iROKO: The home of Nollywood
Hi Jason, could you tell us a bit about yourself?
My name’s Jason Njoku, I’m 35 and the co-founder and CEO of iROKO - the home of Nollywood. I launched the company, in a slightly different guise, in 2010, when I realised that there was no systematic online distribution for Nollywood content, Africa’s most popular form of entertainment. When I realised that Nollywood had no real, genuine presence online, I jumped on a plane from London to Lagos to delve a little deeper, and have been here ever since.
Can you also give us a brief overview of iROKO and its operations?
iROKO has offices in Lagos, London and New York. We have a consumer-facing app, irokotv. We also have recently launched an app, in conjunction with Canal called iroko , which is targeted solely at French Speaking Africa. We also have an extensive distribution arm of the company that distributes content to multi-channel networks such as YouTube, as well as partnerships to supply leading airlines with amazing Nollywood content. We have two TV channels on StarTimes in Africa and we also provide content to broadcasters around the world who are looking to source the best Nigerian movies and TV series. Through Rok-studios, we also co-produce, produce and finance homegrown content, including titles such as Single Ladies and Thy Will Be Done.
I understand that iROKO is one of the Africa’s leading technology companies. How would you describe Africa’s current technology climate?
It’s challenging, to say the very least. Start-up and operation costs in Nigeria especially are expensive, which can prove to be a hindrance for some companies. The sector has also been awash with copy-cat companies who have tried to simply replicate Western businesses in Africa. Most that have attempted this have failed. However, we’re seeing a few breakthrough companies really starting to shine - which is encouraging.
Netflix now has an African arm. How do you compete it?
They’re in the same market as us, for sure, but not necessarily as competition. They operate a totally different business model to iROKO, and their move into Africa has been an interesting one. However, whilst they cater for a broad audience, irokotv is very much the home of Nollywood - we have an unrivalled catalogue, so for the hardcore Nollywood fans, of which there are many millions, irokotv continues to be the first choice. Furthermore, we have built our app to cater for a predominantly African audience - we charge as little as $1.50 a month and we no longer stream content (we’re download only), making it far easier for our viewers to actually watch the content.
In recent years, how have you maintained your position against African-based competitors like DStv?
Again, it isn’t primarily a case of competition - like them, we want to make the most amazing content available to as wide an audience as possible. DStv are huge - their audience reach is seriously impressive and I’ve long been a voyeur of their work. And will no doubt continue to be for the foreseeable future.
Speaking of content, how do you decide what appears on iROKO?
We have an entire team dedicated to watching all the movies on the market and selecting only the best - maybe only even the top 5 percent or so. We’re known for showcasing quality content, so we have to make sure we keep standards high. There is also a list of directors and production houses iROKO works with on a frequent basis, as they continue to produce the films and TV series our viewers love. We also look at the data patterns of our viewers, to help inform our purchasing and commissioning decisions. We’ve had some real showstoppers - TV series like Jenifa’s Diary have been phenomenally popular, as has Husbands of Lagos.
iROKO operates in several countries. How do you conduct up-to-date research on varying audiences?
We spend a lot of time analysing data, but importantly, we never stop speaking to our customers - on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram, we’re always getting feedback. We also have a big customer service team based in Lagos, who speak to iroko customers from around the world, all the time. So we just make sure we never lose touch with our customers, and take their feedback (good and bad) on board.
Can you talk us through iROKO’s funding?
We were approached by Tiger Global back in 2010, after they read an article about our YouTube venture, NollywoodLove. They were impressed by the metrics and the potential growth opportunities of the audience we were building, and after the requisite due diligence and so forth, we closed our Series A round of $3 million. This allowed us to build out our own platform, irokotv, and move off of YouTube. We’ve since had investment from Kinnevik, RISE Capital and Canal, in total $40 million.
How do you obtain and retain your employees?
Like all companies, we seek out great talent - some of which comes our way through our networks, or people approaching us directly, but we also have to go through the usual recruitment processes as well. We have HR teams in London and Lagos who are always on the look-out for top tier talent. In terms of retention, we offer an awesome working environment, scope for personal & professional growth and other benefits. We still have members of the iroko family who’ve been with us since day one.
What is your relationship with movie producers?
We work with some of the industry’s best producers. Their creative output is essential to our business, so we keep good relationships with our producers. We now also produce a lot of our own content as well.
Are there any current iROKO projects that you’re excited about?
Yes - one or two are in the pipeline, but I’m unable to talk about them at the moment. Needless to say 2016 will probably be our biggest year yet.
What are iROKO’s plans for the next five years?
Content production is going to be core to everything we do - we expect to invest in and expand our wholly-owned content library quite considerably. We also want to ‘win Nigeria’ in terms of building out our customer base in the country. Since we’ve shifted to an Android-first, mobile-first, download-only model, we’ve seen our subscriber numbers grow in Nigeria fast. We anticipate faster growth as mobile data costs fall in price over the coming years. We’re working in still a relatively ‘new’ market, so there will be plenty of hurdles and challenges along the way - technology is undoubtedly going to shift in the next five years, so we are building out our engineering team as well, to ensure we are leading the way in this area as well.
5 minutes with... Janthana Kaenprakhamroy, CEO, Tapoly
Founder and CEO of award-winning insurtech firm Tapoly, Janthana Kaenprakhamroy heads up Europe’s first on-demand insurance platform for the gig economy, winning industry awards, innovating in the digital insurance space, and leading with inclusivity.
Here, Business Chief talks to Janthana about her leadership style and skills.
What do you do, in a nutshell?
I’m founder and CEO of Tapoly, a digital MGA providing a full stack of commercial lines insurance specifically for SMEs and freelancers, as well as a SaaS solution to connect insurers with their distribution partners. We build bespoke, end-to-end platforms encompassing the whole customer journey, but can also integrate our APIs within existing systems. We were proud to win Insurance Provider of the Year at the British Small Business Awards 2018 and receive silver in the Insurtech category at the Efma & Accenture Innovation in Insurance Awards 2019.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I try to be as inclusive a leader as possible. I’m committed to creating space for everyone to shine. Many of the roles at Tapoly are performed by women and I speak at industry events to encourage more people to get involved in insurance/insurtech. Similarly, I always try to maintain a growth mindset. I think it’s important to retain values to support learning and development, like reliability, working hard and punctuality.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
Build your network and seek advice. As a leader, you need smart people around you to help you grow your business. It’s not about personally being the best, but being able to find resources and get help where needed.
How do you see leadership changing in a COVID world?
I think the pandemic has proven the importance of inclusive leadership so that everyone feels supported and valued. It’s also shown the importance of being flexible as a leader. We’ve had to remain adaptable to continue delivering high levels of customer service. This flexibility has also been important when supporting employees as everyone has had individual pressures to deal with during this time. Leaders should continue to embed this flexibility within their organisations moving forward.
They say ‘from every crisis comes opportunity’, what opportunities do you see?
The past year has been challenging, but it has also proven the importance of digital transformation in insurance. When working from home was required, it was much harder for insurers to adjust who had not embedded technology within their operating processes because they did not have data stored in the cloud and it caused communication delays with concerned customers at a time when this communication should have been a priority, which ultimately impacts the level of customer satisfaction. This demonstrates the importance of what we are trying to achieve at Tapoly in driving digitalisation in insurance and making communication between insurers and distribution partners seamless.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
Start sooner, don’t be afraid to take (calculated) risks and make sure you raise enough money to get you through the initial seed stage.