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Built in Africa
Akiddie: The 'Netflix' of African children's stories and books
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FULL TRANSCRIPT

Narrator: In this episode of Built in Africa podcast, we put the spotlight on how Akiddie looks to create the largest collection of African children’s stories using technology

If you grew up in Nigeria, you probably heard this familiar call and response phrase before a night time story

Voice actors: “Story story… story!”, ” Once upon a time… time time!”

Narrator: Before the 21st century, storytelling was an integral part of most Nigerian cultures. Children would gather around adults, most notably under the moonlight, to hear different tales and folklore, sometimes in their native tongue.

Stories about animals, the cunningness of the tortoise or brutality of the lion, for instance, would educate and entertain. Some of these stories would even change the way they approach the world, in terms of morals and values.

In recent times, however, this aspect of Nigeria’s cultural heritage has changed a lot. An example is how most youth living outside their places of origin can’t speak their native language.

For Dominic Onyekachi, a Nigerian fluent in Igbo and Hausa, two of Nigeria’s major languages, this is not much of a worry. He’s more perplexed by another issue.

Dominic Onyekachi: “My sister had asked me to read a story to my niece. I went through her mini library and I discovered something unnerving. Not only were the stories white and foreign, with predominantly white characters and plots – I felt that wasn’t representative of her, of course – the themes were outdated and probably outrightly sexist”. 

Narrator: That’s Dominic Onyekachi

Dominic Onyekachi: “It emphasised marriage as the ultimate achievement for women. You see that in stories like Cinderella, Rapunzel which tell girls that ‘you are a princess but the story isn’t about you. Your princessness has to be validated by a Prince Charming that comes to sweep you off your feet.’ 

I felt that was an outdated theme, most likely because those stories were written over 200 years ago.”

Narrator: Dominic clarifies that while he doesn’t have any issues with marriage, he feels Nigerian children should consume indigenous stories with more powerful narratives.

Dominic Onyekachi: “Gender equality, inclusion, SDGs, tolerance, tech, entrepreneurship, financial literacy. None of these were themes covered by the books that were available.”

Narrator: Beyond the dated themes, a large part of the stories African children read in schools are tales of different people or cultures. Indigenous tales are less frequently told, and now children know more about Zeus or Thor than Sango or Amadioha. 

After his experience with his niece, Dominic had an idea. 

Dominic Onyekachi: “I decided to write her children’s stories. I got my friend, Tolu to illustrate it. The books were an instant hit in our estate and around”

Narrator: That initial success birthed the company, Akiddie, which Dominic co-founded with his illustrator friend, Tolulope Wojuola and Fanan Dala, a long-time business partner with whom he had worked on a couple of projects as a student at Covenant University, Nigeria. 

Dominic Onyekachi: “I didn’t actually set out to build a tech startup. I had already tried a few ideas in tech before but, I didn’t know that this was going to be my next idea in building a tech startup.

Initially, what I just wanted to do was write better stories but, when we discovered that the stories had demand and people really liked the stories, we decided to bring in the tech into this to make it easy and democratised. To make it easy for children, no matter where they are, to be able to access these kinds of important stories we were creating.

Narrator: With Fanan Dala and Tolulope Wojuola taking technical and creative responsibilities, and Dominic as chief executive, Akiddie launched in January 2019.

To kickstart the project, the company got a small seed investment of $3,000 from Dominic’s sister which allowed them to create 20 books and their website.

Akiddie is an online collection of African children stories. The team writes, illustrates, and translates children’s picture books. All these stories, Dominic says, are indigenous and available in different local languages, covering themes from financial literacy and entrepreneurship to gender equality and inclusion.

Unlike traditional hardcopy publishers, Onyekachi believes Akiddie’s trump card is its digitisation, which makes them flexible. 

Dominic Onyekachi: “We offer more languages, books, and options for a fraction of their cost.”

Narrator: Since 2019, Akiddie had been in beta phase and remained free to users. However, in May 2020, they officially launched with a subscription model that restricts the number of books a user can access. And with ₦600 (about $1.30) per month, parents can sign up their children and have access to up to 20 books on the Akiddie platform.

