Ep. 506 w/ Tomiwa Aladekomo CEO at Big Cabal Media
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Kevin Horek: Welcome back to the show today. We have Tommy woah our day Como he's the CEO at big cabal media to me while welcome to the show.
Tomiwa Aladekomo: Thanks for having me, Kevin. Good to be here.
Kevin Horek: Yeah, I'm excited to have you on the show. I think what you guys are doing at big cabal media is actually really innovative and cool, but maybe before we get into that, let's get to know you better and start off with where you grew up.
Tomiwa Aladekomo: I grew up in Lagos, Nigeria and born and raised, went to high school, secondary school, like four hours out of north of Legos, but moved to the us for university. I went to Boston university, did a degree in business administration with a focus on finance on that on a minor in advertising. Kind of started on my career in advertising and market research made my way to New York. I did a master's in anthropology of the diversion and then kick the ball in the media industry. Ended up at the Atlantic records for about a year before it will be back to Nigeria in 2008. Again, I've kind of worked all along the media. I just about every job you can think of in media before I ended up at the cabal media.
Kevin Horek: Interesting. What made you take the different things? You took it university because it's quite diverse.
Tomiwa Aladekomo: I started with a focus on finance. Management degree started out in finance and in sophomore year I got my first internship, my first paid internship. I went and I worked for this asset management firm in Boston. I was making $15 an hour. It was amazing. At the end of the summer, I was like, Nope, I am never doing that for a living, like definitely boring that whole summer. I went back to school and I took a minor in advertising and probably started interning for advertising firms. None of which ever paid me $1 wise decision there and that transition. Then, yeah, I, I ended up in New York. I did a lot of market research. I was working for a really cool small, innovative market research firm that would do stuff like Coke, global research for absolute and a lot of the stuff, in account planning and advertising.
Tomiwa Aladekomo: Research was like ethnography and like market research rooted in anthropology. Some of the people that are advertising at that time, I have like degrees in advertising and in anthropology. I was like, what, I'm going to go get one of those. So, yeah, I ended up at Columbia, I did a master's in anthropology and then I took that, put it on the shelf and went to work atlantic records in the art department and never, ever used that degree for what it was. I not a so from a career planning perspective, I am a failure.
Kevin Horek: Well, I don't know. I think, I think a lot of that stuff is probably relevant to what you do now.
Tomiwa Aladekomo: Probably the knowledge is lost. You didn't use your kind of using it and you find, value in a lot of things you've learned, but it's definitely not, the most straightforward path.
Kevin Horek: No. Fair enough. I'm curious what exactly is big Como cabal media and why did you decide to start it?
Tomiwa Aladekomo: Interesting enough, I'm a CEO, not a founder. I joined big Kabbalah in 2018. I took over from the founding CEO and big cabal essentially was founded on the idea that there are all of these important media niches that aren't filled both in Nigeria and across Africa. For instance, I've said about the fact that I used to work in north America. I'm quite familiar with, I used to work in advertising in north America. I'm quite familiar with what the media landscape looks like. Like I know, beer advertisers are looking for agents to 24 year old men. If you're dub, you're looking for women within this demographic, sports you're looking for, you've got overtime, which is one kind of sports. You've got ESPN, which is a different kind of sports. You've got also highlights. Like you can split the demographics in any number of ways. People are creating media and content for really small niches, which can be really big businesses.
Tomiwa Aladekomo: We're in Africa and we're looking around and it's like, who's creating the cool digital content for 18 to 35 year olds, or who's creating really interesting like content around this booming tech industry that's happening. And no one was. We started off first publication, it's called tech about, and basically started to cover the tech ecosystem in Nigeria before there was really a tech ecosystem in Nigeria. I mean, they've been technology companies or it companies as they used to be called for decades, but kind of the modern tech industry venture funded, young people rather than of university experimenting and building, startups and kind of a Silicon valley mode are probably about eight 10. Let's say 2014 onwards was about when that really kicked off this kind of new wave of startups and a bank called Liam was my co-founder. Who's actually partying around my house at the moment who was the co-founder.
