“A man can fail many times, but he isn’t a failure until he begins to blame somebody else.” - John Burroughs
Nigerians are terrible at embracing failure. There is always an existential explanation. There are always mitigating circumstances. Being the spiritual society we are, the excuses are usually grounded in some religious context. God’s will. The devil’s work. The Government. But failure is actually a super healthy part of the startup ecosystem. The more attempts and failures teams take the more battle-hardened they will be for the eventual climb to success. I have the utmost respect for frustration, failure and the unyielding will to succeed. I believe entrepreneurs are forged in fire. Its one of the most redeeming features I look for in founders. I failed 10 times over 5 years before discovering something which worked.
Allocating blame is easy. Accepting failure is something completely different. The more highly educated or successful your supposed peers are, the more exponentially difficult this act becomes. Nigerians can pretend there are ways out of anything. The smarter ones even better. As difficult as an act may be, honesty in our failures are good things. The wider discussion around this is important because everyone fails. iROKO has been a tale of a thousand failures. A thousand mistakes. But we have had a thousand and one small success’. And fortunate enough to have patient investors who are willing to be super-doopa supportive. Even after $13M raised and pre our last $8M round, we still made relatively costly mistakes. All of which are ultimately my fault, my responsibility. Examples
* Lost ~$90,000 on sponsoring the cancelled Tuface USA tour. Literally $90,000 disappeared. Poof. It was like magic.
* Spent the best part of 9 months in 2012 trying to acquire or launch a linear channel on either DISH, SKY, CANAL+ or StarTimes PayTV networks. The market development time alone cost something like $150,000. Probably could have made 2-3 phone calls to existing industry players to determine the viability. Who says independent analysis isn’t expensive.
* Our DVD adventure in 2013 was a fine balance of over-ambition and poor execution. Tried to replicate what Alaba had managed in 20 years in a mere 6 months across 4 cities (London, JoBurg, NY and Lagos). Failed. Miserably, now I have a renewed respect for distribution chops of the Alaba boys. We will have to disrupt those boys another way. It cost us something like $250,000 at least before we came to our senses.
Who says too much money doesn’t create its own set of problems? Above is almost $500,000 of wasted activities. That’s just over the last few years. Please note that none of which is related to our core business of streaming video online. I personally know of big mistakes of the other internet startups in Nigeria, this is super common to ALL startups, don’t care how much of an execution guru you think you are. Everyone fails. Especially the truly successful. But I think the most important skill is to own the failure and more importantly learn the lessons. One hopes to institutionalize it across the organisation. All said and done, I hope to still retain the ability to continue making mistakes because honestly that’s how one can disrupt stuff. Truly. Realigning industries and boiling oceans takes stupidity and gutso.
In 2014 and beyond, iROKO is now fully focusing on growing our subscription base and improving areas we have succeeded in to date. We are zoning in on the one or two drivers which will help us become a $100M revenue generating company by 2020 (I will bore the hell out of folk as I continually repeat that number). I doubt it would be possible without a healthy appreciation and culture of embracing and learning from mistakes. So there you go. Embrace. Honesty is good for the soul.
It’s more like what famed screenwriter William Goldman once said of Hollywood: “Nobody knows anything.” I’ve argued before that Silicon Valley is more like Hollywood than people realize — VCs as producers, founders as directors, most everyone desperate for blockbuster hits — and the Valley today is like the Hollywood that Goldman was talking about, the Hollywood of the 1970s, when nobody knew what might become a hit and so an anarchic wave of auteurs flooded the scene, Spielberg and Lucas and Coppola and Easy Rider and even, God help us, Zardoz, because producers were throwing money at everything, because nobody knew anything. - from Techcrunch
So my son is now 6.5 months old. He is easily my greatest work. My family beyond ALL the success in business remains the most important thing I have achieved. Only those from a ‘broken’ home can truly understand that. A happy family is the ultimate sign of success. To be honest I haven’t really started truly understanding what it is to be a father. Currently I’am just muddling through.
I haven’t met my father before. Ever. So its all on the job training.
So as you can imagine I was surprised that after 33.2 years my own father decided it was time to reach out. Time to have a chat. Time to connect.
Success has many fathers. Failure has none.
Folk say I talk too much. Lets start with sharing some numbers. We are quietly building out the new version of iROKING which will soon become apparent in the next few weeks and months. I am a massive fan of owned and operated platforms. iROKOtv was my first attempt. iROKING 3.0 will be my next. No marketing, no hype, nothing just the most awesome music based platform in Nigeria. Above is what we have achieved so far. New logo for the new rebranding is below.
We have spent close to $0 on marketing this platform since we launched in October 2012 and only in the last few weeks decided to start attempting to monetize it. With 1.1M uniques, 62%of which are local to Nigeria.
