Bankole Oluwafemi is the co-founder of Big Cabal Media, the publisher of Tech Cabal and other media outlets. In this interview, he shares his journey into tech industry as a creative.
– By Ayandola Ayanleke
Tell us about yourself and what you do.
I’m a creative. I like to make things. Right now, I make things at Big Cabal Media, a digital content company that makes cool things for African audiences.
Big Cabal Media is the publisher of Techcabal.com, a magazine website that covers the business of technology, innovation and start-ups in Africa; and Zikoko.com, an entertainment website that curates and amplifies young African culture and lifestyle. We are also the makers of Ebolafacts.com and GetYourPVC.com. And we’ve got more exciting stuff on the way.
Take us through your journey into the tech industry. When and how did you first “interact” with the tech industry?
I kind of stumbled into the whole tech thing; and actually consider myself a media guy, not a tech guy. For as long as I can remember, I wanted to get into media, and didn’t quite know how, because I studied law and had no media training or obvious media skills.
In 2010, when I was in Law School, I got the idea to start blogging. It began as a personal journal, and I’d write about anything and everything that caught my fancy. But after attending a tech event at Unilag, and interacting with internet entrepreneurs and developers, I slowly developed an affinity for technology blogging. More of the stuff I published started to be about gadgets I had or wanted, and apps that I was trying out. I was eventually invited to become a contributor to what – at the time – was the largest technology blog in Nigeria.
What inspired the establishment of Techcabal and what was the Spark to your success?
Contributing to an established technology blog made me realise that I had a voice, even if it was coming out of an entry-level Samsung Android phone in the back of a Danfo on Third Mainland Bridge. And people were not only listening to what I had to say, they were sharing and engaging with it.
I eventually got tired of competing with TechCrunch in California to review the latest apps or phones from Lagos. At that time, devices that launched in North America/Europe would take months to reach Africa, so it really made no sense to go head to head with TechCrunch on phone reviews. What did make sense to me was writing about local start-ups and the people behind them.
In 2011, the start-up ecosystem in Lagos was incredibly tiny; there weren’t a lot of page-views from writing about obscure app developers and entrepreneurs. No page-views meant no advertising revenue. Page-views came from writing stale gadget reviews and recycling press releases from boring but, established companies. That was the reigning wisdom. It became obvious to me that the only way to prove my hyper-local coverage hypothesis was to start something that was laser-focused on local start-ups.
There are tech websites everywhere. How were you able to grow Techcabal to become a primary resource for industry information?
My decision to write about local start-ups and entrepreneurs seemed strategically counterintuitive at the time. In 2013, Techcabal essentially zigged when everyone else was zagging. Today in 2018, writing about African start-ups makes all the sense in the world, and tech blogs emerge everyday. This is a very good thing. Africa is not a country, and there are hundreds of local tech ecosystems across the continent that need the kind of visibility that only hyper-local media can provide.
Where do you think technology in Nigeria is headed and what innovations are there to look forward to?
Right now, everyone is going nuts about fintech, and for good reason. But the things I care most about are education — building an army of developers, creators and problem solvers that will solve the problems of this age and the next; Policy — creating enabling environments for innovative start-ups with forward-thinking legislation.
How best can techies leverage technology for the future?
By solving problems. From when wheels were invented to the age of flying cars, the purpose of technology has always been to solve humanity’s problems and help people live longer, healthier and happier lives.
What technological trends do you believe can change the Nigerian economy if leveraged?
The most important technological trend that needs to be leveraged on right now is fixing electricity in Nigeria. It isn’t rocket science. Fix electricity, and watch Nigerians do the rest. Next, let’s get broadband to the last mile by getting the state and local governments to align sensibly on those pesky right-of-way fees for laying fibre.
New tech gadgets spring up back to back. How do you think gadgets are affecting the technological space in Nigeria?
The proliferation of gadgets, which I’m assuming in this context, are mobile phones, is a huge driver of economic activity and opportunity in Sub-Saharan Africa, contributing more than 7 percent to GDP. Cheap smart phones are bringing millions of Nigerians online each year and affording them access to credit and financial services, educational content, jobs, and entrepreneurial opportunities. In a country where only 40 percent of the adult working population have bank accounts, where only one in five people who sit JAMB will gain admission into University, and where unemployment is at over 14 percent and rising, mobile phones and access to the internet are a chance to transcend the challenges of one’s immediate environment. I am proof of this but, that’s a story for another day.
How do you think Nigeria can take advantage of the innovations in gadgets production to improve the economy? Are we receptive to these tech innovations?
Companies like Innoson and Andela have proven that we can make things and export world class talent. But, until the underlying issues of infrastructure and education are fixed, Nigeria will continue to be a net importer of technology and innovation. That is the real challenge we need to rise up to.
What advice do you have for potential entrepreneurs in the tech space?
I think that if you build something that solves problems, everything good will come.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the Spark Magazine. Find the magazine here to read other articles.