How iRokoTv started – the story of how Jason Njoku changed the face of Nollywood and made it one of the most popular movie industry in the world.
For decades, we all thought only Africans had a thirst and appetite for Nollywood movies. How wrong we were! The largest chunk of traffic to iRokoTV today comes from the USA, UK, India, the Caribbean and ‘down under’ Australia! Though many people within and outside the shores of Nigeria today enjoy watching Nollywood movies online, not as many know who is behind the idea. Not Many have an idea of how that became a possibility – talikng about how iRokoTV started. In fact, you may be surprised to know what led to having Nigerian movies online. And I promise you will be inspired to know how Jason Njoku turned into a billionaire through that “little” concept. So today I will share with you the story of how iRokoTV started. If you are an emerging entrepreneur, the story of how iRokoTV started is one that you will learn a lot from.
How iRokoTV Started – The Meeting of Like Minds
The iROKOtv website was launched on December 1, 2011 by iROKO Partners. iRoko Partners are the largest licensors and distributors of Nollywood movies anywhere in the world. Jason Njoku, the company’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Bastian Gotter, now Chief Operating Officer (COO), met whilst students together at the University of Manchester. The two struck an understanding that led to the establishment of iROKO Partners in 2010 after they met at Manchester.
Jason had made several attempts to set up his own companies in the immediate years after university, but failed on each attempt. But he is not the type of person to give up so easily. He continued to work on several ventures that are of interest to him, sometimes for fun.
Frequently Asked Questions
Jason Njoku and Bastian Gotter are the co-founders of IrokoTV
Though iRokoTV was first launched as a Youtube Streaming platform in 2010. But it was in December 2011 that Jason Njoku and his co-founder Bastian Gotter combined to launch it in its present format.
Jason Njoku is from Imo State, South East Nigeria, precisely from Mbaise.
Jason was born and raised in Deptford, South-East London
Jason Njoku was born on December 11, 1980. As at today he is 41 years old.
Jason Njoku was 31 years old when he launched iRokoTV in 2011
iRokoTV makes money from selling advert placement on their website and also through a subscription based service for their premium movies.
He left the company in 2017
Bastian Gotter is a German national with a great passion for building startups in Africa. He is the co-founder of iRokoTv. He also founder Spark and Bamba.
How iRokoTV Started – Spotting The Gap
His inspiration to do something about the Nollywood industry came when in 2011 he needed to get some Nollywood movies online for his mother, who he was living with at the time. Unfortunately he could not found Nollywood movies online. To him that was weird. So in order to watch Nigerian movie he must find a shop that sales those CDs. To him, it was an error of the highest order, but more importantly a gap. And that gap could also been an opportunity.
How iRokoTV Started – Filling The Gap
He immediately went into a thorough research of the industry as to the method of distribution of Nollywood movies to the international communities. His findings showed a complete lack of infrastructure in place for international distribution of the movies. He felt it ought not to be so and something had to be done about it. Though we have all known of several Nigerians in Diaspora who would request for copies of Nollywood movies and it will be packed in the compact disc and sent to them. In fact, if you are a football lover I am sure you will immediately remember ex-Super Eagles star, John Utaka when he was in France. But for Jason, that was not an option. As far as he was concerned, that method was not very effective. So he thought there must be a better way of doing it in the 21st century.
FYI: John Utaka is a former Super Eagles attacker who while playing his professional football for Rennes FC in France, usually request for the latest Nigerian movies to be sent from Nigeria to France for his relaxation during his spare moments.
Successful Entrepreneurs are Action Takers
What did Jason do with respect to this? He had to enter the next available flight to Lagos. And immediately he got to Lagos he started negotiating with most producers in the industry on the possibility of purchasing licenses to place their movies online. Though it is an idea that never occurred to those producers, Jason’s explanation was so strong that it immediately made sense to them.
Since no one had seriously considered and taken on the internet as a reasonable channel for distribution, it was relatively easy and cheap for Jason to acquire online license rights from producers and marketers to distribute these star-studded movies. He actually started with a couple of full-length movies which did very well and paid off handsomely. Knowing he was on to something really big, he bought more movie rights and gradually built an impressive catalogue of in-demand Nollywood movies. So this means he never had any problem about the cost of buying the licenses. In fact, he had exclusive rights of some of them directly from the producers.
