TechInAfrica – Meet Jad Aizarani, Smubu co-founder – a startup which work hard to create a connection between ourselves and the artists residing in East Africa. They are determined to allow artists complete right to their music by fighting online websites that publically allow users to download artists’ songs without any consent from the artists.
First of all, can you pitch us your company in just a few sentences?
Smubu is a music streaming platform that aims to make African music legally and easily accessible to all users in Africa. What makes us different is that our vision that is built on working closely with artists in providing them their fair share of revenue for every single download they get on our platform. The platform is technically built to provide statistics, potential revenue, and tracks download numbers and streams.
Can you tell us more about yourself, your personal background, your experience and how you went to this journey ?
Personally, my passion for innovating and creating ideas started when I was very young. At the age of 13, I developed my first startup (MediaRhyme) a search engine that worked on Instant search (which Google hadn’t yet introduced it at that time). It made me acquire the technical side of things, after a couple of years I opened up a digital agency, in which we developed a lot of projects from static websites to complex mobile applications and websites. A lot of people come to me and tell me they want to build an application, yet they have very little know-how on how tech, applications, and businesses online truly function. As a service, we offer them mentorship and guidance prior to developing the applications; and in some cases, if the individual behind the idea is passionate enough, we offer our services in return for equity in the startup.
Because of my personal passion towards music and technology, I always wanted to give back to the music industry in one way or another, when we looked at Europe, the US, and the Middle-East we found there have been great music apps in the market; but when myself and my co-founder, Heba El Houjairy, looked at Africa, we discovered that there is not one properly, legally, and locally built app in the continent; despite multiple attempts from multiple companies. That’s where it all started.
Can you tell us more about Nairobi? Why this market?
When looking at markets, and after research, we found that the best continent to launch a music application was the African continent. The continent still does not have an amazingly locally built music application, and that is what we are trying to do; building great user experience, artists getting paid, users enjoying on-demand music; anytime and anywhere. We are initially focused on East Africa, the music here amazes me and my team, and we truly believe that we can push it internationally. Our headquarters is in Nairobi, but we have an office in Uganda, and soon will have an office in Tanzania. Our goal is to further expand to the West in the coming months.
What are the main issues you have been facing with SMUBU in Nairobi?
Reaching out to artists isn’t very easy especially when there is not a single label that had already signed rights to artist’ music, so that is definitely a struggle, but we are definitely working around contacting each and every artist to explain our model and vision. On the other hand, another struggle would be due to the fact that there have been a lot of “side-project” music apps that have been deployed in the market; with some fake-promises being thrown here and there. It has become more difficult for artists to give you their trust after bad experiences. There were a couple of apps that promised payments yet when we ask the artists we deal with, they mention that they haven’t truly gotten a cent from them; it truly is quiet disappointing, but then again, that is why we are here.
We’re here to stay, and to make a difference in the music game in Africa. We hope for Smubu will become a home for all musicians emerging in Africa as our future plans is to sponsor upcoming artists in the region.
Who are your main competitors around? And outside of the country, who are your inspiration?
I think there are quiet a few apps here and there. Some have proven the model that there is a demand for a proper African music app. Our inspiration would be Spotify, when I look at their technology and their vision; I could definitely see resemblance and mutuality in our mentality and goals. I think they’ve done a great job in bringing music to everyone worldwide.
What is your point of view, as a startup founder, about Nairobi?
I think Nairobi is a great city for a startup to initiate. Infrastructure is present, tech talent is available; and there is no barrier that actually stands in ones way to start a business here. Day by day I see hustlers in this city and it makes all of us happy to be here.
Is it hard to find investors there?
We personally do not know if it is hard or not, as we haven’t tried to scout for any investment in Kenya, yet. But when you look at the infrastructure of tech hubs, co-working spaces, and mentorship programs; I do believe investors are present here and waiting for startups to come so that can start writing cheques.
What do you think is lacking to Nairobi to develop it more? What are the main barriers to develop a startup there?
As stated above, I think Nairobi’s infrastructure is decent and suitable for a startup for operate here. Ease of payments are somewhat easier than in advanced countries, which makes things quiet easy when a business want to make revenue online. I think maybe a barrier would be the high Tax Rate, it might push some investors to choose another country; but then again, there is not rigid barrier that would break a startup.
What is your perspective for the next years on Nairobi and more regionally on Africa?
We do believe advancement is coming, in terms of Internet and tech startups. Fin-tech is big here; I think a lot more Fin-tech startups will soon emerge in Nairobi and Africa in general. The region will definitely attract more investors to come and set-up business here and invest in startups that are locally built. Furthermore, I believe tech would be pushed more in University programs; it has shown its importance in the region and will keep growing as the years go by.
As you know, we are always on the look of great startups, new products and amazing entrepreneurs, could you name a few locally or regionally in Nairobi?
Jumia is a great startup that has emerged from Africa. That’s one great product I have seen emerge out of the continent.