Roye Okupe is targeting a new demographic of Africans fans with the project E.X.O. – the legend of Wale Williams.
How did you come up with the name for this idea?
When thinking about a name for my business, I struggled a bit. For 2 weeks, I went back and forth searching for available domain names because I wanted to match the business name and the website address. However, all the creative ideas I came up with were already taken. One thing I knew was that I wanted a unique name. After thinking about it a bit more, it struck me that I could use the keyword as a name. So I named the business ‘YouNeek Studios.’
What inspired you to start this idea?
All my life I have watched, played, and read everything that I could about superhero comics. I cannot begin to explain why but I think that in a world where there is so much negativity and suffering, superhero comics served as my escape. I loved to watch or read about the good guys saving the day and protecting people.
In 2008, when the superhero genre was becoming a global phenomenon, I noticed that there was not a lot of diversity. Specifically, superheroes from Africa were not getting as much exposure, if any. Therefore, I decided to solve this problem by creating a superhero character from Nigeria – project E.X.O. – the legend of Wale Williams. My mission with E.X.O. – the legend of Wale Williams is to put Africa on the map when it comes to telling superhero stories, be it animated or through superhero comics and graphic novels. On the continent, there are people with a wealth of creative and appealing stories, but they never really get the proper commercial exposure. My hope is that E.X.O. fulfills my life long goal of adding something unique to the superhero genre.
Who is your target market?
Simple, if you are into superheroes and superhero stories, then this is for you. Whether you are an 8 year-old kid or a 30 year-old adult (like me), you are going to have a blast reading the graphic novel.
How have you financed the idea?
Bootstrapping – so far everything has come out-of-pocket. I have also had family members invest in the project because they believe in what I am trying to do. I recently launched a Kickstarter campaign and I am overwhelmed by the support people have given me so far. In just 3 days, we hit the campaign goal and in just 2 weeks, we had 200 percent funded. It has been an amazing experience and people have been very supportive. It is a great feeling because it reinforces my initial hunch that people want and would pay to get access to this type of content. People want to see more superheroes from diverse parts of the world and not just Africa.
What is your competitive edge?
I have this incessant, burning desire to see this project succeed. Also, I have had the wonderful privilege of growing up in two different countries (Nigeria and the United States). I believe the experiences from both phases of my life gives me a unique advantage when it comes to creativity and appealing to a broad range of demographics. Lastly, I am a very curious person so I like to discover how to do things. Over the years, I have picked up skills ranging from writing, animation, producing, directing and editing to web design, graphic design, software development, business development – most of which I learnt on my own. This robust set of skills has made it easy to collaborate with people from different backgrounds.
There is one more thing that I want to say in regards to this question. When it comes to African superheroes or diverse superheroes in general, I am not the first, neither will I be the last, but I decided that if I was going to produce the book and animated product, that I was going to make as much noise as possible. For one month, I literally stalked popular bloggers and journalists online. I think to date, I have sent up to 150 emails to different journalists and probably only 15 of them have replied so far. For me, I felt like I needed more than a good product, I also needed the exposure and credibility. I believe it is the only way to stand out as a new player in the superhero genre. So I guess you can add persistence to what sets me apart.
What is the long-term plan for this idea?
The long-term goal is to use the success from the graphic novel as impetus to produce an animated feature film or series within the next 2 years. My hope is that the success of these products (the graphic novel and the animation) will give me the leverage and credibility needed to build a superhero universe based on an eclectic list of characters with interconnected stories. These stories will be delivered across multiple mediums including but not limited to comic books, graphic novels, animation and possibly video games. I also hope that I get the opportunity to create toys and merchandize for African children based on my characters.
What challenges do you face?
The biggest challenge that I have faced so far is getting no support from distributors, networks and investors in regards to producing E.X.O. as an animated film/series. As you may know, creating an animated series is very expensive. I spoke to several distributors and investors for almost 2 years and the general consensus was that it was a great idea but too risky, especially because I am a first time producer and do not have any fan base. One producer told me point blank, “It won’t work, change your characters.” But I refuse to believe that and respectfully disagree with their conclusions. I believe that if done properly (great script, good production values etc.), Nigerians, Africans and people all over the world will be receptive to E.X.O. or any other diverse superhero story. We do not necessarily love characters like Superman, Batman, or Spiderman because of their place of origin. We love them because they have great stories we can identify with. That is why I took my time (5 years so far) in developing the story and characters.
What key things have you learned since starting this idea?
- There will always be challenges when you are chasing greatness, your success depends on how you react to failure.
- Never give up.
- Be nice and help other people. Don’t make everything about you.
- There’s no substitute for hard work.
- No one owes you anything, you have to go out and make your dreams come true.
What things do start-up entrepreneurs need to know?
- Running a business is extremely difficult.
- If you don’t have a passion for it, don’t do it.
- If you are only doing it only for the money, you’ve failed.
- Network, Network, Network
- Focus on one thing at a time – strive to become the best at what you do.
What advice do you have for youths looking to start an idea but say ‘there is no money’?
Stop giving excuses. People have made billions of dollars from nothing. There is always a way, there is always a solution. It may not be obvious but it is there. You just have to search really hard for it. It is easier said than done, but it has to be done.
How do you think African youths can continue to support each other?
We need to patronize each other’s businesses. Sometimes I feel like we focus more on competing with each other than helping each other. It is the “I want to get there first mentality.” I have been guilty of this in the past, but now I am trying to be a better person. I realize that we can achieve more together than we can individually.
How many jobs have you created so far?
I have not created any full-time jobs per say, hopefully this changes soon. However for my current book E.X.O., I have hired (3) artists in Nigeria on a short-term contract basis to help complete the book. Indeed, it has been one of my proudest moments to see Nigerian artists working with a Nigerian creator, writer, and art director on a Nigerian superhero graphic novel.
How has technology enhanced your business idea?
Technology makes it easy to collaborate. For the test animation I created for E.X.O., I collaborated with many talented people from around the globe. I worked with people in Africa, Europe, US and Asia. Without today’s tech, I would not have been able to achieve this.
How can we support and improve innovation in Africa?
By donating to my Kickstarter! On a more serious note, the best way is by continuing to create awareness. If you see a cool project, share it with friends on social media or send it to important blogs. It is time for the world to see the side of Africa that is not regularly portrayed in the media. There are many Africans creating lots of cool stuff. The more we share, the easier it is to catch the eyes of investors. If an investor sees a particular project is getting a lot of buzz, he or she may be more inclined to find out more than if a project owner sent a random email.
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