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Tell.Africa: A fuse of storytelling and technology (with Toheeb Ojuolape)

TOHEEB OJUOLAPE TALKS ABOUT TELL.AFRICA GOALS.
By Oluwanisola Eludoyin

Toheeb Ojuolape talks about Tell.Africa goals on TIME OUT with TLM. He is the founder of a popular community for creatives, Tell!

Although Tell! Started in 2017 as a community for creatives to share stories and ideas and receive useful feedback, it has branched out.

From changing the address, Tell.com.ng, to tell.africa, Ojuolape shares with us the goals of Tell! And what they aim to achieve with storytelling and technology. Enjoy!

There’s Tell! business, Tell! Health, Tell! Publications, WHAT’S THE ACTUAL GOAL?

Lol. Good question. What we’re building at Tell! Is actually an array of products and services that cut across media, talent, publishing, education and health with a sole purpose of leveraging storytelling, technology and community to solve Africa’s most crucial problems.

So for all our products, these three things are at its core: Storytelling, Community, Technology

Okay, this is quite a lot to take in but amazing. AT WHAT POINT DID YOU DECIDE TO CHANGE FROM TELL.NG TO TELL.AFRICA?

We were never Tell.ng. Tell.ng is another platform entirely. Our initial site address was tell.com.ng.

The need to scale our name and operations actually a necessity for us to build a truly pan-African platform.  That was actually our goal from the onset, but we just piloted our idea in our country of origin and Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria.

After we reached  10,000 users, we saw that what we had was viable and so we decided to fully scale our brand and operations to provide services to Africa as a whole because we believe Africa is not a continent but a country. There’s more that unites us than divides us.

Oh wow. Earlier, you mentioned that solving Africa’s crucial problems is a priority for you. WHAT EXACTLY ARE THESE PROBLEMS?

Alright. Based on the current products we have, these problems are majorly around the areas of health(Tell! Health), Education (Tell! Academy), Talent/Job recruiting (Tell! Business) and Media/Publishing (Tell! Books and Tell! Publications)

For Tell! Health, we are majorly exploring the use of storytelling and technology to solve problems in the mental health space. Did you know that Nigeria has only about 15 psychiatric hospitals to cater to a country of over 200 million people? With Tell! Health we’re simply just building and developing smart technology solutions to breach this gap of insufficiency in that health space. The same goes for all our other products and services.

Let’s expatiate Tell! Health. I saw awareness on suicide and the likes on the site. HOW ARE YOU ENCOURAGING AFRICAN CREATIVES TO DO THIS? I MEAN TO CREATE MORE AWARENESS. IS IT PART OF THE PLAN?

Yes, as I mentioned earlier we leverage storytelling to push the ideas behind these products to the limelight so that people can pay a little more attention to them. We organize webinars every year on World Mental Health Day geared towards this. We couldn’t however organize one this year because that was the period of the #EndSars protest and we didn’t want to come off as ignoring the current plight of the country by organizing a webinar during that time, so we had to call it off for this year.

However, during these webinars, we invite key stakeholders in the mental health space and foster meaningful conversations about what we can do to help improve the lives and mental health of young people in Nigeria… not only creatives.

We also maintain a column called Impressions on the Tell! Blogging app that encourages creatives to tell stories inline with Mental health.

Hmm, Toheeb, this is beautiful. HOW DID TELL START? ARE THERE COFOUNDERS?

Well, Tell! Started off way back in 2017 simply as an idea of building a social media platform that connects creatives across Africa and enables them to share stories and ideas and receive useful feedback. However, after realizing that the world doesn’t need any more social media platforms and Africa’s problems are much broader than I imagined, we reimagined what we stood for at Tell! And so we ended up settling on the idea of being a solution-based startup that leverages storytelling, community, and technology to solve problems.

At the onset, I was the sole founder, but as the startup proceeded and more roles required filling, I built a team of cofounders to support and lead various aspects of the startup. At the moment, I have two cofounders.

“THE WORLD DOESN’T NEED MORE SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS” Kindly explain this.

Alright so if you follow Tech as much I do, you’ll realize that not only is the global social media industry currently over-saturated, but it is also plagued with various episodes of malpractice:  Data theft by big tech, Cyberbullying, Big companies bullying little companies and so on. Besides being successful in the social media space majorly involved stealing and selling user’s information which we were not comfortable doing.

TOHEEB OJUOLAPE TALKS ABOUT TELL.AFRICA GOALS.

Go for it. The world needs more different.

And it’s completely ok if you don’t have everything figured out initially.

Ideas don’t come out fully formed.

Just give yourself the necessary space and grace to be creative and do things differently.

TOHEEB OJUOLAPE

WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES YOU’VE HAD TO SCALE ?

Omo! that’s an entire conversation for another day. Some challenges we’ve had have actually been internal, as regards team structure and management, others have been around our failures. So we apply for grants and fellowships. We’ve won some, but we’ve also lost some. Aside from this, there is the challenge of getting aired by organizations we tried to establish partnerships with, not being recognized enough, and so on.

We keep pushing through because we understand that challenges will only strengthen you.

You mentioned solving problems with storytelling and technology. WHAT ROLES HAVE TECH PLAYED AT TELL! AND HOW HAS THAT BEEN SO FAR?

Well, we leverage on technology in a lot of our products. Like for instance, our Tell! Health product leverages on AI technology to provide mental healthcare support to users. You can check it out.

Our Tell! Blogging app let’s users create accounts and start publishing their articles within minutes.

All our other products follow this trend as well. We believe Technology is a powerful catalyst for change and is a key driver for all our products.

This is great! WHERE DO YOU SEE TELL! IN FIVE YEARS?

We see ourselves as one of the top technology companies in Africa providing key solutions to Africa’s most crucial problems.

WHAT ROLES DO YOUR PARTNERS TAKE AT TELL!?

My co-founder, Fope, is the Chief Marketing Officer and my co-founder, Habeeb, is the Chief Business Officer.

Your Artificial Intelligent chatbot- HOW DOES IT WORK?

Are you on Telegram?Just tap this link to start: Health Bot

The chatbot is actually available across various social media platforms. We are building a medium through which people can access immediate mental health care support through their social media platforms without the need to install an app.

Oh. Okay. I think you guys are actually doing amazing stuff. CAN WE TALK ABOUT THE BLOGGING PART OF TELL! AFRICA? HAVE THERE BEEN POSITIVE TURNUPS?

Yeah. We currently have over 14,000 registered users on that platform across Africa and have over 3300 stories published.

One of the key things we truly admire about what we built with the blogging feature is our retention rate. We have a user retention rate of over 35% with users we’ve had since day one of launch 3 years still writing on the platform till today.

We also recently pushed a feature to the platform called Author Tipping that enables writers to get monetary reward for creating valuable content for their readers. This is in our continued attempt at helping creatives monetize their creativity.

Superb! APART FROM BLOGGING, DO YOU HAVE OTHER FEATURES FOR WRITERS? PERHAPS A COMMUNITY?

Yes, we have Tell! Communities established across various key universities in Nigeria. Although these communities are more or less for every young person or creative, writing is also an important aspect of their activities.

Oh, HOW DO YOU MANAGE ALL OF THESE TOHEEB? IS TELL! A FULL-TIME FOR YOU?

Lol. That’s why I have a team, really. It gets overwhelming sometimes. Yes, I work full time at Tell!

There are creatives who’d read this and would love to fuse storytelling and technology in their future projects. WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SAY TO THEM?

Go for it. The world needs more different.

And it’s completely ok if you don’t have everything figured out initially. Ideas don’t come out fully formed. Just give yourself space and grace to be creative and do things differently.

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