“Failure is failure is failure”, Jason Njoku says. If you’re in a startup, this is the last statement you want to hear. However, if you have failed in 10 startups before a current international breakthrough, failure no longer scares you. It rather spurs you on and even challenges you to take greater risks. This is the story of the CEO of IrokoTV who I recently met at MEST Guest Lectures. IrokoTV is the largest distributor of Nigerian, and Ghanaian movies online. In our short interaction, he was able to share his story with me. So meet Jason Njoku, a Nigerian Internet Entrepreneur.
- What moved you to entrepreneurship?
I’m have Igbo blood flowing through my veins, so I think entrepreneurship was always going to be part of what I did. I think I’ve been fired from most jobs I’ve had, so working for myself and building a sustainable company that held my interest was an absolute necessity. And I had no wish to work for ‘the man’. Never. Being an entrepreneur is awesome in every sense – even the challenges I face every day give me a massive buzz and what we’ve been able to grow in iROKO Partners over the last two years is incredible. I knew that I wanted to be an entrepreneur, I knew that it would be to do with media / the Internet but I never knew it would be in the realm of african entertainment. And now I’m here, I’m glad.
- What is your perspective on the tech space in Africa?
It’s a relatively nascent sector, with its challenges, but it’s ultimately seriously exciting. Billions of dollars of value have been assigned to the Internet and tech sectors across the world – Europe, USA, Asia… everywhere but Africa. But the continent is on the cusp of a tech revolution and the opportunities are absolutely boundless. There’s a population running into the hundreds of millions that is desperate to access the Internet and embrace tech as part of their everyday lives. If, as an entrepreneur, you can tap into even the tiniest percentage of potential traffic, you’re on to a winner as the numbers are huge. Today, the company has an international staff of around 100, across four locations (Lagos, London, New York and Johannesburg) and our ambitions to capture the entertainment and tech market in Africa are limitless.
- What does it take to be an Internet entrepreneur?
You’ll work harder and longer than anyone else, you’ll be a risk taker, you’ll make mistakes and, importantly, you’ll learn from them. You need to have the personal drive to keep yourself at your A game, even on the toughest of days, and you need force of personality to keep your team focussed, dedicated and engaged.
- What is your advice for young entrepreneurs seeking to enter the African terrain?
Don’t wait around – the sector is in its infancy but that doesn’t mean it’s not going to move quickly. There are a lot of people out there who are smarter than me, who have an Ivy-league education and who have great ideas to start up a business, but something is holding them back and they are voyeurs rather than entrepreneurs. My advice to young entrepreneurs is this: don’t wait for the day when you’re reading about YOUR idea in the business pages. Do it now. Break free from the shackles that hold you back and start your business today.
- Which is the turning point in your life and what major lesson has it taught you?
My turning point was moving back home with my mum, aged 29 and completely flat broke. I had racked up almost ten failed businesses by that time and, in all honesty, I had failed enough. When the Nollywood idea entered my consciousness, I put 110% of my energy into it and, with the help of my best friend Bastian Gotter, was able to fund it to the tune of £100k. The turning point was reaching the stage where I literally couldn’t fail anymore. So I didn’t.
- Any other reflections
I am the biggest evangelist for doing business in Africa; the continent has given me everything I have today. I go to other places in the world and they seem sterile compared to Africa. However, that doesn’t mean that doing business there is easy. You will work harder and have more challenges to overcome than most other places in the world. Once you accept this and embrace it, you will have an incredible time.
That was an interview with Jason Njoku, CEO iROKOtv.
For more on Jason’s stories, you should watch a great TEDTalk he gave last December on “Failing All The Way To Success”. He really gives an insight into entrepreneurship, and the role failure plays in making him a successful entrepreneur. Jason also keeps a blog where he shares his stories and experiences, which is a good read. Till then, be inspired and don’t be afraid to fail.