The Nollywood And A Story Of Failing Forward: 5 Lessons For Entrepreneurs

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We mocked them. We made fun of them. Our comedians had several filled days mocking the industry. The lack of depth, quality and structure that characterized the Nigerian film industry exposed them to ridicule and derision. But they kept at it. They kept horning their skills and improving themselves. Now what used to be an industry that was all about quantity, is now competing well on the global stage. If you grew up in the 90s, you would understand what Nollywood films were like. Majority were unstructured, lacking in quality and were mostly poorly produced. Both cast and crew were people who perhaps never had any formal training on how to make films. But they kept producing. They kept making movies.

While their counterparts in Hollywood and Bollywood enjoyed support from their governments and the organized private sectors through financing and logistics, they practical funded themselves.  The cost of production for film production was extremely high. Instead of giving up, they adapted. They started producing what was known then as home videos. They produced and sold their products in VHS. They partnered with marketers in Alaba, Idumota and Aba to distribute their movies. Sometimes they were exploited by these marketers but they kept working.

Today, the story of Nollywood has changed. They are better funded, better skilled and well equipped. The quality of movies coming out of the industry is quite amazing. They have built an industry that can rival with any other film industry in the world. Nollywood movies are well distributed across multiple channels and equally enjoys large followership in Africa and across the world.

Failing forward is not a distant concept. Many businesses and some countries have become successful failing forward. In the 19thcentury, Japanese products were synonymous with cheap and sub-standard goods. Chinese goods up, until recently, were tagged shoddy.  Today, your I-phones, Samsung products and other electronics are mostly manufactured in China. Coming from a past of inferiority, these Asian countries have established themselves as manufacturers of good, long lasting and quality products.

An entrepreneur must understanding that every failure, challenge and setback are the foundation for building sustainable enterprises. People who understand that starting no matter how poor, improving no matter how challenging and learning no matter the mistakes know they are set up for greater things.

Just start

If you are convinced about what you want to do. Do not wait for all variables to be in place before you start. People and circumstances will tell you otherwise, but if it feels right, just start. Jim Ovia in his debut book mentions that the most important trait an entrepreneur must possess is the ability to follow one’s gut. He says “what determines whether a great idea can ever come to fruition is the initial will to act on instinct- and will is powered by a deep belief in the credibility of what you feel in your gut.”


It is a marathon, not a sprint

If the reason you are into business is to make money as quickly as you start, please try betting. A sustainable enterprise takes time to become a money making machine. I am not saying you cannot make it within a short period of time, you may actually be lucky. But you need to prepare for a long run. You need to stay focus on the end game. You must understand where you are going, what is required to get there and focus on them. Do not engage in sharp practices in a bid to get instant results. Do what is right by your customers and employers always. Set specific goals with timelines and work towards achieving them.

Develop a growth/learning mentality

Every setback must be a learn curve. You will make mistakes. Your assumptions may end up being wrong. You must be able to learn a thing or two from these mistakes. Be open to receiving feedbacks from your customers, employees, friends and colleagues in the same industry. Evaluate situation and ensure you understand what can be done better or differently. You can only grow when you learn. You will fizzle out in no time if you stick to doing things the same way. Can you imagine what would have become of Nollywood if they were still producing the same quality they were in the 90s? A number of them went back to school or at least attended trainings to develop their skills. Keep improving your product/ service. Learn from setbacks, innovate, adapt and do things better and differently.

Giving up isn’t an option

Mike Tyson once said, “everyone has a plan ‘till they get punched in the mouth.” The unexpected will happen when you start running your business. You will experience a lot of setbacks, disappointments and may even lose money. What you should never do is to quit. Never give up. You may need to evaluate, re-strategize and explore other options, but do not ever think of giving up on yourself nor your dream. Building an enterprise is not for the faint hearted. You must be willing to put in the hard work. When you face challenges, do your best to surmount the problems. By doing so, you are building a resilient, hardworking, and a can do attitude. You are building your mental capacity to handle complex and impossible situations. Challenges build character. Giving up turns you into a weakling.


You will never fail if you don’t try. You will never finish if you don’t start. Remember those days when we used to watch all manner of foreign films; Chinese, Indian, American and even Korean films. Back then, apart from a few TV soaps, Nigerian movies practically almost went into extinction. But the people in the industry adapted by starting to produce and distribute in VHS, a cheaper and obviously low quality alternative. With time, we started seeing improvement. Right now, Nigerian movies are grossing over 100 million Naira in Cinema theatres. They practically failed their way into success. Who knows what Nollywood will be in another 10 years? The obvious answer is better than what it is now. You can attempt your way to success by failing forward as well. All you need is to start (however) small, be willing to learn and improve, be adaptable and never give up.


Temitope Adeyemo is the publisher @sme360ng and the author of Young, Black and Successful. Follow him on Twitter @topeadeyemo

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