“I am Ogunsola Joel and I work at Prunedge.”
This was how the conversation started at Prunedge office, Oba-Ile estate, Akure. Joel who describes himself as a social entrepreneur manages sales and operations at the company.
Growing up and Tech
Growing up was everything! I grew up in a house without televisions, typical Deeper Life Family, so it was computer all through. When my mates had a lot of TV shows to watch, all I had was Encarta Kids, encyclopaedias, minicomputers doing quantitative and verbal reasoning etc. The best I had close to the fun was the super strika comic books.
Growing up without TVs made me very inquisitive; I wanted to know how electronics work- the radio, tape recorder etc. I dismantled everything. My love computers continued throughout the secondary school as I always had one. I got more interested in sciences and at the University (Federal University of Technology, Akure), I studied Mechanical Engineering.
Although now, I have basically stopped writing codes and now focused on sales.
On the transition – from working with Microsoft to starting Prunedge and other sister companies, Joel says…
After school, I was recommended by someone for a job offer at Microsoft. I got the job and I settled in faster having worked as a student partner during my time in FUTA.
However, from the scratch, I was very particular about what I wanted to do; I loved to work in the enterprise and public-sector space – because it is in the public sector that you can create solutions that solve peoples’ day to day problem in the society.
The offer from Microsoft came at a time when I needed a good reason to run away from home. You know the typical feeling in an African home when you have an extra year after all the money spent on you in school. So, the Job gave me the opportunity to leave the house and get engaged, while I completed my education.
Meanwhile, the job exposed me to a lot of things I now do today and helped me solidify my thought processes on what I wanted to do on the long run.
On leaving Microsoft to start Prunedge; I had always wanted to start my own business. From my early days working at Microsoft—as early as 3months—I had already rented an office space (Where we now use as our Lagos office). I worked in the education team at Microsoft and realised there was a gap in the education sector, that I could actually work with a team to create a solution to solve, I called a couple of my friends together and a business was born.
On getting funds to start, he explains…
Funding is always an issue everywhere you go to. Yes, we (members of the team) did some work earlier and got funds that we were able to put in as some form of seed capital in the business, but shortly after that, we ran out of money. We had to go to the market to get a loan at an interest rate. Basically, we have bootstrapped all the way, with a combination of revenue and loan financing.
As an evolving company, Joel has this to say about Prunedge…
The people we have on the team has evolved. We have newer people in the team and we have specialised a lot more around what we do. At some points, we considered rolling out solutions in the commercial and finance sector, but we have decided to focus on what we currently know how to do best—public sector solutions.
We have enterprise solutions for education. We have built a content management system for government and institutions, basically large government enterprises that have multiple sub-organisations and agencies within them. We have also built a monitoring and evaluation tool for projects in the public-sector space, a retail management solution, queue management solution and a couple of other custom process management applications.
Some major clients so far.
“Our biggest client so far in terms of revenue and customer size, adoption and duration of business are the Federal University of Technology, Akure(FUTA). They have been our clients since day 1 when we opened the business and they are still our client.”, Joel explained.
Others include Ekiti State University, Elizade University, the Ondo State government etc.
For a lot of people who know Joel, a major thought is that he is involved in a lot of businesses. So, I asked him to tell us more about the brands he runs…
I do not like to call myself a serial entrepreneur because I think I will like to let the businesses speak for themselves Twhen the time comes. But right now, Prunedge actively runs a not for profit arm—where the company invests all its resources in its corporate social responsibility called Tech4Dev which I am actively a part of, the AkureTechUp—also a not-for-profit focused on making Akure a reliable tech hub in Sub-Saharan Africa in the next few years and a media startup, Twick Media.
The big question! Why Akure?
It was a little bit of providence and a little bit of comfort. When we started out, our business, we got our initial set of projects from Akure and had to set up an office in the city to serve the market. Primarily, technology can be built from anywhere, you only need a convenient environment. Akure affords you the opportunity to achieve more productivity from a team standpoint and is strategically positioned as a source of equipped human resources – FUTA—which has produced a good number of industry players in the country. It allows for an optimized operating cost, ease of movement (Away from the massive gridlocks in Lagos) and our commitment towards making Akure a technological nerve centre in the coming years is also a big deciding factor.
However, the downsides of travel time (Most especially to Lagos) and access to the quality internet are some of the issues that come with this decision. But we are learning to thrive despite all.
Let’s talk about the Nigerian tech ecosystem
Immediately I brought up this question, he smiled and gave a quick reply. “I am not a fan of all these buzz words – ecosystem. Where do I see tech in Nigeria? I will rephrase the question that way”, he answered. For me, that was fine, because I introduced the question with the back and forth of thoughts on maybe Nigeria has a tech ecosystem.
“Technology in Nigeria is still very young. In some areas like Fintech, we have advanced a lot, compared to some other economies in terms of ease of carrying out online transactions and all of that. In sectors like where we do business, the public sector, which is where I primarily have a good knowledge, adoption remains a big challenge.
“Government policies and behaviours still remain a challenge, as they sometimes still prefer to purchase software externally than locally. There is still a lot of work to do solve issues of bad experiences, technology apathy, personnel expertise and all.
“We may not have China’s population yet, but we still have a critical mass—a good population—for tech solutions to thrive. Even if it is B2B or B2C. Gradually, the battle is being won.”
On how to solve the issues of trust for Nigerian solutions, the social entrepreneur responds…
I will say, we are probably where India was a couple of years ago. And because of the request lead time, consumers understanding of time frame for a quality service delivery is still an issue and sometimes the time is not enough to deliver the best quality from the technical standpoint.
“The government needs to do more in terms of regulations. There should be incentives in place to ensure that businesses that adhere to global standards have some form of leeway over the rest.
“On the other hand, there is the problem of education in terms of how our software engineers are trained and how they apply the knowledge they have. This is a major area to look at. This is why businesses like DevCRIB, Andela etc. have an important role to continue to play within the Nigerian space and even the broader African space to ensure that we have world-class developers who can create world-class solutions”.
He encourages Nigerian developers to strife to get to the point of world-class proficiency in delivering solutions on the global scale.
Joel Ogunsola, holds the license for TEDxAkure