Nike hires Nigerian artist Laolu Senbanjo to create Air Max inspired art in New York

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Mar 19, 2016. The Nerve Africa

For Nigerian visual artist and musician Laolu Senbanjo, all he wanted as a kid was happiness and growing up to become someone relevant to the society. While he thought he would grow up to draw comics for Marvel and DC, he ended up at Nike. The American sportswear company has selected him as a Master of Air which will see him create art-inspired Air Max at the Air Max Con 2016.

Laolu has one thing working for him, Afromysterics, his style of art developed over the years. Most of the things he draws has a lot to do with African themes and African traditions, hence the name, “Afromysterics” which he coined around 2006 – 2007. It simply means “the mystery of the African thought pattern.”The same style informed Nike’s decision to make him a Master of Air and he will weave stories through lines and patterns at Air Max Con NYC, drawing inspiration from his Yoruba heritage and global travels. Laolu will be creating art, incorporating his love for Air Max (Air Max 90 is his favourite), New York City, and sports.


Reacting to the news of his selection by Nike, Laolu said: “I’m making my dreams a reality. This is my ayanmo (a Yoruba word for ‘destiny’). Create your destiny. Let me be your inspiration. Just do it!”

Although he bagged a degree in Law at Nigeria’s University of Ilorin, it has always been art first for him. Today, he uses his knowledge in law to ensure his copyrights and intellectual property are protected. But art has always been the priority.

Laolu once said he was the type of child to see faces in the random patterns on the terrazzo tiles in the courtyard and bathroom. “The patterns in kampala and Ankara used to really fascinate me,” he told a Nigerian blog in 2012.

He started his art with charcoal. This was because charcoal is one of the oldest art materials. “Prehistoric man used charcoal to create cave art, we can still see some of it today,” he says.

From his first exhibition in December 2009 at the Elephant House, Ikeja, Lagos where he did not sell a single work of art, until now, Laolu Sebanjo has gone a long way.


From March 24 to March 26, Laolu’s work will highlight his African roots as the world celebrates Nike’s popular Air Max brand. His special appearance will be on March 25, from 7-8PM.

The convention Air Max Day was introduced by Nike in 2014. It was created to celebrate the history of Air Max, which stretches back to March 24, 1987.

Called “the ultimate Air Max experience,” Air Max Con will pay tribute to an icon, along with the sneaker design, heritage and innovation that has shaped the culture of the streets today.

Nike says attendees will be able to “step into the shoes of a designer, meet the Masters of Air, and share experience with the sneaker community.”

It would be great to see what Laolu does with the Air Max. But beyond the event, Laolu’s art will keep making Africa proud as he continues to use his work to make people recognize the potential of art to be used to transmit ideas, messages and concepts.

The talented Nigerian artist, who also sings and plays the guitar, says he is always ready to work with “anyone interested in harnessing the ability of art to communicate ideas and abstract concepts  in an aesthetically pleasing way”.

Check out Laolu’s amazing work here.


Netflix is launching in Africa; will DSTV finally meet its waterloo?

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Dec 27, 2015. The Nerve Africa

There must have been an emergency meeting called in South Africa, home of Multichoice, which owns pay television service DSTV, when Netflix announced it was entering Africa’s most advanced economy in 2016. By August, Multichoice’s parent firm Naspers had responded with the launch of its own online video on demand service to rival Netflix, the international provider of on-demand Internet streaming media with over 26 million subscribers worldwide. The battle will be among Netflix, ShowMax and other Video-on-Demand (VoDs) in South Africa. Several DSTV subscribers that are not on the service for sport are already moving over to on-demand TV service. More will do when Netflix launches. Apart from cost effectiveness of VoDs, Netflix is expected to pull its originals off DSTV.

Cost of Subscription

For years, Africans have been held to ransom by DSTV which is by far the best pay television service on the continent in terms of content. However, changing consumer behaviour over the past half-decade has increased demand for better subscription pricing. While some subscribers call for subscription prices to be slashed, others ask to pay only for what they use. People almost never watch television shows when they are broadcast anymore. The television consumer, like every other consumer, according to 5 African Consumer Trends for 2016, is tending towards on-demand service. But for lack of a better option, Africans have continued to subscribe to DSTV. Once Netflix launches in South Africa, a lot of DSTV subscribers who are on the pay TV service only for movies will move on.

