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Forbes Africa — The Journey

This first edition of FORBES AFRICA is a milestone in business journalism in Africa. It is also a story of entrepreneurship and investment in the challenging world of media.

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FORBES AFRICA’s publisher, Rakesh Wahi, is also the co-founder and vice chairman of Africa Business News (ABN), which also owns CNBC Africa.

Deal of a lifetime: Rakesh Wahi signs the FORBES AFRICA franchise agreement with Gary Alfonso, editor-in-chief; Roberta Naidoo, general manager; and Sid Wahi, project manager in attendance.

As an entrepreneur in the media space in Africa, why did you choose FORBES AFRICA as your next venture?

Our vision for ABN from the beginning was to create a business media conglomerate that would have a point of presence in all African countries. The intent is to have a mechanism to aggregate real-time information from across the continent and roll it out in different media, namely television, print and online. Both aggregation and exhibition have to be carried out in tandem to make the business model viable.

The television business was set up in June 2007 with CNBC as our partner. CNBC is a global leader in business television. For the print business we evaluated several options, but the FORBES brand is the one that my partner, Zafar Siddiqi, and I pursued as it is, to our minds, the most inspirational business magazine in the world.

How did it come about?

My interaction started with the management of FORBES in June 2008. They had tried to enter the African market earlier but were not able to find the right partnership model, and hence were also waiting for the right opportunity.

As in any business relationship, there was a lot of due diligence requirements and submissions of business plans, etcetera. Our vision and our presence in the business media genre were clearly key factors, which went in our favor.

What did the process entail? Was it complicated or simple?

The process, by our own requirements, needed us to carry out an in-depth analysis of the print industry in Africa and the gaps that we wanted to fill in a market that was cluttered with a lot of other good quality products. We had to first convince ourselves that there was a demand and secondly, we were well placed to meet that demand. I allocated sufficient resources to making this initial determination.

Our initial findings were positive, with several cautions. We had to work through these red flags to make sure that we had the right answers—firstly, from the perspective of the market, and more importantly, viable commercially, keeping in mind the expectations of FORBES.

I think that in any venture, it’s important to spend a lot of time on getting the fundamentals right. The process, therefore, is not complicated or simple, but is mainly focused on being very thorough. The legal agreements were cumbersome and I had a good team, led by Gary Alfonso and Roberta Naidoo, working with me on the transaction.

While the recession delayed our plans, the real challenges started once we took a decision to launch. My son Sidharth stepped up as the project manager for the business and has worked tirelessly with the team to set the ball in motion. We now have a full team on board, with Chris Bishop leading the charge as managing editor.

Why did you see FORBES AFRICA particularly as an opportunity? Isn’t print journalism a dying breed in the world of publishing?

I would not have ventured into this business without having the synergies with our existing business. We have operating synergies in the business news genre and this was the primary consideration. Zafar and I spent a lot of time with our shareholders and management team to analyze issues and came up with a plan that we thought would work.

Co-founder and Chairman Zafar Siddiqi with publisher and co-founder Rakesh Wahi

Keeping in mind media consumption habits of the future and recognizing that the future lies in hand-held devices, we have a strategy on building the subscription model via the internet. The shape of the final product will be revealed in the not-so-distant future and is being worked on together with our partners in New York.

What’s your vision for a media group that now owns the Africa distribution rights of two of the most powerful business news brands in the world?

Our vision remains unchanged on our ambition to be Africa’s most powerful business media conglomerate. We are expanding our geographic network and will have a physical presence in 10 African countries by 2012 and 18 countries by 2014.

We see ourselves looking at distribution as a means to achieve our goals for viewership and will be seeking partnerships on terrestrial networks across Africa, and where possible, acquire networks.

On the print side, we are interested in adding to our stable and will seek other titles that we can bolt into our business to achieve efficiencies and additional economies of scale.

On the internet side, we are building great momentum on ABN Digital (www.abndigital.com) and via YouTube, where more than one million views of our content have been downloaded. Evolution of the telecoms sector will bring about a lot of changes in the delivery of content and we are making all the necessary arrangements to be there when that happens.

What’s your view on Africa as a marketplace? And the future of the media industry on the African continent?

Zafar and I are both great believers in the African story. We have been here for seven years now and think that this has been the most incredible learning experience of our lives.

If you analyze Africa without South Africa, you will see the opportunity in every area of economic development. Media is very immature on the continent, from both a reporting and consumption perspective. The revenue drivers are tough; skills are lacking and costs are high. Consequently, there has been limited interest for media companies to push ahead on a pan-African model.

The FORBES AFRICA team

Our shareholders, like the IDC, share our vision to build the African marketplace. It is my belief that the industry needs to rally behind some common objectives of sharing and building capacity on the continent. Governments have to be active participants in the process of deregulation and being active catalysts to growth, and not become impediments to the free flow of information. Transparency is an inevitable part of economic growth and media will play an important role in shaping the opinion of constituents.

I do believe that we are already adding value to this process and hope that we can achieve all our near-term goals on the continent.

 

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