The Certainty of the iRokoTV Idea
Jason was so sure people including non-Nigerians enjoy Nollywood movie but just could not find a way of viewing it. Nollywood was already popular at that time and was the world’s second largest movie industry in terms of output. It was making roughly 40 movies per week, at an average cost of $40,000 per project. It is a global, cultural phenomenon, adored by millions in Nigeria, in Africa and across the world. iRokoTV serves an audience thirsty for love, drama, intrigue, comedy, redemption, action and more. The end product is unique: African stories, by African people, for Africans. So tell me why this cannot have a wider and more structured market? He reasoned.
When he returned to Manchester he negotiated with YouTube in Germany. He used that platform to stream the licensed Nollywood movies for free on a channel he had earlier created-Nollywoodlove. It was the first major internet channel to offer full-length Nollywood movies. In less than a year, the channel attracted more than one million views from over 200 countries around the world. That was massive for a newly launched channel by an individual. With just a simple idea, a few hundred dollars, and a free internet platform, this young and near-broke Nigerian put original African content on the global map.
How iRokoTV Started – Attracting international attention
Following this spectacular success with Nollywoodlove, a New York-based private equity firm; Tiger Global Management which shared Jason’s vision for digitization of African content made a two-round investment totaling $8 million in the company. That investment was one of the biggest single investment into a West African Dot-com venture. With this strong backing, iROKOtv was launched as a standalone and independent African movie-streaming website. It went further to attract more than half a million views in only three months! In July 2012, the business got an additional investment of $2m under a Swedish hedge fund-backed arrangement. These were all testimonies to how popular the site had become.
Though Jason started out by offering his movies for free, at which point all a viewer had to do was complete a quick registration and that will be it. You could watch a full-length African movie from anywhere in the world for no charge. This strategy paid off because as at May 2013, Iroko TV experienced over 10 million views from 500,000 unique subscribers from nearly everywhere on planet earth. But that number will not make much sense if it does not in one way or the other translate to money. And this is something Jason did in the most amazing way possible.
How iRokoTV Started – Monetizing The Contents
Because of the huge traffic on the site, companies, including multinationals were naturally approaching Jason for advert placement on the site. With terms and conditions agreed, Jason would bill them, place the advert and literally go to bed while the money kept flowing into his bank account. iROKOtv continued to operate a freemium business model where users accessed Nollywood movies. But later in 2012, as subscription grew Jason launched a new service called iROKOtv PLUS through Nollywood stars and iROKOTV brand ambassadors; Funke Akindele and Tonto Dikeh. Under this service, subscribers are required to access and view 95% of the movies available on the site free of charge and pay only $5 a month for the remaining 5%. Those remaining 5% are usually hot and latest releases of the year.
FYI: Freemium is a business model in which a company offers the basic part of her service for free and then charges a feature on some advanced or premium features. Freemium has become a very popular revenue model for most online businesses seeking a strategy to draw the audience closer.
Within two short years, the channel became hugely popular and profitable that it got the attention of the international press and has been featured on Forbes, CNN, CNBC, BET and Techcrunch. In 2012, Jason was voted by Black Enterprise Magazine as one of London’s top black men of power. And he went ahead to launch several other platforms including IRoking, a platform focused on providing African music to the world via the internet.
How iRokoTV Started – Expanding globally
In an attempt to distribute Nollywood films to a global audience he has attracted viewers from all parts of the world with the company’s audience predominantly in the Diaspora. In fact, the top five countries recording frequent visits to the sites includes the US, UK, Canada, Germany and Italy. And this led to the establishment of offices in Lagos, Johannesburg, London and New York. But its head office still in Lagos.
Giving back to the society
It will be so difficult for Jason on the aircraft from United Kingdom to Lagos in 2011 to have imagined that the result of that single trip would have made him so popular and brought him to international prominence he revels in today. However, that is not to say that all this happened by accident. No. Far from it. it was a result of having an entrepreneurship heart. It is the result of firm commitment to the goal and working hard even when there are no immediate benefits.
