Hubrif: We are not dead yet, but we are in a state of coma


#1

Hubrif is in a state of coma. Maybe in another article, am going to be more detailed about the journey so far. Right now, we are offline as our hosting package just expired so pardon me if you can’t access the platform. Am aware it would have been better if you could, see what we look like currently and give your 2 Naira.

For those that don’t know about us, am just gonna give a quick pitch about what we do. We started as an online video platform for streaming curated African short films 99% of which have screened at film festivals and a few winning-awards. Currently, our most viewed films (about 5 of them out of a current total catalog of 100 videos) are between 1000-1500 views. It’s been 90% organic though. We launched here on radar then. I have always believed I could make those contents go viral! Obviously, I did a great job in failing.

When an investor/2nd co-founder came onboard and was on my neck as to how to begin generating revenue, we came up with a subscription-based service whereby we help filmmakers submit their films to festivals all year round for a token. Currently, we have just 5 agreed to pay subscribers. None has paid though but we have helped them gotten into a combined 30 film festivals till date. The truth is that prospective clients don’t want to pay. Also, it’s a very small market. Personally, we can’t handle more than 5 clients as the end result will be disappointments. Let me explain further. Handling 1 client and submitting to over 100 festivals in the course of a year multiplied by let’s say 20, 50, 100 clients. You see what I mean? Because I love to keep my integrity intact and am the only one saddled with the job of manually filling those submissions, I can’t keep up with more than what we have right now.

We decided to pivot as an online distributor of African short films representing filmmakers as their official distributor and getting their films into other media outlets like TV and In-flight entertainment. They seem to be very viable options to scale but for some reasons I can’t just figure out, implementation isn’t just working!

I have had very serious management issues with my co-founder and I know this has contributed to part of our current predicament. But I can’t put the blame solely on him. Am currently working with another startup because I have to survive. Yet, I still find time to do one or two things regularly for Hubrif. I love hubrif and honestly, seeing what I and the team have built being in its current state is heartbreaking. I respect others who have had to shut down theirs for various reasons! You guys are legends.

Right now, am deciding to pivot the platform as a Non-profit social venture. This is because I can’t just figure out how to make this profitable but I love what we do. We have a very active blog and I have had some very fulfilling non-monetary rewards running this platform and building a brand amongst the community of young African filmmakers. I get a lot of “Tobi, thank you for this write-up! I am deeply honored, I hope we can meet and work together one day”. For some reasons, I feel that I have contributed to that person’s success and it’s a really good feeling spurring me to do more.

Services that I should at least charge for, I do for free and even spending my own little resources just so it turns out good and we are both happy at the end of the day. It’s just a really wonderful feeling contributing towards the growth of these guys.

Why am I writing this? Well, I really can’t say other than I just need the feedback and contribution of you guys. Hear what you think, encouragements, criticisms, opportunities I am not seeing etc. anything you have got for me.

It’s costing me money, time and resources to keep running the platform and because I am always broke, it’s really a challenge for me. Perhaps, if anyone can hint me as to how we can sustain hubrif even if it’s just to cover the cost of running the platform. Although our overhead is quite manageable, if we can figure out how it can sustain itself, I keep hubrif on the oxygen mask for as long as possible. If not, perhaps its time to say goodbye.


#2

It must have been a lonely journey. Here is a hug to keep you warm :hugs:.

As you reflect on the existence of Hubrif, it is important that you don’t stay too emotional to the idea, instead ask critical questions about what the market needs and invest your energy there.

Sometimes, startups don’t take the trajectory you expect them to take. Learning not to give up or changing the course of the ship is important to your success story.

I think you can reach out to these amazing people for advice.

@possicon shut down Showroom but now runs a successful coding school.

@docneto once wrote about the slow growth of his health tech startup, but now he found the right pivot for it.

@dotun.o runs theStarta.com and HighGrowthAfrica summit. He helps a lot of African entreprenuers build high growth businesses.

Keep warm in 2018 (that’s one of the first signs of leaving coma)


#3

I can relate to working on something that was slow to bring in revenue.

That said, since I can’t see the site, where you at least running ads? Video hosting is a money-sink, it was never really a good idea to offer this service for free. Even Youtube runs ads. You could have made deals with these filmmakers from the jump, offer them some benefit/incentive to pay for hosting their content (for instance, helping them promote and give these works second wind), considering that if they uploaded it on Youtube they may have at least gotten ad revenue. Even if your revenue idea won’t have panned out for a while, you should have always had an idea of how you’d sustain the site.

Anyway, what I’ve learned is that nowadays more and more people are setting up VOD platforms in Nigeria. Almost to the point of redundancy, so kudos to you for at least going for a different niche. They’re also really cheap (I’ve N300 - N600 subscription prices). Not sure how that’s working out for them, but basically, asking already stingy Nigerians to pay for yet another platform… good luck with that. But it’s worth considering.

Another idea is partnering with these festivals (I know it’s a hard-sell), get them involved one way or the other, maybe.

Or. Allow the filmmakers to use your site as a portfolio of sorts (again, I don’t know what your site looked like so you may have already done this). Give them tools to customize how their work is displayed, maybe add photos and bios etc, get feedback.

Another idea: Allow users to watch previews, then pay a very small fee to continue. Kinda like typical VODs but cheaper/quick enough to feel painless. I know a company that allowed people to pay with their credit (fair warning, the telcos will be annoying with this) since a lot Nigerians/Africans are mostly on mobile.