Tomiwa Aladekomo: He just thought it was a really interesting scene, started to cover it and then started to think about the idea. Well, you can build a business around this and all the other empty niches. We found Shea and brought him on as a co-founder it's going to handle the business on the product end and they dreamed up a second publication called Makoko, which is kind of Buzzfeed meets refinery 29 local flavor mixed in. By the time I joined in 2018, the idea of two publications that were doing quite well and were really well-known on the business end, they were kind of suffering from the burnout that, founders do when they'd be bootstrapping in a hard market with a not super sexy products to start with. I kind of took over the CEO role, like, cause I'd done all of these crazy things and acquired all of this knowledge about how to run a business and how media worked.
Tomiwa Aladekomo: Yeah, so I took over in 2018 and we've got a rebuilt and built a really interesting business that is doing exciting things, ,
Kevin Horek: Fascinating. Okay. I'm curious to dive deeper into that content creation side and how do you decide who to work with and what actually to put in the publications or to create this media, because it's really challenging.
Tomiwa Aladekomo: Yeah. So let me just super hard. It's really interesting. It's definitely one of the more interesting spaces to create, to be building in, but the business of it is super difficult and it is not for the faint of heart. We started out Decker ball and that was the first publication. Basically it covers the business, the human impact of technology across the continent. It is one of the Most important publications covering that scene. I guess in terms of content, the content is to a certain extent, obvious what are the most important startups? What are they doing? Why does it matter? Who are the players? We started out focused really tightly on startups over time. We've kind of broadened into looking at just tech as a tech and innovation. And so we cover big tech companies. We cover big global platforms and the way they are playing in Africa, what's been interesting as we've grown is to look at different distribution channels.
Tomiwa Aladekomo: So we've a really important newsletter. I watch a series of really important newsletters. We have, later this year, we're actually next quarter, we're going to have a TV show, which is going to be our first foray into a bit more traditional media. We have, a live event series, we have hybrid events. We built this like octopus, which is we are going to tell you everything that matters in technology. What's interesting and we're going to reach a broad audience and we're going to reach them wherever they are. It might be a newsletter in your inbox every morning. It might be YouTube videos where the most interesting, founders or players within the ecosystem, it might be on TV where we're going to reach kind of a bit more of a traditional audience, but that's being the interesting part is kind of figuring out, well, how do you monetize this?
Tomiwa Aladekomo: How do you grow your audience reach? How do you grow your influence as a publication? When something like is a Coco's GOCO essentially aims to be, I mean, we say we are the culture. Also we have the heart of what young people care about. We cover all the stories that young people are passionate about. The other people might not tell, we do a lot of listicles and quizzes or fun in that way, but we're also telling stories about like money, diaries, real stories about relationships and sex in ways that few other publications do. Again, there, I think we've differentiated ourselves by kind of this kind of cheeky tone, this right on honesty about things that other publications won't cover. I mean, w w we're a bit of a provocateur in that space, it's a young hip kind of edgy publication. Again, from my perspective, it's how do you build a business around that?
Tomiwa Aladekomo: We get the great content people, and we, we do content that is really exciting for people. You got to figure out, well, how do you monetize that? How do you build a sustainable business around it? How'd you build, like a growing business around this, ? Yeah.
Kevin Horek: Interesting. What have you guys done to grow a business around that? Because like you mentioned, it's challenging or it can be really challenging.
Tomiwa Aladekomo: Yeah. Yeah. We are, as a business, we have, we build our revenue around advertising, which is in Goodyear only about 30 to 40% of our revenue. We have a creative studio, which does a pretty robust amount of work and is also a pretty big revenue stream for us. We have events as a significant revenue stream. We're just building out merchandise as a new revenue line. Overall we've basically started out with the premise that look, you can use advertising as your bread and butter revenue stream, but he better not be what the business like lives and dies on. Our creative studio is a really hefty part of our business. We split it into two on the Cisco side, we do video production design, content production for brands in a wide range of ways. On the tech side, we also have a consulting arm called TC insights that does like digital economy consulting stuff.
