African tech media is entering a growth phase — Quartz Africa

It starts out as a rambling blog of hard-hitting shots by a hobbyist who’s tired of writing gadget reviews. Seven years later, it is raising $2.3 million in seed funding from venture capitalists who believe it may be the most important publication covering the business and people impact of technology in Africa.

It’s a summary of the rise of Big Cabal Media, a Nigerian company that publishes online outlet TechCabal, and Zikoko, a pop culture site that lights the cross-generational fires of Twitter with its direct interviews and BuzzFeed-like quizzes. Tomiwa Aladekomo, CEO of the company, said the funding round is “a signal that we are building something that matters”, describing its brands as experiments in understanding the future of media consumption in a media-dominated Africa. youth.

Experimentation has been key to the African startup scene which has received $5 billion from venture capital firms in 2021. But media experimentation is a tricky business where household money prioritizes food. What’s the hack for lasting influence for media startups?

The most influential content goes beyond fundraising or launch announcements to showcase innovative or pioneering thinking

The real influence of the media goes beyond the news

TechCabal is not alone in documenting African startups. In Nigeria, there’s Techpoint which hosted Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey in 2019, while iAfrikan covers the scene from South Africa. Weetracker, which charges subscriptions, is based in Kenya.

Each of these helps bring serious attention to African startups, but some observers still see an overt focus on fundraising news that leaves a void in the world’s understanding of African innovation. This is leading to new competition from Substack newsletters, including that of Emeka Ajene, co-founder of carpooling app Gozem which operates in Francophone West and Central Africa.

“The most influential content goes beyond fundraising or launch announcements to showcase innovative or pioneering thinking that offers new insights to readers,” Ajene, whose newsletter is called Afridigest, told Quartz.

David Adeleke, another Substacker who writes Communiqué on Media and Technology (and, like me, is a TechCabal alumnus), says “a lot of what tech media does right now is reactive.” As such, African tech publications don’t do enough of the agenda that the media do in Silicon Valley. It’s partly a talent issue, says Adeleke; not enough African technical journalists have spent enough time covering the continent’s issues to lead the times.

And true influence is ultimately not about quantifying article clicks or simply accumulating subscriber counts. Tefo Mohapi, founder of iAfrikan, says he measures impact by influencing decisions. “Some of our articles have been used in court cases given the information they presented, while others have played a key role in lobbying decision makers.”

TechCabal can point to some influence on the ecosystem, advocating for Nigeria’s Startup Bill in partnership with government officials, investors and entrepreneurs. Big Cabal has also been something of a talent mill for startups, counting a co-founder of Piggyvest and the CEO of Pinterest-like app Backdrop among its alumni.

But Aladekomo hopes to do more with its now heavier portfolio in areas such as improving reporting capacity. He hires a former Rest of the World and BuzzFeed reporter to be training and reporting editor, though he declines to name her. Other initiatives to improve the capacity of the press room will follow from this.

Advertising revenue remains the most viable business model for African media. This means there is very little room for the type of “growth” that VCs want.

VC-funded African media is uncertain territory

Venture capital funding for digital media companies has slowed from a peak of over $1 billion in 2015 to just over $100 million in the United States last year. But it’s still a lot; Venture capital interest in African media has been virtually negligible, with investors focusing on exploiting fintech unicorns.

The rise of Big Cabal, in which MaC Venture Capital, Luminate Group, Unicorn Group and Future Africa participated, is due to the company quadrupling its revenue last year compared to 2020. Advertising on its websites and his newsletters, sponsored events, and consulting projects are how he made most of his money.

Grand Cabal Media

Tomiwa Aladekomo, seated center, with some members of the Big Cabal Media management team

Techpoint, which remains primed, was profitable last year, according to CEO Muyiwa Matuluko (one of TechCabal’s original authors). They kept a remote work policy adopted during the pandemic and replaced its old weekly newsletter with a more personalized ad-supported daily digest. What does he think of the VC model?

“Due to socio-economic constraints, advertising revenue remains the most viable business model for African media. That means there’s very little room for the kind of ‘growth’ that VCs want,” says Matuluko.

Ajene shares a similar case of pessimism. “The current reliance of most Africa-focused media platforms on ad- and sponsorship-based models is generally at odds with traditional venture capital models, especially with the disparity in average ad revenue per user in Africa compared to more developed markets.”

While noting that producing quality content is expensive, Mohapi worries that VC money could affect editorial independence. “It’s my personal opinion that in the long run it’s not sustainable as it will taint the coverage that the media company does.”

We want our content to be everywhere, so more people will read on the continent

Plan to be a media and technology company

Perhaps then, Africa’s future tech media platforms should be designed around subscription models like Weetracker which can deliver high levels of recurring revenue when done right, Ajene suggests.

TechCabal is not going that route yet. “We want our content to be everywhere, so more people will read on the continent. Paywalls reduce the number of people who can access content,” says Aladekomo.

He looks for value in technology-related products that can be monetized. Zikoko Memes, a project that may have been inspired by Giphy, will be refreshed this year to be more compatible with iPhones, Aladekomo says. An application is also in preparation.

It seems that securing venture capital investment could help build a media company’s capacity for such ventures. But the most attention will be paid to how Big Cabal, Techpoint and the other outlets on the continent extend their bandwidth to elevate tech coverage, paying talent enough to hang out in bars in Lagos and Nairobi in order to hear conversations from employees and suites that transcend unicorn funding. stories.

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