almost 30 years of industry experience between them, Chude Jideonwo and
Adebola Williams have managed to build a media empire, all before they
They are the co-founders of RED Media Africa, the company
behind well known brands like YNaija, Rubbin’ Minds and The Future Awards.
Techpoint had an engaging afternoon chatting with the RED Media
founders at Adebola Williams’ Lekki, Lagos residence. There they shared
their “origin story”, biggest accomplishments and future aspirations.
Muyiwa Matuluko of Techpoint: How did you guys meet?
Chude Jideonwo of RED Media Africa: We met on the set of Inside Out with Agatha Amata, where I formerly worked as a production assistant. I was working with Funmi Iyanda on New Dawn with Funmi at the time and Debola, I think was running Youth Talk on NTA. Though I no longer worked at Inside Out, I would often attend live recordings.
One this fateful day, I was seated in the audience side-by-side with
Debola and we struck up a conversation. In the course of the
conversation, we realised that we had similar worldviews. We didn’t
think then that we were going to start a business together. We just
continued to keep in touch up until I had to organise a surprise party
for Funmi Iyanda on her 33rd birthday.
I had raised funds for the party through donations from her friends
but I had no clue as to how to organise an event. I reached out to
Debola who introduced me to a friend he was doing business with at the
time. I asked them for help in organising the birthday party which
turned out to be a huge success. That was when we realised, “hey, we can
do stuff together”.
MM: I believe it all started with YNaija right?
Debola Williams of RED Media Africa: No, it started
with The Future Awards. More accurately, it started with our drive to
create content for youth. We wanted to drive conversations around young
people and push them to action. But at that time it wasn’t as clear as
it is now. It was just a passion and we knew we needed to use the media
to push our agenda. We ran a column for Comet Newspaper, which is now
The Nation, targeting young people in campuses. We had another column in
The Guardian, called Young and Nigerian. Everything we’ve done has always been targeted at inspiring young people using the media.
Eventually, we realised we needed to organise an event; something
physical to show the youth concrete hope. Something to say “if these
guys of 19/20 years old are able to achieve this despite all the
challenges in Nigeria, we have no excuse”. We didn’t want to organise
yet another cliche event that would have no solid impact. So it was that
drive for innovation, for something different or special beyond just
being together that birthed The Future Awards.
MM: This was around what year?
MM: So over the past decade you
guys have managed to build a successful business out of inspiring the
youth. But I imagine it must have been terribly though being young
persons yourselves and all.
CJ: To be honest, I don’t complain too much because I
feel that business is tough in and of itself. Nobody builds anything
that is special without facing obstacles. It’s like complaining about
being born; I don’t really think about it.
However, I would say the principal challenge was that
Nigerians didn’t understand or trust young people. What we were trying
to do was novel. We didn’t even know that Africa at the time was
experiencing a youth demography bulge. It wasn’t until the Future
Awards 2010, when NYSC revealed that young people made up 37% of the
Nigerian population, that we realised this. Such data wasn’t available
So when we approached telecoms companies and banks with our
youth-targeted products, they didn’t understand what we were talking
about. They didn’t have the budget or the systemic planning or
institutional knowledge about the size of the youth audience. As far as
they were concerned, there was no validation for our product. So our
primary challenge was with what we were trying to sell — inspiration —
which is not as marketable as sports, music, entertainment or fashion.
These days, I read young people complain about typical challenges
like access to market and funding. I guess if you are looking for
challenges you can add those to the list because we started the business
with zero capital. And when I say that, I don’t mean it metaphorically
or figuratively. We literally started with ₦0. We’ve never ever gotten
capital injection into this business. Nor have we ever gone to a bank
for a loan. In fact it was this year I first learnt the process of
MM: How about your parents. I
imagine they already had your lives planned out for you. Surely, they
must have offered some resistance to what you guys were doing with your
CJ: I was a child of many talents. My
parents thought I was going to be many things – a singer, an actor. My
mother particularly was very supportive. I remember how she and my
father sat me down to help me draft letters to all the Nollywood
distributors in Idumota, just for me to seal an acting audition. We
didn’t know how auditions worked at the time. That’s how supportive my
But to be honest, saw it as a passion, not something that I would do
for a living. So they naturally expected that I would eventually get a
job because that’s how we all understood society. As far as it didn’t
stop my education, they were happy to encourage me in whatever I
was passionate about. I think its basically the same for Debola
DW: My parents actually thought I would end up as a
lawyer or a pastor because I was such a talkative. I knew I always
wanted to be around the media so I eventually started acting. For them
it wasn’t such a big deal. My sisters were also very supportive.
CJ: You know, now that I think of it,
there’s nothing more powerful than a young child believing that whatever
they choose to do, their family will always support them. I never ever
had to doubt that my parents were going to support me.
DW: I think that’s a big lesson for young parents –
because all of us are becoming parents now; the amount of support you
show to your kids will go a long way in how they respond to whatever you
want them to do.
MM: There’s no ignoring the
fact that you both come from different ethnic backgrounds. It’s not
unheard of that our parents’ generation would warn us against doing
business with people from other ethnic backgrounds. Did such a scenario
ever come up? How have you guys successfully managed to stay partners
for over a decade?