Netflix launch

When the popular streaming service first announced plans to enter South Africa earlier this year, its projection was ‘within the next two years’, but the company moved earlier than expected, apparently due to the presence of a ready market itching to get on the service. Some Africans have even devised means of circumventing Netflix’s geographic restriction to access the service from the continent, meaning they are ready to pay the current subscription fees charged anywhere else by Netflix. Now, industry sources, according to Mybroadband, say the on-demand TV service will launch in South Africa next month.

A survey by Mybroadband shows early adopters in South Africa are willing to pay R124.54 for a monthly Netflix subscription. ShowMax charges R99 per month for its premium service.

Data challenge

One challenge that has hindered the growth of online streaming in Africa is cost and quality of data. But the issue of quality is being addressed already with the advent of LTE internet service providers offering speed of up to 32mps. Cost is also going down in some parts of the continent and this is expected to continue with increasing demand.

According to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), broadband is now affordable in 111 countries of the world, with the cost of a basic (fixed or mobile) broadband plan corresponding to less than five per cent of Gross National Income (GNI) per capita, thus meeting the target set by the Broadband Commission for Digital Development.

Mobile broadband is the most dynamic market segment. In 2015, 69 percent of the global population will be covered by 3G mobile broadband, up from 45 percent in 2011. The network is also expanding into rural areas, and according to ITU, 29 percent of the 3.4 billion people worldwide living in rural areas will be covered by 3G mobile broadband by the end of 2015.

ITU estimates that between 2000 and 2015, Internet penetration has increased to 43 percent of the global population, from 6.5 percent, with the proportion of households with Internet access at home advanced from 18 percent in 2005 to 46 per cent in 2015. Although ITU figures also indicate that four billion people in the developing world remain offline, significant success has been recorded.

The Future

With lower data cost and changing consumer behaviour driving up demand for on-demand TV, DSTV and other pay television service providers alike, will struggle. The saving grace for DSTV is its sports offering. With the South African pay TV service holding the rights to air English Premier League among other sports on the continent for years to come, the arrival of Netflix and increased adoption of other VoDs on the continent may not hit DSTV just yet. However, what could be a nail in the coffin of the pay TV service will be the arrival of a sports online streaming service that allows you pay only for what you watch. If such comes on, it will be the answer to the undying request of consumers in Africa; no one will be left behind in its adoption if data services improve on the continent. DSTV and other pay TV services will have to drop subscription cost and allow users pay less for more if they want to retain them. However, Naspers is not caught unawares as its ShowMax has given it a level playing field to compete with the biggest names in online streaming. The media group will be hoping whatever it loses in pay TV can be recovered online.

How Youtube helped turn a 30 year old Nigerian graduate to a millionaire motor mechanic

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Jan 11, 2016. The Nerve Africa

“We may place blame, give reasons, and even have excuses; but in the end, it is an act of cowardice to not follow your dreams.”  ― Behavioral Science Academic, Dr. Steve Maraboli.

He studied Economics because his sister said it was a good course, studied for MBA as advised by his parents, so as to end up in an exquisite office where he would earn a six-figure salary. But what he truly wanted was to be a motor mechanic.

Somewhere in Nigeria’s commercial nerve, Lagos, 30-year-old Taiwo Abiri is living his dream of making money by getting his hands dirty. For years he watched Youtube videos on car repairs and tried his hands a couple of times on things after learning on Youtube. In fact, Taiwo’s first engine oil change for a car was done following steps he had learnt on Youtube. To him, the video streaming platform played a critical role in shaping his dream for the future. Years of watching such videos and reading a lot of books about how automobiles work had piqued his interest in car repairs and he never went for the MBA his parents wanted for him. Two of his friends who studied with him ahead of their application both did well; one went to France, the other to the United States but Taiwo chose to stay back in Nigeria and learn how to repair cars. His friends are doing well now, but Taiwo is not doing badly either; last year he made a revenue of N25 million ($126,000) at his makeshift shop. He moved to a bigger place towards the end of last year and he said he was just getting started. “I haven’t even done up to half of what I have in my business plan,” Taiwo told me.

