Chief Executive Officer, Life Developers Network, a content development and digital marketing platform, and founder, BarFinderNaija App, Mrs. Florence Olumodimu spoke with Emma Okonji on the importance of location-based service apps in revolutionising human social needs and providing online visibility to businesses in Nigeria. Excerpts:
BarFinderNaija App was recently launched in Lagos. What is it all about and what specific challenge does it seek to address?
The app is a discovery app and it is also a location based service app, called BarFinderNaija. It helps to explore the environment and people’s vicinity around the city. It uses the Geographical Positioning System (GPS) technology, such that with the longitude and latitude poles, the app is able to get and provide information about a particular location of interest. It can give information on the location of the app user and the listing of bars and relaxation centres around the location for easy access. Apart from the fact that it is an online directory where businesses could be listed online, BarFinderNaija is designed to increase business exposure, and it is a very effective way to directly target potential customers. BarFinderNaija makes it easy for online users to find and discover something they want when they wanted it. Business owners should consider listing their businesses, using the app, because it enhances better returns on investment.
How long did it take you to develop the app?
I started developing the app 13 months ago, beginning with a survey. I sampled about 200 people, and the research was focused on how people determine where they go to relax either in a bar or restaurant around certain locations. In developed countries, there are yellow pages that help people find their routes and locations, but we do not have such in Nigeria, except for some technology platforms that allow people to find locations, through listing of places, without giving details of the locations.
But the BarFinderNaija app will in addition to listing of places, also give details of the location like the facilities in a particular location of relaxation, the kind of food that is served there, the parking space and the level of security in the location. So from the comfort of people’s home, they could know everything about the location, using the BarFinderNaija app, which is able to congregate a lot of information that could be downloaded as either mobile app for mobile devices, or as web app. The BarFinderNaija app is available in Google Playstore, BlackBerryWorld and can be accessed through the web application www.barfindernaija.com.
To download from the Play Store, all that the user need do is to go to Play Store and type in BarFinderNaija, and the apps comes up and ready for download.
When downloaded and opened on a mobile device, it quickly provides a list of outlets from where the user could navigate, based on choice.
After the app was ready, we allowed it to pass through an incubation centre at the IDEA Hub in Yaba, Lagos, where it passed through some quality test before it was ready for use. It was after these whole processes that the app became a real product and ready for the market. On March 1, 2016, we officially launched the app and it has attracted several users since its launch.
How accessible is the app?
For easy accessibility, we have categorised the outlets that people can go for relaxation into Exclusive, Endorsed and General outlets. The Exclusive has rich media content like multimedia, including video content in the outlet and it gives details of what the outlet is all about. A user can be in Abuja and other cities and he or she is planning a visit to Lagos, and with the help of the app, the user can source various relaxation centres and make an informed decision on where to go for relaxation in Lagos.
The Exclusive outlets also have a backend log in, such that if a user downloads the app and likes the content on the outlet and follow it, the user can get notifications from the Exclusive outlet. This, of course, gives the business owners the opportunity to access new customers and send them notifications on something new that would interest them.
For the Endorsed outlet, what we did is to put up the business location, opening our contact details and other details like taxi park. ATM, petrol station and the type of in-house music, the type of menu, without having to view them through multimedia like video, because it is endorsed.
What is the economic value of the app?
Before now, what most business owners normally do is to advertise their business, using posters and distribution of fliers and some hire the services of a brand ambassador to do the marketing for them, but with BarFinderNaija app, business owners can really get millions of people to know about their businesses though the app.
It adds value to their businesses because more people who browse the net in search of relaxation spots, will easily access their businesses online, thereby increasing customer patronage. Again, business owners can now reach out to people through many outlets with their mobile phones. So we are using technology to drive businesses, and this has great economic value for Nigeria.
How do you ensure that users would be attracted to spend quality time online, while using the app, and also be encouraged to continue using the app after first trial?
It is our plan to engage customers for quite a good length of time when they are on the site, and to achieve this, we have put up several interesting contents and channels to access the app. It rates users by enabling them score some points, depending on the number of times they check in. The very first time a customer checks in, it rates the customer and gives him or her some points. If the customer visits up to 10 unique points, such customer gets more points and customers get rewarded for the number of points scored.
There is also opportunity for users to review the services of a particular location which they have visited and pass comments whether the services were good or otherwise.
What inspired you into developing the app, and what do you want to achieve with it?
My inspiration was drawn from the women entrepreneurship programme here in Nigeria, called Women in Entrepreneurship and Leadership in Africa programme (WELA), organised by China -Europe International Business School, and it was a six months intensive programme. After the programme, and based on by background and my digital marketing work experience, I was able to conceive the idea of an app that will address the needs of people who choose to go to locations of choice for relaxation. It was after the idea was conceived that I decided to develop it, having a strong feeling that it will address the social needs of people. What I want to achieve with the app, is to use it solve the challenges of millions of people within and outside Nigeria who have social needs like getting a relaxation spot when they feel like leaving their home to some different environment or when they travel outside their states of residence to Lagos. So the app helps such people to make informed decision on where they want to go and what they want to do with their time. Again, I am passionate about customer service. I spent the greater part of my life abroad, where I had my degrees and I am particularly concerned about customer relationship. So the focus is on how I could help people communicate effectively from brand perspective and help them get the social exposure that they desire to get.
