Are African entertainment tech start-ups viable?
Afrostream is the once-promising video-on-demand (VOD) service founded by the Cameroonian start-up creator, Tonjé Bakang.
Last month, the company stopped signing up subscribers in the wake of Bakang announcing, via a Medium blog post (written in French and subsequently translated into English by Audrey Lang), that the business he founded in 2014 would be shutting down in France, the UK, Belgium, Luxem-bourg, Switzerland and in all 24 African countries it operated in – including Cameroon, Congo, Senegal and Togo.
Afrostream’s collapse occurred despite the start-up attracting $4 million worth of venture capital since its inception.
Since his open letter was published, Bakang has been lauded for his grace in not only providing a candid explanation for his business’ failure, but also for empowering many aspiring entertainment tech founders by sharing detailed insights into what it takes to succeed in that field.
Given how far behind the digital adoption curve most African countries remain, Afrostream’s de-mise has unwittingly refuelled the on-going debate about the viability of entertainment tech on the continent. In the extreme, some critics argue that talented African founders ought to focus on solving “more pertinent" African problems.
I recently caught up with Tegan Bristow, the director of the highly acclaimed Fak’ugesi African Digital Innovation Festival, which recently brought together a diverse array of creative digital media-makers, artists, entertainers and tech innovators for “an African celebration of digital technology, art, and culture”.
I asked Bristow what she thinks of the assertion made by some that because Africa has bigger fish to fry, “funtech” should take a back seat. Her response was fierce.
She told me that people who think that way don't account for the value of African culture and the fact that there are forms of knowledge that existed in Africa long before digital technology be-came a buzz-phrase.
Bristow said she senses that there are those who are fearful of the implications of Africa fully and confidently asserting itself digitally.
She maintains that real innovation cannot happen unless culture is fully embedded in its “knowledge forms”. Put simply, Bristow's argument is that if African cultural perspectives aren’t weaved into the continent’s digital transformation narrative, then there is little hope that digital solutions will address the so-called more pertinent problems that Africans face.
Baziks Pulse is a neat music-streaming platform from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). It was co-founded by the Congolese media personality Baya Ciamala and his UK-based countryman Harlem Mufoncol, to solve the senseless fact that for many Congolese people it used to be easier to access Western music than it was to source and stream local music.
Chatting with these gentlemen, I got the impression that their decision to execute this particular start-up concept was less about taking on the likes of Spotify and Apple for a share of the global music-streaming market, and more about serving their people something great – something nec-essary.
Of course, Ciamala and Mufoncol are all about the business too. They’re confident that the rest of the world will soon come to find Congolese music as irresistible as locals in the DRC do. (Hey Drake, I hope you’re reading this.)
In the short to medium term, they are intent on growing the Baziks Pulse platform into the music streaming service of choice across all nine of the DRC’s neighbouring countries.
When I asked Mufoncol to react to the spectacular demise of the Afrostream VOD service and to say whether the news shook his confidence in what their start-up is trying to achieve. He respond-ed matter-of-factly.
“Tonjé is just a guy who tried something and came up short. He can always try again, fail again and fail better. I can't wait to see his next idea, because I get the impression that whatever he does next will be way better.”
Can you imagine a world where you could use tiny snippets of your favourite songs to easily and pleasantly express yourself via text message – the way we all use emojis and GIFs? Well, thanks to George Asamani and his team at DooWapp, that unserious premise is now a reality.
Asamani is an exceedingly well-travelled Ghanaian who currently calls Addis Ababa home. He has become accustomed to having to justify the merits of his award-winning “nice-to-have” software product wherever he goes.
When Asamani and his founding team launched the beta version of DooWapp two years ago, he recalls the app being slightly ahead of its time in terms of the tech available to build emoji applications. The use of emojis wasn’t nearly as ubiquitous as it is now. Yet today, many of us can barely contemplate an emoji-less world.
Asamani says that he has learnt not to be put off by people who simply don’t get it. The team at DooWapp have always had their sights on where things are going.
Now, given how chat apps have vastly reshaped media consumption habits over the last few years, Asamani anticipates that DooWapp’s latest (soon-to-be-launched) product innovation – an emoji keyboard – will be a game changer for the music distribution industry.
Go ahead and do you, Africa!