Interview with iROKOtv COO and Spark MD Bastian Gotter
Interview with iROKOtv COO and Spark MD Bastian Gotter
Bastian Gotter is the co-founder and managing partner of Nigerian startup seed fund Spark.
In addition he is also the chief operating officer of popular internet television streaming service iROKOtv, which he co-founded with entrepreneur Jason Njoku.
Simnikiwe Mzekandaba ITWeb Africa assistant editor spoke to Gotter about his move to populous nation Nigeria and linking up with his business partner to set up their entrepreneurship meets innovation business.
SIMNIKIWE MZEKANDABA: Can you tell me more about Spark and how it works?
BASTIAN GOTTER: Spark is a company that builds companies. We invest in internet startups, ranging from a hotel room booking website for Nigeria (www.hotels.ng), to a clothing commerce store (www.giddimint.ng), to a drinks distribution company (www.drinks.ng). We give our companies office space to work from, provide them with backroom assistance, legal and tech support etc, and remove all the logistical and admin problems of setting up a business in Nigeria, leaving our guys to focus 100% on building their business and making money.
SIMNIKIWE MZEKANDABA: And what were you doing before you decided to be part of Spark?
BASTIAN GOTTER: From leaving University until April 2012, I worked as an oil trader for BP. I left my job there to become full-time COO for iROKOtv, the company I invested in and co-founded with my best friend and business partner, Jason Njoku. We saw relative success with iROKOtv in a short space of time and became immersed in the Nigerian internet and tech scene and decided that our longer-term goal would be to reinvest our money into the future of the Nigerian internet sector. Why? It’s an area in which we have accrued a lot of knowledge, we are passionate about all things African-tech and we know that it will be an area of incredible growth over the coming years – it will most certainly keep us busy for the next decade at least.
SIMNIKIWE MZEKANDABA: Was the African tech space then motivation to launch Spark?
BASTIAN GOTTER: Three years ago, Jason was trying to start an internet company in Africa. He spoke to friends, family, investors – a whole host of people – in an attempt to secure funding for his idea. He got nowhere. I had helped him out with small investments from day one, and that enabled him to land in Lagos. That allowed him to exist, but in terms of actually building a business, he wasn’t able to do much without a significant injection of cash. That, in the end, came from me and my savings; the best investment I ever made, although I’m not sure if I knew that at the time.
So, from that experience, we realised that it couldn’t just be us who struggled to get funding for a startup. The more people we spoke to, the more we realised that the issue was endemic and that talented young people simply weren’t able to start their business. The current business eco-system is not in any way structured to support startups. Nigeria is an expensive place to do business; renting an office space alone is expensive enough, but you have to find two years’ rent upfront. The internet, wholly affordable in the West but brutally expensive in Africa, can even hinder a tech startup. If you can’t afford a good internet connection, you’re not going to be launching an internet business - it’s that simple.
So Jason and I looked at the barriers facing startups, we looked at the incredible opportunities for internet companies in Africa and we married the two; seed investment and mentorship for the brightest, most exciting entrepreneurs who want to be at the forefront of the Nigerian internet sector.
SIMNIKIWE MZEKANDABA: Who does Spark try to attract?
BASTIAN GOTTER: The hungriest, sharpest, most exciting young entrepreneurs in Nigeria at the moment, who will, in a few years’ time, be leading the African internet commerce revolution.
SIMNIKIWE MZEKANDABA: And how has the response been like?
BASTIAN GOTTER: It’s been overwhelming – we’ve had an incredible amount of interest from investors around the world, looking to work with us, as well as entrepreneurs looking for us to invest in their companies. Unfortunately, we are not in a position to work with all of the companies that have approached us – we are extremely selective about the companies we invest in and help to build up. Conversely, one or two companies that we approached to work with have declined our proposed investments, choosing to go it alone. That’s the nature of business and we respect those who want to stick to their vision for their business.
SIMNIKIWE MZEKANDABA: Spark recently secured an investment of $2 million – have you found that since you launched there has been interest from international investors?
BASTIAN GOTTER: Yes, absolutely. Investors know that Africa is an exciting proposition, and they know the areas of growth, but they are not always 100% sure where exactly to channel their investments, especially if they are not located in Africa. They want to work with reputable entrepreneurs who have local on-the-ground knowledge and that’s where myself and Jason come into it.
SIMNIKIWE MZEKANDABA: From which regions are the investments mainly coming from?
BASTIAN GOTTER: So far, it’s predominantly the West – the US and Europe, although we also received investment from a high net worth individual in Singapore; all located in mature economic and investment markets. That being said, we have cut deals with some Africa-based investors very recently and I hope this becomes a trend. I should say, we are having more discussions with African investors, which is positive – I think it will just take a little more time.
SIMNIKIWE MZEKANDABA: How important is technology for African startups?
BASTIAN GOTTER: Technology will be at the heart of absolutely every business operation in Africa in the coming decades. Not just startups, but also the bigger, more traditional sectors as well. Everything from mining and agriculture to entertainment and commerce, tech will infiltrate every aspect of our lives. Tech start-ups will play a huge part in this, either supporting the more traditional sectors or in creating a whole new sub-sector, such as e-commerce.
SIMNIKIWE MZEKANDABA: And what would you say about the Nigerian technology space?
BASTIAN GOTTER: We see Lagos as the gateway to the tech revolution not only for Nigeria, but the whole of Africa. The city has the talent, it has a galvanised and talented workforce and it is attracting more investment into business infrastructure – not at the rate I would like it to, but it is happening. There’s also a network of tech blogs that are helping to share information and build an online community, so the ingredients are there to make something massive happen – it’s just a matter of time.
SIMNIKIWE MZEKANDABA: Besides Spark, what other projects are you involved with?
BASTIAN GOTTER: I’m the co-founder and COO of iROKOtv and I am also involved with KULUYA – the African gaming site.
SIMNIKIWE MZEKANDABA: And outside the office what do you like to do?
BASTIAN GOTTER: I run two companies, so I don’t get a huge amount of free time. However, I love sport – I’ve always loved sports, so that takes up a lot of my free time. I’m also still getting to know Lagos, having only moved here in January, so I’m busy exploring all the events and activities the city has to offer.
SIMNIKIWE MZEKANDABA: What advice would you give to someone looking to get involved in establishing a technology start up?
BASTIAN GOTTER: The opportunities here in Nigeria, and across Africa, are extremely exciting for tech people, and now is the time to get involved, whilst the industry is relatively young. Billions of dollars of value has been attributed to the internet and tech sector in North America, Europe and Asia, almost to the point of saturation. The African tech market and the African consumer are, as yet, relatively untapped, even though the continent has a youthful population who will, undoubtedly come to embrace technology as a second language (65% of people in Africa are under the age of 35). It is clear that this African market is on the brink of something very exciting.