Every business is affected by the pandemic and all entrepreneurs are finding ways to pivot and stay profitable even during this quarantine period. Tech RoundUp had a Zoom interview session with the brilliant tech entrepreneur, Ademola Ogundele, Founder and CEO of notjustokay.com. Below is the entertaining conversation. Enjoy!
TR: Tell us a little bit about how you started this journey and what you were hoping to achieve at the start of the platform that has now become a major aggregator for Nigerian and African music?
DO: I had always wanted to be an entrepreneur and I had done a few things of which I failed woefully at. I started the business as more of a hobby, it was initially more of a lifestyle blog, I was keeping records of the things I enjoy like music, books I read and things of that nature. But as time went on, it became a music site because out of everything I was posting, music seemed to be like what everybody was gravitating towards. Then one time I put a particular video up, one by 9ice which was recorded in the UK, the numbers just went like 10X. From then on, I just changed the whole thing to a music platform. That’s pretty much how we started, but even at that time, it was more of a passion project as I still had a 9 to 5. After work, I’d pretty much stay all night feeding people some good music. Obviously, to source the music, I had to reach out to a bunch of artists on social media at the time. We can equally get into that as time goes on.
TR: How did you craft the business model around what you were doing and how were you thinking about making money?
DO: In the beginning, it was just me posting everything. I installed accent on the system and was probably making two dollars a day but I didn’t pay attention to the money, to be honest, because I knew that at the end of day, I needed to grow the platform. If I grew it to a point where there was a significant amount of users, then I believe money will come in, so that stayed my main focus- growing the platform. My focus centred on how do I get more people on here, how do I get more users. How to get more artists to give content was also part of my plan.
TR: Educate us and our viewers what the revenue cost model was like at that time and how did you get artists to give you content and what other kind of value did you give them?
DO: For the artists at that time, the value we gave came at the point where we had a big diaspora audience, mostly in the US but even a lot of residential Nigerians were also on there, college students and more. NotJustOkay became a platform where anyone could come in to get music faster than they could get it on radio or anywhere else. With that, we started getting 800,000 to 1 million unique visitors a month. We didn’t even chase people or anything like that. Then we started getting calls from brands, folks would call us from South Africa, Kenya and so on because that’s where most of the multinational head offices were at that time and some of them used agencies in those countries. They would set up campaigns that they paid us ultimately. I think the first big cheque I got for a campaign was five thousand dollars. I was like, What! Five grand? That was that. It was huge for us at the time and then, I knew there is a business here. I partnered with an agency in Nigeria of which we split a very small percentage with, to pretty much source our ads for us, even as I was based here in Atlanta, I knew a majority of our direct advertisers will come from the Nigerian market. That ultimately started the editorial side of NotJustOk.
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TR: How long did it take to grow such numbers as high as 1million a month as you mentioned earlier?
DO: We started in 2006 but only started heavy on music in 2007 and we were on the TypePad platform like I said, I didn’t want to make this thing big. Honestly, I thought it was going to be one small project that I would do and I’ll have a small following but then I met a developer, Temi Kolawole who used to live in Atlanta, he even built Bella Naija’s new website at the time. Took the platform from a blog spot to a nice design. He reached out to me, after much hassle, I caved and we did it. It cost some money but didn’t break the bank; I still had my full-time job. Also, the fact that we started doing exclusives on the site helped us grow. We grew a lot of relationships with the industry, Dbanj, 9ice etc. We made friends with them through social media – Facebook and MySpace. This was the MySpace, Facebook era? They would send us a song and we’ll put it up with the tag (EXCLUSIVE FROM NOTJUSTOKAY.COM) on there. From then on we went viral, the numbers just went crazy and basically became a household name in the music industry. However, we didn’t do it to go viral, we just wanted to protect the exclusives but people still took it anyway.
TR: How have you changed your business model to shaping up with big techs like Google and Apple who have gone into music in recent times?
