Olawale Adetula talks about launching The Naked Convos app and his journey so far

Earlier in January 2017, The Naked Convos (TNC) announced the launch of their new app, TNC Short Stories. The app is meant to extend what TNC is already doing with their online platform, i.e. provide young Nigerians with a platform where they can engage in conversations about relationships, music, movies, health, sports, news and entertainment by publishing opinion pieces, short stories, polls, poetry, serialized fiction (series) and other material.

What particularly caught my eye with the TNC Short Stories app is the format in which they deliver the stories to the users. The short stories are delivered on the TNC Short Stories app in short bursts of text messages like you consume text messages on most messaging services. I decided to have a chat with Olawale Adetula, founder of Helium Media, to learn more about why he chose this method to deliver short stories to users and his journey in the digital media sector so far.

Olawale Adetula
Olawale Adetula, founder at Helium Media.

iAfrikan: Why did you start The Naked Convos?

Olawale Adetula: After blogging on different platforms in the early 2000’s, I realized there wasn’t one place young Nigerians could go to freely express themselves without fear of being judged or bullied. And a lot of young Nigerians had so many questions on their minds but due to our culture of shying away from certain topics considered taboo, being overly expressive publicly wasn’t a common thing.

And so, I had the idea to create a safe and open digital community where everyone was welcome to express themselves on anything and everything. They could do it using a short story, poetry or an opinion article. This was the initial idea behind TNC.

After a while, it became obvious that the contributors on the platform were not just expressing themselves but also creating content - really good content too. Many had hidden talents for crafting amazing fictional stories that thoroughly engaged their audience. This was when we decided to shift the focus to the creators and help them further develop their talent.

What are some of the hurdles you have experienced as a digital media entrepreneur in Nigeria?

We face all the usual hurdles any startup in this region would face - funding, access to trained talent etc. But what stood out for me was the resistance we got from our immediate society. What we were trying to do was new - never had anyone tried to challenge the status quo and get young people speak up openly on topics like gender equality, sex, sexuality, religion, politics and more. We were basically rewriting culture and trying to change mindsets and many were not happy with us. And so we got condemned publicly and privately but we pushed.

Perhaps for those not familiar with The Naked Convos and the TNC Short Stories app, run us through how they work.

The site is now what we call an open publishing platform. Anyone anywhere can register, get an account and using our unique contributors module, they can easily create content in the form of short stories, serialized fiction or opinion pieces. Once they’re done with their piece, they submit to us and our editors will review the submission to check for basic things like grammar, punctuation and compliance with our guidelines. Once the submission passes the review, it’s scheduled for publishing and the content creator is notified.

Upon publishing, the content creator earns money based on the number of unique views and comments their content gets. This is managed by an algorithm built into our platforms, which assigns a daily value for a view and comment based on traffic to the platform. This continues for 25 days (active lifespan of content published on our platform). After this period, if the contributor has amassed enough to hit our payout threshold, they can request a payout and they’ll receive their money in a matter of hours.

After successfully running this model for a couple of years on our platform, we decided to also include it in the TNC Stories app. The only difference is that content creators earn based on how many times other users tap on their phones while reading their stories (we call this HOOTs). In the user profile section of the app, users can see how much they have earned and they can also request payout once they hit the payment threshold.

How is traction looking like?

On the TNC website we have registered and worked directly with 1000+ writers and for the TNC stories app which is just a week old, we have already seen a thousand downloads and many of the users are already trying out the app and creating their own stories.

Why did you choose the story format that you did

It’s all about making content available in the most natural form. Many years ago, that used to be print - newspapers, books etc. Then we went digital and it was all about screens - desktops, tablets, mobile phones but nowadays its not so much about the hardware but the format with which the content is delivered. We see messaging apps and platforms like Twitter thriving and one of the reasons is format the content is delivered as well as the level of engagement on those platforms. This is what we are trying to recreate with an app like TNC Stories. Content in short text message format with that element of engagement because the user has to tap on the screen of their phone to move the conversation forward.

In your view, what do you think are the trends we need to look out for in 2018 in the digital media space?

For this year, I’d say the battle to engage a continuously distracted audience will continue. That’s why video will still be huge - not like it was said to be the last couple of years. With the now popular “stories” format as well as live video, digital content creators cannot really exploit these formats with maximum creativity to take things to the next level.

Also I think, AI will feature more in the industry. Many creators and publishers have collected data for years, which they really haven’t maximized. This year, many will dig into their data to properly understand their audience and what they really like. Combining this with AI, machine learning will help creators become more intelligent in producing content that people really want.

Finally, I believe we will begin to pay more attention to the power of audio. Google Home, Amazon Echo, Apple Home Pod - all these devices are gaining traction and content creators need to move with the time and starting thinking of how they can create audio friendly content.

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