Monday, 17 June 2013

True entrepreneurs invest every part of them into building a company - Njoku, CEO iROKOtv

Jason Njoku
Last year, Jason Njoku, CEO of iROKOtv, an internet based business raised $8 million in venture capital from Tiger Global Management. Barely three months after, it closed on a $2 million round of funding from Swedish-based Kinnevik, with the aim of using the new investment from Kinnevik to grow iROKO Partners’ operations in New York, London and Lagos, as well as to purchase more content for iROKOtv, which launched three years ago. In this interview with RUTH OLUROUNBI, Njoku , who was on Forbes’ list of 10 young African millionaires to watch, reveals the process that led him up to this point.

How does it feel being on Forbes’ list of 10 young African millionaires to watch?
It’s a huge compliment, naturally, and I’m flattered to be recognised among other young high achievers, but my first priority each and every day is to build an awesome business. This is where 100 per cent of my time goes – accolades and lists are a welcome addition but I don’t dwell on them too much.

For the sakes of those who don’t know, what does iROKOtv do? - streams Nollywood (Nigerian Hollywood) movies online. We have over 5,000 Nollywood movies in our catalogue and absolutely anyone with internet connection can access the majority of movies for free. You just have to visit the site and click on a movie and it starts playing. For those who are Nollywood fanatics and want the brand new movies as soon as they’re available, then we have iROKOtv PLUS, a subscription service where for only $5 a month, they can access all the latest movies. We have almost one million unique views each month, with people watching iROKOtv from 178 countries around the world.

How did you come about internet entrepreneurship?
The internet space has always fascinated me – it has totally revolutionised how people go about their lives and is one of the world’s biggest influencers. It is home to literally everything and has created thousands of dotcom millionaires – except in Africa, where it is only just gathering pace. It was a space I knew I wanted to be a part of. I tried several times to succeed in the internet business in the West, but failed. However, when my interest was piqued by the internet scene in Africa, or the lack of it when I first started out back in 2010, I felt that there were some really massive opportunities for me.

It has been said that something always does push entrepreneurs into being what they are. What pushed you into becoming an entrepreneur?
I’m an Igbo man and we’re pre-wired to be entrepreneurs. And, to be perfectly frank, I never saw myself as working for anyone else. I’ve been fired from most other jobs I’ve ever had and I don’t see myself ever being in the position where I have to work with someone else.

Earlier this year, Iroko TV raised $8 million in venture capital from Tiger Global Management, a New York-based private equity and hedge fund run by billionaire Chase Coleman. How did you achieve this?
It was actually in 2012, not this year. We had been featured in an article by Sarah Lacy of TechCrunch – this caught the attention of US-based hedge fund, Tiger Global (early investors in Facebook), who decided to start a conversation with us. They were impressed with what we were doing, our ambition and, importantly, the sheer volume of traffic that our sites were seeing. The conversation progressed super-fast and led to them leading two funding rounds totaling $8m. Our investment story is not like others’ – we didn’t pitch, we didn’t have a 50,000 word business plan.

We had a unique idea, a captive $8 million is a lot of money. What exactly have you done with it?
We invested it into the company, acquiring new content (we’ve spent over $5million on Nollywood movie licenses alone) as well as building out the company and opening offices in London, New York and Johannesburg.

How have you been able to keep your business running?
I never stop working. It’s a commitment that has taken over every aspect of my life. But, that’s what’s required if you want your business to be a success. As well as Bastian and my wife Mary leading the company, I also have an incredible exec team based in London, Lagos, New York and Johannesburg; these guys are forging ahead, getting the word of iROKO out there and making the big deals happen. That being said, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, I am acutely aware of the fact that myself, Bastian and Mary are ultimately responsible for the entire company and this is why we can never stop working or take our eye off the ball.

How do you guarantee profitability in your businesses?
We look at a number of ways of monetising our business. At first, we started out on a 100 per cent advertising revenue model. This was profitable for us, but we knew that it would be unwise to rely on just one means of generating income, so in 2012, we launched our subscription service, iROKOtv PLUS, where for $5 a month, our Nollywood fans can be the first to get early access to all the brand new Nollywood movies. At the moment, we upload three new movies every single week, which has proved to be popular with our audience and PLUS now makes up a significant, and growing, segment of the company’s revenue generation.

What do you suppose is the secret behind successful entrepreneurs?
Never, ever stopping. I am always totally engaged with my work and my business. I’m fortunate that my best friend, business partner and co-founder, Bastian Gotter, has the same mentality and work ethic, so between us, we can put in a lot of man-hours every week.

Before you started your serial entrepreneurship, where did you work or you started right out of university?
Straight out of University, I had a student magazine in Manchester called ‘Brash’.
It was very popular with students but at the time, I couldn’t figure out how to make enough money to pay the staff or the printing and distribution costs, so, sadly, it closed down. It was a big set-back for me as it was my first big venture into the world of business and I failed massively in front of my friends and peers. I can’t sugar-coat it, the whole experience was utterly horrible. However, it taught me many important lessons and even though the failure was tough to take, I still knew that I wanted to be my own boss and build my own business.

For the “someday entrepreneurs” out there, how does one identify entrepreneurial gaps out there and how does one make sure that the market is right for one’s ideas?
If your idea can make money, then that’s a smart place to start. I didn’t know how big iROKOtv was going to be – but because there was a gap in the market for bringing Nollywood online to a predominantly Diaspora audience – no-one else was doing it in any smart or effective way – I knew I was in with a chance of making something happen. I didn’t know that it would become as big as it has become. The idea on its own wasn’t enough though. I worked solidly day in, day out and gave up all the things my peers had such as a disposable income, girlfriends, holidays, new clothes etc. I invested every part of me into building a company and that is what I think true entrepreneurs are willing to do.

Tell me about yourself. What makes you human?
Most people who really know me would probably say that I don’t function like most other human beings. I work harder and more intensely than anyone else I know. I have no real interest in material goods (other than my love of Range Rovers – they are my weakness). Growing up, I watched my mother work every hour to make sure she looked after my brothers and sisters; she did this entirely on her own and I’m convinced that this is where I got my work ethic from. Nothing really phases me and I don’t let the small things get me down; I’m a ‘bigger picture’ guy. My dream is to be one of Africa’s leading Internet entrepreneurs and I won’t stop until I have achieved this. I’m very fortunate in that my best friend is my business partner and my wife is also a critical part of the company; together, we have put every ounce of our energies into this company and the three of us make a very impressive unit. I don’t have a crazy social life per se – I wind down by going to the cinema a lot with my wife and I try and keep up with football, but other than that, my dreams and aspirations are completely intertwined with my business.

It is very likely that iROKO wasn’t your first and successful business. You must have experienced some failures. How did you handle them?
I experienced nothing but failures in the years preceding the launch of iROKO and whilst it was tough – brutally tough – I survived it and it makes any success that come my way now even sweeter. Many of my peers would not be as open in discussing past failures, but, failure is failure. Once you’ve dealt with it and moved on, unless you’re really not that smart, you’ll learn your lessons the hard way and incorporate them into your next venture.

Did you ever think of giving up?
No. I am the hardest working, most belligerent person you will ever meet and whilst I’ve had to accept failures in my life, giving up has never been an option.

What motivates you every day?
My business, being at the stage it is right now, keeps me motivated and focused. I always wanted to build a company; something sustainable, but after years of business failures, I guess I wasn’t sure if this was still in my reach. The fact of the matter is that it is, and now, with the iROKO maturing as it is, I’m even more motivated to keep it firing on all cylinders.

Source: Nigerian Tribune

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