aKoma, a creative content media company founded in 2015 by CNN’s Chidi Afulezi and Zain Verjee has called it a day, and founders have opted to launch a new firm dubbed The Massive Company with hopes to revive some of its programs such as Amplify.
aKoma, which was already shining light among Africa’s creatives, was brought to its feet by a $350,000 five-month content creation contract that went on for almost 15 months, bankrupting aKoma and forcing it to close shop.
“It was the darkest and most stressful time of our aKoma lives, and we knew that aKoma was pretty much over as we haggled and struggled to get our invoices paid,” wrote Chidi. “We were distraught that the creatives we hired to work with us were suffering as the organization delayed payment, and we decided that we were no longer going to be in the content production business in Africa.”
Whatever that project was, aKoma was left broke and bankrupted and it had to shut down.
“It was a crushing realization, but the lack of support, the continued broken promises from people who claimed undying support, the financial hits, and personal stress was just too much to bear. The run was over. aKoma was dead,” Chidi added.
To give a backstory, aKoma was born when Zain left CNN as an Africa-focused content and storytelling platform. The firm wanted to foster a community where a combination of user-generated content and original content about Africa and its diaspora could be created, published and shared with the world.
“We want to capture the diverse and creative energy of the continent, and from our own local African perspectives,” said Zain. “We have built a content management system called Myst (My Studio) that allows for easy content creation on mobile phones for video, writing, photo storytelling and audio podcasts.
aKoma also developed its own talent network called ‘Tribe’to nurture talent and give them the expertise to develop their skills. Remember Zain had worked for CNN for more than 15 years and could nurture content creators from across Africa with what she had acquired at the international media empire.
But even with her 15 plus years experience, Zain needed ditch reading novels for books like, ‘The Lean Start Up’, ‘Creativity Inc.’ and ‘Traction’. She needed to understand market size, value propositions, the lean canvas; digital product development tools such as pivotal tracker, data analytics, hero images, legal releases, marketing plans and much more.
She realized she couldn’t do it alone too.
“I struggled to work out how to build this vision alone. Almost one year after leaving TV, I was introduced to Chidi Afulezi, a CNN alumni, and digital product guy who is on the front lines with me. I am fortunate to have a co-founder who is ambitious, a risk-taker, pig-headed but with a gentle manner, and who challenges me every day.”
aKoma comes from a Ghanaian symbol, that means ‘heart’ and the co-founders wanted every single African content creator who has something to say, something to show, a viewpoint to take, to come and create on aKoma.
It was aKoma’s job to bring those views to the world but it was never so as the two realized building a content business in Africa is no child’s play.
“Building a content and creative business is daunting. Doing it in Africa is maddening. Yes, I said it. Africa is no joke,” said Chidi.
With their experience, the co-founders realized that the creative economy in Africa is suffering and will continue to suffer due to a fundamental lack of structural and financial support. Though creatives and storytellers are seen as peripheral and secondary to Africa’s global presence, most players want to pay them using “exposure” forcing many creatives to abandon their craft for regular corporate jobs.
“Many creatives abandon their crafts just so they can keep the lights on, and Zain and I fought this fight with them. We lost pretty much everything, and went to the brink on many occasions, added Chidi.
Chidi and Zain recently co-founded Rouse Media—a media and events company for women of African descent (continental and diaspora)—with their former CNN colleague and anchor Isha Sesay, and entrepreneur Suneeta Olympio. Which got hit by the pandemic then went ahead to launch a COVID-19 information and data platform and campaign for Africa in partnership with Julie Gichuru and the Mastercard Foundation.
Right now, they are focused on their new venture called The Massive Company, a venture studio for creative, communications, and learning products in Africa. The Massive Company will revive aKoma’s Amplify, Africa’s first paid-fellowship for content creators. Amplify had secured $500K from Mastercard Foundation to built a community of creatives in Ghana, Nigeria, Rwanda, Kenya, and NYC, giving them a stipend of $500/month to create content from 2016 through 2018.
“Amplify has been our gem, and we are proud of the work that we did with Amplify,” said Chidi adding that GE Africa also supported their work at Amplify financially. “We are more than proud of the creatives we had come through the Amplify program, proud of the success that many of these young creatives have found at the BBC, USC Film School, Nollywood, the Berlin Film Festival, The New York Times, founding their own creative and media shops, and many more. Three of Rwanda’s top filmmakers are Amplify Fellows.”
Like many other startups in Africa, aKoma’s first challenge was their difficulty getting financial support or raising funding. The two realized that some of the prospecting investors were only willing to write checks for as little as $200K for majority shareholding.
“We have been tested, bloodied, ignored, under-estimated, and more. Zain and I keep pushing, though,” said Chidi. “We have fought in the arena, and now we are gearing up to go right back in. We still believe the storyteller, the creative, is the most important person in Africa, and our work will be to continue to play our part in leveling up Africa’s creative economy.”