IrokoTV Raises $8 Million to Bring Nollywood to the World

By Sarah Lacy , written on March 20, 2012

From The News Desk

If you've ever been in a room where I'm trying to sound badass (read: most rooms I'm in) you've heard the story about my five-month pregnant run in with "Bones" and his machete men in Nigeria.

Reporters live for stories like that one. That and subpoenas. We don't make much money at what we do, and we frequently neglect safety, health, and emotional stability to do it well. We need the war stories at least.

It's not a surprise that Jason Njoku, the entrepreneur who took me to Alaba market where the machetes came out, has since been flooded with journalists from the New York Times, CNN, and many other international news organizations seeking the "machete experience." Yep, we reporters are a sick lot.

But lucky for Njoku, that article had an impact on more than reporters: Iroko got several calls from investors after it ran. The company has raised $8 million over two rounds as a result. Both were led by Tiger Global, a firm that is rapidly giving Naspers a run for its money as the best emerging market investment firm in the world.

"I think this is awesome for the Nigerian tech scene," Njoku says. "In 14 months we have achieved what most would have not thought possible from a Nigerian Internet company.  I hope this galvanizes the smartest young Nigerians to go out there to build the game changing tech and media companies Africa needs."


What I love about Njoku -- other than his bribing my unborn child out of danger -- is that his company completely embraces the chaos, danger, intensity, and creativity of Nigeria. It doesn't try to be a Silicon-Valley-of-Africa company. Its competitive advantage is navigating a world of high-stakes danger, not designing a slightly prettier UI. Its USP is getting worldwide distribution for the world's second largest movie industry and one of Nigeria's most undervalued assets. In a country where more than one-third of the population is unemployed, he is risking his own safety to do a lot of local good and hopefully make a pile of cash doing it.

This investment has allowed him to go his own way with the standalone site, after YouTube slighted his hundreds of millions of eyeballs. We wrote about that bet-the-company decision here. The funding will also allow Iroko to move beyond just distributing the movies and will get into actual content creation.

"We are attempting to finally solve the global distribution and monetization problem for Nigerian movies and music," Njoku says. "Its popularity is without doubt. It just is completely undervalued. We are doubling our London team to 12 in the next few weeks and opening an office in New York in April, aimed at US business development. We'll be evangelizing Nigerian entertainment to Madison Avenue."

This is a company I'll keep watching closely, despite the fact that most of my readers don't care about Nigeria or Nollywood. And it's not just because Njoku saved my neck. He's a great role-model for entrepreneurs in emerging markets to turn the power of the Internet onto their own countries' most hidden and undervalued assets.

(Photo is the ladies of Nollywood, shot on our visit to a set last year.)