But having come this far, Jason decided to give something back to the society back in Nigeria. And In May 2013, he and Bastian, founded SPARK, a one million dollar angel investment outfit based in Lagos. SPARK is purely for funding and helping young tech and internet startups. The firm has already provided seed capital to more than fifteen startup companies. The company has invested and and made success of Hotels.ng and tolet.com.ng. Other companies in its portfolio include online fashion and drug stores, an online social-based borrowing service and a photo stock website.
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Where are they now?
There is a report that iROKOtv makes monthly revenue of over one million dollars. This revenue comes from both paid subscription and advert placement. And it continues to record more visitors with each passing day. Yet there seems to have been one or two other individuals or companies that have decided to give Jason a run for his money by venturing as competitors. However, for Jason, these are welcome developments as they will only help him to be on his toes and maintain his standards.
Jason remains the Group CEO of iROKO Group. But in 2015, the company made a great move in a bid to crystallize its distribution and licensing business for Nollywood contents by hiring Justine Powell as Senior Vice President, Distribution. Powell joins the company with 20 experience-laden years from notable multinationals. Some of her previous jobs are in Viacom, American Press (AP), British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and CNBC.
Over $33 Million Investment in 4 Years
A clear testimony to the growth of iRokoTV is the investments from major investment firms across the globe. Within 4 years of operation, the company received over $33 million investment. Aside Tiger Global, the company had many other investment partners. Some of them are Kinnevik, RISE Capital and Canal+ among others.
And Bastian Moves On
Bastian Gotter made an initial investment of $150,000 to convince Jason for a 50% equity in iRokoTV. That was how he became a co-founder of iRoKoTV at that early stage. When Bastian put in his money he also put his mind. He believed the idea as much as Jason did. No wonder he had to leave his job as a London-based Oil Trader at BP to join iRokoTV. Remember that iRokoTV was just a startup as at then. Only firm belivers can do that. He moved over to Lagos to take the role as COO / CFO. But I doubt if even Bastian would ever image how far that $150,000 investment would later go.
FYI: Bastian Gotter is a German national but with a very strong interest and passion in investing in African startups. He first met with Jason Njoku while at the University of Manchester.
However, in 2017 Gotter made the decision to move on from the company he built. His decision was to follow his passion of investing in and growing other start-ups in Africa. Bastian will however always been remembered for his great contribution to the growth of iRokoTV.
But The Growth Continues
It started with that single flight from the city of Manchester to Lagos back in 2011. But Jason and Bastian combined to build iROKO as a global brand. Today the company has different subsidiaries going far beyond what they had in mind when they started a decade ago. The growth of this company has been phenomenal. Iroko Global for instance, recorded a growth rate of 397% between 2014 and 2015. Today the company has operations in the United States of America, United Kingdom and South Africa. The staff strength of iRokoTV is over 200. As an angel investor, Jason has gone ahead to help several startups in Nigeria. And today he has nothing less than eleven companies in his portfolio.
As at March 2021, Jason Njoku revealed that iRokoTV was worth an estimated $40 million.
Advice to would-be entrepreneurs
Jason says he is not afraid of risk. He believes so much in the saying of the 16th century philosopher Francis Bacon, that “if a man will begin in certainties he shall end in doubts. But if he will be content to begin in doubt he shall end in certainties”. He therefore admonishes young Nigerians to be bold and take that step they are passionate about. In his words, “you never just can tell what the result becomes”. In iROKO they have a slogan that is all about being bold.
Conclusion on How iRokoTV Started
As you can see, the story of how iRokoTV started is such an inspiring one. It shows the already proven fact that there are opportunities in Nigeria. It is about one’s ability to spot the gap. then follow it up with the willingness to fill that gap. And how do you fill the gap? Think creativity, think innovation and think customer service. If you can offer the service that satisfies peoples’ need money will chase you.
I trust that the inspiration from how iRokoTV started should move you to pursue your own idea. If you have any question or something to share feel free to use the comment section.
The story of HOW iROKOTV STARTED was first published in the book HOW THEY STARTED by Kachi Ogbonna. And you can get more of such stories of how innovative brands in Nigeria started by visiting our How They Started section. You can get a copy of HOW THEY STARTED and other books by Kachi Ogbonna by connecting with Kachi here.
Also See CENTRAL BANK OF IDEAS by Kachi Ogbonna