by Our Editors
Jason Chukwuma Njoku, 33, is chief executive and co-founder of iROKO Partners, an online start up that has revolutionised the availability and distribution of African media content. He is young, big, bold, brash and in his own words, “an asshole.”
He is also the Y!/YNaija Person of the Year 2013.
It is simple really: No one has captured the imagination of young (and many older) Nigerians the way this University of Manchester graduate has.
The outlines of the story are now firmly etched: iROKO partners was founded after Njoku had dabbled in scores of unsuccessful businesses started in his bedroom in London with money loaned from his friend, and in a space of three years has become the most talked about internet business this side of Africa.
It was at the nadir of his life, when he moved back in with his mother, penniless after his string of failed enterprises that he picked up on her love for Nollywood films. He also noticed his mother’s difficulty in getting these films and decided to do something about it. He soon boarded a flight to Lagos and entered the trenches, directly engaging the producers and copyright owners, paying money for their catalogue. Two and a half years later, and Njoku’s company has amassed the largest collection of African content online with well over 5,000 titles in the kitty. And, with high profile mentions in Forbes, Financial Times, CNN and the Wall Street Journal, iROKO Partners has been able to attract investors and seed money like no other start up.
Criticised across the technology eco-system for pomp and bluster – and those who do so do not exaggerate – Njoku (and iROKO) is that rare individual that deserves all the praise. He has proven that much is indeed possible in Nigeria, by Nigerians – in spite of Nigeria.
Stories like these read easy on paper but it is pertinent not to forget or overlook the grit and tenacity, the wheeling and dealing that has gone into creating his success story. A story that is still far from finished. With his entrance into the online space, Njoku in many ways pioneered the online Nollywood market and with his success, has created a whole new sub specie of industry for interested participants to dabble into, showing them exactly how it is done.
iROKOtv has built peerless library of content has been dubbed the Netflix of African movies reaching 178 countries with about 1million unique visitors a month. Despite the seemingly grudging resistance to accept his influence at home, he continues to fly the Nigerian flag by sheer willpower, just by doing what he does.
Apparently, he does it excellently. Because, this month, iROKO managed the unthinkable, and successfully raised $8million in venture capital from a group of international investors led by American hedge fund and Facebook investor, Tiger Global. This unprecedented feat – even for start ups across the world – brings iROKO’s tally to about $21million raised in two years of doing business, making it one of the most heavily funded businesses in all of Africa.
Then there is the matter of the music arm of the company, iROKING. Pronounced dead in the water prematurely after a public battle with its erstwhile leader, Jason Njoku finally had to re-take charge. While still an unprofitable venture, when compared to its elder iROKOtv, it speaks to the stubbornness of his vision, and why investors choose to take risks on people more than the particular idea.
With an average monthly unique visitor-ship of about 5million (according to Njoku), iROKING stands a fighting chance of eclipsing revenue figures generated by the movies arm. Music industry piracy issues will have to be tackled head on and it will be excruciating work, but if anyone has done so, Njoku has proven time and time again that he is unafraid to put his money where his mouth is.
He did this in spectacular fashion in May, when – with his business partner Bastian Gotter and wife Mary Remmy Njoku – he launched SPARK, an exciting new business initiative dedicated to building and grooming profitable internet start ups in Nigeria. After a $10million valuation in 3months of existence, Sparks was able to raise $2million in investment from Lagos to London. This money will be ploughed into expanding the company – which currently has 9 start ups under its wings, employing about 130 staff – and providing seed money for its babies.
Impressively, Njoku – unlike many Nigerian businessmen – is unafraid to tell his story, sharing as much as he can about the innards of running a successful internet company at a time when many young start-ups desperately need to learn from the experience of those before them.
Of course, blog posts tend to gloss over the dirt, and for all we know, Njoku may be bleeding money. Still, as businesses like iROKO and those in SPARK typically need an average of five years before profitability, it is enough for now that Njoku is crashing ceilings, breaking boundaries and moving mountains.
Whether his businesses fail or succeed, whether or not Njoku eventually becomes the kind of business leader he already fancies himself to be, he would have already won. Because he dared. And to dare is the hardest part.
For creating a globally respected business from scratch, for continuously innovating, setting standards for others to follow, for building a generation of young business people that might just change Nigeria; and for inspiring a whole new generation to believe in themselves and their dreams, we are proud to announce Jason Njoku as the Y!/YNaija Person of the Year 2013.