Focus on Delivering Value – says Founder of BudgIT
Oluseun Onigbinde is co-founder and Lead Director of BudgIT, a civic startup company focused on promoting good governance by simplifying the Nigerian government’s budget. Using info-graphs, maps, mobile applications, and various new technologies, the company makes public data more understandable, accessible, and transparent to the average Nigerian citizen. The AWP Network connected with Oluseun and in this interview, he emphasizes the need for African youths to deliver value through their various initiatives.
BudgIT is a non-profit organization currently funded by Indigo Trust, a United Kingdom grant-making foundation that sponsors technology-driven projects focused on social change. To date, over 20,000 unique users have visited the website, interacted with various applications, and made decisions regarding the budget. Onigbinde states, “the inability for Nigerian citizens to hold their government officials accountable has led to years of excessive waste, improper planning, and corruption.”
How did you come up with the name BudgIT ?
The idea was conceptualized and developed at the Tech-In-Governance event, a 48-hour bootcamp organized by the Co-Creation Hub in February 2011. BudgIT launched officially September 13, 2011. The company name was previously “Budget4u,” but I didn’t feel comfortable with that name so I changed it during a hackathon in Lagos, to BudgIT.
What or who inspired you to start your business?
I started this company because I want to make an impact. Prior to starting BudgIT, I worked at a bank but when I was there, I was very restless, unsatisfied, and felt this urgent need to do more. I began to think about my strengths and weaknesses – it was then that I made a connection. I am quite knowledgeable about public and project finance and I felt the desire to share this knowledge by analyzing the budget and other public data for the Nigerian audience. I felt an urgent need to solve a problem and I felt connected to the struggles of the average Nigerian citizen who may feel excluded, powerless, and may not know how to interpret complex data or budgets. To cut the long story short, I felt inspired to start this company based on my desire to have an impact in the world.
Who is your target market?
Nigerians – I believe that transparency and good governance ensures democracy and I find that access to budgetary information should be available to all citizens. I am particularly interested in helping Nigerian citizens interpret available government data. Currently, we plan to expand from analyzing the government’s budget to supporting NGOs and other institutions.
How have you financed your business?
This company is a social enterprise so we have to show both impact and profit. Social entrepreneurship involves solving core societal problems, which might not be sustainable through charity and may not provide direct profit to capitalists. So at every point, it is more of where we want to be in terms of impact and influencing social change. Currently, our main funders are Indigo Trust UK and the Open Society for West Africa. We also provide consulting services to the Department for International Development (DFID) and the Nigerian National Assembly Budget & Research Office.
What is your competitive edge?
We have a strong collaborative approach and work extensively with locally based partners. The impact we want might be painful but slowly but we are getting there.
What is the long-term or 5-year plan for your business?
Our long-term plan is to grow the BudgIT platform using open technologies. Our aim is to interpret the budgets of various African governments into a more interactive and creative document. I also think about developing a framework for participatory budgeting across the continent using different technological tools and offline forums. I want to lead a campaign of getting more African countries to embrace Open Government Partnership (OGP).
What challenges do you face or have you faced thus far?
We face several challenges. The first is getting data from the government. The Nigerian government is very unwilling to release data. The second is meeting the expectations of citizens excited about data, good governance, and transparency. We also face challenges with funding. Our team currently consists of eight (8) people and we plan to expand. Currently, only four members of the team work full-time. Good developers are costly, but despite these challenges, we have to keep going.
What five key things have you learned since starting your business idea?
1. Learn to quickly recognize a bad idea and learn to let go of them.
2. Focus: In the race for market share, many things will look appealing and seductive. Identify and clarify your goals, values, and purpose. There must be no ambiguity on what value a founder wants to unlock.
3. Strategic Marketing: define what it is you are selling and who you are selling to. What networks do you need to expand your footprint? My company’s message is centered on advocacy so I collaborate with EiENigeria, OKFN, and the Center for Social Justice.
4. Maximize your trigger points: when you are a startup, you are the new kid on the block. With persistence, there will always be a trigger point. BudgIT did that with the Occupy Nigeria movement.
5. Grow Lean: there is the mentality of ‘I have arrived on the first breakout’ in terms of revenue or impact. In this instance, you see a co-founder buying new cars or changing apartments. A start-up is still standing on a fragile pivot, so stay lean until your profit margin increases. I am currently learning that.
What five things do start-up entrepreneurs need to know?
1. Passion – focus on the “it,” the reason why you exist.
2. Focus – keep it straight like laser, the hardest of metals will bend.
3. Excellence – let it be said by the unknowns that you tried your best to deliver exceptional value in a timely manner.
4. Integrity – never ever lose a shred of it.
5. Iterative Learning – never stop finding out why an idea works and why it never worked. Never pause on self- improvement or development. A start-up entrepreneur is in the kindergarten school of business.
What advice do you have for youths looking to start an idea but say ‘there is no money’?
You actually need money to start a business. My advice is to start small and more importantly, keep your eye on delivering value. Also, there is something called, “reputation quotient” which means, using the power of your networks. If your idea is brilliant and you are persistent enough, someone will buy it.
How do you think African youths can continue to support each other?
There is a need to work together across the continent. Collaboration is vital. Currently, we are planning an exchange project in Senegal to deepen access and good governance.
How many jobs have you created so far?
I am in the tech business and it is more of skill strength over the number. I will favorably say eight (8) jobs. I want to do more but I eagerly need to have a healthy balance sheet.
How can we support and improve innovation in Africa?
We need to support more collaborative spaces. BudgIT was incubated at a technology hub and what could have been serious challenges in the early stages of a startup, issues related to funding, goal definition, market strategy, and so on were easily gotten at the hub. We need more hackathons, co-creation hubs, living labs, and I strongly believe these nodes can unleash talent in a communal way. Our grandfathers supported each other because they recognized the power of collaboration and community. We need to do the same and join our strengths together with our eyes on a common goal. I am sure we can surmount challenges and do great things.
Currently, BudgIT is developing a model around public sector intelligence for Banks. This will allow banks to gain quick and refined access to government contracts, monthly allocations, and budgets. It is still an evolving process and still in the idea phase.
Oluseun Onigbinde is Co-Founder and Lead Director at BudgIT. He is a 2012 World Summit Youth Award winner, and an Ashoka Fellow. He graduated from the University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, with a degree in electrical and electronics engineering. He frequently contributes to the Data Journalism blog and is a member of the Open Spending Wiki Group, an initiative of the Open Knowledge Foundation based in United Kingdom. His company BudgIT was recognized by Forbes Magazine as one of the top five African start-ups to watch out for. Oluseun dreams of leading a thriving public policy think-tank.