The journey of serial internet twin founders, Chidi and Chika Nwaogu into entrepreneurship is an insightful one. Ayiba‘s Precious Obiabunmo discusses with Chidi Nwaogu, co- founder and CEO about their story – everything from humble beginnings to future plans. This NextGen series interview is in partnership with The Concordia Summit.

Let’s start from the very beginning. You started coding at age 13. How did you get into it?
It is true that I started my journey as a web designer at the age of 13. My twin brother, Chika, and I were introduced to the basics of HTML from a Computer Science textbook we had in Junior Secondary School. Fortunately, we had a desktop computer at home, so we practiced HTML and at the same age, we built our first website. Although it was a really basic website, this was the beginning of everything. Subsequently, we went on to teach ourselves CSS, JavaScript, and GML, an advanced form of BASIC used in video game development.

While at the university, you co-founded, grew and sold two internet companies, did the education you received from the University of Lagos prepare you for it? How else did you prepare yourself?
The education at the University of Lagos didn’t prepare us for tech entrepreneurship because we started tech entrepreneurship at the age of 16 while in Senior Secondary School. At the age of 16, my twin and I ventured into video game design and development. We created our first tech startup company at the same age and released our first video game “Save The Admiral”, which was a 2D space shooter that used gamification and weak AI to introduce the concept of global warming to teenagers, including its implications and how to mitigate the global challenge. Our game was played by thousands of gamers online and around the world, but this didn’t generate any revenue for us.

So when we got to the University of Lagos, we began to teach ourselves web design and development again. We mastered HTML5, CSS3, and Javascript, and launched a dating website with a college roommate, which was featured on Yahoo! News. Shortly after the launch of the dating platform, my twin and I started a social network, LAGbook, which was an acronym 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, which quickly grew to 35,000 registered users in less than six months, and was featured on TechCrunch. After this, we expanded our target users outside the University to sustain our growth, and within three years, we had over 1 million registered users from over 100 countries around the world.

LAGbook was eventually acquired by a Canadian tech company, Gulf Pearl Ltd, in January 2013, and we started our second tech startup company the same year, which was also acquired the following year for nearly four times the acquisition value of LAGbook.

What plunged you into the path of entrepreneurship?
At the age of 13, my twin and I knew that we wanted to become software developers, but we never thought for one day that we would learn to code, and then go on to work for some big software company. We always knew that we would create our own software company instead. And that’s how tech entrepreneurship came about. It was a natural event for us.

Chika and Chidi Nwaogu.

What are the current challenges you face at Publiseer?
Piracy is one of the current challenges. When we notice a different merchant selling an ebook, audiobook, song, music video, or film in our catalog, we contact our author, artist or filmmaker to verify if they are aware of this, and if they aren’t aware, we take legal actions against such merchants. The reason why we contact our creatives first is so we don’t take away their publishing rights upon publishing their contents worldwide, which means they’re free to republish their works elsewhere without our permission.

If you could change one thing about your operating environment, what would it be? Who needs to be part of that change? 
One thing we are working to change about our operating environment is to automate at least 80% of our operations and daily processes through automation, so that we can easily scale our operations into newer markets and verticals, while serving more African creatives – without having to hire too many people to achieve that. This includes an automated content review process using artificial intelligence. These days we have artificial intelligence, which is often accurate, and faster than a human mind if provided with the right dataset. For a business to scale quickly, they must automate a lot of their processes and operations, i.e. delegate most of their operations to computers, with regular human monitoring. This helps tech companies serve millions of customers around the world, without having to hire a large team to do so, which is pretty expensive and hinders profitability. For example, Facebook serves 2.5 billion people around the world, and only have a staff strength of 44,942 as of December 2019. This means 1 person serves 55,627 people. This is only possible with the use of technology.  

How is Publiseer defining its social impact long term, and what role do you see for government or civil society partners in achieving that vision? 
Our goals are to give African creatives a platform to earn a living from their creative works, and simultaneously change the African narrative through digital media, by promoting our beautiful culture and heritage to the rest of the world. However, we recently added a new long term goal, which is to bridge 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. This led to the launch of the “publiSHEr” initiative, which gives female African creatives the same 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. This has reduced the gap by over 18% since its launch, and we are working to completely close this gap. We are working with partners outside and within Africa with the same vision of changing the African narrative and closing the gender imbalance gap in digital media, such as IPA. We project that in 2022, that our average yearly revenue will be at least $3 million, capturing 0.1% of the $3 billion digital media market in Africa, and that both male and female African creatives will play an equal role in this milestone.

Where do you see Publiseer in five year’s?
In the next five years, our goal is to grow Publiseer into being the number one go-to utility in Africa for digital content distribution. And judging from the increasing rate at which people from the UK, Canada, the United States, and Sweden are signing up to Publiseer, who knows, Publiseer could be a global phenomenon.

What do you do beyond work? I relax by traveling. According to Gustav Flaubert, “Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.”

Traveling for me puts things into perspective. It allows me to realize that there are far bigger things than 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 has humbled me and has broadened my perspective in so many ways. Traveling has given me a sense of gratefulness for the modern-day comforts that I am able to enjoy, which billions of people out there cannot.

What advice do you have for young enterprising African youth?
Please, listen to advice. It’s great that you’re passionate about your idea—and sometimes, you need to ignore the naysayers to realize your dream. However, some zealous entrepreneurs fall trap to dismissing any constructive criticism or advice they receive, which can lead you to miss the opportunity to address possible issues before they happen.

Figure out how to sort through truly negative comments and constructive criticism. If someone is offering you genuine advice, consider stopping and listening carefully.

Impartial sources like potential customers, investors, lenders or mentors are more likely to be honest with you than family and friends, so pay particular attention to what they have to say and you can avoid making some serious mistakes with your business.

Chidi Nwaogu is a serial Internet entrepreneur, computer programmer, public speaker, business writer, volunteer mentor, and startup advisor. Nwaogu started his entrepreneurial journey when he was 16 with the creation of 9ja Boi Interactive, a video game development company. Today, Nwaogu is Co-founder and CEO of Publiseer, a digital publisher for African Creatives, described by Konbini as “one of the largest digital publishers in Africa”, identified by IFC as one of the startups “that could speed up innovation in Africa”, and listed by Opera as one of the “5 ‘Made In Nigeria’ Companies. Connect with Chidi on LinkedIn

This NextGen series interview is in partnership with The Concordia Summit