Ambition is the steam that drives men forward on the road to success. Only the engine under full steam can make the grade. — Maxi Foreman
Yusuf Adebayo Hassan had a chat with TIC discussing this entrepreneurial journey. His drive, vision and insight into how he was able to build a brand like Tutlub where the highlight of our discussion.
Enjoy the read….
TIC: Kindly tell us a few things about yourself?
Yusuf: My name is Yusuf Adebayo Hassan. I was born to a practicing Muslim parent (Alhaji G. O Hassan – Namaco and Alhaja S. Hassan) from Ijebu-Ode, Ogun-State, Nigeria. I am the third of five children from my mother. After my primary school education, I left western education to attend the school for the memorization of the Holy Quran where I spent three years and continue my western education afterward. I was highly influenced by the rhythmical rendition of Qasidah (Islamic recitations) at the school; so I packaged a couple of songs (WORSHIP) in early 2004.
I became one of the pioneers of Islamic Music in English Language in Nigeria. I released some singles with lots of radio plays. And I met Olawale Hassan of Radio Lagos and EkoFM who became my producer and helped me greatly to navigate my way around Lagos, Islamic Entertainment and the music industry at large.
I introduced my version of Islamic Music to a popular traditional Islamic Music artiste -Ayeloyun (Babaiyawo) and we jointly released an Album. I later got interest from International record label, Meem Music based in the UK and through them I got introduced to British Council and went on a Global Xchange Programme where I and other 17 young people (aged 18-25), with equal numbers coming from the UK and from Nigeria spent 3 months in Nigeria (Lafia) and 3 Months in the UK (Brighton) doing cultural and development work.
I have also got Law LLB (Hons) Degree from University of London and LLM Masters of Laws in International Commercial Law from Brunel University London.
TIC: What was growing up in a Muslim home like?
Yusuf: There is no typical Muslim home. So I will say, what was growing up under my father’s roof like? To understand the ambiance, one needs to know a bit about the man behind it all. He was a successful businessman before he became an active Muslim and then a propagator of the faith. So we were brought up with the holy books in one hand – Quran and Bible included – and the calculator for running all his various businesses in the other hand.
He built a mosque with the house and he employed an imam to lead the congregation and teach us Quran recitation and other Islamic studies. Everyone both boys and girls in the family help out with the business, which includes a rental services, a building materials company, farms and many others. A normal Saturday will be: wake up around 5:30am for Fajr (morning prayer) – attend to your housework, I normally wash the cars – eat and then straight to the Arabic class. Arabic classes normally ends around 2:00pm, you eat at home and then off to one of the offices or to the farm.
I remember one time when I was in ss3 and I was assigned the task of managing the rental service part of the business. I had the SSCE exam close by at that time. My routine then was to wake up at around 5: 30am, pray Fajr, put on the uniform and then straight to the office. I will open up for the day; give instructions to the staff and then I’ll go to school. After the school hours I will go back to the office and manage the place till business closing time.
One other crucial thing about living under my fathers roof is that, when ever he lays his eyes upon you, the first question will be: What are you doing? And on no circumstances should your answer be “nothing”. You must always be doing something.
TIC: What lessons from growing up have defined who you are today?
- You don’t need a university degree or an MBA to run a multi million Naira business: I started when I was a teenager and my little brother Abdulhammid Hassan too already established three companies. Mobilexcetera acquired one of the companies for a large amount of money recently and the other got him and his team into Flat6labs in Dubai this month. His new company is Skylar – Artificial Intelligent (AI) for workplace. He is 19 years old. Sold is first company at 17.
- You must always be up to something every minutes and days of your life: That’s why nextummah.com have embarked on the One Month One project program starting from the beginning of March 2016 and by the end of this year we will have 10 built and delivered products in the market.
- Use your life experiences to your advantage: I left western education to memorise the holy Quran for 3 years and when I came back my mates and even my younger ones are already in the university and I had to start from JSS1. I did not take it as a bad thing. Before they finished their university studies I had already released an Islamic music album, got signed by international record label, went on a global Exchange program with British Council, – by combining my religious knowledge and experience with the business skills acquired from running my fathers business.
TIC: In 2015, you announced the launch of Tutlub, a social networking app for Muslims. What’s Tutlub really about?
Yusuf: Tutlub is a social network app that connects Muslims with other Muslims around the world to communicate, supplicate and learn as online Muslim family. We are also taking the approach of helping against online terrorism radicalisation and propaganda by connecting vulnerable Muslims youths with vetted and verified Islamic leaders to explain to them the true meaning and peaceful way of Islam.
TIC: How did it all begin; the idea, the process and the finishing stages. What did you see, what prompted you to develop Tutlub?
