Tomiwa Aladekomo is the CEO of Big Cabal Media, which publishes the tech and youth publications, TechCabal and Zikoko.
An experienced executive, Mr Aladekomo has worked extensively across media and marketing roles in Nigeria and North America in a career that spans from Atlantic Records to key digital transformation roles for Nigerian Breweries (Heineken’s Nigeria operating company) to The Guardian Nigeria, one of Nigeria’s biggest national papers. He has taken Big Cabal Media through a transformation that’s made it one of the most exciting new media companies on the continent, telling Africa’s stories in-depth and in innovative and fresh ways.
Early this year, BCM raised $2.3 million in a seed round from local and institutional investors. The funding is pace-setting in many ways when considered within the context of the African media landscape.
Mr Aladekomo explained, in this interview, what the funding means for the future of BCM and how the Nigerian media can maximise the benefits of investing in digital operations.
With $2.3 million in the bag, what are the immediate plans for BCM?
First of all, it’s important to state that we are glad to have been recipients of this pace-setting raise, especially when considered within the context of the African media landscape where newsrooms are more likely to receive story grants than funding. I’ll take this opportunity to once again thank our investors for their unwavering support of the BCM vision. We are excited about this next phase of our business where the fund will be utilised to expand our audience in Africa and beyond.
Throughout the rest of the year, we aim to focus on improving our video production capabilities, building new technology products (a relaunch of Zikoko memes will be first), and upgrading our technology and data stack. We are also keen to expand our amazing team so we’ll be hiring across the continent for editorial leadership, technical, growth and management talent amongst others.
Does this funding put you under pressure to go big?
We’ve always aimed for BCM to be a globally-impactful media business, and we’re thrilled to have the resources to really drive that journey. So whilst there is pressure to meet expectations, they really are the expectations that we’ve always had for ourselves.
We’ve always been an experiment in how to create a profitable, successful, high-growth media company that tells African stories to the world. This funding is a tremendous testament to the hard work that all staff and partners of Big Cabal Media, past and present, have put in since our inception to get us towards that goal.
Zikoko and TechCabal are your prized ‘products’. Are you tempted to add more ‘products’ to the lineup?
Yes, Zikoko and TechCabal are our flagship products and best-known offerings but we have other significant products and services under the BCM umbrella. Cabal Creative is our in-house content studio which produces high-engagement content for an expansive list of clients that include Google, Main One, MasterCard Foundation, Uber, Coca-Cola and more. Cabal Creative produces great work that ranges from digital content and advertising to TV Commercials, brand design and marketing communications campaigns.
We also have TC Insights, our digital economy consultancy arm, TC Insights provides actionable data on startups and the tech ecosystem across Africa to investors, entrepreneurs, big data companies, regulators and other players on and off the continent.
This year, we intend to launch new verticals, including two more publications. We’ll be relaunching Zikoko Memes, which initially launched in 2020, in a big way this year so keep an eye out for it.
You lead a team of young people. How much of your experience do they rely on to keep going?
We have assembled a fantastic team of self-motivated and skilled individuals, led by a strong leadership team that understands and is committed to the mission. While my knowledge and experience are critical, we have capable and experienced team leads steering the different businesses the Big Cabal way. I learn and gain much more in motivation from them than I actually put out.
I should also note that we are constantly looking to hire ambitious and talented people in all parts of our business. BCM has a history of supercharging careers. We give our team members the opportunity to do meaningful, challenging and rewarding work, and our goal is always for people to do the best and most fulfilling work of their careers with us.
There are other niche media outlets in Nigeria that haven’t gained the sort of success Zikoko and TechCabal have. What makes your story different?
It’s important to note that we’re just getting started. To borrow from Jeff Bezos, it’s still Day 1 and we’ve got a long road ahead to build the company we envision. That being said, relentless innovation and a lot of really great people have brought us as far as we’ve come.
We remain one of the few media outlets in Nigeria that continuously leverages technology to enhance the user experience, generate relevant and agenda-setting content, and are focused on building a sustainable model to ensure we achieve dynasty status. Zikoko’s rise as one of the most important outlets for youth culture and concerns came about due to opportunities that arose from today’s tech landscape which we were able to identify and take advantage of.
What’s the plan to keep your content strategies fresh?
Here at BCM, we are governed by some core values which cater to ensuring our content stays fresh, relevant and most importantly credible. In today’s media ecosystem, everyone has a voice and it is becoming increasingly difficult to sieve through the noise to find credible, vetted information. Great reporting however takes time and care, and a standard of due diligence and professionalism is often unavailable to the casual commentator.
So we strive to undertake the work that the casual commentator cannot do; conducting in-depth research, building networks of contacts and sources, providing context to news reports and giving the public authoritative information they might not get otherwise. Our core values revolve around telling a story that matters and in so doing delight our audience, effectively make use of data, employ the use of good judgement, solve the hard problems and questions that others shy away from and more.
Many mainstream media houses in Nigeria are still tottering on the edge of digital media strategies. What do you think they are getting wrong?
It is a bit difficult to understand why. Understandably, Nigeria is not where it should be in terms of internet penetration but we’ve grown in leaps and bounds over the last decade. The future is definitely digital.
However, I imagine a dearth of investments, experienced operators and talent might also have a place to play here as well. Finding adequate funds and an ideal team to work with in building effective digital media strategies from the creation of new generation websites and apps down to marketing might also be hindering media houses. In terms of talent, we’ve discovered that when people acquire a particular degree of expertise in the Nigerian media, they’re recruited by overseas publications.
Although I believe we have more than enough exceptional homegrown talent in Nigeria, retention has grown to also become an issue. To combat this, there needs to be more investment into media companies and publications to support the growing talent pool and opportunities which will also build more credibility in the space.
What does the future of digital media look like in Nigeria?
I expect that digital media will continue to grow along with the increase in the availability and use of cheap mobile phones with internet access. The availability of large audiences with access to the internet via mobile devices will continue to drive both publishers and solo creators to provide a wide range of content for these audiences.
In turn, we’d hope to see deepened and more sustained investments in Nigerian digital media companies which will have a ripple effect on the quality of content, credibility, audience growth and leveraging of technology. Technology serves not only to aid audience growth but also helps reduce the cost of content creation, collaborating with partners on and off the continent, and measuring impact.
All of these elements will be critical in allowing new entrants and established media houses to create content and connect with audiences, reaching these global audiences more easily than ever before.
I’m excited about a future in which we have more Nigerian and African media brands and storytellers with real global reach and impact, telling African stories that matter.