Most locally developed apps are difficult to navigate through because they are not visually appealing to the user. Did you consider these when the idea of developing the app was conceived?
Yes, all these were the things that first came to my mind. For me, I am looking at a situation where my app is user friendly, while trying to address immediate challenges. When developing an app, what quickly comes to mind is the user experience. If an app is difficult to navigate, then it becomes useless to the user, because it is meant to solve challenges and not to add to existing challenges. So a good app must not be complex and must be visually appealing to the user. Above all, it must be able to solve the challenge it is designed to solve. So the BarFinderNaija app comes with achievement, and it is highly engaging and interactive.
There are existing apps that does similar things like the BarfinderNaija App. Do you see your app in competition with those other apps?
Yes, there are several other apps that may look similar to BarFinderNaija App, but do not address the same challenge. Our app is unique and it is designed to solve unique challenges, with focus on recreational and social needs of people. While other similar apps will do only listing of locations, the BarFinderNaija App goes beyond that, by going further to provide detail contents of the location like the type of food they have, the security system, the in-house musician, and a video clip of the environment. So we are not in competition with others because our product is unique, even though competition is a welcome development in any business.
How can BarfinderNaija App add value to Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) business in Nigeria?
It can add value to SME business in several ways because it will expose the business to millions of people who are online, searching for how to address their social needs. It will help them get new customers. SMEs must shift from the traditional method of business advertising through the use of fliers and billboards, or through the use of person-to-person communication, to the use of location based service, which the BarFinderNaija app provides. Technology is driving global businesses and Nigerian businesses, including SMEs, must live up to the task in today’s digital age, by deploying location based service app, which the BarFinderNaija app provides.
A lot of SMEs are not online because they do not have the knowledge, and for them to remain in business, they must embrace and deploy technology solutions that will help boost their business. If businesses, including SMEs contact us, we will take them through basic training process that will help them grow their businesses.
Local software developers in Nigeria have the challenge of low patronage, because most Nigerians still believe more in foreign developed software than the locally developed ones. Do you see this trend affecting the BarFinderNaija App?
It is true that most Nigerians patronise foreign software more than they patronise the locally developed software but this has to do with quality and standardisation of the product in question. Those local software developers that have quality products that meet international standards, are getting patronage, just the same way the majority of foreign software are getting patronage. So when a product is good, with strong security features, the developer do no need to be afraid of low patronage because businesses that are growing with technology advancement, are looking for technology solutions that will address their immediate challenge and that is exactly what we had in mind when we were developing BarFinderNaija App. So our focus is to showcase businesses that have good products that will attract customers to their sites.
How can tourists from within and outside Nigeria benefit from the app?
The app is developed to solve the social and recreational needs of people, and tourists from within and outside Nigeria can find the app very useful because it will help them to know places of attraction, based on their needs and interests and they can find this by using their mobile phones to download the app, or better still, use the web browser to connect to www.barfindernaija.com
The federal government is concerned about local content development. What amount of local content is involved in the development of the app?
The app was developed with complete local content initiative. The idea was conceived by me, developed by Nigerians, and financed by me, without having foreign input or partner. The app is developed, putting the Nigerian factor and challenges, based on the survey we conducted, prior to developing the app, and the app seeks to address Nigerian social needs. Even the logo was conceptualised in Nigeria, using the Nigerian factor, and the contents, which actually make up the app, are developed within Nigeria to address challenges in Nigeria.
How secured is the app, in relation to vulnerability?
The app comes with great deal of security measures that will make it difficult for hackers to break into its code. The security feature protects both the user and the business owners. It also ensures that every information put up on the site is safe and secure.
Most software developers are in a hurry to release their products to the market and in most cases they run into technical challenges that erode the confidence people had already built on their products. What should be done in this regard?
I think the best thing any software developer should do is to exercise a lot of patience when developing any software that will address specific challenges. It took me 13 months to develop BarFinderNaija App and after that I still passed it through rigorous testing at the IDEA Hub to ensure that I overcome all technical hitches. Patience and standardised testing should be paramount in any software app before releasing it to the market. People should be patient, thorough and have an eye for details.
Again, app is all about improvement and continuous development. People should not release an app and go to sleep, but must continually update it in line with current realities.
Your app looks appealing and ready to solve government challenges, aside individual challenges. Would you accept to partner government in databasing most government facilities, and be willing to handover the app to government should government indicates interest to buy it off you?
I am very willing to partner government on this and use the app to database most government facilities like hospitals, bus-stops, schools, post offices among others, but I will not be willing to sell it out rightly to government because it is my intellectual property and I have a dream to accomplish with it, which government may not be able to accomplish, if sold out to government.