Interview: Talking business with Nigerian mobile advertising entrepreneur Oduntan Odubanjo

Growing mobile phone penetration is establishing Africa as a major market for mobile advertising. Oduntan Odubanjo, is the co-founder of Twinpine, a startup Pan-African mobile advertising network. How we made in Africa’s Dinfin Mulupi caught up with the Nigerian computer engineer on the sidelines of the Mobile Web East Africa conference in Nairobi, to discuss mobile advertising, the enterprising spirit in Nigeria and, when it comes to ICT, why Nigeria holds the most potential.

Oduntan Odubanjo

Oduntan Odubanjo

Tell us about Twinpine.

Twinpine is a mobile advertising company. We call ourselves Africa’s premium mobile advertising network. I say premium because we put a lot of effort in the kind of publishers we sign on to our network and also make sure that our brands can access and identify those publishers where their ads are running. We ensure the right ads are matched to the right audience. This enables brands to get more value, measure impact and do proper targeting. We also provide 24 hour support for advertisers that work with us. We have worked with leading brands in various industries like telecommunications and banking. We have also contributed in growing the mobile ecosystem in Nigeria by developing free mobile sites and helping publishers go mobile. We are investing a lot of our resources in building the mobile ecosystem.

You recently expanded to Ghana and Kenya. Why these two markets?

We expanded to Ghana because it is an interesting market; fast growing economy, rapid mobile penetration growth, reasonable population size and not much different from Nigeria in terms of culture. Kenya is also a very interesting market. It seems to be the hub of technology in Africa and has attracted large multinational technology companies. The market is more mature compared to other countries and therefore opportunities are many. Culturally, it is not a big shift from Nigeria. We have done campaigns in several African countries. We select the countries we expand to based on volumes of business and the positioning. Kenya and Ghana are well positioned to serve the East and West Africa regions.

Why should brands embrace mobile advertising?

Mobile is everywhere, it is ubiquitous. It is very engaging and the penetration is growing fast. Advertising is basically about reach. Brands want to pass messages to a large number of people. Where are the people right now? They are spending more time on mobile (phones). However, mobile is still new and a lot of people don’t understand how it works. Even the shift from traditional methods of advertising to online has been a little bit difficult. The change will happen slowly. It is left to the companies that recognise that the world has become flat to maximise this opportunity. Brands will invest more if they see the value of mobile advertising. Unfortunately, many campaigns are not done the right way. We need to stop replicating other forms of campaigns on mobile and use best practices, engage users in a different level and measure and analyse campaigns to get best results.

Name some of the challenges you face at Twinpine.

Hiring the right people is a big issue. Mobile is an emerging market, therefore, getting talented people who understand the space has been challenging. The payment cycle is also a challenge. It is very important for any business to have money in the bank. Cash flow is a challenge many startups face.

How vibrant is entrepreneurship in Nigeria’s technology sector?

We have seen a lot of success stories. There is a spirit that is in Nigerians; the spirit of excellence, the spirit to survive at all costs and the spirit of change. If you take that kind of attitude and you fuse it into any opportunity, surround yourself with the right people and build a good team, you will definitely succeed. We are seeing more of this happen in Nigeria.

Describe the hurdles that entrepreneurs in the sector face.

A lot of entrepreneurs say capital is a problem. I do not totally agree with that mindset. You do not need all the money in the world to start a business; you can always start small. You can talk to people and get investors. If you also don’t have the right business model or idea or execution then you are not going to get support. A lot of people don’t realise that you need certain skills and expertise to run a business. One is people management, delivering consistent value and scaling growth. These are things most entrepreneurs are grappling with.

Any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Successful entrepreneurs are not usually the smartest people, or even the most hardworking. Simply put, they are not super human. Some entrepreneurs succeed because of luck. I believe you can create your own luck if you do the right thing and be at the right place at the right time. Entrepreneurs are people who know how to take and manage risk. It is important to recognise what it is that can give you a steady flow of income and then gradually invest in other things that will get you where you want to go.

Kenya aspires to become Africa’s ICT hub by 2017. What is Nigeria’s aspiration?

Kenya appears to be ahead in terms of technology. But the opportunity really is in Nigeria. Nigerians are not really saying much, but you will find people doing stuff. In the next five to ten years you will find companies that become African giants coming out of Nigeria and this will happen in Kenya too.