Raindolf Owusu is the CEO of OasisWebSoft, a company he created when he was in College. Today, Raindolf plays a key in the advancement of technology in Ghana and the continent at large with a number of ‘life saving’ and productive web and mobile applications that provide real value to end users. Marked as the man to create Africa’s first Web Browser and an Operating System, Raindolf is bent on changing the narrative as a young African ‘techpreneur’.
His quest to develop software with real potential to transform and empower society and improve capacity and efficiency in various sectors has won him several accolades like; the Mark Zuckerberg of Accra (by Forbes Africa) and even the Larry Page of Ghana (also by Forbes). To many young African ‘wantrepreneurs’ and techies, he is a beacon of hope and an epitome of hard work and resilience.
Raindolf Owusu is quite modest about his achievements but just so you know, he’s been nominated and received various awards such as Guido Sohne Fellow 2012, Ideas Awards 2013 and Mandela Washington Fellow 2015. He was also listed in Forbes Africa under 30 Africa’s most promising entrepreneurs in 2015 and named one of 100 Most Influential Africans in 2015. He’s also received the prestigious Junior Chamber International 10 most outstanding young person’s award in Ghana.
Tell us about yourself Raindolf:
I’m Raindolf Owusu and basically, my life is my work; I just like to work really hard. I enjoy reading; I like to follow politics and current affairs when I’m not too busy with technology.
How did you get started with Oasis Websoft?
Oasis started in 2011 in the university. Personally I like to think ahead and weigh long term options, so in the first year of college, I asked myself a very important question: “Am I going to sit here for four years and study for some vague first class degree?” I then decided to put everything I had learnt in class to work. Oasis started out as just a website to promote my ‘kick ass’ software but overtime I realized people were taking me seriously so I registered the company in July 2011.
The whole idea and passion behind Oasis then was to show the world that Africans are not just an agriculture based people but we can also build software and technology the world can use. So that was the mindset then and this was actually in my second year in college.
You are a pretty good programmer, what led you to running your own business early when you could have gotten a decent job with your skill set?
Programming is great and all and freelancing actually did me some good in the initial stages but overtime I realized programming wasn’t enough. And as a kid, I had always wanted to run my own business so after the first two years of just building software, I decided to learn more about the real business and entrepreneurial world. Ergo, I took different classes; at a point I was even learning about customer relationship management (CRM) and this was early on in my career. So when people thought I was just a programmer, I was spending late nights with a lady by name Juliana Taylor of Start Smart. From her, I learnt lots about running a business and that helped me along the way.
Tech startups are particularly difficult to scale, what has been your most effective strategy to grow Oasis Websoft to the brand it is today?
You know; what helps every company to grow is capital which is not easy to raise. What has kept us over the past six years is the fact that we have been able to sustain ourselves over time by building software for companies. I know a lot of IT companies do same but we are privileged to have loyal customers who bring us a lot of referrals and that keep us going.
So sustainability has been key in helping us scale because if you burn through all your funds in the first few months there is pretty much very little you can do as a business without cash. What really worked well for us is the fact that we defined everything from the beginning; it was our goal to build software that will impact the continent and the world but then again we were very much aware that it was going to take time to bring in money. As such we did a lot of consulting and built software for other businesses.
You have quite a number of innovative apps to your credit; tell us about a few and what drove you to develop them:
We have built quite a number of them. Our very first was Anansi Web Browser which brought a lot of controversy because at the time people believed it wasn’t Africa’s first web browser and that it was built with cheap tools. Anansi was developed in 2011; ask yourself: how many people had that kind of mindset then, and mind you internet wasn’t that fast and reliable as it is now. So we decided to build an app that had offline features that would allow people enjoy the web browser even when the internet was off. Surprisingly, we have several web browsers who are now implementing offline features. Mozilla, Chrome; they are now doing it after three or four years but in 2011 we were thinking ahead and that’s what gave us the limelight.
Later on we decided to focus more on a very interesting field that is healthcare; because we believed everyone else was doing something for entertainment, gaming, finance and the likes. Healthcare not so much apart from a few we reckoned like mPedegree (by Bright Simons). Over a period we built DR Diabetes, a web application that essentially served as a diabetes risk checker where users are asked pertinent questions to check if they are liable to the disease. When the Ebola crisis hit West Africa, we also took the opportunity to work on a project called ‘Ebola Ghana’ together with some partners.
