Nigeria’s Stears is making data and media business work together

The synergy between a data business and a media publication in Nigeria is an unusual approach to running both well

Elna Schutz
Jul 23, 2020 · 4 min read
Some of the Stears team, including Preston Ideh (second from the left) and Tokunbo Afikuyomi (most right). Photo: supplied

By Elna Schütz

Stears Business is a financial publication in Nigeria that works in a close synergy with its data business and consultancy, Stears Data. This creates an unusual business model in a time many publications are trying to innovate their revenue streams.

“We don’t think of ourselves as sort of a media business or a news business, we think of ourselves as an information business,” says co-founder and CEO, Preston Ideh.

The idea started in 2014 when a few students at the London School of Economics noticed that they couldn’t find the kinds of reliable, strong information on the financial markets in Nigeria that they had grown accustomed to from international publications. This perceived gap motivated the group of economists and lawyers, none of whom had a background in media, to start a website that eventually grew into two intertwined businesses with around 20 employees.

“It’s to get to a place where people are talking about [The Financial Times] and talking about The Wall Street Journal, talking about The Economist and they talk about Stears Business.” — Preston Ideh

The publication has more than 50,000 monthly active readers and focuses on long form insightful analysis for individuals wanting to understand the markets. Editor in chief Tokunbo Afikuyomi, says that they have created a “real marriage between domain experts in certain fields and journalism”. Stears Data offers datasets to businesses and organisations on a direct or subscription basis, and does consulting and research.

By design the two sides work together and out of the same office, catering to different audiences or clients, but informing each other. At times there are direct collaborations on special projects like this election data site, which had almost 2 million monthly readers according to Ideh.

The co-founder says receiving seed funding gave them some runway to build up a newsroom and more of the businesses. Currently the main revenue comes from research advisory and consulting services from Stears Data.

For Stears Business, the model from the start has been to not rely fully on advertising revenue, even though it does receive some. “We just weren’t as attracted to advertising as a way to sustain ourselves,” Ideh says. The publication has also just launched a paywall for some content, so that it generates more revenue in itself.

Ideh acknowledges that it may be difficult to pivot a publication that has a legacy of relying on advertising, but believes that this pivot is possible and happening in media to some extent. He advises, “you have to look and say, okay, if I was the CEO of this business, and I was building it up from the ground up today, how would I build it?”

The Stears team is positive that their strategy will work in the longer run and is encouraged by publications in other countries that are focusing on providing similar information. They believe that their niche focus on finance, business, and the economy fulfills a particular need in Nigeria that people and companies are willing to pay for. For instance, Ideh says, “We wouldn’t be as confident about trying out a subscription model if we were a general publisher.”

He adds, “It comes down to the quality of the content. I think that is what we consider as the sort of our Alpha and Omega of this space.” While Stears Business in its early days was built on expert analysis, bringing in data journalists, writers, and editors with journalistic background has shifted this to cater for a specific audience more deeply.

Afikuyomi explains, “We spend a lot of time talking to actual sources to write our pieces and there’s a lot of emphasis on storytelling, but just making sure that whilst we’re doing that we’re able to create a lot of value for our audience. We’re writing insightful pieces that still have very strong analysis and just making sure we’re doing that in an engaging manner.”

The Stears Business newsroom in its current form is still fairly new and the data business is working on growing, but Ideh and the team have big plans. He says he’d like Stears Data to come to mind when someone is thinking of consultancy firms or data businesses with reliable content. Equally on the media side, “It’s to get to a place where people are talking about [The Financial Times] and talking about The Wall Street Journal, talking about The Economist and they talk about Stears Business.”

Through a variety of revenue streams, a particular niche and good quality he says ,“We actually see ourselves as providing that solution to a very big information gap in Nigeria.”

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Reporting supported by a micro-grant from Jamlab

jamlab

Strengthening innovation in African independent journalism and media.

jamlab

The Jamlab Africa Newsletter is produced by Wits Journalism. The Journalism and Media Lab supports innovators to bring new information, new ideas and new conversations to new audiences in Africa.

Elna Schutz

Written by

jamlab

The Jamlab Africa Newsletter is produced by Wits Journalism. The Journalism and Media Lab supports innovators to bring new information, new ideas and new conversations to new audiences in Africa.