Very few entrepreneurs in Africa can boast of starting and selling two tech startups. Even fewer can boast of achieving this before age 35. However, there is one young African entrepreneur that has not only started and sold two prominent tech startups, but, started a third tech startup that is revolutionizing digital content distribution in Africa.
His name is Chidi Nwaogu, the CEO of Publiseer. Chidi is indeed one of Africa’s most decorated young entrepreneurs having so far won no less than 37 international entrepreneurship awards. His platform, Publiseer has brought hope to African artiste and writers seeking global visibility and patronage for their products.
Thanks to Chidi Nwaogu and his twin brother and co-founder of Publiseer, Chika Nwaogu, African artistes don’t need to spend a dime to commercialize their works. Chidi Nwaogu’s story is absolutely inspiring given that he started his entrepreneurship career while still a teenager in school.
Today, Chidi Nwaogu not only one of Africa’s most successful young entrepreneurs, but he’s so committed to building an army of young entrepreneurs in Africa through his mentoring platform especially on LinkedIn.
In this exclusive interview, Chidi Nwaogu takes through his entrepreneurial journey and what made him become an internet entrepreneur. He also shares some lessons with young African entrepreneurs aspiring to become phenomenal success stories.
Can We Meet You?
I’m Chidi Nwaogu. I’m a software developer and a serial Internet entrepreneur. I started my entrepreneurial journey when I was 16 with the creation of 9ja Boi Interactive, a video game development company. Today, I’m Co-founder and CEO at Publiseer, a popular digital content distribution platform that lets independent African creatives distribute and monetize their creative works worldwide.
Publiseer has been described by Konbini as “one of the largest digital publishers in Africa” and identified by the International Finance Co-operation as one of the startups “that could speed up innovation in Africa”.
I’m a Westerwelle Fellow 2019, Yunus&Youth Global Fellow 2019, Halcyon Incubator Fellow 2019, African Young Leaders Fellow 2019, YALI Fellow 2019, SensX Fellow 2017, two-time recipient of OD Young Person of the Month, winner of The Africa 35.35 Award 2019, winner of The Bizz Business Excellence Award 2019, winner of Startup World Cup Nigeria Regional Competition 2019, winner of the ITU Innovation Challenges 2019, and first place winner of OD Impact Challenge 2018.
What is your academic background Chidi Nwaogu?
I studied Physics at the University of Lagos.
We know that you’re a serial entrepreneur and have already started and sold two tech startups. So, what inspired you into entrepreneurship?
I ventured into entrepreneurship because the one thing that drives me as a person is to solve problems using technology. This is what gives me the most satisfaction in the world; the ability to create something extraordinary out of nothing, and have that one thing change people’s lives for the better. It’s my thirst for problem solving that has led me on the path of serial entrepreneurship.
Why did you sell those startups and when does an entrepreneur know it is time to exchange their businesses for cash?
I sold the two startups when I got to the point where I knew that I have done my best for the startup, and it is time for someone else to take over and breathe fresh air into it, especially someone with more resources than I do have.
LAGbook and PRAYHoUSe got to 1million and 200k active users respectively, before I sold them to a larger organization to breathe fresh air into them.
We understand that you started coding at age 13, and thus understood the language of digital at a very early age. But what informed your decision to venture into digital entrepreneurship?
I started off building websites and applications for others, and I watched them do great things with what I’ve built for them. So I asked myself, “Why don’t I build these great things and do great things with them myself?” The ambition to do more is what led me on the path of digital entrepreneurship.
Why did you decide to launch Publiseer and what does Publiseer do?
After selling our second startup company ‘PRAYHoUSe’, my twin brother, Chika, and I decided to take a break from Internet entrepreneurship, and pursue other dreams. For me, I wanted to be a published author, and my twin pursued a career as a recording artiste.
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 brother heard of a music aggregator based in the United States, and decided to distribute his studio album with them. They requested a distribution fee of $99, and he paid immediately. After all, he had just sold his second startup company, but this isn’t the case for many upcoming artistes in Africa.
He started a social media campaign to raise awareness for his album, and within a month, he had sales of more than $1,200. Now, it was time to collect, and that’s where the problem came in.
The aggregator primarily pay 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 check and another three weeks to get the money into his bank account.
However, after two months, the cheque never came, so he reached out to the aggregator to know ask what was causing the delay. That’s when he was told that he had taken the money. Upon investigation, it was discovered that someone in Oslo, Norway, had used a fake ID to take his money, and my twin brother was heartbroken. He had to take down his album from the 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, including ourselves.”
And that was when the idea was born. A digital content distribution platform tailored for the African creatives, and on August 4th, 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.
