254COMICS:THE FIRST 100
“ Markets are created — not given” — The late Terry Hirst.
The above wording rings true for any consumer-facing startup operating in Africa, in tech and especially in this context — the comics industry. Quipped by Terry- widely attributed as one of the forefathers of Kenya’s comics and cartoon industry alongside the likes of Godfrey Mwapembwa (@iGado), Paul Kelemba (Maddo) and the late Edward Gicheri Gitau (Juha Kalulu) — these words have a sense of foreboding to 254COMICS’ ambitions of building a Pan-African digital comic book distribution platform.
A little over a year ago when we met for our first full team meeting on the 254COMICS project at the eateries located on the 1st Floor of Nairobi’s Nakumatt Lifestyle shopping mall, we were bound by one common vision; Writing stories of how we as young african creative minds wanted to be seen. This, we thought, was to be achieved by digitizing historic tales that were at risk of becoming more relic than record and presenting them in Comic Book format thereby creating an ageless and timeless digital repository of sorts. Oral Tales passed down generations over wood-fed fireplaces under the light of an enchanting moon. Our starting point was Kenya’s folk lore heroes such as Lwanda Magere, Mekatilili et al. whose tales we felt were and are subconsciously slipping into the irretrievable fabric of time aided by a fast-moving urbanized society.
In the process of digitizing these tales, we realized that there weren’t any afro-centric platforms dedicated to creative works by illustrators and creatives from not only Kenya but the greater African continent. Taking a cue from the immortal words of J.K Rowling, “ There’s always room for a story that transports people to another place.” , and following a little bit of advice from Nest Africa’s Managing partner — Aaron Fu — we decided that we would embark on transforming ours into the largest online platform for African Comic books.
Given that a platform by its simplest definition is a place where groups meet to trade or otherwise meet to transact in ways that would be difficult without the mediating hand of the platform, in building the 254Comics platform we’ve learnt that a small number of participants who actually want to do business with each other is more important than a larger number of participants who don’t care so much .The legion complexities involved in building such a multi-sided market have been an exciting challenge for us; from building a working payments system to achieving beautiful design complimented by an optimal user interface to sourcing enough content for the platform to reach minimum viability and the equally humbling endeavour of user acquisition. Our 2 month target? A modest 100 downloads and 10 titles ..Current Status? 100 downloads and 15 titles (5 coming in the next 2weeks). Content Source Countries so far? Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Kenya.
Our Journey, as with that of any other tech startup that has failure as an existential risk, thus far reminds me of these words by VC firm- Andreessen Horowitz’s Benedict Evans in one of his blogposts titled In Praise of Failure ~ “ None of this means that failure is good — failure is horrible and painful for everyone. You’re not supposed to fail. Nor does it mean that doing stupid things is good, nor that screwing up is good. It certainly doesn’t mean that no tech company that failed ever did something stupid or screwed up….People screw up in tech all the time. But failure is part of risk, and failing, by itself, does not mean that anyone was stupid, or screwed up. Failure just means you tried”
As humbling as its been getting to that divine no. ‘100’ , we’re mighty excited to have done so albeit 3 weeks over the self-imposed 2 month post-playstore launch timeline. Positioning ourselves at the intersection of tech and art, we hope to act as a catalytic agent to the comic industry both locally and in the continent. We thank the Independent Content Creators that have so far trusted us with their valued creative work and promise to continue working closely with them even as we seek out more in the quest to scale 254COMICS into a truly Pan-African digital distribution comic book platform rich in diverse tales borne of the legion creative minds of this beautiful Motherland. Much thanks also to those that have been involved in several aspects of building the platform with its many moving pieces. On behalf of the 254comics team — Thank you all for 254COMICS’ FIRST 100. Onto THE NEXT 5000–100!!! How not crazy is that?!