AFRICA • TECH
MAY 10, 2020
Chidi has been learning to code since he was 13. Since he was 19 until now, he has founded, grown and sold two online companies. Recently, Chidi’s startup Publiseer, a digital publishing platform for African authors and artists, has become one of the winners of the Migration Entrepreneurship Prize by the Human Security Division (Switzerland). We’ve got a chance to talk with the young founder and find out more about how his startup is shaping a creative community in Africa.
What makes your product unique in the market?
I believe our product 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.
Chidi(on the right) and his twin brother and Publiseer’s co-founder, Chika (on the left)
That sounds pretty promising! Could you please tell us more about how it works?
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.
What challenges does your business face right now due to the global pandemic?
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?”
So you created a new solution or value proposition for your clients, am I right?
Actually, yes. 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.
An incredible example of entrepreneurial thinking! By the way, how difficult or easy was it to attract funding for Publiseer?
Funding Publiseer wasn’t difficult. First, my twin brother Chika and I used our personal savings to fund the young company until it broke even and eventually became profitable within eight months from inception. It wasn’t until over one year later, with our traction, that we raised external funding to scale into newer markets.
Chidi speaking about how Publiseer is changing the African narrative using digital media at the 2019 Better Together Challenge in Pyeongchang, South Korea
So what would you advise other startup teams/founders to take into account when raising funds?
Building relationships is crucial when raising startup capital, so start early. Networking and relationship-building matter when you’re trying to raise your first or next round. It’s important to start and keep relationships going, even when you’re not trying to raise money yet, or you’re too early to raise your first round. You need to understand that the venture-capital community is really small, so please, don’t burn bridges. Any burned bridge may eventually come back to bite you, especially when you’re looking to raise the next round.
Follow up with investors at least three times, and no, you won’t be scaring them away. Please, don’t follow up three times within three days. That’s too much in a very short period of time.
Follow up three times over three months, especially when you have achieved something new and impressive to share with them. And don’t contact every investor you hear of. Understand their investment criteria first. What sector are they most interested in? What’s the maximum investment cheque they cut? Can they provide the minimum capital you want? Be sure you take money from the right investor because investment contracts are like marriages; getting in bed with the wrong investor can ruin everything you’ve ever worked for.
What about the competition in the market? Do you have any hacks or cool strategies from your experience when you managed to beat the competition and win more clients?
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.
Offline content submission: Since we target creatives from low-income communities, we are very flexible in the way we accept content submission 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.
Robust distribution channel: Our competitions 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.
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.
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.
Fast-track distribution: Typically, the distribution timeline for most digital content distribution platforms is two weeks, and this is also 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.
Chidi and Chika speaking at the International Publishers Association (IPA) Regional Seminar in Nairobi about the future of publishing in Africa
What was the most eye-opening experience or aha-moment for you and your team along the way?
When we started Publiseer, we distributed books, music, and videos in the same state the creatives uploaded them on our platform. During the first months following the launch, we experienced low sales across the platforms we distributed to, and we almost decided to shut down. But then we began to rethink Publiseer and this led us to fine-tune the content uploaded on our platform before distribution.
When a book is uploaded on our platform, we create a professional book cover for it, format the interior to industry standard, and edit it for simple-to-complex spelling and grammatical errors. We craft marketing essentials like captivating book descriptions and meta-tags before we distribute them. Doing this multiplied our sales by over 10 times.
This is when we realized that to stand out, you have to dare to do something outstandingly different.
Chidi receiving the Africa 35.35 Award 2019
How do you oversee your growth in Nigeria? Do you plan to expand to other countries? If yes, which ones?
We’ve expanded from Nigeria to serve creatives from Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, and Egypt. However, we are not seeking to expand into any new market soon. We want to dominate the markets in the countries we operate before expanding into any new ones.
What did the Seedstars experience and winning the Migration Prize by HSD bring to you? What do you think helped you win?
The Seedstars experience has been great so far, especially the lessons on growth, which is something we’re currently focused on at Publiseer. Winning the Migration Entrepreneurship Prize by HSD brought us media coverage and the exposure we needed to continue helping more African people launch their career and become full-time professionals here in Africa, without having to migrate outside the continent to achieve it. I believe what helped us win is the originality and authenticity in how we help African citizens take their first baby steps towards success.
What can we expect from Publiseer in 2020?
Expect a larger distribution channel and a more tailored promotional service for our clients. 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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