🧿 From vision to voice

This week we caught up with Derrick N. Ashong. Founder of media and technology company, AMP Global.

Born in Ghana, Derrick grew up knowing hardship and challenges, but excelled academically and made it to Harvard University.

He would go on to become a pioneer in producing multi-platform interactive content for global audiences, and has hosted his own radio show for Oprah, a TV show for ABC/Disney.

He’s spoken at the United Nations and UK Parliament on issues of Tech & Society, and launched a ground-breaking interactive series for Al-Jazeera English that won a Royal Television Society award in its inaugural season. 

Ashong alchemized his life experiences in founding AMP Global, a digital media "echosystem" that allows fans to earn mobile data rewards for discovering and amplifying great content creators. 

What challenge does AMP Global solve?

Through its Take Back the Mic (TBTM) app it uses gamification to enable music fans to earn 4G data rewards. They do this by engaging with and sharing content from their favourite artists.

On the sell side it provides rich audience engagement data that enables media companies and brands to gain deep insights into global youth audiences.

What were you doing before founding the company?

I was playing music with my band and studying for a PhD at Harvard. I was researching how concepts of open-source software could map on to music promotion.

But I got recruited out of my program to work for multi-platform producers and Hollywood moguls, becoming a producer and host myself.

What I learnt from that experience is that no one in media and entertainment knows their audience.

They know the number of viewers, but they don't know who they are. That's what drove me to found AMP Global. 

How did you get AMP Global off the ground?

I started the company with my best friend from Harvard and band mate, Jonathan Gramling, a brilliant musician, who also happened to be the former Deputy Tech Director for the Democratic National Committee in the States.

We then found our CTO, Esteban Robles Luna, who was a senior engineer from Google and LinkedIn. 

Our fourth co-founder was Lucia Brawley, a Hollywood actress, political organiser and writer, who helped us raise money and media support.  

My mom put in the first $5K and I poured my life savings into the company. With an additional $50K from a crowdfunding campaign and some personal loans, we launched in 2015.

This involved booking a one-way ticket to shoot our World Cup of Hip Hop series in Jamaica, Colombia and Brazil.

Within 6 months, we had our first of two back-to-back Emmy nominations in Original Interactive Programming, opposite Taylor Swift and Facebook’s Oculus Rift.  

After that our first formal investor was Cory Ondrejka, the former head of Mobile for Facebook, who is now the Senior Tech Advisor to the CEO of Google. Cory set our valuation with a big vote of confidence. 

From there, we raised a big share of our seed from our Harvard network, as well as from Astia Angels, which focuses on women-led companies, since one of our co-founders is a woman.

Then, over the past year and a half, we set our sights on Africa, with the lion’s share of our funding coming from business leaders on the continent.

What went into building the early stage product?

We started out with a very raw minimum viable product, but it was enough to cast and curate our show and get us those two Emmy nominations.

Now, we have a native mobile app with UX/UI design by a senior Google designer and we’re in all the app stores. We have come a long way. 

Where do you currently operate and where are you looking to expand to?

We started in the USA with our dev team based out of Argentina. Now, our HQ is in Mauritius, with staff in the US, Argentina, South Africa and Dubai. We are looking to expand next to India and Southeast Asia in 2021. 

What’s your business model and how have you grown your user base?

Our business model is to generate revenue from sharing in-app ad revenue with brands who have channels in our app, and also from sponsorship, content licensing, and data and analytics.

What metric do you use to measure success and why?

Our goal is to reach our target markets in Africa, which has 1.3 billion people, India, which has 1.3 billion people, and Southeast Asia, which has 1 billion people.

Wee are also looking to onboard 100M users from those markets to our app by rewarding them for engaging with compelling, ad-supported content in the app. 

What do you love most and least about running AMP Global?

What I love is envisioning stuff and then seeing it become real because I have recruited some of the most brilliant minds around to help me bring the ideas in my head to fruition.

The hardest part is feeling responsible for feeding all those brilliant people and their families. 

What company do you look to for inspiration and why?

I look to companies like Apple and Netflix as examples, but I also look to African culture as my greatest inspiration because this is where the flavour comes from and I want to show it to the world as it’s never been seen before. 

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learnt so far?

If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together. 

What are your views on the future of the African tech ecosystem?

Africans make the best entrepreneurs because they have the team spirit, as well as the ingenuity, salesmanship, and work ethic to do the hardest things and make the impossible possible.

🚀 In the News

💰 Pan-African fintech startup Chipper Cash closed a series B round of $30 million which included investment from Bezos Expeditions, a VC fund owned by Jeff Bezos.

👥 Talent outsourcing company, Talent HQ, raised $300K in pre-seed funding. The round was led by Lagos-based investment firm, Zedcrest Capital.

🇰🇪 Kenyan-based bus booking platform, QuickBus, closed a $1 million round led by Sharooq Partners.

🖥 Now that Jeff Bezos has joined other tech titans like Zuckerberg, Nadella and Dorsey on the African startup cap table, does this usher in a new era in investment on the continent?