What kind of BBN housemate would you be?

How David Adeleke Plans To Build A Media Empire

David Adeleke writes the media-watching newsletter Communique, which reaches over 20,000 subscribers. He spoke to us recently about the future of his newsletters and, along the way, offered advice, based on his experience, for anyone navigating the professional space in Nigeria today.  

What is David up to these days?

I work at Nestcoin as the Creator Relations Manager. And I have a newsletter called Communique that goes out to about 25,000 people every month. It’s the only one analysing the media in-depth, as far as I am concerned.

Busy, busy. How did Nestcoin happen?

My boss Yele [Bademosi] had just left his previous company and was putting together an early team of people. He came to know me through the newsletter; I had written a few essays that he thought were in line with how he was thinking about his startup. 

At the time, I was working as the Communications Lead for Eko Atlantic City. I joined him in November of 2021.

Let’s take it back. What did you study?

Mass Communication.

Not far from home, I guess!

Nope.

Could you walk me through your employment history?

[Laughs]

What’s the joke?

[Laughs] You’ll see when I start.

I’m intrigued!

When I was in school I started a blog. This was 2013; it was the era of blogging. Everybody wanted to become famous. I thought I could build a career out of it, so I took it seriously. I was making money through affiliate marketing. Not a lot but it was something. I was also doing data analysis for final year students doing their projects.

When I left school, I got an offer to work with an accounting tech startup. These guys were ahead of their time because this was before the fintech era.

What were you doing for them?

I was a Content Marketing Associate.

And this was in 2014?

Yes. So before people knew about content marketing, I was already doing it. I was also serving in Ibadan at the time and doing an internship at a consulting firm. Eventually, I left all of that and for some months I was looking for what next. I had a stint as a content marketing person at a grocery delivery business, which got on CNN at some point. It was nice; I think I have the clip of myself on CNN.

I can imagine. But yeah, I think I see why you laughed about your employment history.

I told you.

So, what happened next?

I didn’t stay there for long. I wasn’t a good fit. I didn’t like the company or the founders.

Haha. Okay. How were you solving the problem of expensive rent in Lagos?

I stopped living with my parents when I graduated from school. But I was staying with a family friend in Egbeda. After leaving the delivery business, I joined TechCabal and started living in the office because it was too far from the house. Office was in Surulere. To Egbeda was like two hours!  

Crazy Lagos!

But that was in a way where things picked up for me. I was working with very smart people. But I figured that I wasn’t a good culture fit.

Was this a money thing?

Not really. At the startup I was at, I was earning ₦60k and at TechCabal I was earning ₦40k. I took the pay cut because I was convinced it was the right thing for my career. And it was. That was where I started gathering social capital.

How so?

In the early days of the tech ecosystem, journalists were influential. Not like now when everybody has started carrying shoulder.

Hahaha. Shots fired. What did you do next?

I started freelancing. I was writing for TechPoint and a few others. I didn’t have to worry about rent and food, so what I was earning was good pay. But I wanted something more. My friend referred to a HR company to do digital marketing. I thought I could do that. I was earning ₦90k, but I didn’t like who I was working for and I didn’t like what I was doing.

Damn. You might be the only person in Nigeria who quits for that reason.

[Laughs] I am very particular about what I want. They said it was digital marketing, but it was actually social media and other random stuff.

Almost like you’re still pissed.

Ah well. I then joined a publication called Ventures Africa, and I was earning ₦100k before they increased it to ₦120k. This was 2016. It was at Ventures Africa that my career kicked off because there was more structure than any other place I had worked at. There was an actual community of people that I could flow with. I felt at home. I stayed there for a year and a half and got into a fellowship in the US. Then I got into a workshop at Yale.

Wow.

I crowdfunded my way there. And I have to say that people are always good to me. That is still the biggest highlight of my career. It’s why I am where I am.

When I finished my fellowship, I wanted to stay back in the US but then I got an offer to become an Editor for the Business Insider Africa team.

How did that happen?

I met someone at an event before I left for the US. He thought that I’d be a good fit for the role. I came back and was there for a year and a half. I was earning ₦350k. It was okay, but my eyes started opening. I was like, “Guy, you can be earning more than this.”

What opened your eyes?

Interacting with more people. Internationally especially. I just started seeing what my mates were earning while I was suffering as a journalist. Then the person who hired me left, and I thought I could replace him. But the role went to someone else, even though I believed I could do the job. That was one of the factors that led me to explore my network.

