Before launching Ayiba Magazine, I searched online for existing African-authored content sites targeted at young Africans and was scant to find any doing what I had in mind.
I launched Ayiba with the goal of providing a platform that showcased African change makers around the world who were disrupting tired narratives through media, technology, and innovation.
I didn’t just want to start a blog, instead I wanted to build a network of writers that covered content from across Africa and the Diaspora in a way that connected our generation.
If we look at mass media outlets that cover Africa, we have the BBC, CNN, and Al Jazeera, amongst others, but none of them are African owned. I have always asked myself why there are no prominent African owned media outlets that cover content from across Africa.
A long-standing argument in development has been that all the books written on Africa are authored by old white men. Well, we’ve entered a new Digital Age and the same thing remains true about a large percentage of the content found online.
Of course that is increasingly changing, but it’s due to sites like Ayiba, channels like Arise TV, and others in the new media ecosystem. I believe Ayiba is important for the media landscape because our readers are our writers. We create content to inspire young Africans that is written by young Africans.
What sets us apart is this authenticity and the fact that we constantly strive to cover content from all over Africa – not just the usual suspects of Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, and South Africa.
Over the past three years, there are five key strategies that have allowed our platform steadily scale. All of them relate to content creation because as the say “content is Queen.” Or do they say King?
Anyway, from day one, we have focused on generating diverse and quality content because we know that is how we will one day grow to millions of readers. A girl’s gotta dream!
Our strategies are:
Building a well-managed virtual office:
Since our team lives across three continents and four time zones (and is often moving between locations), we have had to create virtual processes for everything we do.
We’ve refined and streamlined our digital work environment using a combination of platforms, including Slack, Google, Facebook, and Dropbox.
Building a diverse team:
When recruiting, we don’t limit our search. All that matters is that the talent is tapped into global media and has a voice.
It’s because of the diversity in our team that we manage to cover stories from all over the world and are able to land features with so many diverse subjects.
Training new talent:
We can’t always expect to find the best ready-made talent. Sometimes we have to nurture the talent we seek.
Our editorial team is committed to working with our contributors to produce quality content that meets the standards Ayiba has set for itself and that our readers have come to expect.
Creating content partnerships:
A major aspect of the Digital Age is the sharing and redistribution of information. Ayiba contributes to this by republishing and cross-publishing content, as well as cultivating distribution channels for our content.
We would like to see more collaboration in the African new media ecosystem.
Designing an aesthetically pleasing site:
Your content can be ace, but if your site looks amateur, readers will be less likely to stick around. WordPress themes are inexpensive and can easily be customized to meet your needs.
I highly recommend them.
Of the points listed, talent acquisition has certainly been the most challenging hurdle. However, since we recruit talent from both the Diaspora and the continent, this increases our talent pool.
In the Diaspora, we reach out to our founding team alumni networks at Mount Holyoke College and Yale University. In Africa, we use Opportunity Desk to post our internship and fellowship programs. The internship program is for all roles outside editorial and runs for three months at a time, while our editorial fellowship is for up to six months. Ayiba emphasizes training homegrown journalistic talent.
Our environment is fast-paced, yet focuses on quality of content rather than quantity. Our editors work directly with our interns and fellows to improve their craft, providing a partnership from which both parties benefit. Some fellows choose to stay on after their fellowship, which has been great, but most leave to pursue other great opportunities. However, all benefit from an experience that has improved their writing ability.
One tip I can give on recruiting in a start-up is to make sure that whoever you bring into your team buys your weakness and sells you their strength. This means the team needs to be balanced by whoever you decide to bring on board. Each individual should neutralize the weaknesses of the team as a whole with their strengths. That’s the best way of keeping a lean team that delivers.
We recently published our first print issue, which was well-received. In fact, it was invited to exhibit at the first African Art Book Fair at the Dak’Art Biennale in Senegal. It was a challenging and time consuming process, but the whole team learned a lot. The best part is that we were able to create and distribute our print issue to five continents with less than $100 spent on the project.
We did this by:
- Recruiting talented design students who were looking to expand their portfolios to include magazine spreads.
- Using a pay-per-issue print service like Blurb, so we didn’t have to order in volume or handle delivery.
- Using creative commons like Flickr for stunning high quality non-copyrighted images.
If you are unable to recruit designers, I would advise purchasing template bundles from sites like Creative Market or Themeforest and modifying them to suit your aesthetic. Adobe InDesign is quite easy to learn and YouTube is a great resource.
In under two months, my team with little experience in print publishing, pulled together a beautifully designed 60-page print issue on a shoe-string budget. This is an example of the importance of having a flexible and committed team that is willing to take risks and accept new challenges.
As we look to the future, Ayiba would like to continue building on our original series. We have had a lot of success with our Afropolitan Diary, Start-up Stories, and Becoming series. We believe this is because they focus on personal narratives.
Most recently, we interviewed Fadumo Dayib, the first female presidential candidate for Somalia, for our Becoming Series. By telling this one individual story, we were able to more eloquently and profoundly highlight larger social and cultural issues in Somalia than we could have with a hard-hitting op-ed, for example.
Going forward, we would like to build on our nuanced storytelling and diversify the mediums we use to create these stories. In the coming year, we plan to build new partnerships that will make creating video posts a possibility.
Ayiba was started with a team of two and funds from an Indiegogo campaign that raised exactly $1,090. Today, we have a team of eight spread across three continents and are seen by organizations like the Financial Times and Seedstars World as an outlet that connects them to artistic and entrepreneurial talent in Africa and its Diaspora.
My point is don’t let insufficient finances be an excuse for not starting a business or fulfilling your life’s work. It only takes hard work, perseverance and a little creativity to build something from what is seemingly nothing.