Your work at publiseer was recently captured in a publication at the high profiled 7th Tokyo International Conference on African Development. How does such global visibility make you feel?
Such visibility validates the good work we’re doing at Publiseer, and motivates us to do even more.
You recently won three gigantic awards including the Africa 35.35 Award 2019, the OD Impact Challenge 2019, and the Bizz Business Excellence Award. Could you say that you are lucky or has it been purely through a dint of hard work?
I think a fine blend of hard work and opportunity led to winning these awards. It’s not a chance of luck.
What were the challenges you faced at the beginning of your entrepreneurial journey?
The major challenge I faced when starting out as an entrepreneur was raising capital to kickstart. It was difficult. Sometimes, I had to make sacrifices to ensure that my startup was up and running. It wasn’t rosy at all in the beginning. It was a constant journey of ups and downs, with more downs than ups.
Does your family have any background in business? Has there been any business success story in your family before now?
Yes, I will say my family has a background in business. My dad and mom co-owned two successful businesses before I was born. So yes, there were business success stories in my family before now.
How did your family and friends react to your decision to be an entrepreneur?
They were all welcoming, mostly because I started my first tech business while still at the University, and sold it to a Canadian tech company before graduating. So, before I graduated, I was already a successful entrepreneur.
How are your friends and family members feeling now that you are not only successful, but a globally celebrated entrepreneur?
Like I said, before I graduated, I had already demonstrated to them that I could be successful at digital entrepreneurship, so it was something they encouraged. However, with more recent strides, they are more in support of my career choice.
What can you say is the secret to your tremendous success in business?
People ask me, “What’s the secret to your back-to-back successes?” 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 has your business achieved so far and where do you see your business in 10 years?
Since inception, we’ve helped over 2,200 African creatives to make over $100,000 in revenue, and for our works at Publiseer, we’ve emerged the first place winner in the OpportunityDesk Impact Challenge, won the Startup World Cup Nigeria Regionals, the ITU Innovation Challenge, the Africa 35.35 Award, and the Bizz Business Excellence Award, to mention a few.
Your entire entrepreneurial experience appears to have been a bunch of success stories. But surely, there’s been some failures along the way. Do you mind sharing a few of them?
Yeah, sometimes, I had to do things twice or more to get it right or done. For example, I applied for the Westerwelle Fellowship in Autumn 2018 but I was selected. I didn’t lose faith or hope. Rather, I worked more on myself and gained more traction with my business venture, and in Spring 2019, I reapplied to the Westerwelle Fellowship and got selected. So, yes, I don’t see it as failure, I see it as a challenge to work harder.
Who is your mentor and how has he/she inspired you to success?
I have several mentors thanks to the many Fellowship programs I’ve been accepted into. However, I don’t have a personal mentor. I simply learn a lot from reading and even more from my experiences. I am not afraid to fail. I try new things, especially those that are daring. I fail sometimes, learn from my mistakes and try again. I never say “I tried”. I keep trying until I get it right.
However, I draw my inspirations from a lot of successful entrepreneurs out there. I love reading success stories, and enjoy reading failure stories as well. I believe I’ve learnt more from the lessons shared by other entrepreneurs that have tried and failed at something.
What books do you read and what business courses have you taken so far that has shaped such a breathtaking entrepreneurial journey?
I’ve been to a number of accelerators and incubators within the continent and outside the continent, and this has shaped my understanding of how to build great business models around amazing tech solutions.
What do you think is the greatest challenge facing startups in Nigeria and Africa?
The greatest problem facing startups in Africa is that the average start-up founder in Africa is no longer passionate about the problem his or her start-up is solving. Rather, they’re passionate about the investment potential. Many founders have abandoned their present start-ups to build new ones in fin-tech or agri-tech because they think that’s where the money is. This is a terrible trend, as they become robots trying to copy already established brands.
Early last year, I was in an accelerator programme powered by Microsoft and I met this brilliant start-up founder with a brilliant e-commerce start-up. Frustrated that he couldn’t land an investor, he abandoned it for an agri-tech start-up, something he has no interest or experience in. These are the kinds of entrepreneurs the bad African economy is breeding. Money over value.
In your opinion, how best can this challenge be tackled?
It’s a mindset thing. This can only be tackled by changing the way we think. We have to breed entrepreneurs who are passionate about the problem they’re solving, rather than those who are only interested in the money that can be made.
What advice do you have for young Africans still thinking whether or not to go the way of entrepreneurship?
As an entrepreneur, it’s better to know why than to know how, because the person who knows why is the person with the vision, and the person with the vision is the person who leads those who know how.
As an entrepreneur, you have to constantly remind yourself why you started your business because it’s the only thing that will keep you going when everything seems to be working against you.