Jason Njoku | Age: 31 | Founder/CEO, Iroko Partners
Iroko Partners is the world’s largest online distributor of Nigerian films. In an earlier interview with How we made it in Africa, Njoku described the company’s iROKOtv platform as the “Netflix of Africa”. Iroko recently received an US$8 million investment from Tiger Global Management, a New York-based venture capital and private equity fund.
Njoku says the idea for the business was born from the difficulty his family had in finding Nigerian films in London. “Coming from a Nigerian family, I have always had a sense of the power of Nollywood films. I had difficulties when my mother asked me to get her some. Other family members also struggled to get their hands on their favourite films. I soon realised that there was a gap in the market since the films were only available on DVDs, which were quite difficult to find in the West. I bought the online licences for as much Nollywood content as I could and started to distribute them online,” he says.
Njoku’s first job was selling fruit and vegetables at a market in London. “It was cold and I had to get up really early,” he remembers.
These days Njoku’s biggest worry is to keep his team motivated. “I want them all to be engaged with the company and excited about where we are heading. We’ve seen rapid [staff] expansion in the last 12 months, from 18 to almost 100. I spend a lot of time thinking about getting the right people for the team, that they are happy in their roles and that they have a clear vision set in front of them.”
He says his tenacity is the biggest reason for his achievements.
Njoku’s advice to other African entrepreneurs? “Spot an opportunity, make a plan and run with it. I definitely had the right idea, in the right place, at the right time and I knew I could do it. I learnt from my mistakes, but still kept true to my own vision. You need to have that kind of confidence to make these things work. Don’t hang around waiting for things to happen.”
Kamal Budhabhatti | Age: 36 | Founder/CEO, Craft Silicon
Craft Silicon is one of Kenya’s leading software exporters, offering solutions to financial institutions around the world.
Budhabhatti started Craft Silicon after being deported from Kenya. “After I completed my studies I moved to Kenya [from India] and worked for a company in the polythene sector for a while doing data entry. Five months later a friend of mine approached me to write software for a local bank. Of course my boss found out about this and was not very pleased. He had me deported back to India. On my flight all I could think about was the great opportunities in Kenya. I moved back to Kenya and began writing software for banks full time. This eventually gave birth to what Craft Silicon is today,” he explains.
When starting the business, Budhabhatti worked without a salary for six years. “I concentrated on growing the company. We want to continue growing the company so that one day we can hire 10,000 people and sell our software all over the world. Today the company is valued at about $30 million. I am not very happy with that. There is still one zero missing at the end. My vision is that by the year 2020 we will have a valuation of $500 million.”
What parts of his job keep him awake at night? “The market is very competitive and therefore we have to be innovative to remain relevant. This is what I think about a lot, how to stay ahead and innovation is the key to this.”
He believes that Kenya’s tech entrepreneurs should come up with more unique ideas and that the country should stop focusing on the success of the M-Pesa mobile money platform. “I don’t see any unique ideas. I have not seen something that can genuinely be the next big thing. I am just not convinced. M-Pesa was invented five years ago, but everywhere you go, every other technology conference, the only thing we talk about is M-Pesa. We must come up with something new.”
Budhabhatti says that African entrepreneurs should concentrate on delivering high-quality products, and not on becoming overnight millionaires. “They should stay focused and deliver value for money and success will come as a by-product. They should not look at short term goals and ditch the ‘get rich quick’ mentality. To be successful, a long term strategy is inevitable.”
Ladi Delano | Age: 30 | CEO, Bakrie Delano Africa
Ladi Delano reportedly made his first fortune from a liquor company in China. These days the British-Nigerian entrepreneur is the CEO of Bakrie Delano Africa, a joint-venture between Delano and one of Indonesia’s biggest conglomerates, Bakrie Group. The company plans to invest $1 billion in Nigeria over the next five years.
“I have been an entrepreneur in emerging markets, generally south-east Asia and China. During this time, I have been involved in a variety of sectors and also natural resources M&A and structured finance,” says Delano.
So why is he now focusing on Nigeria? “Nigeria is attractive to the Bakrie Group as an investment destination for several reasons. It is experiencing excellent rates of economic growth, approximately 8% per year, which is forecast by a wide cross-section of respected economic commentators to continue over the medium to long term. Indeed, Nigeria is widely predicted to overtake South Africa as the African continent’s largest economy within three to four years. Within the context of this strong overall economic growth, there are individual sub-sectors where rates of growth exceed 8%.”
According to Delano, there is no shortage of entrepreneurial spirit among Nigerians. “We are a nation of businessmen.”
Delano explains that there is a perception among foreign investors that the Nigerian market has political and security risks. However, he says infrastructure is the country’s biggest challenge. “Investors could be hampered by infrastructure not keeping pace with economic growth. That challenge, however, is a function of success and a growing pain, which has been an issue for all rapidly growing and industrialising nations over many decades.”
He attributes his success to hard work and learning from mistakes. “It’s an old saying but the phrase ‘Show me a man who has never failed and I’ll show you a man who has never succeeded’ really resonates with me,” says Delano.
“All entrepreneurs suffer periodic ups and downs and running a successful, profitable business isn’t easy. If it was, everybody would be doing it. But this is Africa’s time and the demand levels within our own continent’s domestic economy needs satisfying. This is a huge opportunity for entrepreneurial, hard working individuals,” he adds.