Tomiwa Aladekomo: We do data and research. Essentially what it is one ties in the skills you use to bring out, your publication and to create content and using those same skills to serve clients. It's probably not a sexy aside of the business, but it pays the bills. Long-term kind of from a future perspective, we're also building a few tech and content driven products. For instance, we launched something called SICO memes in 2019, and that's basically Giphy, but really focused on Africa. Really focused on African content at Nollywood, which is Nigeria is movie industry. Like all of that kind of stuff. We're building out a, we build an MVP that's done really well, actually has its 2020, not 2019. This year we'll launch a much more full featured version of that. We're making a bet that even though we're a media company, there's a technology and content angle that can allow us to build things that scale.
Tomiwa Aladekomo: We've got communities that are passionate about us. We've got a deep understanding of what the people we serve care about. We believe we can build products that matter for them. Yeah.
Kevin Horek: Fascinating. No, it's actually interesting. Just your business model from the sense that like, you're still doing kind of client work, but still chasing and building all this other, I mean, it's not as if like sexier stuff or what you guys want to do, but you're doing a bit of both. I think so many startups do that, but a lot of them will not talk about that. I love the fact that you're open to talking about some of that stuff.
Tomiwa Aladekomo: Yeah, no, it's been super, it's been tough. I think we've had years where trying to do all of this has been quite a bit. We've also had years where the diversification of revenue has saved us. That was pretty much our initial thesis was if you're entirely advertising dependent and in 2020 or global pandemic that nobody saw comes around and all of your advertisers decide, Hey, for the next six months, we're going to sit on our hands and not spend money. They'd better be something else kind of pay the bills. In our, in our case, that was kind of our technology consulting unit was doing some of the heavy lifting, our content creation. Your name was doing some of the heavy lifting. So that gave us some resilience. I've always thought, as a media business, you need to have resilience. I think playing in the space that we do, we are, we're not, we're now venture backed.
Tomiwa Aladekomo: There's definitely the need to drive serious revenue outcomes, serious growth outcomes. That's meant for us, the technology was always going to be important. Being able to build for our audiences was always going to be important. We are, I mean, we're working at it, we're passionate to be working at it. We study a lot of the models, both from the west and from like the east in terms of American media companies and what they're doing, European media companies, where they're doing Asian media companies and what they're doing. So, so platforms like, complex networks are really interesting to us. They've done interesting things, Vox media with the portfolio of brands are really interesting, but then we then also borrow, from, I dunno this, their publications in Asia, there's a great technology publication called technology and business publication called the Canon india that, as an inspiration for some of what it is that we do.
Tomiwa Aladekomo: You just always studying it and I'm attempting to build the most robust and interesting business that you can.
Kevin Horek: Yeah. Interesting. I, it's fascinating that you're taking examples from all parts of the world because I find sometimes as a founder or entrepreneur, we're so focused on our own country. Sometimes there's a lot of really good things happening in other parts of the world that we could leverage parts of it or inspiration from. I'm glad that you're giving that advice and recommending that to the listener.
Tomiwa Aladekomo: Yeah, I think there's a, so media is really interesting for me as a business lead. It's a really interesting space and I've been all up and down that space, but the longer I work in it, I think this does apply. Actually this applies even within core technology businesses, pure technology businesses. There really are a lot of interesting things happening globally. If you're in an American like VC American tech industry, it definitely pays to kind of take a look at what's happening in China and what kind of models they're using in Southeast Asia in terms of developing. And you'll see that. I mean, if you see even what, Facebook's last, matter's done over time, there are times when you can see a clear influence where they're bordering from what's happened elsewhere in the world. If you look at the success of tech talk, it's kind of evidence that they're really powerful trends, they're really malleable businesses being built elsewhere.
Tomiwa Aladekomo: Some of those models, if you took a look at them, hard enough to look at it does lend you an advantage in your market that, you're seeing things that other people aren't seeing just yet. So it's yeah, that's useful. I think that's been really useful for us.
Kevin Horek: Fascinating. The other thing that you mentioned a bit earlier that I want to dive deeper on is how you've obviously embraced all the current trends and apps and whatnot, but you're also embracing some of the older technology with, some of the traditional media outlets. Why do you think that's so important to kind of bridge both?
Tomiwa Aladekomo: I think so. I always used to say, like once upon a time you're going to start a media. If you're going to start a media business, you were going to start a newspaper that you would start a television station then, like, at the time was move. Today you started digital media business, but you have to be building for the future. What's really interesting about building an Africa is that the markets are simultaneously a bit behind say Western markets. And in other ways I heard them. There's an interesting adaptation process where you look at what's happening elsewhere. If you want to build a business to succeed, you think very hard about how to translate that for your audience. There's the opportunities to do things that nobody else has done because your audience uses technology in a different way or this content in a different way. There's also the danger of copying things too, exactly.