As we sat to discuss at his container office, he asked again for The Nerve Africa’s website address, punching in the alphabets one after the other on his old unbranded laptop that looked perfect for a mechanic. His internet connection was messing up and he gave up for a while, apologizing for interrupting at intervals to courteously bark out orders at apprentices working on cars at his garage.

“I wanted to go to a technical school in the U.S. to learn about car repairs but I couldn’t because my parents were not supportive. I did not want to go for my NYSC. The school had already taken me but the money was a lot. I couldn’t pay. They just wanted me to do an MBA. My Dad said being a mechanic was bad of a university graduate,” Taiwo Abiri recounted.

With the much needed parental support not forthcoming, financing was going to be a big challenge. Taiwo knew he had to find a way to fund his way through his automobile repairs training and so he got a job at a real estate firm after the one-year compulsory service to the nation under the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). He had just one thing in his mind; work for a year and save enough to learn how to repair cars and start his own car repair business.

As he narrated his experience at the real estate firm, a man with middle eastern origin walked in and presented an invoice to Taiwo. “They supply us lubricants,” he told me as the man left the container office to supervise the offloading of the lubricants. We continued our discussion while he was away.

motomi mechanic

Taiwo’s makeshift car repair shop in Lagos

Abiri told me how he saved as much as he could throughout the year he spent at the real estate firm. He had completed a Project Management Training by the time he got the job as an Assistant Portfolio Manager. He resigned after spending 13 months there and enrolled for apprenticeship at a garage owned by some Lebanese men on the Lekki-Epe axis of Lagos, ensuring that no one at the garage knew he had a degree.

“I wanted them to treat me the way they treated everyone there,” he says, adding that he worked there without being paid for 20 months.

The man who I assumed was an Emirati had finished supervising the offloading of the lubricants and he was back to ensure payment was made.

“I will do a transfer,” Abiri told the Emirati, whose hands were interlocked as if he was talking to a boss he reveres. After the transfer was done, the Emirati remained standing, head bowed towards Taiwo Abiri as if he was trying to tell him a secret. “We also sell Volkswagen parts, Mercedez Benz…,” I could barely make out his words. But he seemed to have told Taiwo what he loved to hear as he gave him an approving glance.

While at the Lebanese-owned workshop, Taiwo’s educational background distinguished him, as he understood things before others and was able to use some computerized tools others found hard to use. He started buying tools with his savings and donations from his brother who lives in the United States and now has a stake in Motomi, Taiwo’s auto-repair company.

Although he started his car repair business with friends and families as clients, Taiwo boasts of several corporate clients today. Motomi repairs cars for Century Energy, Four Points By Sheraton, Falcon Gas, AA Rescue, Structon Construction Company, Computer Warehouse Group, among others.

Taiwo showed the kind of enthusiasm I have never seen a mechanic shown as he discussed part of his future plans. “I can’t tell you all,” he said smiling. “But we will soon start our express service. Clients can invite us and expect us to get to them in record time to fix their vehicles; whether their cars broke up on the highway or the fault happened while they were at home.”

The Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria Economics graduate had a Business Development Officer on his team last year but she left at the end of the year. He said he was looking to hire a replacement as he expands his reach and hope to get more corporate clients on board. He also plans to start Motomi Express 24/7 to ensure clients are served round the clock.

At the moment, he works on 8 to 10 cars daily but hopes to increase this as his business grows.

Funding has been a major challenge for Abiri in his bid to scale up his business. “I even went to the Bank of Industry to see if I could get a loan but they told me that they only give loans to manufacturing companies and not to service companies,” he told me.

Taiwo hopes he gets investors that will help fund his big plans, one of which includes setting up a model technical school where graduates who would like to toe his path can perfectly fit into.

With $1.2m at hand, Nigeria’s prepares for an Africa showdown

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Nov 22, 2015. The Nerve Africa

Two weeks after global professional services firm PwC released a report in May which stated that Nigeria’s hospitality industry would be the fastest-growing market over the next five years, online hotel booking company got an investment of $1.2 million from international investors EchoVC Pan-Africa Fund and Omidyar Network. Having conquered the Nigerian market, helped by a 2013 seed investment of $225,000 from Spark, the Lagos startup accelerator fund founded by iROKO Partner’s Jason Njoku, is on its way to Ghana which has been identified as a hot market for hospitality expansion.

