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Many are familiar with iRokoTV from their celeb interviews on YouTube or free and paid movie steam platform iRokotv.com. But we rarely see the man who started it all. Jason Njorku has created what is arguably one of Africa’s best internet companies, which has been featured on Forbes, CNN and BBC. So what inspired him to create this million dollar company? Read about him below and become inspired to dream big and accomplish the ideas you may have.

How Did It Start

Four years ago, Jason Njoku sat down with his old friend Bastian Gotter and presented an investment opportunity in Nigeria. Nigerian films are widely popular in Africa but they are very cheap to the public and little to no distribution regulations. Njoku, decided it was a ripe opportunity to buy the film rights and stream the videos online. He just needed the money to get up and running.

“I was thinking this sounds like one of those emails,” said Gotter. “The kind from a prince who promises you easy riches as soon as you give him your bank account number.”

But crazy enough and still with skepticism Gotter and Njoku ignored the obvious challenges like instability, piracy and substandard infrastructure and created Iroko Partners, one of the first successful tech start-ups out of Africa. Their first headquarters was crowded with young employees assembling databases offering Lord of the Game and Campus Girls.

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Njoku not only leads the pack in African tech start-ups, he’s also on the horizon of changing Nollywood’s movie industry. While it’s difficult to obtain reliable information on finances in Africa, the World Bank estimated that Nollywood generates $500 million in annual legal revenue – small money compared to the $16 billion that Hollywood contributes to the California. A large part of that is due to the distribution failures and piracy, causing the industry to loose hundreds of millions a year in revenue. This of course is the reason for the low-budget films we love but want to see improve.

When he looked past the melodrama and the poor quality, Njoku recognized a business opportunity. The Nigerian video distribution system is incredibly inefficient. The root of the problem starts at outdoor market on the fringes of Lagos called Alaba. So-called marketers–wholesaler dealers who sometimes double as movie financiers–sell discs in bulk to a network of regional traders. They, in turn, pass the discs through the supply chain until they end up with street-corner hawkers, who retail them for the equivalent of a dollar or two. The films his mother watched arrive at small African groceries in overstuffed suitcases controlled by small-time DVD merchants.

Outside of Africa, though, Nollywood releases were hard to find, leaving movie fans in the diaspora stuck watching 10-minuite increments on YouTube. The uploads violated copyright, but no one in Nollywood was complaining, because YouTube didn’t reach their African consumers. Njoku realized that the unauthorized streams were getting tens of thousands of views. He wondered: What if he served this audience, but legally, and sold ads against the content? That’s when he persuaded Gotter to give him a few hundred pounds, and he flew to Lagos in search of movie producers.

How It Became What It Is Today

Despite his parents being from Nigeria, Njoku only visited the country a few times. He was stunned when he wandered into Alaba market, the entertainment bazaar. As word spread that he was paying cash for content, marketers flocked to his office with shoe boxes and plastic bags stuffed with Nollywood classics. He presented himself as a friend, not a competitor, because his audience was abroad.

He launched a website called Nollywood Love and struck a content partnership with YouTube, which hosted his streams and inserted commercials into them, giving Njoku a murkily defined cut of the ad revenue. But in order to grow his company, Njoku need more capital.

In 2011, technology writer Sarah Lacy visited Njoku and produced a gripping account of his interactions with the volatile Alaba crowd for the blog TechCrunch. Shortly afterward the story was published Njoku heard from Nazar Yasin, an executive at billion dollar hedge-fund firm Tiger Global Management, an early backer of Facebook–and it was looking for opportunities in Africa.

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The hedge fund’s team visited Njoku’s Lagos headquarters and liked what they saw. They dashed $8 million in financing, which also included the Swedish investment firm Kinnevik. Njoku used about $5 million of the money to obtain the rights to 5,000 films–what the company claims is “the largest legally assembled library on planet Earth” of Nollywood content.

Before acquiring a movie, Iroko requires proof of ownership via copyrights, the transaction in video taped, just in case things end up in court. “We try as much as possible to document as much as possible,” says Tope Lucas, Iroko’s Lagos-based attorney. Lucas contends that Iroko has only a few infringement claims.

However some Nollywood insiders are skeptical that iRokoTV can catch every fraudulent producer, given the industry’s careless standards and the country’s endemic corruption. Njoku says his rights are unassailable, and he has been aggressive in defending them. He began by trying to remove unauthorized clips from YouTube and other sites, filing notices under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). When a competitor started a copycat website called irokotvmovies.com, Njoku filed a complaint with the UN’s World Intellectual Property Organization, which shut down the site for trademark infringement. Last year, he brought a suit in U.S. federal court alleging that a Nigerian living in Georgia was illegally streaming movies owned by Iroko.

At the same time, Njoku was struggling with YouTube, his distribution partner. Although his site generated 150 million views in 2011 and $1.3 million in advertising, Njoku felt that YouTube executives treated him with indifference, and he was annoyed by the heightened scrutiny of any transaction involving a Nigerian IP address. So he decided to build his own platform. The move was again crazy. Iroko left the comfort of  YouTube’s built-in audience and infrastructure that Google provided for free. The company does not disclose its page views or revenue, but Gotter says that storing movies in the cloud brought new back-end costs of more than $1 million a year.

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Still, the bold move could pay off if Njoku can expand his reach in Africa. Around 90% of Iroko’s traffic today comes from the estimated 30 million African emigrants across the globe. The obstacle, as usual, is infrastructure. Only a tiny fraction of consumers in Africa have broadband connections, or their own computers. In addition, Iroko’s servers are overseas and the pipes to carry the video streams aren’t strong enough to support the traffic flow.

Yet the history of the Internet in the developed world suggests the rewards go to companies that position themselves when the technology is still impractical. And Njoku feels the trends are in his favor. Along with the move toward self-reliance, Iroko has shifted from a free-content to paid subscriptions. With the cost of production, the industry cannot be built on free. The site still offers thousands of free titles with a premium option for $5 a month.

“Viacom,” he says. “We love content, and we want to figure out the best ways to do it. The Internet is just the easiest.” He feels no need, anymore, to apologize for being an African company. “They always paint us with a guilty Nigerian brush, so we have to say, just look at our numbers,” Njoku says. “What happens if a billion people come online? What happens to our numbers then?”

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