Sakhile Xulu is the Co-Founder and CEO of Qisimah, a radio content monitoring platform that provides key stakeholders in the music industry with real-time data and analysis regarding their music. He believes that “there is a burning sensation to realize the [entrepreneurial] potential that our continent has.”
In this exclusive interview he shares his thoughts on the Africa’s music landscape, and how technology can help shape Africa’s future.
As an entrepreneur whose business has grown from providing data analysis and insights, to building infrastructure for the music industry in Africa, what are your thoughts about the music entrepreneurship landscape in Africa?
Like people, we believe audio files leave behind a rich trail of both digital and offline breadcrumbs which if processed effectively can uncover patterns and insights that can help various stakeholders in the music industry make more prudent decisions. We have learned a lot about the African music entrepreneurship landscape through our Audio Insights platform, that mines broadcast media channels like radio/television for insights when it comes to the rotation of music.
By studying the metadata formats that come attached to audio files, we have learned the following:
In our recent study, we discovered that in Ghana 84% of the content/music that is aired on the major broadcast media channels is local, which is a positive step that is encouraging Africans to consume local content. This seems to be a growing narrative across the continent which will undoubtedly have a positive impact on the growth of the African Music Industry.
The biggest threat that we have identified in our music industry is the current structure of how music is distributed. Musicians do not own the means of distribution, which means a lot of middle men/women exist within the ecosystem to help musicians distribute their content/music far and wide. Unfortunately, this means the proceeds received from sales is then divided across many parties and the musician/artist is left with nothing. We need to find or create better distribution channels if we are to achieve the potential that the African music industry holds.
Your professional and work journey didn’t start in the music industry, you in fact handled client success support for a software as a service (SaaS) company prior to Qisimah. What drew you to the music industry? What was the catch for you?
The problem of extracting data from radio/Tv was an obstacle we had come across before as young men who had worked in media-related industries in the past. Over the past 20 years, we have seen the internet surpass traditional mediums of communications like television and radio to become the dominant medium of communication globally in regards to revenue generation. Mainly because on the internet the impact of a media campaign can be measured, you can tell how many people have seen and engaged with a particular campaign and more importantly where they are from. Thus, as a team, we saw radio/TV as an undervalued asset in comparison to the internet in regards to the collection of data that can possibly equip decision makers with actionable information to make better decisions. Our motivation behind creating Qisimah was to really debunk the myth that radio was dying, we wanted to show its commercial importance to organizations and the world. Radio penetration globally sits at 75%, that means over 3 billion people listen to the radio on a daily basis. Thus, it is no surprise to us that music that is played on the radio gets 23% more sales in comparison to music that is not.
You had about a year of training at the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST) prior to launching Qisimah. How important would you say programmes like MEST are for an entrepreneur?
Organizations like MEST are critical to the development of entrepreneurs in Africa, they play a critical role in 4th industrialization skills development for the continent. They equip individuals with the necessary foundation to potentially succeed in running their own private entities. The private sector also benefits incredibly from the efforts of organizations like MEST, they absorb great talent from the program into their organizations.
Speaking of opportunities and programmes like MEST and others alike, what other opportunities and support do you think can and should be provided for African entrepreneurs, to achieve economic growth and diversity for the continent?
A structured funding approach, capital does not guarantee success but it gives you a longer runway to make mistakes and ultimately figure things out. I believe entrepreneurs should be funded as follows:
Stage 1: Funding should be given for the development of the idea. Entrepreneurs should be given stage 1 funding to validate their ideas and ultimately build a minimum viable product.
Stage 2: This is execution capital. This capital goes into launching the product into the market and building internal processes that will help the business thrive.
On your journey so far, especially with the decision to move your operations base from South Africa to Ghana, what have you observed to be common amongst entrepreneurs across Africa?
There is a common understanding that we as the youth of the continent have an obligation to advance the interests of Africa. There is a burning sensation to realize the potential that our continent has.
What are the key goals for the African music industry that you hope to achieve with Qisimah?
We hope Qisimah becomes the technological partner to the African music industry. Our job is to put the technological infrastructure in place to empower all organizations that operate within our ecosystem. Our biggest goal as a company is to empower all organizations that are responsible for paying royalties to artists for the use of their content/music with data for them to be able to do so. Aside from extracting data from radio/TV, this year we will begin extracting music consumption data from nightclubs and other venues that use music.
Amongst several other achievements, you won the World Summit Awards in 2017 and you were recently announced as a Youth Ambassador for the same award, how would you say these achievements have impacted your journey so far?
To be acknowledged at that level is a humbling experience. It has given me the vote of confidence required to continue on an audacious path we have chosen as a startup, which is to build the technological infrastructure for the African music industry.
A lot continues to be said about the rise of Africa, the ‘Africa Rising’ narrative it is called. Do you agree that Africa is indeed rising? If so, what are the changing realities, scenarios and events that inform your conviction that Africa is indeed a continent on the rise?
Without a doubt, Africa is indeed rising. The amount of foreign venture capital coming into the continent is unprecedented, it is just unfortunate that very few Africans with means are participating in the empowerment of local entrepreneurs. The biggest problem is that we look at growth from a linear perspective, Africa’s growth is going to be exponential in nature only if we take advantage of the internet and technological advancement to solve African problems.
Also, do you think that a collective ‘Africa Rising’ narrative might also be responsible for expanding market opportunities across the continent, such that, an innovative business in Nairobi might become more appealing to a customer in Nigeria because the business is captured as an Africa Rising story and not only a Kenya Rising story? Essentially, I’m asking if there any benefits derived from the ‘Africa Rising’ tagline that are worth mentioning and highlighting?
The Africa rising narrative is important from an awareness perspective, it is critical for other Africans to know that amazing people are inventing great solutions on the continent. For many years stories of African heroes were not told, thus the African youth were deprived of an opportunity to resonate with local role models, rather they were forced to resonate with heroes of a foreign land like Silicon Valley. It is important for an African child to know that brilliance is possible on the continent, this will inspire them to not only pursue audacious ventures but also attract Africans who live abroad to come back home and help build the continent together. The Africa Rising narrative is more important than ever as Africa tries to make that great leap into one of the fastest growing regions in the world.
What should Africa look forward to from you soon? What is the next big thing you are working on right now?
Today, I have a mandate not only to myself but my team, investors and customers to do whatever it takes within the confines of the law to make Qisimah successful. I like to refer to myself as a student of the game, I am currently in the process of aligning myself with some of the most experienced entrepreneurs and venture capitalists in the world for learning purposes. I am sure whatever I do in the future will be within the confines of progressing the African narrative, entrepreneurship, and venture capitalism.