“We have started the process of expanding into Ghana and have begun the first steps on this expansion plan,” CEO Mark Essien told The Nerve.

The startup which is just in its third year has become the toast of several investors due to strong numbers and fast business growth. Mark says his company now gets investment offers on a constant basis but has been very careful to only work with the right people. “Omidyar Network was a logical partner for us, as their social mission is very aligned with our own and e-commerce is in their DNA.”

Only few other startups in Nigeria can boast of having achieved what achieved in less than three years in terms of growth and funding. One of the biggest challenges startups have complained about is funding. But Mark has enough funds to scale up his business in Nigeria and even expand to neighbouring Ghana.

For someone whose startup just got a 1.2 million dollar investment, others should listen when he explains why they aren’t getting.

Mark Essien

Mark Essien, Founder | OneDot Photos

“Getting funding for start-ups is made of several component parts. First of all, your startup has to be ready to receive funding. There are some criteria that people looking to invest in start-ups are looking for: you must be operating in a big market, showing traction and a few other things. Secondly, people need to be aware that your business exists and your story needs to be told.

“Many startups fail on one or the other of these things: Either their startup isn’t investment-worthy, that is everything about the startup isn’t right for investment or they aren’t telling their story in a way that gets people interested. I think that we have been lucky in this regard: first, we fulfill the startup criteria for raising money and we have put ourselves out there that we are able to get people to hear about us and for that reason funding has come,” the founder says.

Hotel revenues by years in Nigeria

While continues to grow with the Nigerian hospitality industry, forecasted to grow by a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 10.5 percent to 2019, it faces stiff competition from Jovago and — both with more financial backing and presence in multiple markets — Mark is unruffled and seems to have a grand plan to compete favourably with his rivals. However, he declined comments on this.

Airbnb’s expansion drive in Africa has been described by many as a big threat to the hospitality industry. But Mark isn’t threatened. While he agrees that the California-based company offers a good alternative to hotels, the market as it is, is quite stable and is expected to remain so for the next half-decade.

But if there is a day the hospitality industry changes and hotel revenues drop because people found alternatives, will evolve with them.

“As Africa changes, so will the team – and the business – change,” says Mark.

Uber is embroiled in crisis in most parts of the world but not in Lagos. Here’s why

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 Nov 18, 2015. The Nerve Africa

Uber is always in the news but it is not just because of the pace with which it is growing; the on-demand ride service does not have too many friends. From taxi unions in Paris, London and Berlin, to the family of a rape victim in India and President Dilma Rousseff in Brazil, who says Uber is costing Brazilians jobs, Uber has suffered series of criticisms in its six years of existence. Even Uber’s drivers are at its throat; they recently took legal action against the company in the UK. But is the world being fair to Uber?

“Uber is complicated because it takes jobs away from people … it leaves taxis with less work,” Rousseff said while answering questions from a reporter in August. “It’s not an easy issue. It depends on the rules of each city and state, because it is not a federal government decision.”

Brazilian capital Brasília, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro have all moved to ban the taxi-hailing service; although no ban has taken effect yet, as authorities weigh the pros and cons of approving it. A Brazilian court had banned Uber in April after complaints by a taxi drivers’ union. The court also ordered Apple Inc., Google Inc., Microsoft and Samsung Electronics to prevent further installation and use of the app by Brazilian residents. But the order was revoked weeks later.

French president, François Hollande shares Rousseff’s sentiment. He said in June, that the low-cost UberPOP should be illegal, as violent protests by taxi drivers erupted in the capital. The service was stopped in July. Two senior Uber executives will appear before a Paris court in February 2016 on charges of “misleading commercial practices” and “complicity in the illegal exercise of the taxi profession.”

