Chidi Nwaogu is Co-founder and CEO at Publiseer, a digital platform helping underserved and independent African writers, musicians, and filmmakers, from low-income communities, earn above the minimum wage and live above the poverty line from the sales of their creative works.
Every day, Publiseer discovers local African talents and gives them a platform to focus on creating, while Publiseer handles the tedious work of transforming their creativity into wealth for them. Chidi is a serial tech-entrepreneur and software-developer. He is also a Fellow of many international bodies including Acumen, Westerwelle Foundation, Halcyon, Yunus and Youth, Yali West Africa, African PLP, Ayada Lab and many more. Chidi shares his story with Diadem Akhabue in this instructive interview. Enjoy!
Co-founder and CEO at Publiseer
What you want to be remembered for:
Changing the African narrative through Digital Media
Tell us how you started out and how you got to where you are today?
I started my journey as a web designer while I was 13. My twin brother, Chika, and I were introduced to the basics of HTML from a Computer Science book we had while in Junior Secondary School. Fortunately, we had a family computer at home, so we could practice HTML and at the same age, we built our first website. Although it was a really basic web page, this was the beginning of everything.
At the age of 16, we ventured into video game development. We created our first tech company at the same age and released our first video game “Save The Admiral”, which was a 2d space shooter that used gamification and AI to introduce the concept of global warming to teenagers, including its implications and how to mitigate it. Our game was played by thousands of gamers online, but this didn’t translate into any revenue for us.
Then, we decided to start a social network, which we called LAGbook, a backronym for Ladies And Gentlemen book. We launched LAGbook at the age of 19 as an exclusive social network for students of the University of Lagos, and it quickly grew from zero to 35,000 registered users in less than six months. So we decided to expand to sustain its growth, and in three years, we had over 1 million registered users from over 100 countries.
LAGbook was then acquired by a Canadian tech company in January 2013, and we started out second tech company the same year, which was acquired the following year for nearly four times the acquisition value of LAGbook. After our second exit, my twin 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 twin pursued a career as a recording artist. I wrote a novel titled ‘Odd Family Out’, and my twin recorded a studio album titled ‘Higher’, and now it was time to monetize our hard-work. My twin 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 ask 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 twin was heartbroken. He had to take down his album from aggregator and sort for 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.
What time do wake up, and what time do you like to be at your desk?
I sleep past midnight every day, and I wake up at 5 or 6 AM. At 8AM, I like to be at my desk, starting the day’s work.
A brief rundown of your daily routine?
I respond to emails. I like my emails responded to on time because I value people’s time as well. I set weekly KPIs and I ensure that my team meets them or even surpass them. I brainstorm; mostly on creating stronger partnerships that will help us achieve our goals. Also, I try not to live a selfish life. I ensure to motivate younger entrepreneurs through my social media accounts by sharing thought-provoking contents every day. It’s one of my ways of giving back. I have mentoring sessions with my mentors and my mentees. Yes, I have four mentors who I speak to periodically to learn from and stay motivated, and I have over 10 mentees, I speak to periodically as well, to teach and motivate them. Everyday is a give-and-take situation for me.
Tell us about one of the toughest situations you’ve found yourself in business?
When we started Publiseer, we distributed books, music, and videos, the same state the creatives uploaded them on our platform. During the first months from 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 metatags before we distribute them. Doing this multiplied our sales by over 10 times.
What is the best business or career advice you’ve ever received?
“Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.” —Robert Collier
Success is no magical key handed out to us on a silver platter. It is the sum total of all the years of grit and grime we have struggled in. There are no shortcuts to real success, so forget about those self-help books of getting rich fast. It’s all sweat, blood and a whole lot of patience which makes a person super successful. Those little pieces of toil and trouble you go through add up to many gains. Make your efforts day in and day out and see the unbelievable difference you make in your own life and everyone around you.
What conventional life or business advice do you disagree with?
“Stick to what you know” is a strict school of thought in many entrepreneurship circles. After living that for many years, I’ve come to believe just the opposite. By keeping your mind open to new ideas and embracing novelty, you make opportunities for yourself. By exposing yourself to a multitude of businesses and products, your scope expands. Conversely, if you always have your blinders on, your perspective becomes too narrow and you miss out on promising opportunities.
