In this interview, Anthony Oni, the founder and Chief Executive Officer of E-Paper Vendor, an e-learning firm and one of the few firms that has fully digitized newspaper readership in Nigeria, talks about their partnership with media houses and how the economic recession gave birth to the firm. Anthony Nwosu captures this in an exclusive interview.
What is E-PAPER VENDOR vendor all about?
The E-Paper Vendor is solving the problem of newspapers in Nigeria by making our Nigerian newspapers available to readers within and outside the country. The E-Paper Vendor is able to achieve this through the partnership with the newspaper houses to make available the full digital version of Nigerian Newspapers at over 83% significant cost savings to the reader. With the E-Paper Vendor organizations and the individual will no longer need to stop the purchase and reading of newspapers which is a very strong learning resource, but making a digital switch to the E-Paper Vendor from what they currently have in place that can keep the knowledge of any individual or organization ever flowing.As the world is tilting towards digitization, reading has gone electronic, what we basically do is to digitize the newspapers and make it simple and handy. We also have our interest in the environment. You know papers are produced from felled trees, with our solution, we can say that we are reducing the carbon footprints globally. On a lighter note, we can be called an environmentally aware digital firm.
What prompted you to establish this ?
The E-Paper Vendor was birthed at a time Nigeria was in recession. My partners and I decided that as a learning organization, we should not fold our hands to watch the death of newspapers hence we conceived this idea to ensure that this very powerful learning resource remains available to everyone irrespective of their location.
A lot of these media houses in your portal have their websites, readers can easily go there and read it. Don’t you feel that you are duplicating efforts?
It is very important that we understand what the E-Paper Vendor is. It is true that these media houses have their websites. However, the E-Paper Vendor is not into online news. The E-Paper Vendor through its partnership with the newspaper houses provides readers the full digital version of the physical newspaper – our product is the same way your physical newspapers is only that it is in electronic format. Readers will not find information about public announcements, call for tenders, submission of bids, advertorials and photo diaries on the websites of the media houses. These can only be found in the complete newspaper which is what we offering to readers alongside other news in an electronic format and at over 83% significant cost savings.The E-Paper Vendor is also not duplicating effort, but allowing readers to come to one central location to get their newspapers as against going to the individual media house which will not be time efficient or cost effective. ELECTRONIC NEWSPAPER SUPERMARKET FOR ALL NEWSPAPERS
“Readers will not find information about public announcements, call for tenders, submission of bids, advertorials and photo diaries on the websites of the media houses. These can only be found in the complete newspaper which is what we offering to readers alongside other news in an electronic format and at over 83% significant cost savings.”
How many people have subscribed to your service?
We have lots of individuals & organizations who have made the digital switch to the E-Paper Vendor and more are still making the switch because the E-Paper Vendor is making life easier for everyone without compromising on the vast pool of knowledge and information that can be garnered from reading newspapers.
Can this be downloaded in various play stores?
We currently are not available on any of the mobile app stores, but we are working towards achieving that. Our web interface has been designed to ensure that subscribers can easily access their e-newspapers on any platform (Desktop PC, Laptops, palmtops and all smart devices).
You have a sort of partnership arrangement. Can we know a bit about this?
Like I mentioned above, we have a partnership with the media houses to bring so much comfort to readers. We thank God almighty for where we are with respect to the partnership and thank the media houses for the opportunity to be able to bring this unique solution to Nigerians.
What are the challenges that you face doing this business?
We still have some media houses who are yet to buy into the idea of what we are doing and so are still reluctant to come on board with us. We believe that we can make their newspapers and magazines reach more people especially those in the diaspora. As a small business, we have limited coverage is in terms of visibility. We are doing our best to ensure that every Nigerian knows about this, but it has not been easy and we will keep doing our best while we are aware that our competition competitors are also trying to catch up with us.
Be Better Foundation is one of your firms, can we know what it is all about?
Be Better Foundation is actually the owner of the E-Paper Vendor and Be Better Books – publishers of Basic Life Skills Curriculum, makers of the first indigenous board game on Life Skills, Life Skills educational resources for children and adult. Be Better Foundation GTE was established in 2013 to provide high impact and affordable development services to support the educational development of individuals, school and organizations (SMEs). Since inception, we have developed a number of solutions aimed at providing high impact and affordable organizational development solutions and learning resources for schools, SMEs and individuals in the areas of human resources consulting and administration, SME training and development and training for schools and their teachers.
Have you in any way had any sort of collaboration with NITDA or any government agencies?
I got the opportunity to pitch the E-Paper Vendor & its advantages to President Muhammadu Buhari through the Young Innovators of Nigeria (YIN) which introduced us to the Office for ICT Innovation and Entrepreneurship (OIIE) an office under NITDA. Haijya Amina Sambo – the National Co-ordinator of OIIE – after much scrutiny found our innovation worthy of presentation to Mr President. This is how we got the opportunity. The DG NITDA has made the digital switch to the E-Paper Vendor and the Honourable Minister of Communications Bar. Adebayo Shittu who lauched the E-Paper Vendor in July 2017 says the E-Paper Vendor is helping the ministry achieve its goal of using digital innovations to make life better for Nigeria.
You studied in Nigeria and you are writing some great codes. Do you think that our universities are equip today’s graduates on the current trends in the ICT world?
I was glad when I saw that the curriculum for Computer Science in Universities had been upgraded to include a course on entrepreneurship, but we still have a lot of work to do. The experience in the classroom is not enough. Undergraduates need more than 3 months of the industrial training programme or even 6 months of the industrial training programme. I think the Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC) should mandate that undergraduates should be posted to IT firms where they can actually practise what they have learnt. This will afford them the opportunity to have a first-hand experience of what they have been taught in the classroom. I think more still needs to be done.
How can this be remedied?
Like I said a computer science student or engineer on industrial attachment has no business in the hospital or in the bank. Where such person is meant to be is in an IT firm. Although we do not have much of those IT firm with what NITDA is doing, I am sure that such provisions can be made. This is the only way universities will not be graduating square pegs who will end up struggling to fit into round holes. We strongly believe that with great curriculum available, our graduates can compete with their peers across the world. We have seen Nigerian youths perform credibly in the areas of IT and software development. Having this in mind, all that is needed is to create an enabling environment for whatever that is in the overseas institutions thrive here.
As a startup, are you open to Venture Capitals and external investors?
Oh yes, I am very much interested. The challenge with investors is that they will like to see results immediately they invest. Most of the investors would want an immediate return on investment (ROI) but, considering the kind of environment we are in, we must allow business to grow and gestate. Though, we need more of our investors to believe in us and act based on our track record – where we were, where we are now and where we are headed. I look forward to investors tapping into this great opportunity.
What do you have t say to youths that would want to go to entrepreneurship?
I will advise that they should first look for a mentor who has similar ideas and has done something similar to what they will like to do. It is very important that they are able to understudy such person and see how that person was able to achieve or get to where he/she is today. That is what I have done and I am still doing. My mentor – Omagbitse Barrow – still guides and coaches me until today. Tapping into his wealth of experience and knowledge has really guided me and is still guiding me.
“I am sure that such provisions can be made. This is the only way universities will not be graduating square pegs who will end up struggling to fit into round holes. We strongly believe that with great curriculum available, our graduates can compete with their peers across the world. We have seen Nigerian youths perform credibly in the areas of IT and software development.”