Mrs. Funmi Ogidan is the Chief Executive Officer of VAPO, software conceived for operators in travels tourism and hospitality industry. The new product will help in the areas of back-office management, visa processing and provision of a robust market place where operators can sell profitably and conveniently without hitches and at unimaginable discounts.
The former Principal Special Assistant on Foreign Relations and Protocol to the Speaker of Lagos House of Assembly, launched the product on Wednesday, September 21, 2016, her 42nd birthday.
ENCOMIUM Weekly was there and asked her few questions about the new products…
We want to congratulate you on your 42nd birthday.
Thank you very much.
How do you feel turning 42?
I feel good, I feel blessed having another year added into my life. It’s such a good privilege for God to have spared one’s life to this day. I really thank God for making me to really see this day.
Do you feel your new age?
No, I still feel like I am 16 (general laughter). I feel very good right now. I feel more mature and I feel more experienced in certain things.
What would you say you are grateful to God for turning 42?
Everything. My life as a whole, my family, my children, my friends, my colleagues at work, for giving me breath, good health, giving food to eat every day. It is God all the way.
When would you consider the best moment of your life?
Probably, I will tell you that the beginning of VAPO. But I can tell you that almost every minute is astonishing.
When would you consider the saddest moment of your life?
I take every failure as a challenge. But I feel very sad each time I hear that there are some people out there who don’t have anything to eat every day. Recently, I read that people at the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) in the North East are dying daily because of food.
I wish I could go there and help the needy. I can’t play God but I think I can play my part. I feel very sad seeing people dying because of hunger.
What is VAPO all about?
VAPO is the new rave in town. It is the new travel technology. It automates all travel processing for the African market. It is the Yahoo, the Facebook of travel.
What does it entail?
It is the centralized travel platform that encompasses all the analogue ways that we’ve been processing our travel documentation. In Nigeria and a whole lot of African and Asian countries, there are some steps we need to take before travelling.
One of the first things or steps we have to take before travelling is our visa processing. How do we process that visa, getting necessary and accurate information? How do we have all our documentations in one place? How can we buy our products in one place?
These three questions are what VAPO has brought together in one place. You now have an office management, the visa processing and advising and the market place.
Is it something an ordinary person on the street can key into?
Yes, absolutely. That is why we came out with two products. The first is VAPO which is actually for travel agents, protocol officers and all travel desk managers. The other one which is the retail part of it is called the Haajo, that everybody on the street can key into it once they download it on their phone.
How easy can these two be accessed?
For an ordinary person to get into VAPO, it is www.thevapo.net. Once you get in there, you sign on. To sign up, you only need your email, your password and there you go.
For Haajo, it is more simplified that if you don’t want to use your email or password, you can just sign up with facebook or google or twitter. We’ve actually simplified it to the extent that you feel very comfortable in processing all your travel information in the comfort of your sitting room or office without going through the rigours of going to embassy and all that.
We can tell you that on VAPO or Haajo platform is centralized and every good thing you need are put together, especially in the market place.
Whose job has been made easy, the travel agent or the person travelling?
Both of them. For the travel agent it’s wholesome 100 percent. It has made their job and life easy. I created VAPO based on the problem I was facing and I wanted solution for that problem. When the solution came, I decided that it would be nice if I shared it with other people. That is what I did. I found out that it has made a whole lot of agents’ job and life simple.
It is going to make the life of individual travellers simple as well. For individual travellers, you don’t have to go through the agents, if you want to process your travel. With Haajo, you can do everything by yourself.
How much does it cost to download any of this platform?
VAPO, Haajo are absolutely free. Just download, that’s all. There is no download fee. It’s free. They provide more information than you have ever seen before. It’s first of its kind not only in Nigeria but the world as a whole.
I am challenging you to check it out. It has never been done before. I believe that the reason why it has never been done is because it is a peculiar problem to us. That is why right now we are trying to make sure every individual out there can have access to all information concerning their travel document.
If you say VAPO and Haajo are free, what is your own gain in all of these?
On VAPO and Haajo, we have provided a discounted document to be able to buy all these things at the market place. What are the things you can buy at the market place? All travel related products from hotel to ticket travel insurance, car hire and all that.
So, for everything you purchase on the travel document, you have a transaction of a dollar that you have to pay. Imagine when you are supposed to buy something for N20,000 and you are buying at N15,000, I don’t think paying a dollar will be any serious effect to you.
So, we are thinking on the volume. We are actually counting on volume. Because we know that volume makes the market these days. That is what is in it for us.
Just a year or so back, you were a protocol officer at Lagos House of Assembly. So, when did the idea of VAPO and Haajo come to you?
I was the Principal Special Assistant on Foreign Relations and Protocol of the House of Assembly. Of course, I know that all the people in the House of Assembly will tell you that I was kind of odd. I was like ‘Mama trapped in a fish body. So, it was my decision to leave.
Then I did not have a name for it but I knew my vision. Because I knew technology was the one in the race and it was coming on.
I was looking for what I could do to actually help the masses. People have invented a lot of things. So, what stops us from doing the same. But I don’t want to invent things like Betamat or BHF which are already known to a lot of people.
So, I started thinking about VAPO three years ago when I was still in the House of Assembly but I didn’t have a name for it then. I was then looking for a software that could help me do a whole lot of things. But I couldn’t.
So, I decided to leave (House of Assembly), I told a couple of my friends in the Assembly what I planned to do, they didn’t understand me. But I think by now they do.
Would you say you are happy leaving the house of assembly?
I missed my friends because I like seeing them every single day but I love to work. A lot of them know that I am a workaholic. God ordered my steps and I am happy where I am today but I miss my friends and House of Assembly as a whole.
Are you then saying this is better than working in the House of Assembly?
I am not going to say that because the House of Assembly also has its impact on me. What the House of Assembly taught me is something money can’t buy. Though, I am not a politician, I worked with a whole lot of politicians. I had to apply a lot of diplomacy.
The lesson I learnt in six years (in the House of Assembly), I don’t think any school can teach me. But like I said, where I am now, I am happy with it. Now, I am an employer of labour. I would rather stay here.
How big is VAPO?
VAPO is big, it’s massive. I told you VAPO is going to be like yahoo or facebook of travel. I am so convinced and certain about that because we know where we are going and we know how we are pushing in.
Is VAPO the name of the company or the name of the company’s product?
The name of the company is VAP Officer and the name of the major product of the company is VAPO while the name of the retail product is Haajo.
Where do you hope to see VAPO in the next five years?
I see VAPO as the next facebook. I see VAPO as the next yahoo. I see VAPO as the next google. I know that it will definitely be going to be that way. It’s wholesome to actually create something you know can be used anywhere in the world.
I am too positive about it with the kind of energy that I have and especially with my co-founder who is as crazy as I am in terms of working. The sky is the stepping stone.