Yusuf: My personal experience on Facebook – misinterpretation and stigmatizations that originate from posting too much Islamic content on a social network formed part of the reason I started Tutlub.
Tutlub discourages the posting of and limits the exposure to immoral contents on social networks. It also serve as an alternative to other social networks for Muslims especially in the western countries who might be afraid or worry that posting too many Islamic contents on their current social networks such as Facebook, might make them seems to be too religious or worst “a fundamentalist”. This discourages some Muslims from posting and engaging with Islamic contents as much as they would have preferred to.
Employers nowadays do check potential employees’ Facebook page and a Muslim candidate with a page full of Islamic contents might be misconstrued
TIC: Other than it being an app that caters to the social and spiritual needs of the Muslim community, how is Tutlub really different?
Yusuf: Tutlub will provide a place to post Islamic content just as LinkedIn is a place for professional discussion and Facebook and twitter for our politics, football and entertainment discussions. What we are about is the provision of appropriate place for appropriate contents and activities.
TIC: Is this just a spiritual contribution to Islam for you or also a business?
Yusuf: It is both.
TIC: What about Next Ummah, what informed that idea?
Yusuf: Nextummah.com started primarily with the aim of changing the mind-set of Islamic leaders in relation to the use of new technology and media in Nigeria. The advent of mobile phone in Nigeria brought about the use of callertunes and other value added services. In the beginning, Muslims contents were disallowed by mobile Network operators such as MTN and Globacom because of the directives by some scholars on whether or not Islamic contents are appropriate for such purpose.
I discussed this with Islamic scholars in Nigeria concerning the appropriate use of Islamic contents and got approval (Authorization) from the highest Islamic Body in Nigeria, Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) before the network operators could agree to use the contents.
As a result of that, I successfully pioneered the religious part of the VAS (Callertune) business for mobile network operators including MTN, Etisalat, Airtel and Globacom.
TIC: How does it feel running two start-ups? What were the challenges you had to overcome and how did you go about them?
Yusuf: Running two start-ups feels like a normal day under the roof of Namaco’s Family – My dad’s roof. I have capable teams on both ends. This makes things easier to handle.
TIC: It’s a peculiar thing – Islam and Innovations. Considering how ‘conservative’ Islam is and your creation of two tech start-ups to serve the community, how has the reception been?
Yusuf: If the use of the word “conservative” in the question in relation to Islam means averse to change or innovation, I will argue against that. But I will accept it if it means, as it is for any serious religion, careful and conscious adoption or acceptance of innovations.
From experience, when we started the callertunes and Muslims contents were disallowed by mobile Network operators because of the directives by some scholars on whether or not Islamic contents are appropriate for such purpose. One will jump into the conclusion that Islam is averse to innovations without considering the reason behind the directives on whether or not it should be allowed. The reasons among others was mainly because if care was not taken the people behind the content aggregation who do not have the proper Islamic knowledge will knowingly or unknowingly distribute contents wrongly. Especially with audio contents, a cut in the wrong part of the audio will convey a different massage. We made the imams as well as the mobile operators aware that the people that will be behind the aggregation will be those with Islamic knowledge.
The result: Islamic caller tunes became topmost among the most downloaded tunes on all networks in Nigeria. This shows the level of acceptance.
And for Tutlub, when we launched the beta version of the app Tutlub became the only religious App in the top ten most downloaded app in Nigeria before we paused user acquisition. Muslims are cautious innovators. The reception has been really great. We have thousands of Muslims who have signed up to become the app’s ambassador when we launch fully by April 2016.
TIC: A sensitive question here; seeing as Tutlub is a social networking app for Muslims, were there any concerns about users ‘radicalising’ it?
Yusuf: Yes, there are concerns as it is for any social network including Facebook, Twitter and the rest. We believe we are better suited and capable of solving this problem. One because we will be able to amplify the true meaning of Islam and also we will be connecting the vulnerable youths to vetted and verified Islamic leaders. We are providing this main solution other social networks will not be able to provide for such problems on their platforms.
TIC: You have a branch in London. Sure there are Muslims there but it seems quiet for someone looking from the outside in. What’s the public perception of Muslim-focused organisation?
Yusuf: We are a digital company and we are perceived as any other digital companies in the UK. No discrimination from the public or the government.
TIC: Who/what inspires you?
Yusuf: My parents.
TIC: I’m looking for trouble here but I’ll ask anyway. Perhaps I’m biased but I think some Muslims ain’t fun at all so I’m looking out for you to shock me. How do you relax? What do you do in your downtime?
- My wife is a professional horse rider – Show jumping and dressage. I love watching her riding horses.
- We play table tennis, badminton and long tennis with friends.
- I love putting together barbecue parties in my garden – right now the weather is not allowing me that pleasure.