Tomiwa Aladekomo: Creating things that have no value in your market. The edge you create is by understanding what's happening elsewhere and translating it accurately for your market. I think as a third piece, matching it with a really effective business model. That's the three headed like monster that gets you to success is figure out what they're doing elsewhere. That could be valuable translated effectively for your market and then match it with a business model that really allows you to like fight.
Kevin Horek: Interesting. No, I, I agree with you then, and I'm curious to get your thoughts and like, obviously as somebody that's creating content like yourself and me, my thought has always been, I don't really care if it's old, new, I just want my content to air or be on as many platforms as possible. It sounds like you would agree with that, but you'd probably say you would tailor content to the different mediums or what is your thoughts around that?
Tomiwa Aladekomo: So you tailor it to the mediums. I mean, so if you done that translation of your contents to all the mediums and all the platforms are possible, that there's a bit a, there is a capacity hits that it takes, it's like every new social media channel requires a new investment of time and energy to make it work. You've got to decide for your market, what platforms give you the most return, and then who's on those. So, if you're in north America and you're speaking to young people, you're not investing a lot of time in Facebook these days, but if you are in Nigeria, this probably is still a decent size of the audience in there. You've got to do some selection and say, well, I'm a publication that speaking to young hip urban audiences, maybe I can afford to leave, not focuses heavily on Facebook and spend more time on tech talk.
Tomiwa Aladekomo: If I'm going to be more mass market, Facebook is going to be important. There's, and this from a content strategy perspective, there's easy ways to drop the same content that you've created for Twitter onto Facebook and whatever it is, but you'll decide what a priority channels and for priority channel, you're going to make sure it looks good. It works really well in that channel. For some other places you're just like clicking across, the cross-post button, like just, yeah, send it to that place as well. I know that ticked off to where I'm going to make my bread and butter. We're going to make that like extra special, for example,
Kevin Horek: Right. No, that's actually really good advice. I'm curious for people out there that are looking to create content for their startup, how do you come up with ideas? Because they can be really challenging to be new and fresh all the time.
Tomiwa Aladekomo: I say like the old saying is like, what'd you read is what you're right. I don't know if that's actually the saying goes, but I tend to be a huge consumer of content. I, as a team, we tend to be huge consumers of content and we've got channels where we're just sharing the best stuff that we're seeing all the time. So, and you want to be consuming from a pretty broad range. So, if you're an accountant, you're not just reading accounting, content all day, every day, you want to watch the anatomy and be inspired by that. You want to watch sports and, figure out how to like communicate accounting things with sports metaphors. Essentially we're consuming and we have a team we hire for people who are media curious, like one of the questions when we're hiring people is, what do you read? What do you watch?
Tomiwa Aladekomo: What's your favorite Twitter account? What's your favorite YouTube channel, et cetera. We to have that curiosity, I've got it. The founders of the business had it team leads have it. You're just always, I mean, I, I borrowed from the Don Draper thesis. I read everything, my team will say this about me. Like I read everything, every newsletter I I'm on Instagram, like looking for the coolest accounts, I'm trolling tick dog for what's interesting and constantly sharing it with the team. And so that, there's always an idea. And, sometimes you're taking an idea and you're tweaking it, but sometimes you're creating entirely original stuff because, you just got a wide range of ideas and references to borrow from in your ad. I'd say if you are looking to have more interesting content, you've got to be consuming really interesting content and, kind of absorbing it and understanding what makes it compelling so that you can then translate that into what it is that you do.
Kevin Horek: Sure. No, that, I think that's actually really good advice because I get asked that sometimes it's like, wow, it's challenging. Right. You gave a lot of good advice. It's like, well, you got to consume lots on lots of different channels, especially the channels that your most popular, like if your content works the best on Tik TOK, well then you better be researching Tik TOK and what's working good on.
