The customer has never been more important than in today’s digital world. To paraphrase the mighty iPhone’s founder, Steve Jobs, companies must always start with the customer and work their way back to the technology.
This thinking is what made it possible for the iPhone to enter a seriously over-saturated smartphone market to end up on more people’s Christmas wish lists than what Blackberry or Nokia could ever dream of. Whether you’re selling insurance, shoes or holiday timeshare packages, running a successful business means having customers and having customers means putting them first.
African success story poster boy, Jason Njoku, gets this fundamental business truth. The Nigerian entrepreneur built the massively successful iROKOtv on a central focus, and some tough lessons, on customer value.
After a series of failed businesses, Njoku saw a gap in the market for a localised content streaming service a la Netflix. Yet, a copy+paste strategy based on the western world’s favourite streaming company wasn’t going to result in the overwhelming success iROKOtv would become.
In its early days, iROKOtv used YouTube’s Partner Program to buy and distribute licensed content to African viewers dispersed across the world. While initial uptake was impressive, the company soon hit the ceiling in subscription numbers. It failed to capture the local African market as user subscriptions were coming mostly from the African diaspora. This meant the company missed out on reaching hundreds of millions of subscribers to its service.
Njoku and business partner, Bastian Gotter, knew they had to pay close heed to African consumers’ unique challenges and preferences. With African broadband still seriously lagging behind the rest of the world and vast amounts of Africans using mobile devices, iROKOtv had to develop content delivery mechanisms that would satisfy the African market’s appetite, yet contend with the regions unique challenges.
“In 2014, Africa represented only 2% of paying subscribers for iROKOtv. One year later, after taking over distribution and focusing on personalising and localising content, African subscribers grew over 450% year-on-year.”
This led to the company building its own content platform to control how media would be delivered. Njoku then decided to make it possible to download content on low-bandwidth connections, started to produce his own films and series and upped the ante in terms of Nollywood’s (Nollywood is Nigeria’s version of Hollywood and only second to Bollywood in the volume of content it produces) content quality. These moves led to a phenomenal uptake in local African subscriptions as they catered to the local market’s needs and obstacles inherent to it.
The result? iROKOtv has over $40 million in funding from companies such as Goldman Sachs and Tiger Global behind it – the latter also happens to be a big investor in Netflix. Subscriber numbers are in the millions with distribution across 178 countries. Njoku and Batter also founded Rok Studios, a content creation company that’s leading the way in producing high-quality, big-budget Nollywood material catered specifically to the African market.
“Unlocking growth in Africa is our only reality. It’s where the market has always been, hence we begin to distort the product to this reality.” ~ Jason Njoku
Second, to produce personalised and localised content, iROKOtv’s biggest expense is its New York-based engineering team which works on addressing the unique way in which Africans consume content. The company’s priorities seem to align perfectly with Steve Job’s insight that focussing on the customer’s experience and expectations should always be front and centre. Working your way back to the technology that will deliver that expectation and experience should only then be your next undertaking.
With so many companies still happy to merely slap an app at the back of their products and services, the opportunities for truly customer-centric businesses to seize new markets exist. iROKOtv’s assumption that focus on the African diaspora, in lieu of the continent’s 1.1 billion residents, would be a better bet was an important, and fortuitously early lesson learnt. It managed to correct course to become the “Netflix of Africa” and isn’t in any danger of being surpassed by its western rival anytime soon.