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SMEs need support to recover from COVID-19

By Eniola Daniel
17 December 2020   |   3:09 am
For Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to recover from the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic and position themselves for growth, conscious efforts must be made to support them. In this interview

Yinka Obebe

For Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to recover from the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic and position themselves for growth, conscious efforts must be made to support them. In this interview with ENIOLA DANIEL, the Chief Executive Officer of Pop Central, a media and tech organisation, Yinka Obebe, spoke on reasons his firm has offered to assist verified SMEs in Nigeria with free advertisement grants worth millions of naira, among other issues.

Your organisation is currently undertaking a project called Ad Grant. What is this all about?
THE SME Ad Grant is for small and medium scale businesses across Nigeria. As businesses started opening and coming out of COVID-19 lockdowns, the economic downturn that followed, as a result, prompted us to find a way to support these businesses. So, in partnership with FAYA, an Adtech company, we decided to offer SMEs Ad grants.

The idea is to support small business owners by giving them visibility, and most importantly a level of verifiability. When that converts, they make more sales, hire more people, scale-up their business, and the cycle continues. Advertising attracts customers to a business and increases sales. When consumers see strong and positive advertisements, they are more willing to buy and ready to choose the business.

On the other hand, this intervention also allows us to play our part in contributing to building the nation’s economy. We believe that an economic ripple effect is guaranteed whenever advertising increases.

What are the criteria for the grant and how can they apply?
The first and most important thing for us is to ensure the businesses that take advantage of the grant are real businesses that offer the services they advertise. One of the ways to make sure they are genuine is to do a thorough investigation about them, including registration with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC).

SMEs register and they get an email confirming their approval. They will then be prompted to create their campaign. This includes picking their interests, the spots, dates, and uploading their video promo material. It is only a 30-second video. Use more visuals (photo or video) less text; ensure to add a call to action.

Is the grant only open to Nigerians?
Yes. It is open for businesses registered in Nigeria only.

What are the methods Pop Central is adopting to monitor and ensure a transparent process of awarding the grant? 
There is a three-step approval system already built into the platform – registration to create an account, create a log-in password, and create a campaign for the business. So, it is very safe and transparent.

What do you hope to achieve with the initiative in the long-run?
First, to support as many businesses as possible; secondly, to help support the economy with what we have. The way it works is that advertising promotes commerce and the more of that that happens guarantees a ripple effect on the entire economy.

In the future, we have a lot of other initiatives for small businesses. This is the starting point. We believe strongly in maximising the potentials that small businesses bring to the nation’s economy. They need a lot of education, information, and exposure. Our platform is easily positioned to offer all of that and more.

With the COVID-19 pandemic hitting hard on businesses, how have you approached the change as a business leader?
First, I have committed to thinking and positioning for preservation and sustenance. When it first hit, we did not know how long it would last; a lot of people said so many things, gave so many theories but after the ease, we have seen that there are four types of businesses. Those that got completely knocked off during the pandemic, those who only had to shut down then come back, those who kept running due to the essential nature of their service, and finally those who cashed in.

For us, we had to think of how to keep running because we are an essential service provider; we had to entertain, inform, and educate our viewers. So, we quickly learned how to adapt, review our entire process, and maximise efficiency. One would not have thought a good thing could come out of a bad thing. The need for survival got us thinking and we are in fact a more efficient business than we ever were.

Without the drive to be creative, businesses will find it difficult to stand out. How is Pop Central integrating creativity to deliver unique services that stand out? 
Everything about Pop Central is innovation, creativity, and experimenting. We are always looking for new ways. First, Pop Central is a social TV. But we are more than TV; our expressions cut across TV, experience and since we already launched our app, which is available across all platforms, we are ready to play in the digital space. Our app is called “poppin by popcentral.” It is the best app by any TV platform in this region. It is as good as it comes even internationally. On October 1, 2020, Apple made a pick of the app as one of the top seven for creativity. With the app, you can watch Popcentral live, catch up with shows you missed, listen to podcasts, and more. And this is just the beginning.

We also have a unique co-creation model that allows us to partner with content creators to monetise their shows. For us, it is always about collaboration. With the co-creation, we also produce shows for the creators in our studios.

Live TV is a big thing for us; we have a broadcast model called “Always On”, where our presenters are live on air for 10 minutes every top of the hour from 9 am to 9 pm. We provide a utility model, where brands can launch products; conversations can be had and joined quickly.

How would you describe the working culture at Pop Central and how does creativity fit into what you do as the CEO?
The culture is ever-evolving; we have succeeded in creating a space where our people always aspire to do more. We have an internal culture that offers an opening to our people first before opening to outsiders. So, you find people developing themselves across various areas in a short time.

Our mantra is work hard, play hard and this creates a relaxed environment. My job as the CEO is beyond marketing and conversion of every possible lead into money; part of my job is to constantly show my people the big picture. Our organisation is one where everyone knows how we make income and teamwork is king.

Also, because it’s quite a startup with a lot of bootstrapping to ensure we stay the course, we have to be creative about everything to ensure we are faster, look better, make the most of what we have and that refers to all forms of resources.

Our model is quite new and not exactly usual for a traditional TV. So, we are constantly brainstorming, looking for new ways from content creators to our tech side; the developers. We are caught between a technology company and a content company. So my job is to ensure I identify “high agency” young people that can continuously drive the process.

What would you consider the biggest challenge this year at Pop Central and what did you learn from it?
For me, this year has been about optimising our processes to hire the right people, save cost, and be constantly encountered as a budding media-tech brand. We have had to hire the right kind of people who can work at Pop Central to achieve our goal and it’s surprising how we have been able to define our tribe quickly and retain only the right people and attract the best hands possible.

The biggest challenge has been people and what I learned is that every business must quickly define its kind of people and never go lower.

‘Poppin by Popcentral’, was one of the top 7 indigenous apps selected by Apple to mark Nigeria’s 60th anniversary. Tell us about the app and why was it created?

As you might already know, we are a social TV; we are digital-first. And in fact, we started from social media and having our own VOD platform. So, it is normal for us to continue on that digital path even with TV. We decided to develop our own platform where we can continue to iterate the form to learn and serve our users wherever they are on the go. While TV works great for family and experiencing viewing with friends, we also know that we must be present when they are on the go and not just on social media but on our own platform.

At the moment, Poppin provides access to our live stream from the channel. You can catch up on shows you missed, listen to podcasts, follow the TV guide and the beauty is that the development is never static, we keep evolving. As we listen, we review and update. The future of Poppin is largely in the direction of creating the best platform out of Africa. We are unveiling more as time goes.