In 2011, a 32-year-old had become the talk of Nollywood
Four years ago, Jason Njoku sat down with his old friend Bastian Gotter and told him about an investment opportunity in Nigeria, a precious resource that was sitting there, just waiting to be exploited: movies. Despite their crude quality and cruder distribution system, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa, yet they are dirt cheap to acquire and distribute.
Njoku proposed buying the rights and streaming the films online. He only needed some money to get started. "I was thinking, This sounds like one of those emails," Gotter says--the kind from a princeling who promises you easy riches as soon as you give him your bank account number.
Most investors wouldn't dare venture onto the continent, for all the obvious reasons: instability, corruption, rampant piracy, substandard infrastructure. Njoku, in fact, was nearly as nervous as his friend. "It was like, Danger, danger, this is pretty crazy," he recalls. But he and Gotter ignored the perils and created Iroko Partners, one of the first successes of Nigeria's embryonic tech scene--a startup that aspires to be Africa's Netflix, but without red envelopes, or real competitors.
By the time I first met him in 2011, at his cramped and sweaty Lagos headquarters, Njoku (pronounced in-JOKE-oo), a burly, boastful 32-year-old, had become the talk of Nollywood, Nigeria's movie industry. His office, decorated with giant photos of Nollywood stars, was crowded with young employees at flat-screen computers, busily assembling a database of the site's offerings, titles such as Campus Girls and Lord of the Game. As we talked, an assistant interrupted frequently and handed Njoku stacks of videos, and he would scribble out a check or produce a wad of Nigerian bank notes: content acquisition, African style. He was buying up entire catalogs from local movie producers. "Under a very thin veil of creativity, it's about 'I need to get my money,'" Njoku said. "We will shout, we will scream, we will have arguments. But there are deals to be done."
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