Panacea e-library is an online resource for learners, authors and publishers and it seeks to make learning fun and rewarding by making books more readily accessible to students, and researchers. Techmoran interviewed the co-founder of Panacea, Olugbenga Odeyemi. He told us about his startup, his motivation and much more. Enjoy!
Can you briefly tell us about yourself?
I’m Olugbenga Odeyemi. I’m an Entrepreneur and a Software Engineer. I’m a co-founder of Panacea e-library
What is Panacea.ng all about?
What motivated you to set up an e-library platform considering the reported decline in reading culture among Nigerians?
The decline in reading is not particular to Nigeria, you have traces of that all over Africa and that’s what you get when appropriate structures are not put in place. Many school children are unable to afford textbooks and other required school materials, neither are there well funded/equipped libraries available to provide the missing link, so a good reading culture is lost even before it is acquired. And that’s one of the problems we’re solving, providing an electronic alternative, putting books directly into the hands of those who need them and creating an eco-system that is able to support everyone. This is primarily why the library was put together.
By the way, sir, is it a truism that Nigerians don’t read? What do you think can be done to boost the reading culture if there is really a decline? What role can Panacea play in this?
Accessibility and affordability are two major issues all over Africa. In the case of accessibility, there are no public libraries to get books, the few that are available are under-equipped and many are empty. There are lots of schools without a library unless we can qualify a reading space as a library. If we cannot get books into the hands of those who need them then we can’t be complaining about people’s lack of drive towards reading books. The case of affordability is even more obvious. How do you expect a person living under one or two dollars per day to buy books? There are school children that cannot pay tuition, not to talk of acquiring textbooks. Accessibility and affordability are two pillars that we stand on at Panacea. With the release of our mobile app, we have further improved on our promise to make accessibility better. With 200 Naira only, you can rent any book of choice for a period of 30 days, not to mention several free books that you can access on our platform without charge, by simply creating an account. We have quickly come to realise that not everyone has access or quality access to the Internet across Africa so we’re already working on the next stage to make accessibility better by developing reading devices that can work without an active Internet connection.
What impact do you think the internet is having on reading in the Nigerian context?
The Internet has improved reading across Africa and not just in Nigeria. We currently have users from 7 different African countries and we know this trend will continue to grow. That’s the power of the Internet! What I think governments across Africa should do is to ensure that quality Internet is delivered to the people and that no one is denied access to it. This means investing in infrastructure that will make Internet services cheaper, faster and more reliable.
You recently launched an app for your startup, what prompted this? What do you intend to achieve with the app?
We recently launched our Android app. Building an app has always been part of the business plan, so building it is the achievement of another milestone. We launched the web platform on July 1, 2017, opening it to authors, publisher and content owners for book upload. The app was released to the public on February 3, 2018, and it’s part of our promise to make accessibility to books better.
Where do you see Panacea.ng in the next five years?
We’re working hard to deliver quality library services on our platform. One of the important things we hope to achieve within the next five years is to ensure that school children never have to buy textbooks again if they are unable to afford them. Our goal is to provide schoolbooks from primary education to tertiary education free of charge on our platform. We have started with a slim model of what a library should be. This is in order for us to have the opportunity to learn from the market/customers and then iterate and make changes as required. There are several other library services that will be introduced to the platform in the coming months.
How do you source your books? What is unique about Panacea.ng?
Panacea as a platform that protects intellectual property; premium books cannot be downloaded, copied or shared. The platform also provides a pleasurable reading experience for users via our custom-built book reader. Our books are sourced directly from authors, academics and publishers. We’re currently seeking more partnerships in order for us to expand the diversity of contents on the platform.
What are the challenges of running an e-library startup specifically and a startup generally in Nigeria?
Generally, the environment can be choking. The basics in-terms of structure and infrastructure are a big deal. Sometimes it feels like the systems are built to make you fail. Specifically, you have to invest a lot in educating your customers. Most of the people we speak to find our service unbelievable, some have a difficult time understanding it and some think it’s impossible to do such. This teaches you patience over time and you learn to spend time educating people. Persistence is key though.
What will you tell an aspiring entrepreneur who walks up to you
You have to want it bad enough to succeed, especially in Africa. Everything will fight you and discourage you but you must find a way to move forward.