A meeting with What’s Good Networks (WGN) CEO, Tilo Ponder, and two things she mentions on a regular basis — BuzzFeed and Virgin Group. Tilo is fascinated by BuzzFeed, an American Internet media company that describes itself as the, “Social news and entertainment company … redefining online advertising with its social, content-driven publishing technology … provides the most shareable breaking news, original reporting, entertainment, and video.”
BuzzFeed (by Jonah Peretti and John S. Johnson III) was founded in 2006 in New York City as a viral lab, focusing on tracking viral content. Prior to establishing BuzzFeed, Peretti experimented with contagious media as Director of R&D and the OpenLab at Eyebeam, Johnson’s New York City-based art.
Since then, the company has grown into a global media and technology company providing coverage on a variety of topics including politics, DIY, animals and business.
“I have a deep passion for young Kenyans. My partner (and husband) Cris Blyth and I have both worked for most of our careers, on entertainment brands aimed at the 18-35 demographic resulting in our experience mentoring young creatives within ad agencies and studio environments. Translating our professional careers to Kenya has brought the usual challenges when starting a disruptive business in an emerging market, but the rewards are well worth it. The young talent in this market are some of the most dynamic, passionate creatives we’ve had the opportunity to work with- we feel truly fortunate to be building something so unique within such a dynamic market.”
Far from the office suite glam, WGN is housed within a studio house in a relaxed, yet fast paced, area of Lavington. Perhaps not necessarily what you’d expect from a media company, but then again What’s Good Studios is not your usual media company. When you enter the compound, the creative pulse is palpable. The next thing you notice is the upbeat vibe- there’s a general feeling of well being in the midst of what Tilo sometimes refers to as ‘creative chaos.’ There are several small dogs running about called ‘the interns,’ who are a comical trio and a rooftop lounge overlooking a peaceful garden with various break away areas, where you will find different creative meetings underway, or someone seated playing a guitar and sometimes, the occasional yoga or exercise class underway, not to mention the frequent impromptu ‘kick backs’ with refreshments, music and laughter.
“We are a creative studio and our company culture is core to who we are. We foster an environment where we can work hard and play even harder” Tilo confines, as she laughs heartily. Quite a warm person to be around, her smile is infectious and she is also always one ready to listen- she does not hesitate to push her ‘Good fam’ as we’re called, to continually raise the bar on creating content that seeks to redefine what the world thinks of young Africa. Tilo herself, does not fit the description of a company boss- she does not sit at a tower office overlooking her employees but she is up and about, most of the times roaming the studio with her laptop in order to strike up impromptu conversations and work alongside her creative team. Tilo feels that it is critical to experience first hand, the challenges in building such a dynamic and diverse media company that many young creatives are calling reflective of the ’NuNairobi.’ You’ll often find Tilo in one-on-one chats with her team, eager to hear insights so she can best determine how to drive the business but most important- she wants to understand the motivations, passions and interests of the target audience- largely reflected by the team itself. Tilo often talks to us about our personal goals and dreams, which the company is passionately committed to supporting. ‘Build your people and your people will build your business,’ is something she says often.
“We are fortunate to have an incredible team of young media talent and collection of unique voices, which is well reflected in the engaging media they create. These talented contributors have the right perspective of each category and hence their voice is perfect to showcase ‘What’s Good’ in young urban Africa,” Tilo speaks confidently.
WGN is building its success, like BuzzFeed, by owning all the elements of a modern media business: A global news team, its own video production studio, a sophisticated data operation, and an in-house creative ad agency.
“Each channel will nurture its own audience. “ This strategy is quite a 360 dynamic concept that Tilo Ponder and team have been studying. “We noted that most people do not want to leave their social apps. So we thought, why not cater to each of these audiences by publishing content tailored to their social apps and not just lure them to the website.” WGN is referred to as the new buzz term, ‘OmniSocial’- offering consumers a deeper experience that is an extension of what they already love doing on social channels.
The network is fast transforming and positioning itself before its formal launch sometime mid-year. The network is more than a dynamic work space, serving as a creative home for most of the young, urban Nairobians building the future of digital media.
“Cris is heading the production of content in terms of podcasts and videos, but really- it’s our young creative team that holds the magic,” Tilo is quick to add.
Tilo’s firm attitude when it comes to implementing what she feels will be the next ‘Virgin Group’ of digital media network powerhouse is forever evident. Remaining focused in understanding its audience on different platforms in order to remain in business and relevant, WGN is the future voice that will stand out in Kenya, Africa and the rest of the world.
Tilo was part of the panel for the #WhatsNext Media Series organized by The Nest. Held on Wednesday, May 25 2016, the forum focused on focus on how digital disruption has affected media, the state of the industry now, progressive solutions, partnerships for the future and how to leverage on technology to spur the next wave of innovation in media. Tilo currently serves as a Content Strategist and Media Specialist heading up all WGS units. She also specializes in getting to Planet Yoghurt at Junction Mall within five minutes due to her Ninja driving skills.
Her second fascination is the dynamic Virgin Group headed up by iconic founder and business mind, Richard Branson. Tilo admires Branson’s company ethos – ‘You need to give your people the freedom to get creative, to come up with their own ideas and run with them.’
With a background in film and TV production and impressive track record working with global brands at advertising agencies, Tilo Ponder left the glossy world of Los Angeles’ Hollywood Blvd; and embarked on a series of trips to East Africa for a small NGO she and her husband/partner Cris Blyth had set up, called ‘GoodMakers Films’- offering their media expertise to community projects that empowered youth. During one particular project in 2012, Tilo and Cris were recruited by a local ad agency to launch OLX in Kenya, which is when they set up What’s Good Studios— resulting in them training talented youths with a deep passion for film.
Due to market demand for culturally relevant content and digitally savvy youth demanding a mobile-first experience- What’s Good Studios gave birth to What’s Good Live: Africa’s newest online urban lifestyle channel highlighting “What’s Good” in contemporary Africa. Taking notes from Virgin Atlantic’s Richard Branson, she speaks heavily about the ‘Virgin Atlantic’ of digital media.
“Branson and Peretti are a great inspiration because they started early to be on time to meet the digital demand that we have seen disrupt traditional linear media businesses,” she says, speaking freely to me and the collective of attentive Channel Managers during one of our frequent pow wows.
The power of curating this urban voice is left under the care of young Channel Managers who themselves define the meaning of ‘urban cool,’ and whom appropriately head up the Style, Music, Fashion, Arts and Entertainment, Business, TV, Radio, Kampus and Explore categories.