I used my mind, pocket money to build my business idea – Oluwaseunla, Covenant University graduate who built thriving app ••
Few months after 20-year-old Oluwaseunla Osinowo graduated from the Department of Computer and Information Science, Covenant University, Ogun State, in 2016, he built a computer program that is now helping a lot of students who want to enter the university, while making some money from it. In this interview with TUNDE AJAJA, he speaks about his passion for computer science and his aspirations
Is there a link between your growing up and your love for Computer Science?
Yes, I believe it has a lot to do with that. My mum was a banker, but now she’s retired. There was a time she worked in the Airport Branch of the bank at Murtala Mohammed International Airport. After school, my dad would drop us with her in the bank and go back to work. For me, it was really exciting seeing planes take off and land and then seeing a lot of foreigners, who were friendly to me. At that time, I would naively say I wanted to become a pilot and my brother would say he wanted to become an aeronautical engineer. I believe it’s partly the reason he studied Mechanical Engineering. But I recall also that one of my mum’s co-workers would take me to an empty office where I used to play computer games for hours. It was so much fun. Over time, our parents got us desktop computers to keep us busy at home. They installed applications like Encarta encyclopedia, Microsoft word & PowerPoint. So, as children, we were already trained to be computer literate. On our own, we installed lots of games on the computers. My mum studied computer science in England, so she knew the potential computing skills had and she made it clear that all of us must learn how to use computers. My dad’s interest in technology and computer also influenced my penchant for Computer Science. With all these, I guess consciously or unconsciously, I became very comfortable with computers. By the time I was in SS3 and it was time to pick a course, computer science matched my preference perfectly.
Even though it was all you wanted, how easy or difficult did you find the course in your first year?
To be honest, I wasn’t a serious student in my first year. In fact, the Visual Basic and C programming language we learnt in 100 level was all abstract to me. That was also the first time I would be on my own, so it was difficult for me to manage my time effectively, thus, I had low results in my first year. It was particularly difficult because some courses – Biology and Physics – that I didn’t like were introduced. Most of my course mates also had same challenge. Needless to say it was quite challenging but I scaled through without failing any course. That semester was my lowest result through school. It was unlike my performance in my previous schools. In primary school, I always topped the class, always collecting the prizes on prize giving day, but in secondary school, I was a B+ student, better than the average B student in academics but not always as good as the A students. I only made sure I was among the top seven in my class per term. My class teacher in JSS2, Mrs. Victoria Adebayo, taught us to always put ourselves in the subject teacher’s shoes and set the type of questions teachers could set on each topic and answer them. I used this method to prepare for examinations up till final year, coupled with using acronyms and keywords when preparing for exams. Those strategies worked.
We learnt you developed a program that is now of commercial value, what informed the idea?
We had this class, Operation Research, in our third year and the lecturer, Dr. Senanu Okuboyejo, who was also our class adviser gave us a pep talk on the need for us to identify problems around us during our Industrial Training programme and turn such to our final year project and that we could turn such project into a business. We were due for another lecture, so, many of us didn’t pay attention to it. But I did and it registered in my mind. When I went for IT, I had that objective in mind.
So, what did you find?
I did my Industrial Training in a foremost commercial bank. I worked at the headquarters and I worked with the tech group. I learnt a lot during my time there and I am forever grateful for the experience I gained during those months. Based on what I observed, which I would call improved security system, I decided to build a multimodal biometric system incorporating fingerprint and facial recognition. And I started work on it while the IT was still on. By the time I got back to school, I had completed chapter one to three of my project, four was midway and I had already completed the facial recognition feature. I met my project supervisor, Mr. Azubuike Ezenwoke, to get approval for my project, and he has always believed that students should have projects that have commercial value, so he liked the idea, but felt it was cost intensive and I didn’t have any unique value proposition. So, there was basically no point. I had to come up with something different and that was how universitycompass.ng idea was birthed.
What is University Compass about?