Are we dead? No so much. Not even close. We will be a significant part of the technology ecosystem in Nigeria to come for a very long time. Our $20k ($10k of which will be prize money) sponsorship of TechCabal Battlefield is indicative of how we believe improved technical talent will improve the entire ecosystem in Nigeria. Directly and indirectly. In 2014 we are creating the building blocks required to drive us from 1.1M today to 10M uniques in the next 5years.
Netflix opened for business on April 14, 1998, with 30 employees and 925 titles for rent, which comprised nearly the entire catalogue of DVDs in print. In for fiscal 1999 the company reported losses of $29.8 million on revenues of only $5 million. Below is Netflix’s subscriber growth. After 5 years they had 860k subscribers having invested almost $200M. The internet was significantly smaller then but it was still significantly larger than any prediction of Nigeria has today. Where the highest estimate I have heard is 55M, most of which are narrowband mobile internet and definitely not broadband.
Broadband Usage in the US 2003
Nielsen//NetRatings, the global standard for Internet audience measurement and analysis, reports that in 2003 the United States had 39 million, or 13 percent of Americans, connecting via broadband in the U.S. Broadband users at-home grew 49 percent year-over-year, while narrowband users declined 12 percent during May 2003 (see Table 1).
Despite higher growth rates for broadband, there were nearly twice as many narrowband users as broadband users in the U.S. Narrowband users then outweighed broadband users with 69.6 million users.
Time and the art of the Start
Whenever you think about starting a company it should never be on a time horizon less than 5-10 years. If you measure in months you will fail. You will certainly mis-time your market entry. It will certainly take more time than you ever imagined gaining traction and your first customers. You will certainly spend your early years lurching from one mistake to another mistake. Thats why Startups need to move fast. Breaking everything in their wake. Themselves included. The mis-timing of a market itself could kill you faster than any competitor. The market forces against an ill timed startup are usually insurmountable without a super human amount of tenacity and boat loads of cash. You need significantly more of both than you ever imagined to win. When Nazar from Tiger Global first lead our $3M series A round. Bastian and I thought we had made it. Retirement was round the corner. We had spent $250,000 to get to that point, the $3M was beyond our wildest dreams. Nazar told us the $3M would last 6 months if we wanted to seized the market. We laughed. Out loud. We grabbed the market and spent the money within 5months. We were astonished. Even at $21M ($8M still untouched) raised our investors feel we are super early to Nigeria and Africa and will need significantly more to grab the market. To get to 1M subscribers. I hope we don’t have to spend $100M to get there but we are ready for any eventuality. Winning is winning is winning.
My first internet startup was in 2005 – inollywood.com which sought to distribute Nigerian movies over the internet. It failed for a number of reasons – probably most notably because of my inability to, at the time, accurately read the local context in terms of broadband availability, licensing and securing movies rights, billing, etc. We got as far as licensing a valuable catalogue of content from NTA including New Masquerade, Village Headmaster, Samanja and other Nigerian classics. This classic content, interestingly, did quite well but, at the end, the timing was not right. I certainly hope my sense of timing has improved since then - Sim Shagaya in 2010
This was an interview Sim conducted in 2010 around the same time I was trying to figure out online streaming and launch [NollywoodLove on YouTube]. Sim is no fool. In fact he is arguably one of the best young entrepreneurs in Africa. Not online or in Nigeria. Africa. But the timing killed him. In the end it didn’t matter. Sim Shagaya went on to successfully found E-Motion, DealDey and Konga. Kong alone has raised ~$40M. And is doing an awesome job competing with the significantly better funded competitor. Arguably building one of the largest internet companies in Nigeria.
I think its important to start a company earlier rather than later. I always counsel founders to just start and figure it out as you go along. But its a question of tenacity and luck to ensure your slightly early startup doesn’t die before it bears fruit. You need to always focus on the longer term as you solve / put out day to day fires. Netflix started mad early. Some would say way too early. In 1998 online streaming was nigh impossible and DVD’s were an uncertain yet fast emerging new technology. Netflix rode that wave. The monster wave of disruption. But it still took hundreds of millions of dollars and 5 years to reach 1M subscribers in Feb 2003. It took a further 6years, a few billion dollars to get to 10M subscribers in 2009 and launch the streaming business we all know today.
Netflix has 44M subscribers globally, adding 6.2M subscribers alone in 2013, with $4.4B in revenue and a $26B market cap. They started too early and have been around almost 16 years trying to bring entertainment efficiently to the homes of viewers across the world. Their chief rival is HBO with 130M subscribers. I can’t wait to see where we all will be in the next 15 years.
But it all starts with you starting.