Even though he’s grown to become founder and CEO of Eziki, an online video streaming service that provides professional video on demand (VoD) and live streaming services, he started from the bottom literally. From paying Kshs 100 per hour to use a colleague’s computer for his web design work as he didn’t his own computer to re-designing a website without the client’s knowledge and approval and later presenting it while unsure about the reaction he’d get from the other end, he’s seen it all. But from such modest beginnings, his client list currently includes names of established companies and even multinational organizations. Here’s the story of Santos Okottah, the founder and CEO of Eziki…
- Give us a brief background about yourself
My name is Santos Okottah. I did Computer Science and Engineering at Maseno University. I’m good in computer programming and branding. I think I can call myself a ‘designer’ first before a programmer because even when developing applications, I always design them first in my mind before I develop them through programming and this skill has enabled me do great applications for various companies including Nation Media Group (NMG), Bonfire Adventures and Samantha’s Bridal. At Insyder magazine, which was my first employer, I was a designer and web developer and helped the publication transition from print to online. I later transitioned from web development and began providing live streaming and Video-on-Demand services through Eziki.
(TOP: Santos Okottah, CEO, Eziki. Below: Santos displays the Eziki logo on mobile phone).
- Why and what point did you decide to leave formal employment and venture out into the world of entrepreneurship and self-employment?
I was last employed by Nation Media Group. I had a very good experience at my previous employers and I moved into self-employment and entrepreneurship due to my desire to create interactive websites and apps. Again, video is the natural language that people understand and relate with and is also a very powerful medium – statistics indicate that video will account for 90 per cent of all internet traffic in the near future while Facebook has more traffic driven by video that other platforms.
- Your LinkedIn profile indicates that you’re still involved with three firms – that is Evolve Logistics, Evolve Interactive, Startag and Eziki. What services and solutions do the four firms provide and how do they complement each other?
Evolve Logistics is a logistics firm where I just serve as a director and not involved in day-to-day management. Evolve Interactive focuses on building in-house mobile apps and software development while Startag is a product of Evolve Interactive. Startag, a finalist in the 2015 Safaricom Appwiz Challenge, is a social media application available as an app, responsive Mobi and as web application which uses a branding engine to allow users create personalized posts. Eziki, on the other hand, is a live streaming and VoD firm also built through Evolve Interactive.
- In your professional life, which is most important project have handled (either individually or part of a team), what were its major challenges and how did you navigate around these to ensure that it comes out successfully?
This has to be handling the WTO Ministerial Conference held at the KICC which had over 10,000 delegates. We streamed in four languages – English, Spanish, French and the floor language (presenter’s language) and in four locations. This meant us engaging with the client 3 months prior to the event to ensure that all the items and requirements on the check-list have been sourced and are available. Our team on the venue consisted of 20 people to handle the stream. And the key requirements for a successful stream are internet (at least for providers for redundancy), bandwidth, co-location (as you need servers all over the world and here we work with Content Delivery Networks – CDN – which avails content to all platforms) and ensures that we deliver a flawless stream. And what makes us unique is that we always come with our own internet. We had a church where the venue had 2,000 people while those streaming or following the event online were 18,000, which shows you that live stream adds you audience.
- Having been founded over 5 years ago, Eziki can be considered as one of the pioneers in Kenya’s live streaming scene. However, many other firms currently provide live streaming services. How do you ensure that you’re ahead of the competition, retaining existing clients and bringing new ones on board?
We are affordable but offer clients a quality stream, we don’t give excuses and we’re also reliable as we’ve a dedicated team that monitors the stream on am 24-hour basis. We’re very professional in our operations and dealings with clients. For example with other companies, when the stream or the session has ended, they tell you that the stream is off and this pushes away people who may even be potential clients for streaming services. So what we do after the session has ended is that we repeat or loop the session for those who’re not able to follow the session or stream live. And we also provide a Video-on-Demand (VoD) to the client at no extra cost as a form of value add. The fact that you’re able to loop the footage and any other adverts is an advantage to the client. We have also invested in high-tech equipment – we have drones and encoders – which ensure that we deliver quality streams. During the recent Blankets&Wine, we had two events running concurrently in Nairobi and Kampala and the client wanted the Kenya audience to watch and follow what was happening at Blankets&Wine Kampala and Kampala audience to watch what was happening on Ngong’ Road in Nairobi. For streaming, you’ve to be concerned about the audience within the event venue and those following the stream online. And we delivered this by having giant screens at the two venues to ensure that this is possible. Last is that we don’t brand the stream as we believe no one should brand the client’s content unless it’s the client’s logo being displayed during the session.
