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Interview With Founder Of Nairaland

Interview with Seun Osewa, Founder, Nairaland Forum

Thanks for joining us Seun!


Thanks Seun. It is our pleasure and honour to have you on. Let’s start with the origins of the site.

When did you start the Nairaland Forum?

I installed the Simplemachines Forum on the 10th of March, 2005, and opened Nairaland to the public on the 25th of March, 2005 after working on it for about two weeks.

That’s about 14 months after Mark Zuckerberg launched TheFacebook.com.
Interesting…Why did you choose to start Nairaland?

About 2 years earlier I had attempted to start a web hosting business, but after 3 months I could only boast of one customer, so I ran out of capital and the business died. It would probably have succeeded if I had managed my capital more wisely or raised more money as I got many hosting requests I couldn’t satisfy later that year.

After that first failure, I was encouraged to get certifications and a regular job, but I couldn’t go back to that kind of path after tasting creative freedom, so I kept researching business ideas and presenting them to friends and family, but no capital was forthcoming to carry any of them out.

I did this for less than 2 years. (The last idea was a site for sending SMS messages. I picked up Python to implement it.)

Eventually, I decided to start a web forum, because it was the only idea that required no additional capital: I already had Internet access and a $15 per month VPS graciously paid for by a family friend. I created 3 forums in November 2003 (one for higher institution students, one for IT discussions, and one to cover the emerging GSM industry;

the Mobile Nigeria Forum at MobileNigeria.com).
The Mobile Nigeria Forum took off, so I relaunched it in February 2005 with the assistance of Mr. John Sagai Adams, who posted a link to the forum on his mailing list and participated enthusiastically in those early days.

Other mobile enthusiasts like Mr. Yomi Adegboye pitched in to make the site a success. In a month or so, the forum had about 300 members, but the growth potential didn’t satisfy me.

I decided to start Nairaland when I noticed two odd things about

(1) Despite its narrow focus, it was the only Nigerian community that gave a voice to Nigerians at home.
Most other Nigerian sites were owned and dominated by Nigerians in the US or UK. They covered only issues of interests to Nigerians abroad.

(2) The off topic section of the forum, covering topics outside telecoms, like romance and jokes, was becoming more vibrant than the Mobile Nigeria Forum itself, suggesting the need for a more general-purpose Nigerian forum.

This gave me the confidence to take forums like Naijaryders and Talknaija head on by starting a general purpose discussion forum with a strong bias towards issues of interest to Nigerians at home.

I felt that such a site could attract enough traffic to make enough money from Google adverts.

That’s why I started the Nairaland Forum.

When will you say Nairaland hit its “tipping point” that helped launch it into the mainstream in the Nigerian internet community?

I don’t believe there was a real tipping point, because we were providing something people really wanted. Growth has been linear from day one. However, I can tell you about some memorable moments in our history.

I remember a time we got about 30 registrations a day from our coverage of Gulder Ultimate Search.

I think that was the first month.
I remember when the Job section became so popular that most Nigerians at home thought

Nairaland was a job portal. It was a bit annoying, but I embraced it.
I remember when our business section became popular when all those wonder banks were in vogue. And after that, spammers and advertisers finished it off. It used to be great.

I remember when I realised I could no longer respond to every thread on the forum, and after a while I couldn’t even read every thread. Now I can’t even check every section in day.

I remember when I first realised that revolts by old members couldn’t kill the site because of the constant influx of new members. This, coupled with stress from the rapid growth of the site, led me to adopt a Buhari-style approach to managing the forum, which tarnished my reputation quite a bit.

I’m trying to change that now.
I remember when I locked all Nairalanders out of the forum during a public holiday because I couldn’t keep up with spammers anymore. I was spending several hours every day just deleting spam and I was tired. Mukina2, a famous Nairalander, volunteered to help by moderating and recruiting other volunteer moderators.

I remember when I wrote an ‘antispam bot’ because moderators couldn’t keep up with spam.

And it wasn’t enough. Then I added a registration CAPTCHA and it didn’t make any difference.