Umuntu Media: Local content is a pan African business opportunity

Umuntu Media is a venture that has recently made the funding leap by securing investment from eVA Fund. They are now launching platforms in twelve African countries. We had a chance to talk with the entrepreneur behind this venture, Johan Nel.  He offers some insight into his business as they work to become one of the top 3 digital publishers on the continent.

Tell us about Umuntu Media, how did the company get started?

“I have always been a media man. My experience in media started in Newspapers. I moved to digital consultancy roles and then headed up the digital division for a large international publisher, looking at all the magazines and their digital strategy. I am originally from Namibia, and whenever I traveled back to Namibia to visit friends or family, I could never find information online. With my entrepreneurial hat and passion for media I saw a huge gap for local content across the continent. I wrote the business plan, sold my house (for startup capital) and secured additional seed funding needed to prove the concept. Umuntu Media was born.”

What is the market opportunity you tap into?

“In the majority of the countries we enter (we are now in 8) the online content and publishing space is still wide open. A few newspapers get it, a few stand-alone vertical players in each country get it, but no one is doing what we are doing on such a large scale across Africa. As you know connectivity and speed is increasing across our continent so more and more people flock online via PC or mobile. The content side is still lagging far far behind. We want to fill that gap. On the revenue side the potential is huge! Marketeers across the continent are not spending on digital yet, as they don’t understand it. We are the educators, the pioneers, and we develop the digital knowledge and awaken the digital spend with major advertisers.”

Operating a number of portals across several African markets, why did the company expand so soon?

“Yes, we currently run 8 portals (two of them we also run in Portuguese) and will launch 4 more in the next two months, to bring the total to 12. Our strategy is simple, to be in the top three local websites in each country we enter, and then with the combined reach on our Pan African network to be one of the biggest publisher networks across the continent. We want to deliver daily, relevant news and information to our readers.”

What makes Umuntu Media unique and how are you different than the alternatives available?

“We compete with various players. Here is a quick summary of our USP. On local level, in each country, we compete with the local newspapers. Mostly they focus on hard-hitting news, either pro or anti government related. We bring the lifestyle elements. We have news, international news, entertainment, jobs, property, What’s on, movie schedules, Music videos of local artists, we have huge and entertaining Facebook communities (in most countries we have the largest Facebook pages in that country). We entertain, educate and relate to our readers on a daily basis. Then we compete with the international news sites. Yes they are brilliant at news, but the local relevance is poor. On a CNN you won’t find the local news story that happened in Lusaka today or be able to buy a house in Zambia.

Then you have the players who report on an African wide model. So this is one website that covers all of Africa. Again, these are not relevant to the guy living in Kafue in Zambia. Then the tourism websites. These are all done for international travelers and local readers find little relevance here. They won’t know that the café around the corner has a special tonight, or give away tickets for a couple to wine and dine in a great local restaurant tonight.

With our new technology that we launched called Mimiboard our readers can engage with us from the ground up via SMS, Android and any J2ME phone. We can report on traffic problems and crime reports. We can enable a fisherman on his boat to connect with the restaurant owner or market in the nearby town. We can enable the Lodge owner to decide this morning he is running a lunch special and he can SMS that and the market will know about it. We can create hyperlocal communication and trade. That is the difference!”

Can you tell us a bit about the business model?

“- Build an engaging audience
- Educate the local markets about digital marketing
- Drive great engaging marketing campaigns on our platforms in-country
- Then we also drive listings revenue and it provides us with great annuity revenue.
- We have partnered with a GPS Mapping company. When someone signs up for a premium listing they even get better coverage on GPS maps!
- Then we have our own virtual currency called Mimibucks.”

Why did you decide to go for venture funding?

“I come from a middle class family, I have big dreams and I needed funding to build this business. I tool everything I had, all my savings, my house, etc… and invested that. I needed some additional funds to get started. Also building a media business across the continent takes time and resources.”

Can you talk a little about the fundraising process, what were the learning points you can share with fellow entrepreneurs?

“I was just at the right time and the right place with a great business plan that addressed the real opportunity of that time. I believe that we sit with massive opportunity in Africa, the eyes of the world are on us. If you have the guts, the experience in your field, a sound business mind and a killer product you should be able to find funding. Just know that it is hard, that you have to be fully committed. Believe in it, never give up and send another 1000 emails!”

Since starting Umuntu Media, how do you see the venture landscape in Africa changing?

“It is really positive to see all the attention that the continent is getting. I am very fortunate to travel a lot and meet amazing people across the continent. From entrepreneurs to VC’s and everyone is certainly positive about the future of Africa and how technology will be used to change things, improve the lives of millions, drive the economy, and create the worlds next billionaires.”

You secured funding from eVentures Africa. Can you tell us about this partnership and why you chose them?

eVentures Africa Fund (eVA Fund) believed in my vision from day one. They (Brian and Vincent) share the love for Africa and the passion for technology. They became much more than a “bank.” They are involved with strategy, they help us connect, they help drive this company to become THE media company across the continent.”

What are the major milestones you look to achieve in the coming year?

“We want to be in the top 3 sites in each country we enter(12). We want our Mimiboard technology to be installed in each of our portals and get real hyper local information from the ground up. We want our Mimiboard technology to be used by one other major publisher in 12 markets and reach 5 millions users in 6 months. We want to be profitable. We want to secure a Round B financing.”

What do you think of VC4Africa and do you have a final message for the community?

“Really great initiative! We have the opportunity to be a very strong community on VC4Africa, we should all become a little closer, share ideas, test products, ask advice and connect one another with other businesses. We all share the same goals and vision for our beautiful continent.”

Thank you very much for taking the time to speak to VC4Africa. It is great to hear about your fundraising process, your plans for the future, and progress to date. Local content is essential and a big opportunity indeed.

Source: Venture Capital for Africa, www.vc4africa.biz

Author: Helen Ngoh

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