Lessons from Emeka Ajene on building a pan-African subscription-based media business

Dennis Da-ala Mirilla
Lessons from Emeka Ajene on building a pan-African subscription media business

In 2015, Emeka Ajene had just returned back to Nigeria to join Konga, at the time, a fast-growing e-commerce company tailing the older and bigger Jumia, as VP of Customer Experience and Marketing.

Since he left Nigeria for America many years before then, he had collected master’s degrees in business and law, taught math in China, and had summer stints with Citigroup and M&T Bank.

His time at Konga will be short-lived, but he had seen the world of an African operator. He moved to Uber Nigeria as a senior manager, another short-lived position. With Raphael Dana, he co-founded the all-in-one essential super-app, Gozem, offering products that cut across delivery, logistics and e-hailing in Francophone Africa.

But something was missing. It remained a media company to make sense of what was happening in the ecosystem insightfully. A platform for sharp takes on the African startup ecosystem. Something more than the news. So he started Afridigest, a newsletter on Mailchimp as a pet project to help him clear his thoughts.

Already he had contributed to platforms like TechCabal, the singular tech blog on the continent for many years. Founders and other operators in the ecosystem received it well, mostly, and he grew a mailing list. And then the time came as it does for many mailing lists to become a media company.

Lessons from Emeka Ajene on building a pan-African subscription media business

Now Afridigest is part of a network of media-led products that include Africreate (a strategic thinking partner and trusted advisor to senior executives doing business in Africa) and this year Afri.Capital (an emerging investment firm focusing on early-stage, tech-enabled investments across Africa).

Afridigest has since moved to Substack, where it publishes its Week in Review and Fintech Review newsletters. This year, Ajene decided to put all its content behind a paywall starting at 10 dollars a month. It also started publishing a podcast. ChipperCash co-founder, Ham Serunjogi and Moniepoint’s Tosin Eniolorunda have dropped by.

“I look at media and the news as an avenue to actually help operators and founders and builders take action,” Emeka Ajene said in an interview with Technext.

For him, the kind of breaking news stories and exclusive deals report that has been the hallmark of Nigerian media production since its inception are important, but analytical pieces are what will provide insight for investors and founders with interest in the ecosystem.

“It’s nice to know, but it doesn’t help. Ultimately, the question is, does it help a founder do the job better? Does it help an investor understand the space better so he can support founders in the future? That’s kind of what I saw was missing, sense-making analysis that helps people actually take action”

Read also: Nigerian tech media vs Founders; how to be an honest broker of news

“Our target audience is firmly founders. Our purpose, our goal, our mission, our objective is to help founders do their jobs better, to equip them with the tools in terms of information, in terms of intelligence to help them succeed at what they’re building,” he said.

Emeka Ajene, Afridigest, and subscription-based media in Africa

Afridigest is one of a very small number of new media companies in Nigeria that have decided to hide its content behind a paywall. Last month, after over a year of trying to build a successful subscription business, BusinessDay decided to bring down its paywall completely.

Brands like Stears which have also pursued the subscription route have not yet collected enough subscription fees to attain success. However, these media brands have primarily pursued an upwardly mobile Nigerian audience. Afridigest is pursuing a global audience (including both Africans and people of all nationalities) interested in the African tech scene.

Lessons from Emeka Ajene on building a pan-African subscription media business

“We’re not focused on Nigeria. We’re focused on tech in Africa. It just so happens that Nigeria is a big part of tech in Africa and that story. We talk about companies in Egypt, Zambia, South Africa. It’s pan-African,”

Emeka Ajene

It is for this audience (a global network of founders, investors and operators interested in Africa) that Ajene is willing to bet, that $10 per month in subscription could clear a path to profits for his media company.

“If you do a solid analytical piece that really has a longer half-life, it stands the test of time. If you read the FT, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, this should resonate with you. The quality is global.” he said.

As the advertising model has continued to dry up, in part due to the rise of social media and their influencers, news media companies have had to look for new ways to sustain themselves financially. In the tech media, though many of the publications are primarily supported by advertising, events have become a very popular stream of income.

It is in this light that Ajene sees Afridigest’s subscription model, as only the primary source of income and not the singular means of making money.

“I think for African companies in general, regardless of what you do, you have to do other things. So the first thing for us is subscriptions. But there’s events, business, there’s everything everyone else has done.” Emeka Ajene said.

“We’re not competing with Technext, TechCabal, and the other news guys. We see ourselves as complimentary. We’re not in a rush to break news. We’re not trying to have an exclusive story that XYZ laid off. That’s not what we try to do. [Afridigest] is a globally unique product. So we offer real value to the end subscriber. And in today’s world, if you’re offering real value, you should ask people to pay for it,” he added.

Media companies looking for more runway to explore more options to profitability have also collected venture capital money, a route very common for media businesses in the West, but very novel in Africa. “We are not looking to become a unicorn or even venture-funded necessarily,” Ajene said. Afridigest will rather take the road less taken.

This year, Afridigest launched Afri.Capital -an actual investment firm that according to Emeka Ajene is “media-led.”

“There are people who connect people to the capital in Africa. But they sit in Dubai, London, US. We are physically on the ground here. We can talk to people. We know people. A lot of people say ‘We know XYZ,’ but show your proof of work. [With us] you can see proof of work every week. Every week we’re publishing, so the proof of work comes out regularly,” he said.

His goals for the company in the next five years are for Afridigest’s data and insight on funding and exits to have more reach and citing because according to him it is “the most comprehensive data.” He also wants the brand to be “globally recognized for everything we do.”

Lessons from Emeka Ajene on building a pan-African subscription media business

As for the path to attain these goals, Emeka Ajene is the first to say there is still the testing phase. “Some of these things are experimental. I’m not gonna say it’s all figured out. We haven’t yet cracked that code fully, to be able to expand in the way that I’d love to expand. But we know the source of it, the core that drives it, weaves it all together. This kind of media,” Emeka Ajene said.

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