Recently, he spoke with PiggyVest about what embarking on a content creation journey has meant to his career and pocket.
What was growing up like for Kagan?
I grew up in Ibadan. I remember living with my grandparents, but it was a huge family so I was really by myself. I schooled in Ibadan until university, which was in OAU.
When did you start with tech?
I started using computers from about Windows 1995. My cousin and I used to play a game on his family’s desktop. I remember sometime in 1998 or 1999, I paid to use a cybercafe for the first time.
The first website I visited was Stonecold Steve Austin’s because I was a huge wrestling fan. It was my first time on the internet and after I registered on Stonecold’s website, I didn’t know what else to do.
What else did you eventually get up to?
I got on Hi5! Remember it?
I had a community there. I had friends in South Africa and other places. I also used something called Microsoft Frontpage. It was from there I got into stuff like Codecademy and W3Schools.
I went to NIIT because I had a scholarship. That was also part of my learning. But at the time, for many people, there was no real benefit to going to NIIT. People just assumed you’d end up in a business centre.
What did you study in school?
I had wanted to study medicine, but I also knew that school wasn’t for me. They said I was too young, and I didn’t want to stay home. There was nothing that I was taught in university that I have used.
Everything I have used to make money is stuff I learnt by myself or on the internet. I think school builds character, even though I found it to be a waste of my time. I should have started making videos earlier.
Well, hindsight is 20/20. Did you get up to anything entrepreneurial in school?
Yes. I was making beats. I started out as a rapper and then switched to production when I learned that producers were the ones making money. I had a studio.
Wait. Studio? Where did the money come from?
I was selling beats for ₦5,000, although students would bargain down to ₦3,500. At the time, you could buy a decent microphone, amplifier and the cables you needed if you had ₦50k.
If you make another ₦30k, you could find a carpenter that would come and make a little booth in your little room. Another small gig and you have bought a generator. Like that, you have started.
Wow. Student Music Entrepreneur 101.
[Laughs] I have albums on Spotify that nobody knows about. I won’t tell you how to find it.
When did you stop making beats?
My family members thought that because I was on the computer all day I was doing fraud. At some point, I had to let it go. They would say I should go and get a job. Eventually, I caved, but I didn’t last six months at this place.
What kind of company was this?
It was a creative agency. I was doing a lot of things: graphic design, SEO, website building. They were charging millions but paying me ₦81k — in this same Lagos that I will enter traffic and be stressed. But while I was there I learned a lesson.
What was this lesson?
I learned that the same jobs that I was doing and charging people ₦50k, ₦30k, people were willing to pay millions for. The problem wasn’t my skill; it was my packaging. That was the most important lesson that I learned working in Lagos for six months.
I needed to build my own brand in such a way that I could bill bastard money. It was so obvious that I had left the company that some clients cancelled their contracts and came to look for me.
It caused a bit of a problem, but I explained to my former boss that I wasn’t trying to take his clients. It was then that I started making real money. I remember building a website and charging ₦650k.
A few months before, I would have charged ₦35k since it was a WordPress website.
What happened next?
I discovered Upwork and made about $450 for one of my first videos. On the side, I was also doing audio engineering and website stuff. It was from that video that I learned about affiliate business because that was how the video was going to make money.
I concluded that the person who hired me was making so much more than he was paying me.
Since I was the one making the video, I decided to build a website and do some SEO stuff that would make my site rank high and go after the affiliate marketing income. Well, I did it and it worked!
How much was it bringing in?
There was a time I made $19,000 from Amazon in a month.
The way it worked back then before the pandemic, if you click on the link I shared on my YouTube for, say, a power bank, but rather than buy a power bank, you bought a Lexus, I would get a percentage of that car purchase. But Amazon cut down the percentage to around 4% from 10% to 12%.
Tell me about why you started YouTube.
It was connected to that first video on Upwork. After I made the video, YouTube seemed like the platform to use. I remember I had about ₦230k to my name in December 2016. I spent ₦225k to buy a camera. I bought lights. When I made some more money, I bought a 50mm manual lens.