But there’s a bit of a challenge. In Nigeria, subscription models are quite unsustainable and difficult to execute. It’s a challenge most content and media companies face when starting out.

Knowing this, Dominic stumbled on a problem that the startup could tackle and at the same time, help diversify its revenue.

Dominic Onyekachi: “I decided to include or co-opt schools into the platform. I messaged around 300 schools and out of that, we found out that only 7 of them had a library. So if you extrapolated from that data, less than 2% of schools in Africa or Nigeria have a library”

Narrator: With challenges ranging from inadequate space in school premises to little or no funding, it is not difficult to see why this is the case

They realised that Akiddie could serve as an online library of children’s books with these schools and children’s parents as off-takers. The books are available in English, French, Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba. Also, the platform has a feature that lets users view an illustrated story in 360 degrees as well as a data tracking feature.

Dominic Onyekachi: “And the math makes sense. For instance, Akiddie costs around ₦1,150 per month for schools. And if you subscribe for a month, you get access to a growing collection of 20 books. So, for a price less than the cost of one hardcopy book, you are able to access 20 books in 4 languages, 24/7. You don’t have to have a library or a librarian. I felt it was like a steal for schools and that is another problem we set out to solve”

Narrator: Dominic estimates that the platform will have up to 140 books by the second quarter of 2021.

So far, Akiddie has served over 1,000 users and on the B2B side, it has six schools as clients. According to Dominic, the revenue from these customers is more than ₦1,380,000 ($3,000).

Seeing as it officially launched in May, it seems like an impressive feat, one Akiddie hopes to build upon in the coming months despite the challenges brought by the coronavirus pandemic.

School recruitment is a bit slow because schools don’t want to commit funds to a new project during the pandemic. However, Dominic says they have commitments from more than 30 schools for the platform when schools reopen.

Besides charging a subscription fee to access its online books, Akiddie licenses characters from its books and consults on projects targeted towards children, from content creation to illustration. This content-as-a-service (CaaS) revenue model makes up 60% of Akiddie’s revenue.

The pre-seed money and revenue generated so far are what Akiddie has used to stay afloat. But it is actively looking for a seed round to scale, an activity that has come with some disappointments.

Dominic Onyekachi: “The biggest disappointment I had came in November 2019. We won ₦10m in funding at the Global Entrepreneurship Week, Abuja version, only for the organisers [laughs] to go on radio silence after the event. Never heard from them, never saw them” 

Narrator: Also, the startup has been in talks with two VCs but according to Dominic, nothing has been finalised due to the pandemic.

But it is not all bad news for Akiddie. The eighteen-month-old startup has enjoyed a fair share of success too.

It made slight changes to its business model in order to survive by writing proposals to some Nigerian banks. The end result? A partnership with FCMB to give 10,000 children access to the platform. If successful, this will be a part of the bank’s CSR efforts.

Additionally, Akiddie was recently selected as one of the startups to participate in the maiden Forbes digital accelerator boot camp.

For the startup’s plans going forward, Dominic shares two. Innovating around its current offerings, Akiddie wants to launch an eCommerce store which will feature toys and clothing of characters and events developed from its stories to sell to customers.

Also, the startup wants to infuse more technology into its digital storytelling platform.

Dominic Onyekachi: “Storytelling will always be at the core of what we do. We are going to utilise emerging technologies like VR and AR to make the experience more immersive for the user. We are definitely going to go into animation because there is a market for much more inclusive content for African children.”

Narrator: Dominic adds that he doesn’t believe the future of edtech is in replicating the classroom on the Internet. But in leveraging emerging tech and intricately designing storytelling to create a learning experience for children that is both addictive and enjoyable.

Dominic Onyekachi: “Think about finishing your curriculum in math while completing game levels on an AR set. The future of online learning is here and we are going to bring it to the children first.”

Thank you for listening to the Built In Africa Podcast.

This script was adapted by Muyiwa Matuluko

Research and interview by Heritage Kene-Okafor

Sound design by Oghenekaro Obrutu

This is a production of Techpoint Africa

I am Muyiwa Matuluko

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