By Victor Gotevbe
….Say dreams are free
September 11, 2001Twin Towers attack awakened the world…and that changed the world for ever. While it was the twin towers that was attacked in this instance, we have similarly seen human set of twins making a difference, ‘attacking’ issues and proffering solutions… .
This weekend, Youthful Vibes brings to us the story of a dynamic Nigerian identical twins, Chidi and Chika Nwaogu (22 years old), Co-founders of Africa’s Largest Social Networking Website, Ladies And Gentlemen book, popularly known as LAGbook, with over 280,000 registered members from over 200 countries. Chidi leads us in this chat. Excerpts:
What inspired you to set up Lagbook?
It’s a very funny story. We once studied for a degree for Electrical and Electronics Engineering at the Imo State University (IMSU). We later abandoned our academic pursuit at IMSU to accept an offer to studyPhysics at the University of Lagos (UNILAG). It was a Wednesday morning during our first semester at UNILAG. We were headed for a Physics lecture at the Faculty of Science. We were still freshers.
It was February 2010.We saw this light complexioned, beautiful and elegant girl close toKing Jaja Hall. I (Chidi) assumed she wanted to take a passport or a casual picture because she was at the Photographer’s corner under a big tree. That was our first time we had a lecture at UNILAG,because we got a hostel accommodation very late. I told my twin, “This girl can’t be a Science student. She’s way too hot for Science”. My twin (Chika) disagreed, he said “Science has got some way much prettier girls than any other faculty at school.”
We argued for few minutes and we had to adjourn the argument indefinitely. You may be asking “Why didn’t one of you walk up to her and ask. My twin and I as at that time are what I called “SocialNerds”. We got good fashion sense, but we didn’t have a social life. We didn’t party, we didn’t hang out with friends, or “scope” the ladies. We loved our laptops more than anything in the world. We used them at least 20 hours a day!
Few weeks later, we started working on a dating site called “Single Treasures” with a room-mate, Anayo Ughamadu. Anayo provided the funds for the project, while we provided the technical know-how and publicity. Everything worked out, the site was launched few weeks later.
Unfortunately, Single Treasures was a huge failure; low sign-ups, high bounces, zero revenue. The fuel ran out in a few weeks after launch. While eating lunch at a canteen in Eni-Njoku Hall, our hall of residence , I brainstormed on a simple but elegant solution that could help us verify the faculty of the girl we saw at King Jaja Hall. Then the big question was asked, “Why don’t we create a social network for students of the University of Lagos?”
They will have to register with a valid matriculation number, and supply upon registration, their mode of entry, year of entry, mode of study,department etc.The basic idea was for UNILAG students to unwind, connect with one another and share their daily experience on campus.
But then, we realized that we had to leave our identities (the people behind the project) undisclosed if we wanted our social network not to fail, just like the previous one. Some might just sign up to have a sense of belonging to something as prestigious as the University of Lagos. Which ever the case, they all registered.
After tossing around with a couple of names, we finally arrived at LAGbook because we knew that UNILAG students will see it as theirs, thinking it means Unilagbook and whenwe expand, we could emphasize the capitalization of the letters “LAG”,meaning “Ladies And Gentlemen book”.
Now, we’re all set. Development began. We started on a Saturday night, April 17, 2010, coding at a class at the Faculty of Education. While others were reading over night for the forthcoming exams, we were coding over night for our forth coming website.
Everything was done after a vigorous 4 hours of coding. We bought the domain name, on April 25, 2010. Everything worked out fine. We had over 3,000 UNILAG students registered on LAGbook within the first 2 months of run. All our room-mates’ girl friends were already on LAGbook. LAGbook was the rave, the BIG thing, the phenomenon. We got campus reviews and grew thanks to viral marketing; word of mouth.
Finally, the girl whose information we wanted, registered on LAGbook on our 8th week of run. Her profile picture of course caught our attention. Unfortunately, I (Chidi) was wrong. My twin (Chika) was right. She was a Science student. We got the information we’ve always wanted and we had a huge asset in our control, LAGbook.
How did you get the funds to set up the website and who is currently maintaining and funding it?
As at that time, my twin and I were some “broke nerds”. We spent most of our money on gadgets and ran broke so fast. We had no money saved in the bank. We had a bad spending habit. So we asked Anayo to come into the team to fund it, just as he did with Single Treasures. As at that time, we had a bill of $990 USD to pay.
Anayo backed out,thinking it might fail just like Single Treasures did and he didn’t want to invest such large amount of money into something he isn’t affirmative will succeed. I told my twin, “We can do this on our own steam”. So we searched for free platforms to host LAGbook in the meantime. We bought the domain name for $10, that we could afford.
The publicity came after our cover appearance on a campus magazine, “Shey You Know Now?”. We didn’t pay for it, we had an agreement, though one in which we regrettably didn’t hold up to. We flooded the campus with 1,000 wall stickers, paid thanks to Anayo. He was owing us N7,000 as balance payment to will our 50% stakes of Single Treasures to him.We r
an into a ditch, when the platform used to host LAGbook scrapped all its free plans to focus more on its paying subscribers. We had to search for another free and good platform to move LAGbook to. We found it, but upon migration, we lost our member’s login information. We were able to retain their e-mail addresses but not their passwords. So,we had to give them random passwords. This made us loose a lot of traffic as returning users couldn’t access their account except they requested for it via the “Forgot Password” link.
