Daily Trust (Abuja)

Nigeria: How a School Dropout Controls N1 Billion Internet Company

analysis

Lagos — Seeing him among his staff sporting navy blue t-shirts with a stripe of yellow, the company's corporate colours, nothing actually indicates that he is the chief Operating Officer of Oxygen Broadband Network Limited, Nigeria's first Wi-Fi metro network with assets worth over N1 billion.

Wande Adalemo, 35 years old, is one of Nigeria's youths who have seen their dream come true, after many years of rejection by top politicians, government officials and industrialists in the country who, according to him, did not believe in his idea.

"We met so many people and talked to them to put money in the business but nobody was willing to do that because it was just an idea. Though an idea which I had a passion for," he said while welcoming Daily Trust to his Surulere office on Tuesday.

Today, Oxygen Broadbank Network has rolled out a Wi-Fi network at the Lagos Computer village with over 60 connection hotpots and 20,000 subscribers in its network in Lagos alone. Oxygen plans to have 20 additional locations in Lagos, Port Harcourt, Abuja and Kano by 2015.

What brought about the idea? Daily Trust asked Adalemo. "The whole idea started in 1999. I was 22 years old then. I had followed my cousin, Femi Adalemo, to his office, Imperrium, where I watched him send a mail to the United States using the computer. This caught my attention because I have never seen a computer before. I only read about them in books or saw them in movies. My idea of mail was that you write a letter on a piece of paper and send it through the post office or travelers. So it was shocking to me that you can send a mail over a computer and the person can reply almost instantaneously.

I could not sleep that night. It occurred to me that the person the mail was sent to must also have a computer to receive it. I began to ask myself if it was possible to make the computer smaller or can everybody have this, and what will it cost to have it in every home. These were my thoughts throughout that night. In the morning, I called my cousin and told him how what he did in my presence the previous day had caused me a sleepiness night. At that time, computer usage was relatively limited. Immediately, I made up my mind that whatever that would connect people together that was what we are going to do. As the years ran by, I went for computer certification training; the passion now became how do you deliver internet services to Nigerians."

Adelemo said having been convinced of the idea, he dropped out of university in 2006. Despite that, he said, his parents did not reject him. He was a 300-level Mass Communications student at Olabisi Onabanjo University.

"Before I met my partner in 2001, any one I met liked the idea but the funding was not forthcoming. I realized immediately that the project will take a long period to geminate and needed my full concentration but my school would not allow me. So, I weighed the options and also asked myself what value I was getting in the classroom and what I was getting outside the school while trying to build Oxygen? What value will I get if I spent another two years in school? It was a tough decision to make because everybody almost alienated me. Why would you drop out of school, for what? People were asking me. There was nothing to show for my action; I did not have good answers, but I have the passion," he said.

Adelemo almost missed the opportunity that beckoned him through a university friend of his who persuaded him to pull the string for the last time when hope seemed to have been lost.

"One day one of my friends who was with me at Olabisi Onabanjo University, Biola Akinyemi, who somehow believed that the idea would work told me that there was someone he would like me to meet. I told him I had met many people but he said I should not be bothered that I should try and see him and that the person in question was a banker. I told him no banker is interested in entrepreneurship, that they are always afraid. He said no, that the man liked the idea. Unfortunately, that day I had nothing on me to transport myself to Ajose Adeogun, Victoria Island, to see the person so I trekked there.

"The man told me that he gave me just two minutes to convince him to invest in my idea. He said any good business only needed two minutes to give an impression. Indeed, that was a challenge to me. How can I convince somebody with this idea I have for many years under two minutes. But I think I was able to do just that because we spent another four hours talking; asking and answering questions. He is a great mentor, financially sound, and therefore a successful businessman. I thank God that I met somebody like him who became a brother, a friend, a mentor and investor."

"We took hours talking about where we go from there. We started travelling. All sponsored by him. In the process, another person came on board. The new investor paid for the initial infrastructure we have and registration of the business. We travelled to Ghana, Tanzania, Germany, Spain where the Wi-Fi hotpot is working. When we came back, the funding started coming in trickles. So the next thing was to build the network," he said.

Adelemo said the company would continue to expand because Wi-Fi technology would boost internet access in Nigeria

It took him and his partner seven years to raise the initial $2 million for infrastructure but today the partnership which has grown from strength to strength is investing additional N200 million for expansion of the business.

"We are expanding our frontier from the Computer Village in Lagos to Lekki, Victoria Island by December 2012 and January 2013 but we hope to have done a thousand hotspots by 2013. We just did another set of $2 million investment for the network location. Our shareholders who are interested in getting every Nigerian on the internet have indicated that the expansion programme must go on and the demand for our fibers has been amazing. People comes from Apapa, Lekki, different places want to use our hotpots. By December, we should have it in 16 different locations that will cost us about $2million (N200 million) or thereabouts.

"Many organizations have also shown interest to partner with Oxygen. We have a major partners - Main One, Nigeria, Inter-bank settlement system (NIBSS). We have done some tests at the computer village with Wi-Fi terminals and we realized that it was effective. Many people come there and it works. We will begin to see very soon a culture of business solutions for entrepreneurs such as small businesses that cannot afford offices. We will soon have Oxygen business hotpots. At hotpot, you have business numbers and everything you need. Our passion is that people should be on the internet."

Adelemo's advise to the youths is that they should follow their dreams. "I will like to encourage the youths to follow their dreams with passion. "Initially we wanted to do something big, covering Surulere but that was too expensive so we decided that we should raise money and do a computer village with hotpot . We had investors' forum and quite a number of new investors were brought in because it is a long-term investment and many of them see a future in what we are doing. So the people are now putting in their money for Oxygen to take off," he said.

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