapper styles but also of cat-eye makeup, Gele styles, Beads, Sequins Designs, Aso-Oke styles, Wedding Hijabs and lots more that you can just imagine. This is because we currently have over 20,000 images and counting of the Nigerian cultural experience as whole. Hopefully we can start extending our platform to capture the cultural experiences in India, Malaysia, Peru, Uganda and even places like Afghanistan. I believe we can do this and we are working hard to make this happen.

Having launched about only a month ago we have been featured by the local and international press. For example in Nigeria, all top four Nigerian newspapers - Punch, The Guardian, This Day and Vanguard - have featured us. Media outlets in the Middle East, South East Asia, UK and the US have all featured as they see us as the future. But what we have is more than press features because our users also love the platform. I can hear you say “But people lie but numbers don’t lie". So here are the numbers - since launch 4 weeks ago, we have served over 16,000 pages via over 2,500 unique users with each user spending an average of 5 minutes on our website with little to no publicity.

What is the idea behind the name Iya-eko?

We wanted a name that brings together various cultures. For some reason I have been reading about Madam Tinubu of recent who was a well known adversary of the British colonial Government because she believed all cultures differ are made up of the same essence. This was hard to comprehend back then, but she was a visionary that went on to build her own financial empire. Long after her death, her activism was the stage for women like Fumilayo Ransome Kuti and many more Nigerian women that traveled all around preaching that same message - “We are all the same even though we are from different cultures and backgrounds” - This is the simple message of Iya Eko – even though our locations may differ, our cultures are similar and made up of the same essence. This is was Iya Eko stands for and hopefully, this is what we will show to the world.

How did you get into this line of business?

I have always believed in the power of the well-managed crowd. Notice I said, "the well-managed crowd" not just any crowd because too many hands always spoil the soup, if they are not well managed. From the first Chemical Year CD that I created with yours truly as far back as 2001, (I was a part of this! Yaay me) I believed that people need to have choices. Back then, I challenged the notion of "One person One picture" yearbooks that were the norm and asked why can’t one person have 10 pictures, a video, their song of choice and their own profile colour? This was way back when Mark Zuckerberg was still in secondary school and biggest search engine was Altavista. Everyone thought it was a stupid idea and it could not be achieved expect for Sade and her team and the rest is now history.

The same principles lie in the heart of Iya Eko - Why should my online experience of Nigeria be based on what BBC and CNN decides to show me? Cant the ordinary people of Nigeria show me themselves? How can see the trending fashion on the streets of Kano? Why should one fashion editor sitting in lovely air-conditioned office decide who wore the best Gele last weekend? Why can’t you show me all the Geles and let me decide for myself which one is the best? This is why we decided to build the platform.

What are the main challenges you face and how have you overcome them.

I have got millions of challenges but my main one is building an A+ team. I spent my last week speaking to over 22 prospective co-founders and advisors but for some reason I can’t seem to find a perfect match. This is not because, I want too much but it seems like everyone I meet already has a pre-planned agenda or just wants to ride on our current publicity. I really want people that are passionate about the Iya Eko idea and can help in driving it forward.

We are glad that the core platform is working quite well but we still need to work on the UI design, external facing APIs that will allow our users embed their collections on their websites and most importantly finalize our deals with prospective partners. All these require a lot of dedicated time and I don’t mind any help that I can get.

How will you summarize your journey so far?

It’s been hard, very hard. I have experienced the good, the bad and the ugly. A lot of rejections, negative feedback and skepticism but I have no choice, as I have bitten the fruit and I have to carry on. But there are also good times, for example, when I get messages from Nigerians living in Russia saying they spent 3 hours on the website as it their only connection back home or a well known investor from Silicon Valley sees our Quantcast profile and agrees to chat with me. Those times are priceless.

Where do you see Iya-eko in the future?

I see Iya Eko as a platform that inspires people around the world.

Given another chance, will you do this again?

Definitely, Yes!

So what are you waiting for, visit and start sharing. Cheers!