How Olawale Adetula got 50,000 subscribers in 1 year and a spot on #YouTubeBlack voices fund

Dennis Da-ala Mirilla
Olawale started The Naked Convos (TNC), a blog, to create a space for diverse people interested in open dialogue.

In 2009, when Twitter was just another app that promised to “connect people with the world,” Olawale Adetula joined and found a community of Nigerians who had things to say that couldn’t be expressed in mainstream Nigerian media. Twitter had only 140 characters at the time.

So he started The Naked Convos (TNC), a blog, to create a space for diverse people interested in open dialogue. They wrote about everything. It was the good old days of content. A decade-plus later, the world has changed and the way the world thinks of content has changed, drastically. And so Adetula pivoted. They experimented with everything; podcasts, stage plays, books.

“We’ve always known that at some point in time blogging, creating a community forum, was going to become reductant,” he said in an interview with Technext. “And we need to look for what was the next best thing.”

The next best thing was the video. In 2017, he partnered with Red TV for a project from The Naked Convos archives. In four months, the said project had garnered 3 million views on YouTube. “The feedback was out of this world”, he said.

And it was. Already, he is leading the conversation after only a year and some months of fully working on TNC YouTube channel with 50,000 plus subscribers. With his team, they dive into their archive of stories and bring them to life on the screen. Some of which has stared the likes of Erika Goddess and Ikechukwu as recurring characters.

Last week, YouTube has selected him as part of their YouTube Black Voices Fund program.

Olawale Adetula, founder of The Naked Convos blog

On the YouTube Black Voices Fund

“It feels like validation,” he said. “When we decided to do this and launch with YouTube, a few people asked us, ‘why?’ A lot of people still say, ‘your content is so much better than YouTube, you should consider moving elsewhere.’ But the thing for us is that we wanted to grow a base first before then maybe going elsewhere. Selecting us to be a part of this was just good validation for us…To a large extent, a lot more people are paying attention. Trends have changed. A lot more people are watching videos are online.”

While Adetula is excited about this new opportunity from YouTube, and the doors that it will open, he is also eager to move away from YouTube and take some of his content to the big screen. He is certain that the future is digital.

“The idea is that we are a film and TV production company, but we are digital-first. So every single product we put out will be digital. That’s our priority because that’s where we see the future… Just last year, we put our content on Amazon Prime. We are on Showmax. We are slowly building a portfolio of our content across platforms.”

On launching a streaming app

The signs that TNC will likely launch its streaming app has become even more visible recently. A few years ago, they launched The Naked Convos app to produce short dialogue stories. But Adetula is not in a hurry to take that route this time and launch an app for all TNC content.

“The truth is, it’s not an immediate priority for us right now. We’ve been there. We started out as a publisher. We just feel like that space right now is very competitive, and there are some people who have done fantastic work, who have gone way ahead of us and everybody else. And for you to disrupt or make impact within that place right now, you need to be offering something significantly better than what is out there. And you need to be able to compete financially. For now, we really just want to create.”

With the pandemic upending life as we’ve known it, giant production houses have joined in the race to dominate streaming (Disney Plus, HBO Max.) Netflix has moved fully into the Nigerian market, green lighting original Netflix content. On YouTube, there are the likes of Red TV and Ndani to contend with, how will TNC, the new kid on the block, survive?

“We are not a participant in the race. We are supporting the participant in the race,” Adetula insist.

“As of right now it’s probably okay to compare us with those other YouTube channels because essentially we’ve led with YouTube. A lot of people will see us and compare us with them. But we don’t see ourselves on the same boat as those channels,” he said. “What they are trying to do, is different from what we are trying to do. As we go into this year, I think it will be a lot clearer. I don’t want people to think of us as an only YouTube platform.”

While there have been the debate about the imminent problems of Netflix monopolizing the Nigerian market, Adetula thinks that these giant networks coming to Africa can be a good thing.

“The emerging markets, that’s the next frontier and that’s why you can see a lot of activity from the big streamers coming into this market. We are prime for taking. A young, huge population. There is a huge race, and it can benefit the industry significantly.”

On the set of a TNC series

On getting the world to pay attention

Even with the similarities of the content on YouTube, which are mostly geared towards millennials hustling in Lagos almost right after university, Adetula has been able to set TNC apart by “telling original African stories.”

“There are quite a number of people do that out there, it just not nearly enough. What the rest of the world know about Africa today, the majority of it has been put out there by western media. Even in instances where black or African creators are given the opportunity to showcase the rest of Africa to the world, there’s always a filter around it. It’s really about telling those stories that are original to us and that are relatable to the average African life. That is what will stand us out as a business.”

With the rise of debates about diversity and inclusion in television and film, Adetula is already leading the charge. At TNC, they make it a corporate policy to have at least fifty per cent women in their production. “There are certain things that we want to champion, and we want to be ahead of the curve, because we see it as our own responsibility,” he said.

But Adetula recognise that diversity and inclusion is very different in Nigeria from what it is in Hollywood.

“We are telling a story of Africa, and a lot of people need to understand that Africa is not static. When people talk about diversity, inclusivity, we need to also say that, look it’s probably on a different curve, different progression timeline compared to the rest of the world.”

“There is a certain way we perceive these things that is very true to Africa. You cannot take a sex and sexuality lens from the west and put it over Africa and you expect it to fit perfectly. So even in the way we tell our stories, we need to stay true to what is happening in our society.”

Class has always been a huge factor in Nollywood. The portrayal of working families have for years been malign by elitist innuendoes of them begging, or having more children than they can take care of, or a sick parent that a kind rich person would come and pay their hospital bills.

But Adetula is conscious of not creating those type of content. He wants to create working families that have “rich, full lives.”

“We can’t say we want to tell original stories and ignore an entire segment. I think yes as much as possible we can encourage more people to bring the stories a little closer to reality. That have full, rich lives.”

What should we expect from TNC in 20o22?

“Thankfully, the world is opening again. It gives us more opportunity to start putting out and doing more work,” he said. “It’s a big year for us.”

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