Tomiwa Aladekomo: Yeah. We're the best black grading, the best content on Tik TOK. Why is it so good? You know, like, yeah,
Kevin Horek: Fascinating. I'm curious to talk about what you see happening in Africa, because I've been trying to do more shows from people from different parts of the world. I am shocked by how much, really cool innovation and startups and companies and entrepreneurs that are in Africa doing some really cool stuff. It's sad that they're not getting as much coverage kind of globally, or is that an incorrect statement or what are your thoughts around that?
Tomiwa Aladekomo: I think there's a big part of the investment community. That's very aware of what's happening in Africa and that's sending increasing amounts of money to be in all kinds of startups. I don't think there is a lot of broad range coverage of the continent, but that's also, I mean, that's a bit of a future of coverage of Africa in general. I'd say one of the things that tech about aims to do is to break is to bring through. I talked about our newsletter and that's written about 30 different countries in Asia and Silicon valley across Africa, across Europe, you should subscribe to it. It's called the TC daily tech cabal.com. You should definitely go and subscribe to that. I think that would give you access to a range of interesting startups doing all kinds of things. Yeah, I think coverage of the continent so far has been primarily focused at investor audiences.
Tomiwa Aladekomo: As we grew bigger and more influential startups, which are increasing playing on a global basis rather than just an Africa coverage will continue to improve. I think as media organizations like ours, to be specific media organizations that are us grow our global footprint, we will bring more of this to you and your audiences wherever they are.
Kevin Horek: No, I think that's really great. I'm curious to get your thoughts and maybe some advice around how do you, or what advice do you give to companies looking to promote themselves outside of their own area or country because you guys seem to have done that very well.
Tomiwa Aladekomo: So, okay. Creating a content strategy is an interesting challenge for a lot of businesses. You did talk about difficulty of coming up with ideas. It does require that getting some resource to someone to create content. I think creating content that speaks to the needs of the audiences in various places is a way to broaden your reach. So, yeah, you're based in Edmonton and that's where your primary audience has been. If there's a product and you believe like, look, there's a reason for our people in New York to be using this product, then you might want to create some content that, as some appeal to a New York audience, or that features stories of New York people using your product and then figure out what's the distribution that's going to help that cut through. I have to say the best people do use social incredible ways.
Tomiwa Aladekomo: If you, I mean, tick-tock is just literally incredible what it's done for some businesses. If you are able to tap into a vein of content that people respond to, you can really drive crazy reach, beyond where it is that you are, you can chase the press. I think there's definitely something to be said. We engaging with the press, but the press level of sexy story. You gotta to figure out how to make yourself sexy. That's either because you're doing something that's just so totally all inspiring or mind glowing, or you craft a story around it that people find compelling. I want to share. Usually the cheapest or, the most, the ways to get that album most consistently are through social. You might have to do some paid promotion. I do find newsletters. I love newsletters as a distribution channel, even though there's an overabundance of them these days, but they can still be a very effective distribution channel if you get it right.
Tomiwa Aladekomo: Yeah.
Kevin Horek: It's interesting. You bring up email because email's been plagued as dead for so long, but I know so many people like yourself that say that it's still one of their most effective channels. I think I still get daily newsletters from a few local places, a few companies through like, and I still think, and I totally agree with you that having that is still potentially really good. Arguably maybe one of the best ways to promote your company.
Tomiwa Aladekomo: I think it's been, there's been a resurgence over the last few years and I think it's a really potent medium, because it's one of those things where you've been invited into people's inbox. They have voluntary come in every day. I mean, if you're a newsletter, so looks like people are going to unsubscribe right quick, they're going to bounce it. We work on the TC daily and we like, we workshopped it to death in terms of making sure that the tone is compelling. We have this great writer who does amazing puns on a regular basis. We've taken inspiration from some of the best newsletters, whether it's the morning brew, like I said, the can, or just a range of different newsletters that we think are doing incredible work and try to build something that's really compelling. I think it's a really effective medium in that if you can build something compelling, people are happy to serve, receive it from you, whether it's once a week, whether it's, once a day, even if it's once a month, people are happy to see your, to see it and they will share it.
Tomiwa Aladekomo: There was a great article about really, you use letters where it's things like agricultural produce.
Kevin Horek: And.
