Interview: Nollywood Is Nigeria’s National Treasure – Zuckerberg
On day 2 (Wednesday 31 August) of the visit of Facebook founder/CEO, Mark Zuckerberg to Lagos, Nigeria, he had a very busy day beginning with a jog with some friends, partners and aides across the Lekki-Ikoyi suspended bridge.
The tech wizard and seventh richest man in the world later had a town hall meeting with developers and entrepreneurs at Landmark Event Centre in Oniru Estate, Victoria Island.
Zuckerberg in his opening remarks at the signature town hall meeting said that in Lagos, and across the continent, things are changing really quickly.
According to him, the economy is shifting from a resource based economy to an entrepreneurial and knowledge based economy with Nigerians leading that change on the continent.
He later met with some select member of Nigeria’s entertainment fraternity, specifically Nollywood luminaries such as Richard Mofe-Damijo, Kunle Afolayan, Rita Dominic and stand-up comedy great, Basketmouth.
However, before meeting those entertainers, Zuckerberg fielded five questions thrown at him from the online community during the town hall meeting streamed live. He shares his opinion of Nigeria, the people and culture, the vibrant developer and entrepreneurial ecosystem and most important, his fascination about Nigerian movie industry, the Nollywood. FUNSHO AROGUNDADE monitors the rapport
Q: What impressions do you have of Nigeria and its people since you came? Do they align or contrast with the impressions you had before your visit?
The thing that is striking for me about Nigeria is the entrepreneurial energy. When you are trying to build something, what matters the most is just who wants it the most. Here in Nigeria, as soon as you get off the plane and start talking to people, you feel the passion and that entrepreneurial energy. I can tell you two stories just from last night when I talked to probably no more than 100 people and I was really blown away.
First story, I stopped by at this training programme by Andela that my foundation invested in to help train really talented folks across the continent to be world class engineers and work for companies around the world. I sat down and had the opportunity to meet Blessing Eboye, she told me the story of how she applied to the programme. The first time she didn’t get in and that didn’t stop her. She showed up again next time and they figured out that they had to give her a trial. She was allowed to go ahead for the training programme and she crushed it. Now she is a top engineer working for a multinational company. If you have that attitude you win.
The other story was when I went down the street and stopped by this little store. I met Rosemary Njoku who is selling (internet) connectivity to people nearby. She already had a shop selling things to people and she chose to grow her business further, so she got hooked up with folks who worked with Facebook and the Express WiFi programme that we set up to empower local entrepreneurs to spread connectivity. I asked her how she was able to make the transition in her business from selling one thing to also telling people that she provides connectivity. She said it wasn’t easy. She had to printout flyers and go around town evangelising about her business. She even had to hire dancers. She told me she now has about 3000 customers paying for connectivity. Her connectivity part of the business is now bigger than the original business that she started out with.
What really important are the hardwork and the drive I feel you have here in Lagos.
Q: When you started Facebook and you were still writing codes, how did you handle marketing when the company was still a startup?
What we did was to get people who use our product or service and enjoy it to evangelise to their friends. This by far was the most effective way to market a product. We are actually a little bit lucky because that is what our product is, helping you communicate with your friends. We tried a lot of different things at Facebook. We used to have a traditional marketing team that helped grow our communities. We still have that for other things like helping to explain what the company does. But we used it to grow our customers rather than our communities.
We found out that we can actually make bigger impact by having an engineering team that was focused on building products that empowered people in our communities to spread Facebook to the people they want on Facebook. That actually worked a lot better. That’s one of the biggest secrets to Facebook marketing. If you are building a social product, one of the biggest features of a community like Facebook is that your friends are there. That was one of the key things that we needed to do and I know there are lessons for that and all the different businesses that you are thinking of building. Having an engineering style growth team is been a really valuable thing and thinking about this as an engineering problem rather than a traditional style is a really powerful way to approach the world.
Q: You predicted the future with Facebook. What do you see happening ten years from now and how does Mark want to be remembered?
One of my favourite technology quotes is that the best way to predict the future is to create it. It is much easier to predict what is going to happen in the world 20-25 years into the future than to predict what is going to happen five years into the future. The mission that I care about at Facebook is still very much the same as in the beginning, though I didn’t think we could do it in the beginning but now I think we might. When I was getting started in college, we could talk about connecting the whole world but you don’t actually think about spreading internet to people who don’t have it. As a college student you are just happy when people use your service over the internet. But here we are, 12 years later we have almost 2 billion people using Facebook and we have built a company that is pretty successful and we make enough money so that we can make long term investments which may not be profitable in the next 10-15 years. And I think through those investments, we are making partnerships with non-profits, mobile operators and governments all over the world. I think that this dream of getting everybody connected is possible in our lifetime.
Q: What is Facebook’s plan for the media, news and publishing platforms in Nigeria who are currently going through the transformation from news print to online?
One of the big things I think we need to do to connect everyone is make sure there is good content representing all cultures and languages. The internet in order for it to be useful you need to have good content that you understand and you want to interact with. One of the things I am most excited about my trip to Lagos is going to check out Nollywood. From everything I have heard, Nollywood sounds like a national treasure and the ability to produce video content that is moving and emotional transcends boundaries and will help tell stories of the amazing innovation, engineering and culture to the whole world. After being here for a short period of time I do believe that there’s no way Nigeria will not end up shaping what is being built around the world. Once people appreciate that, I think the whole world is going to be better of.
Q: Name one thing that was a game changer for you that you did differently while building Facebook?
You’ll never know as much as you need to in the beginning no matter what. This was especially true for me because when I started out, I was 19 years old and I didn’t know anything about business. There were a lot of stuffs I didn’t know. The only way we were going to succeed was if I focus on not what I thought I knew but on making sure I learn everything else as quickly as possible. The secret here is that learning is a process. When you try things and you fail, you shouldn’t be afraid of failure, you should fail and learn from it and make sure you are doing what you can to learn as quickly as possible. I do think that’s why Facebook has been able to evolve so much. Facebook started off as a service for students and it has made a lot of transitions and you only do this by focusing on learning as much as you can.
A lot of times people think these things are straight lines but the best entrepreneurs and the best organisations I have seen are obsessively focused on learning as much as they can every day. As entrepreneurs, engineers and developers, you don’t have the success you are having by making mistakes along the way and rebounding from them and that takes certain persistence and mindsets that you are going to get it done. So I think, if you just stay focused on that, you will succeed.