Chidi Nwaogu of Publiseer tells us about changing the African narrative, one content at a time.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Chidi Nwaogu: My family and I are doing well. I’m fortunate that none of my family members caught the disease.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Publiseer.
Chidi Nwaogu: I’m Chidi Nwaogu, and I’m a serial tech entrepreneur, entrepreneurial ecosystem builder, and software developer. I’m the co-founder and CEO of Publiseer, a digital publisher that has helped over 6,000 underserved African creatives living in low-income and disadvantaged communities to earn over $240,000 in revenue, and has been described by Konbini as “one of the largest digital publishers in Africa” and identified by IFC as one of the startups “that could speed up innovation in Africa.” I’m also the Co-founder of Savvy, a global fellowship program that has equipped over 3,500 passionate and brilliant young individuals from over 128 countries with the necessary knowledge and skill that they need to start their own impact-driven business in a post-COVID era and succeed as social entrepreneurs. For my contributions to the tech ecosystem in Africa, I’ve won the Migration Entrepreneurship Prize 2020, the Africa 35.35 Award 2019 for Entrepreneurship, the Young Leaders Award 2019 for Media and Entertainment, and the Bizz Business Excellence Award 2019. I’m an Acumen Fellow 2020 (West Africa), Alibaba eFounders Fellow 2020 (China), Westerwelle Fellow 2019 (Germany), AfricanPLP Fellow 2019 (Cairo), and Yunus&Youth Global Fellow 2019 (New York).
After the acquisition of my second tech startup company, my co-founder and I took a break from tech entrepreneurship to pursue other dreams. For me, I have always wanted to be a published author, and my co-founder pursued a career as a recording artist. I wrote a novel titled ‘Odd Family Out,’ and he recorded a studio album titled ‘Higher,’ and now it was time to monetize our hard-work. My co-founder heard of a music aggregator based in the United States and decided to distribute his studio album with them. They requested an album distribution fee of $99, and he paid immediately. After all, he just sold his second startup company, but this isn’t the case for many upcoming artists in Africa who can’t afford such a distribution fee. He started a social media campaign to raise awareness for his album, and within a month, he had huge sales. Now, it was time to receive his royalties, and that was where the problem came in. The aggregator primarily pays royalties via PayPal, and in Nigeria and many African countries, we cannot receive money via PayPal, but can only send money, so that payment method was out of the picture. So he had to fall back to the only payment method left, and that was cheque payment even though he knew it would take two weeks to receive the cheque and another three weeks to get the money into his bank account.
However, after two months, the cheque never arrived, so he reached out to the aggregator to know what was causing the delay. That was when he was told that he had taken the money. Upon investigation by the aggregator, it was discovered that someone in Oslo, Norway, used a fake ID to take his money, and my co-founder was heartbroken. He had to take down his album from aggregator and sort local means of monetization. About a year after, he said to me, “Chidi, a lot of independent African musicians have gone through what I went through trying to monetize my music internationally. And I think we should solve this problem for every African creative out there; writers, musicians, and filmmakers, including ourselves.” And that was when the idea for our third and current startup company was born. A digital content distribution platform tailored for the African creatives, and in Q3 2017, we launched Publiseer, a digital content distribution platform that lets independent African writers, musicians, and filmmakers, typically from low-income communities to distribute, promote, protect and monetize their creative works on over 400 well-established digital platforms in 100 countries, at no charge, with just a single click, and we share in the revenue generated from sales of these works. Our creatives receive their royalties via local bank payments, which no payment charges, or via mobile money payment, which makes it easily accessible, thus making monetization convenient and risk-free.
How does Publiseer innovate?
Chidi Nwaogu: I believe Publiseer is unique because we cover everything for the creatives, from start to finish. We allow them to focus on doing what they love doing the most and what they know how to do best, which is to create, while we handle the tedious business of transforming their creativity into wealth for them. For only a share in the revenue we generate for them, we give the artists a platform to earn a living as full-time professionals. This helps our users launch their careers easily as we don’t have a setup or upfront fee. We fine-tune our clients’ creative works to industry-standard, so they stand a chance when competing on a global scale. Then, we distribute them to over 400 well-established partner stores worldwide, so they are easily discovered. We protect their works from illegal distribution and intellectual property theft, so they truly own their content. They can monitor their sales performance across all our partner stores using our centralized dashboard and receive their royalties via African-tailored payment methods, such as to their local bank accounts or mobile money wallets, which are convenient and risk-free.
Most of our creatives choose our platform over our competitions for very many reasons, but here are the top 5 reasons why creatives choose to use Publiseer.
1. Offline content submission: Since we target creatives from low-income communities, we are very flexible in the way we accept content submissions from creatives for distribution. We accept content submission both online and offline, through upload on our website, email submission via attachment, and offline submission via storage devices. This has made creatives who aren’t tech-savvy choose us over the competition without an afterthought.
2. Robust distribution channel: Our competitors distribute to at most 120 digital stores, but we have the most complete distribution channel, which distributes to 413 digital stores worldwide, thus getting our content available on every digital platform that matters and giving our creatives the maximum exposure possible.
3. A payment system that works for African creatives: We have a payment system that lets writers, musicians, and filmmakers in Africa earn and receive their payment with a payment method that is feasible and convenient in Africa.
4. Content fine-tuning: We fine-tune our content before distribution, such as book editing and formatting, music re-mastering, and video post-production. This is to fine-tune our content to industry-standard so that our creatives have the chance to compete on a global scale in a very competitive market.
5. Fast-track distribution: Typically, the distribution timeline for most digital content distribution platforms is two weeks, and this is the default timeline for our distribution as well. But in a bid to help our creatives beat deadlines, we have our fast-track distribution package, which lets our creatives get their content on all digital stores within three days, thus making distribution faster.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Chidi Nwaogu: After the COVID-19 outbreak, Publiseer had experienced a spike in sales. It appears that people are relying heavily on ebooks, audiobooks, and digital music to occupy or entertain themselves during these hard times. We have experienced a huge surge in new book submissions; it turns out a lot of writers are using this period to finish their manuscripts. However, we experienced a huge decline in new music submissions, most likely because musicians are unable to visit the recording studios and create new music. So, this got us wondering: “How can musicians create new music from their bedrooms or their living rooms with nothing but a laptop?” While looking for an answer to that question, we stumbled upon Soundation and BandLab. They are online-based music studios that let independent musicians produce, record, and mix songs directly in a web browser. What’s most interesting about these platforms is that they have a robust sound library where musicians can access thousands of sounds, loops, effects, and instruments. This is so fascinating to us, and we are currently working with them to assist our recording artists to create new music while at home.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Chidi Nwaogu: No, we didn’t have to cut down our staff strength. Rather, our staff strength has grown by 50% since the pandemic started.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Chidi Nwaogu: Our customer relationship management remained unchanged because even before the pandemic, we communicated with our customers virtually via Instant Chat Messaging, Voice calls, and Email exchanges.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Chidi Nwaogu: We didn’t benefit from any government grants; however, we received grants from Institut Français and Goethe-Institut, which is helping us scale, and expand our operations to Francophone Africa.
Your final thoughts?
Chidi Nwaogu: In the nearest future, expect a larger distribution channel from Publiseer, and a more tailored promotional service for our creatives. We’re working towards being a full digital media platform for African creatives that handles everything, including strategic planning, marketing, financing, branding, and PR.
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