When my twin and I started PRAYHoUSe in 2013, people didn’t understand why we had decided to use technology as a tool to help people pray properly. This was because we had just exited a social networking startup company, LAGbook, for good money, and they expected us to venture into something similar or within the media space.
They felt we had no domain knowledge and thus, no idea of what we were doing, but then PRAYHoUSe became profitable instantly with over $10,000 in monthly profit, and was acquired four months after inception.
Take the time to learn about new ideas or even entirely new businesses. By staying open and curious, you’ll continue to thrive and grow in today’s disruptive era. Don’t limit yourself.
If you had to start all over again, what would you do differently?
Not at all. I won’t do things differently, because I believe all my mistakes, failures and disappointments experienced along the way, taught me a lot of important life lessons and moulded me into the entrepreneur that I am today. If I am to start all over again, I will make the same exact mistakes I made, learn from them, fail again, learn from them, and eventually succeed with all the lessons I have learnt.
Tell us about your current role and key traits required to succeed on this role.
I’m CEO, and for me the key trait required to succeed in this role is the ability to build the perfect team. A CEO must have empathy for his customer, and must be resilient to solve the problems experienced by his customer. A CEO must be humble to learn from his mistake, and must work hard to inspire his teammates to work hard as well. A CEO must possess emotional intelligence to better relate with teammates, and must know how to delegate jobs to his teammates. A CEO must know that he can’t do it alone. However, a CEO must have the vision in order to lead everyone.
Who has had the greatest impact on your career, and why?
My twin brother, who happens to be my co-founder in all my successful startups and endeavours, has had the greatest impact on my career. He has been my support from day one; my inspiration, my motivation, my light, my pillar, and my compass.
What business achievement are you most proud of?
My greatest business achievement is launching the publiSHEr initiative, which bridges the gender imbalance gap in the field of digital media, by discovering and encouraging more female African writers, musicians, and filmmakers to get involved in creating and changing the African narrative. The publiSHEr initiative gives female African creatives the distribution, protection, and promotion services of Publiseer at no charge, and allow them to keep 100% of the revenue generated from the sales of their creative works, as opposed to the typical Publiseer business model where Publiseer takes 25% the revenue generated.
Name two untapped lucrative business opportunities in the world, right now.
Everything is untapped, because we can always tap deeper. Everything is lucrative if you clearly understand it. And everything offers an opportunity if there is a clear problem to be solved. That’s how I see the world.
Aside God, what do you consider your greatest success secret?
Well, I’ve got two. One, I do not dwell on my successes. I achieve something great, I celebrate instantaneously, and immediately, I move on to the next goal. I’m always constantly asking myself, “What’s next?” “Yes, I did great, but that was yesterday. What can I do great today?” I don’t dwell on past glory. I move on.
Two, I fail more times than I succeed. You just don’t see my failures. I fail, I learn from it, and I try again, this time more intelligently. I never say, “I tried.” I try over and over again until I get it right. Even if it takes a thousand times to get it done, I will do it. I never say, “I can’t” because failure is success when you learn from it. The only time you fail is the moment you quit.
What advice do you have for young creatives looking for a niche?
Figure out that one thing you know how to do better than many people you have come across. Now practice that one thing over and over again until you become undoubtably an expert at it. Now do that thing and get people to pay you for doing it. That’s how successful businesses are created out of our talents or hobbies.
What are you currently reading, watching, or listening to?
I’m currently reading “Blue Ocean Strategy” by Renée Mauborgne and W.
Chan Kim. It portrays the beauty of being proactive and thinking outside the box.
What’s your favourite social media platform, handle, and why?
My favorite social media platform is LinkedIn because I read useful posts there than any other platform I know of.
How do you unwind?
I unwind by traveling. Traveling for me puts things into perspective. It allows me to realize that there are far bigger things that my problems. Traveling allows you to see that the world is not always about you. It allows me to see how other people live and what they have to deal with on a daily basis. Traveling humbles me and broadens my perspective in so many ways. Traveling gives me a sense of gratefulness for the modern day comforts that I am able to enjoy, which billions of people out there cannot.