What strategy did you use for YouTube and did it work?
I posted at least three times a week, but YouTube didn’t really work out for me. I was making money, but I didn’t really blow on YouTube. I was optimising for Amazon. I’d do some research about what people were buying and do something around it.
When the world had an “airpods pandemic,” I did 150 videos on airpods.
I was just going. The more videos I made, I started getting products for free. It was the sweetest thing.
What was the first big thing that made you feel you were on the right track?
A Chinese company offered me $50. But it was slow as with everything you just begin. Sometimes when I teach people, they accuse me of hiding information. I am not, though. It is just snowballing: I have many videos and people still click them.
But Nigerians can be impatient sometimes.
How long after starting YouTube did you get the Chinese offer?
About 5 months.
Doesn’t seem too long…
It is extremely long if you are making three to five videos each week, my brother.
True, true. You are right.
It would feel like you’re dying. One reason I kept going was that I am stubborn. I also felt cheated when my family intervened because they felt I was doing fraud. But I was also fortunate to be able to do many things.
So there was some money coming from somewhere else. It is why I tell young people that they should do many things. Don’t just be a fullstack developer or be a UI/UX designer. You never know what extra skill will change your life. Learn, learn, learn.
What was the first big brand to reach out to you?
Hmm. That’s a hard one. It depends on what a big bag is to you…
I was asking about big brands, but I am also interested in big bags. So what is a big bag to you?
The first bag that scared me was from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. I had to sit down and do Zoom interviews with scholars and experts from Oxford and other places. Then I would edit these videos so it could be played for people at NAFDAC. They found me on Upwork at a time when I was the highest earning Nigerian on the platform.
How do you know?
If you use the platform, you know. At some point, I was the one interviewing clients not the other way round. People used to ask if I was using jazz. [Laughs]
So what was the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation bag exactly?
[Laughs] I have an NDA.
Six or five or four digits? Dollars or naira?
Dollars. And one of the latter two you mentioned.
Na wa. So tell me about TikTok.
I downloaded the app for the first time in 2022. At some point, my YouTuber friends were doing a contest where everybody had to pay everybody else 5k for each day they fail to post a video. We were 10 in the group.
The money adds up and starts to burn a hole in your pocket if you don’t post. Initially, I was doing it just so I wouldn’t pay the penalty. After a while, I thought about it and changed up.
What did you think?
TikTok didn’t really have real tech content like on YouTube. I decided to introduce that kind of stuff by breaking down YouTube tech content to the 1 minute that TikTok allowed. The first one I did got viewed a million times within 24 hours.
Then I did another one and it got 7m views. I just kept going. On some days, I dropped 19, 20 videos.
Crazy work ethic. What did this do for your follower count?
I went from 20 followers to 130,000 in four days. I think I am probably the biggest tech content creator on TikTok.
What about Instagram?
It was growing on its own. I think it went to 7,000 on its own. But I started posting small small because Instagram doesn’t encourage over-posting. In a few days, I reached more than 110,000 Instagram followers. That brought some good opportunities. All of these things happened within the space of one month.
Thanks! All of this time I stopped posting on YouTube because I was unhappy with the platform. Then, randomly, I got a call from YouTube and got on YouTube Black Voices Fund, which comes with a grant.
Belated congratulations, man.
What are your income streams these days?
Social media. I don’t get money from the platforms, but the videos attract brands. My rate card can be scary. [Laughs]
So what would you say folks should do to emulate Kagan?
First: Never give up. Don’t ever stop. People might insult you, but keep on doing it. Second thing: Learn other things. Open yourself up to other opportunities. Three: Don’t be like me. I am very confident and that could come off as pride.
Recently, I got into an issue with Instagram, and I made a video asking them to delete my account. The next day, my account was verified. But what if they deleted my account for real? One source of income has gone. So don’t be like me.
I have gone through so many storms to be scared of raindrops. Pick what you can from me, but respect yourself.