Jason Njoku has been busy. The Nigerian Internet entrepreneur just completed what is being called possibly the largest fundraising round in the West African tech world. Njoku, founder of Iroko Partners, recently landed $8 million from NY-based Tiger Global Management. Iroko Partners is the world’s largest digital distributor of Nigerian movies and African music. It is also the holding company behind the successful NollywoodLove. Njoku’s latest venture is iROKING, an African music streaming service.
Njoku makes the landmark deal sound almost like slicing a piece of cake. “Funnily enough, we’ve never had a business plan in the traditional sense. To date, I have never had to pitch to any VCs. I haven’t even been involved in fundraising,” says Njoku. An article about Njoku and the company actually led to the financing. “After (the article was published)…we were inundated with funding inquiries and offers. All inbound,” he says. “Tiger Global Management, a $9-billion, NYC- based venture and private equity fund, led the round; they believed in our vision. A very simple vision: bringing Nigerian entertainment online. They checked the facts and figures, saw an opportunity to get in early on an African tech revolution and that was that. We are the first media company who has a legitimate shot at aggregating the African Diaspora audience.”
Though easy enough, the negotiations weren’t overnight. “In total, it took around 2-3 months. We met the guys at Tiger Global, it was mainly a series of conversations around what our big idea was and what Tiger Global felt we needed in funding to get there. We then went through a rigorous due diligence processes – the requisite bureaucracy - and closed the funding,” says Njoku.
Business has been nonstop. “Q1 2012 has been a crazy year for us – the $8M investment from Tiger Global, the launch of iROKOtv (December 2011 to be exact), launching a new office in London and New York as part of our ever-expanding business development team,” says Njoku. “So we’re carrying on with our awesomeness, building the narrative, and a strong global team. The iROKO growth story is only beginning. All metrics are pointing upwards: revenue, unique viewers, hours watched, etc. We are humbled by the amazing response iROKOtv.com has had. We just hope to build ten times on that.”
Not bad for a company that was launched almost by happenstance. “My mum, based in London at the time, asked me to get her some new Nollywood films – I couldn’t find any,” recalls Njoku on the impetus that launched Iroko Partners. “A couple of aunties and other family members also mentioned that they had trouble getting hold of films. At the time I was running a flailing media business, so I started doing my research into how Africans in the Diaspora were accessing Nollywood and the answer, simply, was that they weren’t, at least legally. The more I explored the more excited I got about the simple idea of attempting to solve the global distribution issues around the industry.”
Once Iroko Partners was established, Njoku decided to expand, launching iROKOtv. “Nollywood is idiosyncratic, from the 1-6 part movies, to the robust star system. We felt that Nollywood needed its own super-premium place online,” says Njoku. “Something for all viewers to be proud of. A beautiful website. If my family wanted to get their hands on Nollywood films, thousands of other families will have been in the same boat. Globally, the demand was there – we had the zeal, expertise and technical abilities. We had an ever-growing catalogue of films at our disposal and the time was right to bring iROKOtv to the world.”
Again, his instincts proved right. IROKOtv has been an instant success. “December 2011 saw us launch our own platform, iROKOtv, to show Nollywood films. The feedback was immense and the facts and figures speak for themselves. People loved what we were doing. I mean really loved what we were doing,” reveals Njoku. “In the first quarter of 2012 we delivered 3.4 million gigabytes and 4.19 million hours of videos watched. They loved the brand, the feel of the site, the fact that it was amazingly designed and extremely easy to use. They liked the fact that they could interact with us through the site, on Facebook, on Twitter – they love the fact that there’s a real community building around that.”
The positive feedback has spanned yet another new addition. “We’re also developing some awesome Apps for iOS and Android, making it even easier for people around the world, and especially in Africa, to access our content,” says Njoku. “We’re also continuing to purchase content – we’re nothing without content. Last week we reached the content milestone of over 4,800 English, Igbo, Yoruba and Ghanaian films in our library, which makes iROKO easily the largest licensee of Nollywood movies and helps us to connect viewers with an unrivaled number of films to enjoy. We are trying to scale arguably one of the most exciting companies to emerge from Nigeria in a long time.”
Njoku is also making room for a new venture, iROKING. “If iROKOtv is the ‘Netflix’ of Africa, iROKING is the African ‘Spotify’. We built the platform towards the end of last year and now we’re working with some of Nigeria’s best artists. We wanted to build a business around Nigerian music, which had previously been poorly distributed and monetized online. We have committed close to a $1Mn for 2012/13 licensing content and super distributing across ALL platforms,” he explains. “ iROKING is super early but we feel we can bring fans and musicians closer to each other and help build a money-making base for the industry. We have launched a website iROKING.com | Android app | iPhone and iPad app | Windows 7 app, and expect to push live the Nokia and Blackberry apps over the next few weeks and months. iROKING is Nigerian music. Anytime, Anywhere.”
Most people would get tired just reading about Njoku’s various endeavors, but he’s just getting started. “I just love waking up in the morning lucky enough to control my time and work with awesome people on awesome brands,” he says. “We want to become the first African media company to really aggregate the Diaspora market. That's the simple (not so much) goal we're chasing.”