Traffic went low for 2 months. Finally, we decided to use this misfortune to enter the Nigerian market. So we started Cost Per Click (CPC) advertising on Google and Facebook, thanks to the funds we received from building a website for the Customer Relations Executive of MTN Communications, Akin Braithwaite.
More funds rolled in after we built some websites. Recently, we struck an advertising deal with Research In Motion (Blackberry)Nigeria, which raised funds for extra bandwidth and storage purchase,CPC advertising and New Technique Adoption.
Do you have young people working with you? What inspiration can young Nigerians draw from your initiative?
Yes, we’ve got some young people working with us. We used to have a team of 25, before we underwent a team reorganization that dropped our team size from 25 to 5. At the moment, my twin and I are working with Josh Osemwegie (our Chief Financial Officer), Nosa Ilegbinehi (our Chief Publicity Officer) and Emmanuel Alugo (our Chief Technology Officer). All, including us are under 25.
We want young Nigerians to always believe in their dream though many may not share it with them. Dreams are free, so let your dreams run wild. You aren’t paying for them, are you?
What is the future of LAGbook in view of stiff competition vis avis other social networks?
We’re growing by the second. Statistics show that we attract at least3 new members in every minute, and 4,000 new members everyday. This isall thanks to the funds we received from Blackberry to advertise theirbrand for 8 weeks. Although, the funds is almost exhausted, we’re still growing at an increasing pace. People are telling people. It’sviral. We’re not just a Nigerian phenomenon. We’re a global brand. We’ve had several international mediaattention, which includes our appearance on TechCrunch and Yahoo!News.
What have been your challenging moments? Have you had securityissues with your website?
With LAGbook, every second is a challenging moment, most of which isfinancially related. Though, the most recent challenge was having todownsize the team by over 80%. Many thought of this move to be tyrannyand unfair, even downsized team mates. In the past and even till this
very moment, raising funds have never been easy. There are little orno venture capitalist to invest and fuel the growth of start-ups inNigeria. Bandwidth was one of our greatest challenges, pages loadedslowly in the past and even the storage wasn’t enough to accommodate
the increasing traffic and activities of users on LAGbook. The fundswe received from Blackberry helped us bypass this phase, now LAGbookis 10 times faster than it was in the past. We’ve also had a couple of security issues in the past, some of whichwe still experience at the moment.
Do you guys make money from this aside from the fact that you enjoya huge traffic which might just be a thing of prestige or could it bepaying some bills? Basically, what does a website with over 270,000people worth monetarily?
We started LAGbook initially as a thing of prestige. We were 19 yearsold as at that time and we Knew nothing about business. But, as timepassed by, we discovered the importance in profitability. Thanks toour recent RIM deal, LAGbook finally reached profitability. Recently,we prepared a business plan and rolled out more advertising servicesonLAGbook, which includes the new Search Ads.
We’ll be almost throughwith school, and responsibility will quickly roll in. At the moment,we’re focused on simultaneously creating a very successful social network and a successful business model. According to Wikipedia, LAGbook is worth about $700,000 USD, which is well over 100 million naira.This is a figure we see running into multi-million dollars in the nearfuture.
In what ways does Lagbook acquire and invest in promising Africaninternet start-ups as you claimed your Lagbook is a venture capitalfirm?
My twin and I share this little vision. We want to acquire promisingAfrican internet start-ups in stakes. Mostly, we shut them down andbring the team to work with us at LAGbook. We intend to do this with more African internetstart-ups, some of which we are on the process of completing, whichincludes Edinpa, a Ghanian social network.
What would be your advice to young people amidst the challenges confronting them daily?
Our advice is brief and simple, “There is no short-cut to success. Prayers will aid, but will not work without hard work and advertising. Nobody will patronize what they don’t know, would they?”
YOUNG NIGERIANS MAKING THE DIFFERENCE
CHRISTOGONUS C. IBE
IBE is a dynamic youth leadership and crime prevention advocate committed to the reduction of crime among youths in Africa. A Florida Crime Prevention Training Institute trained crime prevention expert. Chris is the Executive Director/Founder of African Youths Initiative on Crime Prevention (AYICRIP).
He holds a Bachelor Degree in Human Kinetics and Health Education from the University of Lagos, and a Post Graduate Diploma in Public Administration from OlabisiOnabanjoUniversity,Ogun State respectively. He holds several leadership positions.
His Leadership and Crime Prevention programmes cuts across, Crime Prevention summits, Crime prevention Ambassador Awards and Campus Marathon programmes, Crime prevention clubs, Crime prevention volunteer corps. He has attended so many local and international conferences as speaker and participant on Youth development issues, crime prevention and Drug Abuse/ Illicit Trafficking.