Jason Njoku is the pioneering British-Nigerian founder and CEO of iROKO, a multimedia company that provides paid-for, on-demand Nollywood content to audiences worldwide. He spoke of his business experience in this interview culled from ‘How We Made It In Africa’. Excerpts from Vanguard
What’s is the toughest situations you’ve found yourself in as a business owner?
In 2015, it was abundantly clear that we were “losing Africa”. By this I mean that most of Africa could not stream and therefore watch iROKOtv content because our customer base couldn’t afford or didn’t have access to reliable broadband required to watch our content. So, as a company, we had aggregated an incredible and peerless catalogue of Nollywood content – as well as producing our own original TV series and movies – but the majority of our potential audience simply couldn’t access it. No access means no subscriptions. While we started as a diaspora-focused platform, the goal was to grow our audience aggressively in Africa, starting with Nigeria. So I had to take the tough decision of switching off the streaming capability of iROKOtv and rebuilding the product from scratch into a mobile-focused app that allowed for downloads. This was time and resource intensive – we had to hire and train international tech teams, go back to the drawing board in terms of product design and UX, and we also caused some small confusion among our customers, which led to a drop in numbers, at first. It was painful all round, in terms of redirecting resources for the new app, time and energy spent on building and product-testing, and then the difficulties of educating our audience about the app. The pain was short-lived, however, as within a few months, we saw our Africa number soar and mid-last year, we saw Nigeria become our number one subscriber base.
Which business achievement are you most proud of?
There have been a number of milestones that I’m proud of, however, I would say the most recent one was the launch of our linear TV channels: ROK on Sky in the UK and ROK on DStv across Africa. This felt almost like a coming-of-age for the company, moving into TV. For us, a start-up, to be producing enough amazing content to shake-up the linear TV market – and the fact that it was spearheaded by my wife, Mary Njoku – doubled my pride in the achievement. And, importantly, it felt like progress; while I wouldn’t say we have conquered digital content in Africa, we have pioneered it and grown the market considerably. So, to diversify our offering, by moving into a more traditional content-consumption platform felt like a big, bold move – and it was. The feedback we’ve had from viewers has been startling – I think we even surprised ourselves at how this would affect the company. The feedback we get shows that people love our product: be it iROKOtv or ROK, they are proud that it is an African brand that represents them at home and abroad.
Describe your greatest weakness as an entrepreneur.
Stepping away from certain aspects of the business has always been a hard one for me. I built the business from scratch – just me, a computer and three screens in a small room in east London (UK) – so every aspect of the company always feels personal. I’ve had to learn to step away from certain areas of the business, knowing that I can’t do everything. I don’t believe this is an uncommon trait among entrepreneurs.
Which popular entrepreneurial advice do you disagree with?
That you need significant investment to start a company. Almost all of the companies that I have gone on to invest in, already have a business in place where the founders can show traction and growth. This demonstrates that there is a market for what they are trying to build and the founders are serious – they have done everything in their power to make it happen, money or no money.