DO: Four, five years ago, there began a shift in behaviour in the users; people had less patience to go on websites to consume. The big tech companies did come in and provide additional value, which is not just the popularity of music or the accessibility of music like we did back in the day, but also monetization. The value they provide for the users is an easy way to just consume music with all sorts of different technological assistance to help them just consume music. So we started figuring out how to not just provide music content on notjustok.com, but also provide editorial and help people follow the culture and lifestyle of Afrobeats. That’s how we’ve been pivoting and we realize that people come to discover first on our platform and then go to these digital platforms to save. So what we’ve done is we’ve also found a way to integrate some of these platforms like Apple Music, YouTube embeds on our platform to make it easier for users. We’ve also seen an opportunity to help artists monetize their music on these platforms. So we partner with some of these platforms.
TR: How do you do that?
DO: We have a music distribution arm similar to label situation but we’re not quite a label. We just help distribute. We also help pitch music artist’s music to the DSP like Spotify, Deezer, and essentially help them get more visibility on these platforms. So, we have relationships with all these platforms, but we are still focused on providing that same value – Get your music heard.
TR: This service you’re providing building a relationship with these DSPs, is it better than if they dealt with the artist directly?
DO: Most of these platforms don’t deal with artists directly except you’re signed to a major label. Even then they don’t, typically, especially when it comes to delivery. So, we help them with technology to deliver the content to the DSP. It’s not user-generated content. There’s a technology process that it takes to get the music from artist and delivered to the actual DSPs. Artists are creatives that just want to create music and can get it on those platforms. So, we’ve become the middlemen that help distribute the content to these platforms and then, we collect the revenue for them and distribute back to the artists. Right now, streaming is all, especially in these times. For Nigerian or African artists, the popularity is there but the way money was usually made back in the day was through shows and that has dried up because Jonathan is no longer in power. Now for an independent artist, there’s an opportunity to make a lot of money even if you’re not as big as a Wizkid or a Davido. There are a lot of guys that are making a decent amount of revenue every month and it is predictable, so we are providing that for the artists and the industry in Africa at large. Spotify and the rest can raise a significant amount of dollars to be able to acquire significant amounts of users who are paying subscription fees every month to support the industry at large, we have to give them their kudos.
TR: What have you done to solve the issues of piracy in the industry?
DO: Back in the day, piracy was mostly just Alaba (marketers) but that has kind of died down now because even these guys are having problems as everything has gone digital. Right now you have different types of blogs who basically grew off, kind of like what we started doing. A lot of them are providing a lot of different download links and we also did download links for a while, but recently stopped that. We did that on the request of the artist, those who ultimately just want global popularity, but now, they have platforms that monetize, especially outside the country. Don’t get me wrong, there is still a problem on the continent, 90 percent of the consumers are on the continent and 10% of the monetizers or people that monetize are outside the continent. What we are doing to address this piracy situation is help artist by educating them not to give their songs out for free. We monetize it and stop providing free download links, recently.
TR: Would you ever think of videos, Nollywood as an extension of the platform or is that not in the picture?
DO: Well, I just don’t see the value we can add to that industry right now as there are a lot of formidable players in that sector. On the production end and the technology end, you have the big guys like Iroko, they have been in the game for a while and are still trying to figure things out. Music is a short form of entertainment, most songs are three or four minutes long, whereas movies are a massive file, so right now zero thoughts towards movies.
TR: Is there a backstory behind the name notjustokay?
DO: It’s a silly story really. Before I started the site, I was reading a book by Seth Godin called Purple Cow which was about remarkability. That made me want a name that kind of stood for remarkability. Then I thought to myself, if I go on a date right now and had to relay the experience to a friend but it was just okay. How do I make “just okay” remarkable? It’s a negative, but I can spin this, so I went for “more than okay” which is much better than “just okay”. Hence, “NOTJUSTOKAY”. It’s simple right?
You can watch the full interview on the Tech RoundUp YouTube Channel.