What did this bring you?

I got the job at Eko Atlantic.

What did this do for your income?

It tripled! I was getting about ₦1m each month.

*Applause*

Thanks. I was there for two and a half years. The longest so far. It was where I achieved stability. I became a family man while working there, a 30+ guy. I had already started my newsletter and it started opening me up to new audiences. My network became more high quality.

It’s how you got your current job?

Yes.

What did it do for your income?

I can’t say.

Give us a range?

Between 3,000 to 5,000.

That’s dollars, right?

Yes. I started to optimise for foreign currency.

How do you do that as a Nigerian in Nigeria?

Nestcoin isn’t fully Nigerian.

Ha, okay.

But there are startups that do that. It depends on who you are.

Hmm.

To be fair, the industry matters a lot too. I don’t think I can tell a bank to pay me in dollars unless I am an expatriate. So it’s not because I am one genius. I was fortunate to land in an industry willing to pay me.

But you have also tried to influence it.

True. You will have to do the research to find out which companies can pay what you desire. You also need to be in the 1% of the talent pool.

Hmm. Say, you actually have the skill required. What else is necessary?

I think one thing that’s valuable for anyone employing me is my network. For me, you can tell from my newsletter. The work you do and the projects you have worked on are also ways you can demonstrate your value. The kinds of people you interact with is also a way of showing who you are.

That’s hard to do if you are submitting a CV on LinkedIn though.

Yeah, so I should mention that none of the jobs I have held have been because somebody looked at my CV. It is mostly from referrals and my network.

Ha. Your advice is really for the 1%.

Yes, mostly. But if you are in an industry that pays well, you are fortunate. Most times, it is because somebody thinks you are worth a certain amount and then gives you that amount. Industry is very important. You need to know what is possible first and then maybe you will be the exception as a Nigerian working in Nigeria. 

You can’t just wake up and say I want to be a fashion designer earning in dollars. Yes, it’s possible but what kind of fashion designer earns that? You need to understand the dynamics within the industry. 

You also need to be shameless about building your network. People like to bash cliches, but it’s true that your network is your net worth. Then you need the skill. People will let you into the door but after some months they might say you are just hype…

…and then let you out the door.

[Laughs] Let’s find a way to push him out.

What is your current role like?

One of the things about a startup is how it changes. For every dispensation, the startup needs something. For you to survive you need to become what the company needs with each dispensation. When we were launching, I had to shape its messaging and image. We then needed to stabilise our content operations and so for a while I was Managing Editor. And then we needed to understand UX writing, and so I did a lot of copywriting. Currently, we are building out a creator platform and I oversee that.

Let’s talk about Communique. What is the goal for it eventually?

It’s going to become a media company.

Does this mean leaving Substack?

Not really.

So how do you monetise?

Sponsorship and consulting.

What are your own income streams?

The newsletter, my 9 to 5, consulting, and I do PR work with agencies.

What’s the most lucrative?

My 9 to 5. Then consulting, my newsletter and working with agencies.

Are there other plans for monetising the newsletter?

The roadmap for CMQ Media is the newsletter, which is the sole product for now. But it serves the media. The goal is for CMQ Media to be like Industry Dive.

That’s the American platform that caters to several niches, right?

Yes. You get it. We will have a publication for marketing, another for the creative industry, one serving the creator economy and so on. We will then build products on all of these platforms. I call it a Trojan Horse strategy. The media publication is the horse; the real opportunity is the products that become possible. To monetise, we can have ads, products, sponsorships, subscriptions and other things.

An exciting future, then!

Yes. We just need to understand what the audience wants.

What advice would you give a young person freshly out of school?

You need to figure out what it takes to be the best. What knowledge and network do I need to know? That’s the main one. Then you have to figure out how to get people to know you in a non-obnoxious way. It doesn’t help if you are good at something and people don’t know.

Lastly, you have to have a long-term mindset. Don’t always optimise for money. You may take a pay cut like me but learn what will help you earn 10 times more in a few years. Always have a long-term view. That’s counterintuitive for our generation because everybody wants to blow quickly. It might mean doing something thankless for a while but having that presence of mind and staying power to stick at what you are doing. You don’t have to start crying because after six months or a year, you haven’t seen results. These results can take a long time, but it’s worth it. 

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