We are affordable but offer clients a quality stream, we don’t give excuses and we’re also reliable as we’ve a dedicated team that monitors the stream on am 24-hour babsis. We’re very professional in our operations and dealings with clients… – Santos
- As Eziki, where do you currently derive the bulk of the company’s revenues – live streaming or VoD services?
Revenues are going and we believe they’ll continue to grow because of the demand for the services. Right now, live stream is leading and generating major revenues but we’re sure VoD will grow de to the demand.
- How does a company – like Eziki – partner with TV broadcaster – like KBC or NTV – to live stream an event, who does what in the whole process?
First we go set up at the venue – bring our equipment there plus our team of photographers – on the ground to ensure that we’re able to stream. We then pick the signal to our encoders, from our encoders it then goes through the internet to our cloud server, from where it’s then relayed to Content Delivery Networks (CDN) after which it’s then sent to the various devices which the audience is using to follow the stream – whether mobile phones or PCs. But before we do the stream we first have to test the stream as live streaming is very unpredictable and what one may consider to be simple may end up being very tricky.
- In terms of cost, how much does Eziki charge to live stream say a 2-hour event and what requirements does the client have to put in place for a successful and uninterrupted streaming session?
The cost depends on the client’s budget and nature of event – is it an outdoor event, how many cameras and drones are needed, does he need VoD afterwards or the footage to be looped. Basically, we structure the budget based on the client’s specifications.
- In the past 5 years, what can you highlight as Eziki’s major milestones in terms of projects (clients) or partnerships?
Building the VoD took me years to get off the ground took me years, it required personal sacrifice on my part as well as my family and required huge financial resources. But I believed in what the market wanted. For the live stream unit, I had set aside some money after setting up NMG’s online platform but this was not sufficient to put up everything that needed to be pit up. It later dawned on me that it would be easier with firms and organizations in need of our services then we also decided to focus on one product or solution at time – specialisation. For example, we’ve always been the streaming partner at AITEC Africa events for almost 5 years now and through that, we get clients who need our services.
- Who do you look up to for professional inspiration and motivation and why? Any mentors?
I get my inspiration from my parents and my wife. For motivation, I look up to the couple team of Simon and Sarah who founded and built up Bonfire Adventures into a successful company. They started as a modest operation then grew with time. Then there’s Adam Nyakundi (who runs an events company) and Dr Catherine Masitsa, founder of Samantha’s Bridal.
- Having been in the live streaming and VoD scene for quite a while, what can you say are some of the main challenges that you’ve to deal with or have had to deal with in the past? How can such challenges be addressed?
You don’t need a lot of capital to set up a big and successful company, all you need is a professional team and good partners. And always look for partners who need your services, these partners have clients who will sooner or later need your services. Because of this, the Eziki team always engages in CSR activities by making computer donations to the less fortunate in the society. Eziki partners with Evolve Interactive to package software which come pre-loaded on to the PCs which we give out to students during our CSR activities. These enable the students to learn and gain Web Design skills in Kangemi in Nairobi and Bungoma. I used to to pay Kshs 100 per hour to use a computer and computer helped me get my first payment as a professional – I re-designed a website for client who paid me Kshs 13,000 which to me was a lot of money in early 2000’s because I just re-designed the site without their knowledge and asked them to take a look when I was done. They were impressed and adopted my design. This was my first big break. I left and straight away went and bought my own PC and from then on didn’t have to pay Kshs 100 per hour to do design websites. Because of this, it’s always been my prayer to God to help me build other less fortunate members of society by making PC donations to them in order to give them a means to earn a living.
- What can the market expect from Eziki going forward?
Eziki currently has two partners but we want to build it up before we can open it up for other investors to come on board.