VacantBoards Founder Explains Why His Startup Is Adding value to Outdoor Advertising

VacantBoards (VB) is an online marketplace which offers accessible resourceful inventory of vacant outdoor advert spaces to assist local businesses, brands and agencies discover and efficiently exploit outdoor advertising options offered by numerous operators.

“Creating a platform with a good user interface is one thing but the most important thing is the businesses you are serving, are you offering them the value?” Tunji Alao founder of VacantBoards (VB) asks.

The platform hopes to successfully allow these operators publicize and lease out their advert spaces, connect prospective clients, billboard structure engineers, printers, mobile billboard manufacturers, outdoor advertisers, installers, electricians and even designers together with real-time interaction.

This sector has greatly suffered due to the various regimes of government regulations at various levels which have resulted in high costs of operations for the practitioners, making the hoardings too expensive for advertisiers. It was discovered that over 70 per cent of operators’ hoardings are now vacant while many agencies had reduced their staff strength by over 50 percent. The local, state and federal government levies plus the street urchins and miscreants had the development to the outdoor advertising practice edging towards grave danger.

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“Let me give you a scenario” Tunji says, “If you own a board in Lagos, and your board is on Herbert Macaulay way which is a federal road, FERMA (Federal Road Maintenance Agency) will come and ask you to pay for the board being erected, LASAA will come to you and say this is this board is located in Lagos State and that you have to pay them too. The Local Government will also show face and say it is Yaba Local Government, so you have to pay. It doesn’t stop there. The area boys will come and say ‘area yii ti wa ni’ (The street urchins will claim its their territory), and since they are self imposed guards on your investment, you have to settle them too. ”

“Now according to Nigerian law, the Local Government is solely responsible for taking taxes and fees from board owners whether it’s on state or federal roads. It’s the duty of Local Government to make money off it.  Although there a few board owners whose boards are in well protected areas e.g Military zones, they have no need to settle the area boys or even LASAA – Note: LASAA now regulates boards in military formations, see: http://www.lasaa.com/519/.

“But with a platform like VacantBoards (VB), board owners get to understand why people are not using their boards, whether its location, type of board, etcetera. LED billboards are quite expensive but many especially those with money to expend are changing to it because it has that clarity and attraction, like hypnotic high resolution big TV screens and its sharp colorful display.”

Tunji says many advertisers are readily declining from placing their ads on polymer boards. Another could be the pricing, most board owners want to make 100% of their investment in as quick as BOLT. In some countries, it is against the law to make 10-15percent profit on a service, your profit margin is regulated, but we don’t have such in our laws. Those countries don’t believe one should run businesses where people are ripped off, but here in Nigeria it’s allowed.

Why VacantBoards (VB)? Tunji sees himself as a problem solver. After living and navigating the city of Lagos for years  he has noticed that many boards remained vacant even though there were contact numbers boldly written  on them and he pondered why this was so. Was it that people who needed the boards were not seeing it? Was it that the boards were not constructively represented? Or was it that looming thought of not knowing if the vacant board would be a good catalyst for your business? It could be either of these or all of the above and more he thought.

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He felt there wasn’t really a search platform with detailed Visibility Metrics™, and the few ones available are not detailed enough.  He also thought that business owners ought to have a better and more convenient way of finding outdoor advertising spaces anytime from anywhere, even from the comfort of their homes, and knowing the statistics behind the board in terms of traffic and view-ability. Tunji  also said he had almost every board in Lagos State in mind and can tell the adverts on which boards, those vacant and where they are located, talk of an android human.

So VB was born. Now business owners willing to advertise can find boards sorting prices, locations, and availability, and all boards can be seen at their locations on the map. “When we talk about outdoor ads, we are talking about ads on taxis, BRT buses, ads at malls, bus shelters, wall drapes, and most of these ad spaces are still vacant and unsold.” Tunji mentions that a study showed accidents occur more on highways with more outdoor adverts than those without and this is one of the things VB wants to address by also guiding board owners and advertisers with regards to where to build and where to advertise.

Tunji has worked with a PR/Business Communications company then quit and started innov8 which deals with online infrastructure; websites, events live streaming, social media support, team collaboration portals, e-learning platform of schools, which is like the grand mother of all his other startups. One of his other startups Click4homes was founded when he had issues finding a house, while schooling in Lagos State University. The housing agents couldn’t get him a good place with his specifications. So he thought, ‘why don’t we just have a platform where you just click for homes. Like every other entrepreneur, Tunji has issues with funding. “One can’t really do much” he says, “Click for homes is still in existence, but the business model is being changed.

VB’s services will be backed up by a trafficanalysis system which reads the number of cars at a defined highway or road, the average speed and even classification. So this is not people telling you of the traffic cluster of a location, this is real traffic data. So you will know how many people are seeing your ad at a particular time based on vehicular and human traffic data. VB also hopes to come up with weekly publications that can be circulated for people to see boards of all premium listers.

Presently Tunji funds the startup himself but hopes to get a boost via grants from Tony Elumelu Foundation or Venture Capitalist. He aims to cover Nigeria with the rest of his team and embrace the rest of Africa.

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