Now as an entrepreneur or a startup, you should know when to leave the party and move on to another idea or product and not stick to a failing one and that has been our mindset. As a company, we are always open to changing at every point in time ergo in 2015 we built an app called BISA which at the time was just a platform to ask a doctor a question. Two years down the line, BISA is now our core product which we look to building for the next hundred years because of the numerous potentials in the app. BISA started with two doctors, today we have 25 doctors across the country. BISA basically connects you to doctors; we just included multimedia where people can take pictures of the areas they are cornered about and also send voice notes and videos (in any language). Our doctors respond within an hour to 24 hours. In the future we are looking at real time chat where users can connect with the doctors in real time.
Starting a tech business at 21 takes a lot of guts, were there any obstacles that you had to overcome?
Oh Yeah! My girlfriend left me. HaHaHa; that was my biggest challenge; I had a beautiful girl in the university but she left because apparently I didn’t have enough time for her. Aside that, my main obstacle was: money. I was enjoying everything I was doing but at the time, I needed money for internet and funds to bring some colleagues on board. So investment was and still is a problem. There are several banks and capital firms that say all the nice things but trust me, very few are willing to give out loans to startups. However, as a company, we found out ways to sustain our self so we hardly complain but there are times we run out of cash.
Tell us one personal trait of yours that has helped you become successful with your business:
That is a very good question! I think being humble; aside all the awards and accolades I have won, I am still that humble guy who calls the big bosses: ‘bosses’ and ‘chairmen’ and run errands for them when they need me to. I would say being humble has taken me very far and being able to learn. If you really want to go far you have to learn more and reinvent yourself. It is not a black man’s thing but trust me it helps.
What has been your most fulfilling achievement since you started this journey?
Just a week ago I was looking at our analytics at BISA and we have 3000 active users, so the fact that 3000 people are actually using our platform for me is fulfilling. And we are planning on how to scale this to a million users. The fact that I am a young man who has had unprotected sex and I can actually go on a platform anonymously to seek a doctor’s advice and not just speak to friends, for me is great. So BISA is my greatest achievement and I am super proud of the people I work with; from the core team to all the doctors on the platform. They are pretty amazing and the smartest people in the world to me.
Where do you see Oasis Websoft and Raindolf Owusu in the next 3 years?
Raindlof, oh man! God willing I will be married with kids; personally I want three but my girlfriend says one or two. I speak to a lot of mentors and they tell me: you get tired as you grow so it is important to build a solid foundation. To me, family is important. For the company, we have very big goals. Right now we have six people on our payroll and we are looking at growing that exponentially. There are quite a number of things in the pipeline, unfortunately we can’t discuss now but when the time is right. Nonetheless in the next three years, we are looking at probably 200 to 300 people working for us and impacting more lives. Primarily, our goal is to serve the health care needs of Ghanaians with technology and we hope to do that on a massive scale in three years. And personally, I will be a happy man with my wife and kids and hopefully mentoring other young entrepreneurs.
I see you like writing too, should we expect a book from you anytime soon?
Here is an exclusive: I used to be a writer before an IT person. When I was 17 thereabout, there used to be a competition for screenwriting and I did really well. I wrote a number of great stories but something happened; I found tech. Not too long ago I wrote an article: ‘Agony of an African Programmer’ that got picked up by several publications and has been translated to into different languages. For now, I share a few thoughts on my blog when I can but yes; sometime in the future a book might surface.
Tell us something no one knows about Raindolf Owusu:
Well, a lot of people do not know this but I am a very shy person. I remember a while back I was invited to speak at an event, and for a short period I was speechless because I had gone completely blank. I got back on track however and continued with my presentation. Today, I am a bit more used to public speaking so it comes naturally but this hadn’t always been the case.
What do you most want to see in the tech space in Ghana and across the continent?
A lot more collaboration! As Ghanaian techies, we tend to be quick to criticize and rubbish the works of our colleagues- not that criticism is bad but it must be constructive. I suffered that fate a couple of years back and it really took a toll on me but thankfully I did not give up and our achievements today are enough testament that we are not the shams they thought we were.
What would be your top advice for young entrepreneurs who aspire to be where you are?
Unfortunately, entrepreneurship is not for everybody. You can still do amazing work as an employee in a company and make loads of money so do not rush into it. Entrepreneurship is not for those who are lazy so be prepared to work long hours and sacrifice a lot of your social life. It takes a lot of discipline to get work done and meet deadlines you set for yourself.
Lastly, where can people find out more about you?
They can simply search for Raindolf Owusu on Google.