Start-up snapshot: Helping Nigerians bypass red-tape with online legal services

From left to right: Odunoluwa Longe, Bola Olonisakin and Funkola Odeleye

From left to right: Odunoluwa Longe, Bola Olonisakin and Funkola Odeleye.

Start-up: DIYlaw, Nigeria

Nigerian start-up, DIYlaw, aims to make access to legal services and resources simple and affordable through its online portal. It was launched in September last year by three women – Bola Olonisakin, Funkola Odeleye and Odunoluwa Longe – and recently won the SME Empowerment Innovation Challenge for East and West Africa (along with US$40,000) at the Innovating Justice Awards.

The start-up currently offers an automated service for business-related registration processes. For example, to register a company’s name, users simply fill out a questionnaire online which the DIYlaw team uses to assemble and email the correct application package, complete with easy-to-follow instructions. Users then print, sign and return the forms so that the DIYlaw team can check everything is in order, before submitting to the relevant agency. This service currently costs ₦26,000 (about $130), which includes the statutory and shipping fees.

The all-women start-up is also about to launch its DIY Documents portal for easy access to all business and personal legal documents. And later this year it plans to introduce a free portal of legal resources, as well as a directory and lead generation platform for lawyers.

How we made it in Africa chats to Longe about getting DIYlaw up and running.

1. How did you finance your start-up?

We started out bootstrapping. All three of us pooled our personal funds together to kick off.

We applied for the SME Empowerment Innovation Challenge for East and West Africa – organised by The Hague Institute for the Internationalisation of Law – and fortunately emerged winners. We won a cash prize of $40,000 and acceleration support.

2. If you were given $1m to invest in your company today, where would it go?

Right now we would probably allocate about 5% to aggressive marketing, then invest the rest in capital preserving securities to yield some interest for about a year. Twelve months from now, we would then liquidate it to fund our offline solution, DIY Kiosks, which is basically taking legal access to people who have limited or no internet – and our plan is to have a nationwide presence.

3. What risks does your business face?

Like many start-ups, one of our biggest risks is customer acquisition. It is one thing to have a huge customer pool (which we definitely have), but it is another to build a product for them and have the ability to creatively harness that pool. Having a good product without customers who love that product is a quick way to kill any start-up. We do not want to be that start-up, so we are continuously listening to our customers, building for them and creatively strategising ways to expand our customer base

4. So far, what has proven to be the most successful form of marketing?

Definitely social media, especially Twitter.

5. Describe your most exciting entrepreneurial moment.

We almost peed in our pants when we saw our first order – we totally went berserk. It definitely has been our most exciting moment at DIYlaw.

6. What has been the biggest mistake you have made in your start-up, and what have you learnt from it?

Its early days for us – just four months into our launch – and basically it’s been a learning experience every day. We believe our biggest mistake is still ahead of us, but right now we are continuing to learn from our customers and improve our product every day.