For young, beautiful and vibrant Thelma Chukwu, the world is at her feet. From being passionate about finance, she has found another love in technology. She is the founder of Roomies Connect, an online platform that enables people to get suitable roommates.
Chukwu describes herself as business-oriented and an outgoing entrepreneur, who always comes up with ideas and simply passionate about creating things.
Born in Port Harcourt, she spent all her formative years there, too. But for her university education, she left Nigeria for the United Kingdom.
She says, “I studied Economics at the University of Portsmouth, England. I haven’t done my masters yet because I thought I would come back to Nigeria to do my National Youth Service Corps. But I did a course in Chattered Financial Analysis, because I thought I was going into finance.”
In spite of finding love and comfort in technology, she states that she can still always return to her first love-finance. But according to her, change is constant and she is the type that embraces change.
“You know they always say the only constant thing in life is change. I have always been passionate about finance, especially Economics, which was why I studied it. I first started working as an Equity, Sales and Trade Analyst on the Stock Exchange and from there, I did pure finance in investment banking. So, I actually have a finance background. I also went into oil and gas at some point,” Chukwu says.
No doubt, finance remains her background as she still reads Financial Times, Bloomberg, among others. But she says she also wants to wake up every morning and do something that makes her happy. And this, she says, is the most fulfilled work she has ever done in her life.
“I didn’t know I was going to like tech, but things happen and tech is actually the next big thing because everything is now done online. It is not just about waking up one day and starting something, it is about having a problem or identifying a problem and actually creating a solution to it. If you can do both, then you are not just an app developer,” she adds.
Chukwu, however, admits that she had no experience in technology when she first stumbled on it in 2014. According to her, when she returned to Nigeria, she wanted an apartment in Lagos and needed a roommate, since she was new. It was then she realised that there was no platform that could connect her to having the desired one.
She says, “I have never lived in Lagos. So, there was no platform to help with finding a roommate that would be suitable for me. I then decided to live alone. Two years after, I heard my friend talking about the same issue I had back then and I also met some people who had the same issues. So, it is something I have thought of for a while, but I just never saw a reason to invest in it.
“I was motivated to start when I went to a conference, an access bank conference, at Eko Hotel and Suites. There, they talked about growing your passion and I met a lot of young people that had started doing things. I was motivated and said no more waiting.”
The conference automatically gave birth to rommiesconnect.com. Even though it’s still like yesterday, since she started last year, she has been able to attract investors and more are still discussing with her. “It has been a learning curve for me. I am not a developer nor a designer. I had ideas and I hired a developer to help me to actualise the ideas. I am learning a whole new world, which is basically fine, because I love challenges. Every time I have problems with my work, I run to a very close friend who is an IT person to put me through. I am aware that most human beings are not straightforward. When they see that you are not doing the right thing, they will not call you to order or sometimes they tell you things that are not right because they know that you are not an expert in the IT world,” Chukwu adds.
For now, she is not really keen about making profits. As an entrepreneur in the technology industry, she’s aware that one has to invest first before money starts rolling in.
“The first and second year is all about pumping money into the business for it to grow. People need to be aware of the application and services you render. I started with little savings that I had and I have started seeing the potentials. We now have registered users from Ghana, Kenya and here in Nigeria. We hope to get more investors because we are now expanding,” she notes.
Currently, upgrading her system, Chukwu explains how it works, stating that there are three different segments.
“I need a room. Prob- ably you just m o v e d to a new place a n d you cannot go through the stress of calling an agent to help you look for one. You just want to get someone that has an apartment to spare, so you register and browse through all the people that have existing rooms, communicate with them through the message center, exchange numbers or emails and ask questions.
“The second segment is called I need a roommate, which is for those people that have extra rooms in their houses and need cash. They come online to look for a roommate. When they get someone, they go on house hunting together to look for the kind of apartment they want. It is all on the website because we are testing the market, but our mobile application is coming out soon, probably in May.
“When I first started, there were lots of issues and we got lots of complaints sent to us by mail, which we rectified. So far, we have had over 4000 registered users, excluding those that registered and later deactivated their accounts,” she says.
Her biggest fear initially was that Nigerians might not accept her initiative because unlike in the United Kingdom, people in Nigeria have security issues. According to her, people told her Nigerians could be very skeptical about the people they live with.
It has been a learning curve for me. I am neither a developer nor a designer. I had ideas and I hired a developer to help me to actualise the ideas. I am learning a whole new world, which is basically fine, because I love challenges
Chukwu explains, “But I’m always of the view that people need people to survive and we have dating sites that people log onto. Despite the fact that it does not have security features, people still hook up with one another. There is Facebook, where people meet people. So, why can’t I start mine? So, we had to create a message center so that a user would be able to ask security or personal questions.
“Studying abroad gave me a lot of exposures in the way I see things. For instance, most people here are really concerned about security, but I have the mindset that if you do your research well about someone, you should know whether to co-share or not. Another upgrade we are doing is to install verification system, where we would actually verify information.”
She, however, says when it comes to monetary transactions between people, Roomies Connect has no business with that. Even when they get inquiries from people requesting phone numbers, which they have, they don’t give them out without seeking the consent of the owners first.