Regina Olarewaju: Venturing into impossible territories
Regina Olarewaju is the co- founder and managing director of Gidi Virtual Tours, an interactive media company that offers 360 interactive virtual tour services and virtual reality engagement. Her firm caters to a number of industries such as real estate, hospitality, education, travel and tourism, amongst others. The company created the first virtual reality experience in West Africa at the 2015 Real Estate Unite Event organized by 3Invest.
In this interview with Guardian Woman, she explains what it takes to manage a tech startup and why she loves venturing into impossible territories.
Who is Regina Ugoji Olarewaju?
I usually don’t trust my description of who I am, but without sounding cliché, I rely solely on how other people perceive me. My late dad used to say I was a strong woman, so I believe him. Other people who know me say I’m a relentless go-getter but also a pleasant and focused individual. I’m an entrepreneur and Managing Director of a Tech Company, a mother of two kids and a wife to a supportive husband. I work hard and don’t believe there are obstacles that weren’t supposed to be conquered. I love creating something out of nothing and putting smiles on people’s faces in the process. I also love venturing into seemingly impossible territories because without challenges, life really wouldn’t be worth the worth the effort.
When did you decide with your partner(s) that the idea of a virtual reality?
I relocated to Lagos from Abuja in 2014 and had to look for a bigger accommodation that was adequate for my growing family. It was a daunting experience, and while online listing websites existed, I still had some difficulty finding my dream home. I contacted several agencies whose details I got from websites and I had to drive through ‘Lagos traffic’ almost every day during my lunch break to view properties. Most times I returned to the office later than expected and very stressed. I usually started my search by viewing pictures online but what I realized was that they were what the Realtor wanted me to see…bottom line was I wanted to see more. I wished I could view the properties from the comfort of my office or home with my phone without having to drive through traffic and get to the property too tired to even appreciate it.
One day I was curious as to how it was done in more developed countries and then I began to research and came across ‘360 panoramic virtual tours”- I had a eureka moment. This was when I decided to solve the problem of property viewing in Nigeria.
We already ran a company called KOMOTION STUDIOS, a very forward thinking digital content creation company that had already dabbled into Virtual Reality and had a working experience in interactive media, so reverse engineering the technology behind virtual tour creation was easy. In order to ensure our virtual tours were of international standard, we took time to understand the premise and networked with the best in the industry globally. Then we decided to create a company specifically targeting visualization in the Real Estate, Hospitality, Education, Travel & Tourism industries. This was how GIDI VIRTUAL TOURS was born.
What was the gap that you saw in the Nigerian tech space that made you decide that the idea was viable for investment?
Most successful businesses are created to solve specific problems and make life easier for consumers. The focus on the Nigerian Tech place for a while now has been on E-commerce, App development and online market places in general. While these are essential, we noticed that most of them just benchmarked on businesses that had proven to be financially viable in other parts of the world, so the risk was minimal. We wanted to create a business that was specifically tailored to alleviate some the pains Nigerians, especially Lagosians go through on a daily basis. We noticed through experience that convenient and comprehensive property viewing was an untapped area, so we decided to create the medicine for that specific ailment.
Has the reception the business enjoyed since you started worth the kind of investment you have put into it?
When we started the business our initial focus was on Real Estate and Hospitality and we anticipated some challenges, as Virtual tours are pretty new in this part of the world. We had certain expectations of how our target would react initially, but surprisingly the response has been very good. As a startup, we structured the business and approach based on our financial capacity, and in order to keep revenue rolling in, it made sense to target businesses and function as a B2B company. Our goal is to create an avenue whereby everyday consumers get to see virtual tours as a necessity for property viewing, be it real estate, hospitality, education, travel, tourism and other areas that requires showcasing a location.
What level of personal investment did you commit to the business?
When we started the business, we realized that intense marketing and sensitization would be required. We, however, didn’t have the funding that we needed to get it to the level we desired. Based on these factors we decided to bootstrap and also utilize the tools and expertise of our parent company KOMOTION STUDIOS. Financing from our revenue stream was essential to get the necessary equipment and fund our marketing endeavours. We also leveraged on certain industry events for networking opportunities, one of which was the Real Estate Unite annual event in 2015, where we exhibited and pioneered the first Virtual Reality experience in West Africa, and showcased properties via the Oculus Virtual Reality headset.
What were the initial challenges that you had to face and how did you surmount them, especially as tech startup?
People are creatures of habit, so convincing them to try new things can sometimes be a struggle, even when its blatantly more beneficial to their regular modes of operation. For instance, a home or hotel owner would rather send fliers and images to prospective customers for business opportunities, rather than create a 360 virtual tour and send it online to thousands of potentials at a time for convenient viewing on any device, from anywhere in the world.
There is also the challenge of believability. I once went for a pitch presentation and mentioned that with our Virtual Tours, one could navigate a property as if they were there in person, but the client couldn’t comprehend the possibility. I had to forward one of our Virtual tours to his phone right there in the boardroom. His initial moment of realization came when he clicked the link and it opened almost immediately without lag. Then he ventured to navigate a property in Lekki while sitting comfortably in his office in GRA Ikeja. On seeing the quality and efficiency of the Virtual Tours, he immediately assumed that it would take a long time to accomplish and would have heavy cost implications…this couldn’t be farther from the truth. We specifically started the company to bring world class but cost effective Virtual Tours to the masses.
What attracted you to tech, especially, virtual reality, which in itself is an emerging field in technology?
I already had an informal background in technology and virtual reality, as our parent Company KOMOTION STUDIOS relies on it for its business and does a lot of research in that area. I’m also a “creative problem solver” when faced with a challenge, so I always take out time to creatively think up a solution to a striking problem, no matter what field the solution may lie. In terms of Tech, I have al\ways been specifically fascinated with how “man creates technology to provide solutions for man”. Technology though cold is beautiful, and as women are always drawn to things related to beauty, I personally found beauty in Virtual Reality and its applications.
You’ve worked for a few international aid agencies, what inspired you to leave paid job for entrepreneurship?
I worked with WaterAid Nigeria specifically for four years through which I gained experience working for International Organizations such as UNICEF, EU, DFID and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It was a very rewarding experience as I touched so many lives through my work. However, I have always been an entrepreneur at heart, it was only a matter of time before I took the bull by the horn and saw what life was like being on the other side. Apart from this, Lagos, in my opinion, is a game changer and a hub of opportunity…you can literally become anybody here. It’s been an eye opening experience and I love the adventure.
A lot of tech startups tend to bring in investors into their business, are you willing to toe this path?
Every ambitious business requires some injection of capital, whether at the initial stages or later on down the line when there is already some traction. Since a virtual tour business is pretty high risk in this part of the world, we decided to bootstrap early on and watch the market, make our mistakes, find loopholes and take advantage. We are very close to a formula that would take GIDI VIRTUAL TOURS to the next phase of its evolution and we will definitely require some Venture Capitalists on board who would like to be part of our Unique business.
How important do you think virtual reality technology is for Nigerian economy?
The possibilities are literally endless. Through our research we have seen how it could impact the education sector by making subjects way more interactive, we’ve seen how it can fulfill every architect’s and realtors dream of walking inside a building even before it is built, how traffic, pollution and stress can be reduced by viewing virtual tours from any location without physically going there, or even how the world can interactively view our country and its rich heritage through Virtual Reality Tourism. We believe in the saying that “people don’t know what they want until you show them”.