Basically, I feel like there’s always a way to get some money for this if you dig deep. At the very worst, you might have to take on part-time work to supplement your bills (I know, I know).

What issue did you have here? This was actually the first thing that came to my mind before I saw you’d already tried it.

Oh… no. Never hope for virality. Virality is temporary and a stroke of luck. How many viral things have come and gone in the past few years? You said your traffic was mostly organic. I think that works better in the long run. Was the traffic at least growing?


#4

Hi Wole. Thank you so much for the encouragement.


#5

Hello Onyeka. Thank you for the robust contribution. am gonna be picking your questions one by one.

That said, since I can’t see the site, where you at least running ads? Video hosting is a money-sink, it was never really a good idea to offer this service for free. Even Youtube runs ads. You could have made deals with these filmmakers from the jump, offer them some benefit/incentive to pay for hosting their content (for instance, helping them promote and give these works second wind), considering that if they uploaded it on Youtube they may have at least gotten ad revenue. Even if your revenue idea won’t have panned out for a while, you should have always had an idea of how you’d sustain the site.

The initial plan at the very beginning was to activate ads after we have successfully gained enough market share in terms of users who will be watching such contents. We created Hubrif so we can give enough chance for these contents to be easily discovered as youtube seems to be a very large ocean where these contents get drowned amongst other kinds of video contents. We taught we could easily attract short film fans who love to watch these contents and filmmakers because its an opportunity for their contents to be easily discovered. This was why we curate the contents too. We never wanted to be as huge as youtube perse, we just wanted to make sure the best African short films can be found on Hubrif. Unfortunately, we never got the number of users that can enable us to begin running ads on the videos.

Another idea is partnering with these festivals (I know it's a hard-sell), get them involved one way or the other, maybe.

We actually took this root. We partnered with 2 festivals in Uganda and Cameroun and we housed a selection of films screened at the festivals for an online audience. We promised the filmmakers that their films were going to get to the right audience and we were going to do all we could to make sure they do but we failed. We even sponsored an award category in one of the festivals just so we get involved like you said.

Or. Allow the filmmakers to use your site as a portfolio of sorts (again, I don’t know what your site looked like so you may have already done this). Give them tools to customize how their work is displayed, maybe add photos and bios etc, get feedback.

We had that too. Infact, we made sure we were promoting their works on the blog as often as we could. Like i said earlier, the blog was quite active and gained some reputation amongst young African filmmakers so being featured on it was a good reputation and publicity for them. All for free.

Another idea: Allow users to watch previews, then pay a very small fee to continue. Kinda like typical VODs but cheaper/quick enough to feel painless. I know a company that allowed people to pay with their credit (fair warning, the telcos will be annoying with this) since a lot Nigerians/Africans are mostly on mobile.

we thought of going the route of carrier billing. We even started the conversation with Fortumo. It was supposed to be a pay-per-view model but when we carried out a quick survey if users will be willing to pay, we got a negative response even amongst fellow filmmakers…lol. Its ironic right? We want people to pay to watch our contents but we dont want to pay to watch other people’s contents… For our festival subscription service, the 5 prospective clients are all foreigners. No African Filmmaker we reached out to wanted to drop 1kobo.

With regards the TV partnership and In-flight entertainment, we had no connection with any airline. we reached out to a few but got no response. We just needed to talk to 1 inside person but we couldnt get. For the TV partnership, talks were quite positive with 1 of them, unfortunately, it was around the time I had to join my current startup so I guess it was my fault for not following up. Because I had to move out of Lagos generally, I couldnt keep up with subsequesnt meetings. I tried taking it online but things took a downturn from there.


#6

I really like your niche, it just seems like a very costly project to start with, you need to start making money from day one.

Have you considered building live streaming technology? https://vimeo.com/live for festivals/events as @onyeka suggested. .


#7

Yeah, VOD is really a costly initiative. Even though our niche is quite cheaper compared to regular VODs, the whole foundational problems are the same. I remembered when Afrostream had to shut down too, then i knew this is a really tough call for all of us.

I like the live streaming angle you suggested. However, don’t you think live streaming is still very infantry in Nigeria? I haven’t thought about this or done any research on it, this is off my head and might be wrong. Perhaps, its an angle I should look at. Thanks for the input.


#8

Good to see you tried out most of the other options I mentioned. But the above… I don’t get why you didn’t just put ads. If anything I personally think it makes sense to put the ads in before you get a following so people know what they’re getting upfront and get used to the layout. I HAAATE ads honestly, but I put a couple in anyway from the moment I went live. Nothing invasive (I hope). We spent a long time making peanuts but now it’s at a point where if nothing else my server and domain costs are covered for a while and we didn’t need 1000s of visitors a day to get that. If you had enough traffic you could even have native ad spaces for new releases. For instance, a filmmaker could pay for a temporary boost, like how Facebook boosts posts.

One last potential partner option is production companies esp ones that focus on independent films. You could ask them to sponsor you and they will be featured as partners on the site. I know it’s easier said than done because these people are extremely sluggish to get onboard opportunities, but it’s worth a shot.

And lastly, don’t ask people if they want to pay. They’ll always say no, I’ve learned. The people I mentioned that let users pay with their credit never asked but the users pay anyway.

Good luck, regardless. I hope you find your way back online.