Business

Has Jason Njoku Lost his Vision for IROKO?

Jason Njoku IROKO is dead Long Live IROKO tvIt’s been a long while I have discussed Jason Njoku and IROKOtv on AML. Nevertheless, I have been a keen observer of the brand, and of course continue to follow Jason’s blog. For those who may be new to AML, according to Wikipedia:

“iROKOtv is a web platform that provides paid-for Nigerian films on-demand. It is one of Africa’s first mainstream online movie steaming websites, giving instant access to over 5,000 Nollywood film titles. iROKOtv is a part of iROKO Partners which is one of Africa’s leading entertainment companies, housing brands such as iROKING, an online music platform and its YouTube website, Nollywoodlove.

iROKOtv was launched on 1 December 2011. Its parent company, iROKO Partners, was founded by Jason Njoku and Bastian Gotter in December 2010, with its headquarters in Anthony village, Lagos, Nigeria. iROKOtv which has been dubbed the ‘Netflix’ of Africa, is the world’s largest legal digital distributor of African movies.” – Wikipedia

When Jason launched his company we saw so  many issues including in your face boasting/bragging of his seeming success which seemed to curry envy and hate towards him, threats to competitors in the space like Afrinolly, and so much more. See my article: From Sheer Arrogance to Humility, IROKO’s Jason Njoku Talks Competitors, Health Issues & IROKO’s Money Mistakes.

Longtime followers also recall Jason even brought the bragging to my doorstep here at AML.  He explicitly pointed out that he had hundreds of employees while I had a small firm, when I wrote on this blog and cautioned about his super fast expansion including opening offices in numerous locations, seeming neglect of his company’s work culture which was causing a leak to the media, content acquisition and licensing issues, and fair business dealings with content providers, among other things.

Fast forward four-five years after Jason Njoku and his partner launched IROKO and IROKOtv, where are we?

The Greats

  1. IROKO now has a partnership with Netflix.
  2. IROKO has a total of $25million in funding from its investors.
  3. IROKO is hyper focused on reaching its core audience. Accordingly, in June 2015, it announced a shut down of its desktop and streaming service on the continent to focus on mobile.

The Not So Greats

I know longtime followers remember when I said, “so what if you get millions in funding? Who cares?” Large funding is not what defines a successful company. There is more to the equation that that. If you have such large funding and still operate at a loss, then you are arguably not better off than the person with limited/no funding who actually turns a profit for his/her company. What has been the reality of Jason Njoku’s IROKOtv  since many of our contentious debate here on AML, aside from his aforementioned successes?

  1. Massive layoffs. There have been prior layoffs.
  2. A lay off of  his key leadership team.
  3. Office closures, although he has now reopened his UK office.
  4. An alleged move to make New York its head office, rather than Lagos.

What do the not so greats mean?

I don’t know. Nevertheless, the issues I raised years ago that got Jason debating me so vigorously have come to pass i.e. office closures, health issues, layoffs etc. (all foreseeable issues when you own a business).  Therefore, I don’t think I am off in noting some further concerns, at this stage of IROKOtv’s business life cycle, at least what has been shared publicly. Here are things that concern me about the current state of IROKOtv:

a) The seeming loss of focus/vision. I follow Jason’s blog. I also share his content regularly. It appears to me there is a loss of vision/focus. While entrepreneurs are necessarily forced to adapt to an ever fluid market place, if they will survive, I believe that the vision should still be in place. What is it that drives you the entrepreneur? WHY? I think the “WHY” takes you the entrepreneur through the very hard times, even when everyone, and of course your competitors and “haters” gleefully wait for your downfall to say “I told you so.”

I am not so sure Jason (representing the brand of course in the context I use his name) has kept his eyes focused on the ball. I think, especially from what I glean from his writings, he appears easily influenced by people he believes are successful in the tech space/looks up to. Just because Oprah is a success doesn’t mean the path she used to gain success will be yours. In addition, just because she offers advice doesn’t mean her advice will work for you. Every entrepreneur has his/her solo journey and while those with experience are welcome to share their inputs and give great advice, you the entrepreneur makes the final decision. Whatever you do, YOU KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE BALL i.e. the vision.

b) Oversharing. Assuming there is in fact no loss of vision, after all I am not within the walls of IROKO to know these things, I believe Jason’s oversharing has created the perception of a loss of vision. I think it is unusual to find entrepreneurs, especially African entrepreneurs,  share their journey to success. People are so concerned about image, acceptance etc. that they will watch others suffer rather than share tips and insights that do go a very long way. The reality, however, is that the entrepreneur journey can be lonely, and almost isolating. You feel you are the only one going through certain experiences when in fact, you are not. Therefore, it is truly refreshing to see an African entrepreneur like Jason, who is deemed successful in the eyes of many, share his journey. We don’t have enough of these kinds of entrepreneurs and we need more.

However, there is something like “oversharing.” I think Jason overshares. The world does not need to know every nook and cranny that IROKO goes through. It is simply unnecessary. At this time, I think with so many drastic changes going on with the company, the CEO needs to stay focused on the business and keep certain aspects of his journaling private. I think it is good for business morale within and outside IROKOtv.

c) Making  New York the Headquarter for IROKOtv: I maintained some years ago that a move to make New York or the USA the principal place of business for IROKOtv is a bad idea.  I still hold the same view. Why? America is a very litigious society. People are quick to sue. The cost of business operations quickly rises with such a business like Njoku’s, given the litigious society we live in. From general insurance to worker’s compensation to unemployment insurance, among other things, operational costs quickly soar. Added to these costs has to be the cost of litigation. Any smart thinking business, especially in the tech-entertainment space, must necessarily allocate for cost for its legal needs. That cost is increased if you do business in the USA.

When you are talking the acquisition of content, issues of intellectual property (IP) infringement arise. African content providers  who have claimed to have  IP infringement issues against IROKO have somehow not instituted legal action on the continent. Now, they certainly can in the USA, and I suspect many will. I think suing  IROKOtv for alleged infringement and other legal wrong doings is particularly attractive given its partnership deal with Netflix.

In a nutshell, while there have been some solid moves on iROKO’s part, I do suspect there might be a lack of focus on the part of IROKO’s leadership. I do, however, think there is room for such a reality after all it is part of being a business owner and being in business. Let’s just hope Jason and IROKO finds their mojo back.

My 50kobo for all it’s worth. Over to you. Share your thoughts. Do you think Jason Njoku has lost his vision for IROKO?

Cheers,
~Ms. Uduak

Africa Music Law™

AFRICA MUSIC LAW™ (AML) is a pioneering music business and entertainment law website, livestream and podcast show empowering the African artist and Africa's rapidly evolving entertainment industry through its brilliant music business and entertainment law commentary and analysis, industry news, and exclusive interviews.

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ABOUT THE FOUNDER

Credited for several firsts in the fashion and entertainment industry, Uduak Oduok (Ms. Uduak) is a fashion and entertainment lawyer, speaker, visionary, gamechanger, trailblazer, and recognized thought leader, for her work on Africa’s emerging global fashion and entertainment markets, and the niche practice of fashion law in the United States. She is also the founder of ‘Africa Music Law,’ an industry go-to music business and law blog and podcast show empowering African artists. Her work in the creative and legal industries has earned her numerous awards and recognitions, including an award from the American University Washington College of Law for her “legal impact in the field of intellectual property in Africa." She has also taught as an Adjunct Professor at several institutions in the United States. For more information, visit her at https://msuduak.com.

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