CJ: To answer your first question, never. It never
came up at all. From a parental point of view, my mother has never
This is how I view ethnic difference: I tease Debola all the time,
and sometimes I’m serious, about how Yoruba are inclined to talking from
both sides of the mouth. There are things that I might do because of my
ethnic background and collective experience. Maybe I am stingier, maybe
I am more likely to be greedy, you know, because I am Igbo and I grew
up in a certain cultural context. But of course, a person’s context
doesn’t define the person’s behaviour. Rather it creates the background
for a person’s behaviour.
What this means is that if you grew up in a Christian family, you are
very likely to be a Christian. If you grew up in the South-West in the
1970s and 80s, you are likely to be a beneficiary of free education.
Therefore, you are more likely to be better educated than a person who
grew up in a society that was recovering from a war and was therefore
forced to go into enterprise.
We are all different and it is something to be amused and excited by,
rather than afraid of. So if someone says to me, as an Igbo person,
that I can be greedy with money and ownership of things, I look at
myself and think, “that’s interesting”. I’ve caught myself doing this or
that recently. But that’s not who I am. I have grown out of that to
become a more complex character. In my opinion I am very excited and
interested in difference. Including ethnic and religious.
People have tried to put a wedge between me and Debola; claiming he
said certain things and attempting to tie it to the fact that he is
Yoruba. Knowing him, I am aware he could say such a thing but I also
understand the context in which he would say it. I also know he doesn’t
mean me any evil. Most people, instead of acknowledging a person’s
difference deny it. And that is what creates a wedge. It’s just rubbish
that difference is a reason to not do anything because fundamentally we
are all created to be different.
DW: I think other key things that have kept us
together, asides everything else Chude has mentioned, are trust and
character. Chude doesn’t have that many close friends and I’m not sure
that any of them have become sons to his mum as I have. Same with me.
The other day I was with Chude’s mum for an hour and a half; he doesn’t
even know that.
But it’s also about character. Often when you look at people from
failed partnerships, they both probably have character deficiencies. In a
relationship of two people, whether you like it or not, there must be
differences. If both of you are the same, there’s a probability that you
might not be together.
There is also the faith part. Even if your visions are not totally
the same, if you are bound by faith you will align better. Chude and I
pray, fast and do a lot of things together.
Finally, I learned this from one of our mentors, what destroys
partnerships the most is greed. We’ve learnt over the years to see greed
and walk away.
MM: Was there ever a time you seriously considered quitting on the partnership?
CJ: Not really. We have been able to confront the
reality of our differences, negotiate and decide how to navigate them.
We’ve also thought about every break up scenario extensively. In a
partnership, you cannot afford to assume that you will never break. We
are all human and problems are bound to arise. You have to prepare ahead
to ensure these problems never come up. It’s a daily process.
MM: How would advice young people looking to grow a successful business?
DW: I find that many young people are fixated
on looking like they’re winning. They want to look the part without
doing their part. But there should be some kind of work before you get
there. The progression is from hard work to talent before achievement.
You don’t jump from talent to achievement; you have to put in the work.
The Steve Jobs and Bill Gates of this world went through this same
process. You don’t earn it if you don’t learn it. So I encourage young
people to be patient and allow themselves to grow so they don’t end up
as a half-baked whatever it is that they are.
Also, anybody doing business must have counsel. There’s nothing as
valuable as the right advice. You must look for people who you want to
be like and surround yourself with these people. Don’t fool yourself;
the people you surround yourself with, you are like them. Because they
are the ones your subconscious picks up and imitate.
I also recommend reading. I’m not such a voracious reader as I used
to be but I still try to keep up. I am better with conversations so I
also go around having great conversations and learning from them because
I talk through problems. Chude on the other hand thinks through
Finally, you need to know yourself. It’s very important. Know your
weaknesses and strengths. You have to be in a place that you love so
that even when things are hard , even when it is draining and sucking
you up, because it is what your personality can handle generally, you
stay put. You have to stay in your place of growth. Some seeds can grow
in tropical weather and some can’t. Doing this also informs you if you
need a partner or not. But in my opinion two heads are always better
CJ: Debola has said it all.
MM: What would you say is your biggest success story so far?
CJ: For me, it’s the people who have passed through
RED. You should understand this because you yourself have passed
through. RED, I believe, is perhaps the media company in Nigeria that,
save for maybe Insight, has incubated the largest amount of influential
talent in this media space. Muyiwa Matuluko of Techpoint (that’s me),
Bankole Oluwafemi of TechCabal, Jadesola Osiberu of NdaniTV, who was
editor of Y! Magazine, Bukonla Adebakin who joined RED as a volunteer,
the list goes on. All of them have become superstars in their own right.
DW: I would also include the people that have passed through our Future Awards Enterprise Support Scheme; Seun Onigbinde of BudgIT,
Bayo Omoboriowo who is President Buhari’s official photographer,
Emmanuel Olaleke. Kayode Okelawa. Jide Taiwo, Executive Editor of the
MM: What is the future like for RED Media Africa?
CJ: My favourite books are by Jim Collins. I have read 4 of them — Built to Last, Good to Great,
Great by Choice and Good to Great and the Social Sectors. The general
theme of his books is that the most important product for every business
to build is the company.
There are many businesses looking to create killer products. If you
are going to be in business for 3-5 years, that’s fine. But if you are
looking to stay relevant for a long time, your most important product is
your company. And so we’ve spent the last 10 years building a
foundation for a company.
Now we are building clarity around strengthening our various products
towards becoming monopolies in their markets. That’s where we are
going. Coming up to this level RED has moved based on the network
effect; the connectivity of our brands create one beautiful product.
Moving forward we want each of those products in and of themselves to
become networks of their own.