Meet Adebayo Adegbembo: A digital storyteller who is helping children and adults learn African languages and cultures

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Meet Nigeria’s Adebayo (Bayo) Ibidapo Adegbembo - the innovator behind Lagos based Genii Games. Genii Games develops interactive mobile apps, web videos and storybooks for kids and adults to learn African languages and cultures in fun ways.

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In 2013, shortly after completing Nigeria’s mandatory National Youth Service Corps, Bayo did some research and realized there was a declining interest in indigenous native languages and cultures among children in his home country. While adult Nigerians had taken on the pride of showing off their culture through music, film and fashion, the same could not be said for children. Bayo decided to address this gap and contribute towards the preservation of his country’s rich cultures and heritage by starting Genii Games. His 5-year-old niece further inspired the birth of his company.

When the company first started, the typical customer was a parent of African origin with children aged 2 to 12 years. Today, the target market has expanded to older people who are not of Igbo and Yoruba origin, but want to learn a language.

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“Securing startup capital is one of the toughest hurdles a new business has to overcome” says Bayo. “For a new business to attract customers and remain relevant, it is important to tap into not just any business idea, but one that addresses a real life problem for a group of people.” What Genii Games provided was a timely solution that prompted investors’ attention. Investors were immediately drawn to Genii Games and came on board without a second thought.

My venture idea came at a time when there was a conscious drive and attention to the tech sector by local and international institutions in Nigeria. Back then - 2012/2013 - many companies were organizing hackathons and offering cash awards. Genii Games was awarded $27,000 by Etisalat and Blackberry. Other institutions like the Co-Creation Hub and the Tony Elumelu Foundation were also instrumental to my startup. They provided the much needed funding, mentorship and infrastructural support i was looking for at the time.
Igbo101 is a language-learning app that offers 16 topics, each with a companion game tied to it. A user learns each lesson to acquire the gift of  Amamiihe , which means Wisdom or Knowledge in Igbo. With new knowledge, a user proceeds to play games to test his/her skills, earn points, stars and unlock special Igbo cultural items.

Igbo101 is a language-learning app that offers 16 topics, each with a companion game tied to it. A user learns each lesson to acquire the gift of Amamiihe, which means Wisdom or Knowledge in Igbo. With new knowledge, a user proceeds to play games to test his/her skills, earn points, stars and unlock special Igbo cultural items.

Yorùbá101 is a fun and educative app that gets you started on this rich language synonymous to a large section of people from West Africa to the Americas. In Yorùbá101, you can become a Legend! You learn the basics of the language using over a dozen lessons, you play games to test your acquired knowledge, and unlock legends with useful information to fill up your Gallery.

Yorùbá101 is a fun and educative app that gets you started on this rich language synonymous to a large section of people from West Africa to the Americas. In Yorùbá101, you can become a Legend! You learn the basics of the language using over a dozen lessons, you play games to test your acquired knowledge, and unlock legends with useful information to fill up your Gallery.

Since 2013, Genii Games has developed mobile apps that sell at an average of $2.99. Yorùbá101 and Igbo101 remain the most successful applications for obvious reasons - both are teaching 2 of Nigeria’s 3 major languages which have tens of millions of speakers worldwide. Yorùbá101 for example is available in multiple language subtitles such as Portuguese and Spanish (given the historical connection of Yoruba culture to the Yoruba Diaspora across Latin America). Yorùbá101 also has evolved from a single application into a Series with a bilingual book recently released

To stay relevant, Genii Games engages its primary audience through surveys which help identify areas for improvement. It has taken the company some time to build a process of analyzing collected data and also establish an innovative business model, but Genii Games is confident of what it has come up with. 

Bayo’s entrepreneurial journey has not been a walk in the park.  He has faced many challenges and learned how to turn them into opportunities.

For example, sustaining the business primarily through development of applications threatened to bring the company to its feet at some point.  After doing some research, Genii Games realized that some people preferred books to apps for educational learning. So, Genii Games started publishing storybooks that showcase Africa’s beautiful cultures while teaching users how to speak Igbo and/or Yorùbá. To make ends meet, Bayo also offered consulting services to corporate and individual clients.

Catering to a local audience in Nigeria presented its own challenges. High data costs discourage many people from making downloads. Genii Games apps are multimedia in nature thus usually go beyond 20MB size which can be quite expensive.

Setting up alternative payment options was another challenge the company experienced earlier on. The globally accepted payment options on the Apple store and Google play are Visa and MasterCard. They don't work often and are also not popular with a majority of the local population. To address these challenges, Bayo opted to focus his marketing efforts on the diaspora in countries like the USA which do not have to deal with the foregoing issues.

Bayo attests his business success to persistence, perseverance and patience. These attributes he says have helped him build and maintain a strong network of teachers, translators, artists, voiceover artists, and sound engineers.

To succeed as an entrepreneur in Nigeria’s growing digital storytelling space, Bayo encourages other entrepreneurs and enthusiasts to:

a)     Take time to conduct an elaborate market study and understand the ins and outs of the industry with respect to ones country.

b)     Leverage the online and offline components of a business idea before starting, and also if rethinking a business model.

c)      Identify key industry communities to build relationships with, and to establish and maintain networks, and a strong market base.

Moving forward, as Genii Games continues to grow its current customer base, Bayo is keen to work with people across Africa who are interested in developing apps, videos and storybooks in their African languages. This is an open call!

As always, Team Thelela wishes Bayo and Genii Games the very best, and looks forward to celebrating Bayo's success as his company grows.