It started as a criteria-based university search engine. The average prospective university student does not have enough facts to make an informed decision on university, course or career, even with the 143 universities in Nigeria. Yes, they have preferences but lack adequate information for comparison and ultimately selection can be quite difficult. I feel the traditional approach involving the use of brochures, interaction with alumni and current students, individual visits to colleges, etc., could be stressful and time consuming and might not lead to an optimal college choice; hence, a better approach to aiding university choice selection is required. That is one of the solutions it provides. In the course of an interaction, the need to incorporate course profiles into the platform occurred to me. Also, midway into creating the course profiles, I figured it would be nice to have a feature that could help students select a course based on their interests. That was also included. At the end of the day, the way the platform works is that you simply input your criteria, select how important each criterion is to you and we handle the rest.
How long did it take you to design it?
It took me about six months to build everything that is currently on the site and I finished it in January 2017 but I didn’t launch it until April so I could criticise it adequately. It was a very taxing mental process but I felt it was necessary to building a good product. What is currently on the platform is phase one of a four-phase plan I hope to implement by the Grace of God. I put it out to get feedback from the general public about the platform and so far, users are satisfied with the results and the feedback is really amazing.
How did you raise the funds to finance it?
I simply used my pocket money. You don’t always need a large sum to implement IT ideas. For me, my capital was predominantly my laptop and my mind.
Did you do it alone or was it a joint effort?
I worked on it alone by the grace of God but like I earlier stated, I started it as my final year project so I had guidance from my project supervisor. When I participated in an idea pitching programme, where undergraduates, some alumni and a few staff pitched their ideas at Centre for Entrepreneurial and Development studies in CU, the judges criticised everyone’s idea or product, except mine; it was flawless. They all just kept saying wonderful idea repeatedly. Getting external validation about my work was priceless and it gave me confidence to continue. Overall, I’d say the dreamer’s project is a wonderful initiative.
One would think you must have been an expert in programming to have developed the app. Is that true?
People have given me such reaction when they see that the platform was built on artificial intelligence. They say I must be a really good developer, and some ask for other projects in my repository, but honestly I’m not an expert. On a scale of five, I would give myself three. I just do a lot of research before coding anything. In my opinion, programming is 80 per cent thinking and 20 per cent actual coding. So, to be a programmer, you should be relatively smart and know how to think. Out of the six months I spent developing the platform, about three months in total were used for research. This was intentional because by nature, I don’t like wasting energy and I’m somewhat a perfectionist so I do a lot of research to make sure what I’m doing per time is actually good.
Did you face any challenge as an undergraduate?
Definitely, it wasn’t all fun, but I thank God for seeing me through. I also had very prayerful and supportive parents and friends, and my friends made sure I was always focused.
Do you make money from the app at the moment and is that your full occupation?
Yes I do. Currently, the app’s current income stream is the Google AdSense platform, but in a couple of weeks from now, I intend to add some additional features/services that users can subscribe to. It’s currently my full occupation and I’m confident that with proper funding and strategy, it is a potential multimillion naira product.
Would you like to work in any organisation?
If I were to be employed, it would be in the technology department of a bank. Beyond that, I would love to incorporate a number of artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms to education and career development.
What inspires you?
I think summarily coming to terms with the fact that most of the great things and great figures in the world today are ‘ordinary people’ – with the likes of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, John Rockefeller, Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama – like you and I who were passionate about something, or worked hard towards something and achieved it. And I think coming to that realisation that these seemingly ‘ordinary people’ have influenced the world and left their mark in time inspires me that I can do same.
Do you believe in having mentors and do you have any?
I most certainly do have mentors. I believe everyone should have one too. In the words of Isaac Newton, “I have seen far because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.” Interesting thing is you don’t necessarily need one on one interaction with a person for him to mentor you. I’ve never met most of my mentors anyway. For different reasons, I love Bishop David Abioye, Bishop David Oyedepo, Joel Osteen and Barack Obama. They have so many responsibilities over their shoulders but they never show it.
Was there any weird thing you did for the sake of your academics that you wouldn’t forget?
Every semester, the sanctuary keepers unit scrubs the floors of the chapel. The first time I participated I was posted to wash the toilets, I tied the service to my result and it was the first time I would have first class grade. Since the activity usually took place a week or two before resumption, I always made sure I participated and worked in the toilet.