Uber protests

Thibaud Simphal (C), manager of Uber France, and Pierre-Dimitri Gore-Coty (R), general manager for Uber western Europe, arrive at the courthouse for the start of their trial in Paris, France, September 30, 2015. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

In China, there has also been a clampdown on Uber. Its offices in Guangzhou and Chengdu have been raided this year, and its official account blocked on China’s biggest social network WeChat. Uber’s chief executive Travis Kalanick alleged that the messaging app censored positive news about Uber.

While Uber has suffered torrid times in North America, Europe, Asia and even the Oceania, it managed to maintain its growth and has expanded to Africa where the controversy has only continued. The company which has been in South Africa since 2013 has faced several battles this year, from assault of Uber drivers to the threatening of passengers. The Metered Taxi Council of South Africa has also insisted that Uber drivers get the necessary licences and comply with the rules and regulations guiding public transport like other drivers. But Uber has continued to claim that it is not a transport company, only a Smartphone application.

“Our technology is open and pro-choice and we are keen to offer it to a broad number of taxi drivers to boost their occupancy rates and chances for profit. In fact many metered taxi drivers are already using our technology to boost their incomes, and we would welcome more who wish to join their colleagues,” Uber’s general manager for sub-Saharan Africa Alon Lits was quoted by to have said.

But in Lagos, Africa’s most populous city where more than 8 million people commute daily, Uber is having it good. The company which launched in the city just over a year ago said its app has created more than 600 job opportunities which could grow to more than 3,000 by the end of 2016. As part of plans to make this dream a reality, Uber has signed agreements with South Korean carmaker Kia Motors Corp. and Nigeria’s Access Bank Plc. Under the deal, drivers will be able to buy new vehicles with a down payment of N95, 000 ($477). The balance would be payable over four years.

Uber has not faced any serious resistance in Lagos and it is unlikely this will happen any time soon.

Apart from market size, Uber is going to enjoy business in Lagos for a long time because most of the traditional taxi operators in Lagos are not aware of Uber, and the taxi companies that know them are not ready to put up a fight.

Niyi Oguntoyinbo, CEO of Metro Taxi, whose company has a fleet of over 600 cars, recognizes the Uber threat. However, he seems unwilling to fight off the competition.

Oguntoyinbo who spoke on Changing the face of taxi services in Nigeria at the Urban Mobility Africa conference on September 28, sees nothing wrong in Uber’s operation as an aggregator but with the company now securing low-cost deals for drivers to own their own cars, the Metro Taxi CEO is worried. He wants the government to do something about the emergence of Uber considering the fact that licensed taxi operators pay for everything; from licenses to car parks and Uber doesn’t. He also urged taxi companies to cooperate to build their own aggregator to fight off Uber.

But another taxi company Red Cab, is not going to allow Uber to put it out of business. The company’s 400 Red cabs work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Acknowledging that the traditional method of hailing taxis and online booking through a web portal cannot help any company to compete well with Uber, Red Cab is launching The Red Click App on October 31, to run on Android and Apple devices. With this, Red Cab will be hoping it would have done enough to stand up to Uber without the dirty war and messy confrontations witnessed in other cities.

Uber is not concerned. For now, the challenge Uber is trying to overcome in Lagos is Smartphone illiteracy and poor mapping conditions.

The California headquartered company is the subject of ongoing protests and legal action from taxi drivers, taxi companies, and governments around the world. The argument is that the venture-backed startup creates unfair competition to taxis because it does not pay taxes or licensing fees, it endangers passengers, uses untrained drivers, as well as unlicensed and uninsured cars.

Uber protesters in yellow shirts listen to city council debate over new taxi regulations in Toronto, Canada September 30, 2015. Toronto City Council is set to vote on changes to taxi regulations that could regulate ride-hailing app service Uber. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

Uber protesters in yellow shirts listen to city council debate over new taxi regulations in Toronto, Canada September 30, 2015. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

To many of those that are against Uber, it is breaking the law. But to those who love it, the car-hailing app is a disruptive technology that is challenging the premise of car ownership.

However, Uber seems to be learning from its struggles. The company which launched January 2015 in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city uses taxi companies with fleets of well maintained taxis serving corporate clients. This model can save Uber the troubles it faces in several cities across the world. It is expected that established taxi companies would, with or without Uber, adhere to local regulations.