Tomiwa Aladekomo: Really technical. Did you stuff about agricultural produce, but the people who care about this are like, this is amazing. Where have you been all my life? I love this newsletter. I'm going to share it with everybody else I know in this industry. If you happen to be the one who built that newsletter, if you're promoting your product in that newsletter, that's a home run. From a content creation strategy, it's just the can't be dry. It can't be, it's gotta be engaging. Someone's got to think this is great content. If you can work that out, then use that as our goal.
Kevin Horek: Sure. What about your thoughts on like length? Should it just be kind of bullet points and quick to the point and then link to,
Tomiwa Aladekomo: I don't even know the formats work. Okay. So I mean, you can use letters. I get this really GG investment newsletter. I guy named Vitaly.
Kevin Horek: Golem.
Tomiwa Aladekomo: No, but tally Katz, Nelson, Super geeky. He writes like long form articles with like classical illusions and like, but it's really compelling, is contrary or an edge.com. It's like a concern of investing, but you've got like our newsletter where we've got like memes on a daily basis and we're fighting puns all the time. I gonna write a really funny intro, like welcome to the day. He has your laugh to wake you up in the morning. I think a bunch of different formats can work depending on the audience that you're speaking with. Anything it's about knowing your audience, finding, it's like, it's like a comedian trying to find your pocket and this is what people respond to. We're doing more of what it is that people respond to. I will say it takes some work. Like there definitely was a lot of workshopping. This is what people find compelling and then sending it out and go in.
Tomiwa Aladekomo: We can see what's working, what's not working. Let's be ruthless and cut out. Some of what's not working and do a bit more of what's working. Over time you kind of build an audience. That's like, this is awesome. This is amazing.
Kevin Horek: No, that's actually really good advice. I love how you said it's trial and error because so many people think they're going to launch a newsletter and they get, we're going to get a thousand people signed up. It's like, well, it could take months to get to that point. You're constantly tweaking and seeing what articles are clicked on or not clicked on and try some gifts, try without gifts. Like there's a bunch of stuff, right?
Tomiwa Aladekomo: Yeah, yeah, no, that's, I mean, yeah, it's caused an experimentation. It is. I think you have to enjoy that. You know, that's part of it. It's because it's easy to, it's easy to go. This isn't working and get frustrated with it. I think the place you find the magic is where you're able to stick with it and, start to enjoy the process and start to enjoy figuring out what it is that people are responding to. Yeah. I, I, the only takes finding that thing that excites people, there's a bit of finding a bit of success, pushes you to do more. Yeah. If that makes sense.
Kevin Horek: No, that makes a hundred percent sense. I think once you get of success doing something, it's almost like an addiction and you want more of it. Right. You keep kind of chasing that and it can be hard, right? Yeah. Keep going. Sorry.
Tomiwa Aladekomo: No, it's a tonic, give me your work.
Kevin Horek: No, I, I think that's really good advice, but we're kind of coming to the end of the show, but is there anything else that you want to mention that we haven't covered yet today?
Tomiwa Aladekomo: Nothing super major. I think experimentation, super key, finding your audiences, finding things that people respond to. It's the same thing and building the right technology product. It's the same thing in a media property that works is find the thing that a few people are passionate about. Figure out what makes them passionate about it, build on it. Eventually you can build something pretty substantial.
Kevin Horek: No, I think that's really good advice. How about we close with mentioning where people can get more information about yourself, the company and the publications?
Tomiwa Aladekomo: Definitely. For me, my name is Tommy woah. I am on Twitter as I am to me was so it's, I am T O M I w a I I'm on LinkedIn. I am. I'd say those are probably the two best ways to find me Twitter. LinkedIn, big cabal media is a big Kabbalah calm. That's just dot com. Our two publications are tech about and Coco. Tech about T C H B, C a B a L tech cabal.com. The GOCO is that I K O.com. We're on social media, relatively easy to find with both tech about NZ Coco across most of the major platforms.
Kevin Horek: Perfect, man. Well, I really appreciate you taking the time out of your day to be on the show and I look forward to keeping in touch with you and have a good rest of your day, man.
Tomiwa Aladekomo: Fantastic. Thank you so much for having me. This was fun.
Kevin Horek: Yeah. Thank you very much. All right, we'll talk soon. Okay. Bye.
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