How this health worker transitioned into a media entrepreneur

Nnenna Kalu-Makanjuola

Nnenna Kalu Makanjuola

With no experience in publishing, but driven by the major gap in the market, Nnenna Kalu Makanjuola created Radiant Health magazine, a Nigerian women’s health publication. Here, she talks about the challenges, mistakes and successes of her entrepreneurial journey.

Take us through the process of establishing the publication and how you financed it to become a feasible business?

Radiant Health magazine was launched in April of 2013 as an online magazine. The in-app subscription-only digital version launched February of this year.

Looking back now, my family’s experience with healthcare in Nigeria is a major part of Radiant’s story. As a child growing up in Nigeria, my father was diagnosed with a heart condition and required heart surgery that wasn’t done in Nigeria at the time. He eventually had the surgery in the US, but post-surgery care in Nigeria proved to be equally challenging. I remember it striking me as odd at the time that, with all the emphasis on studying medicine in Nigeria, my father couldn’t get the medical care he needed.

His health experience ended being a major influence in my career choice in public health and really set off a deep interest in improving health systems, particularly in Nigeria. But as I progressed in my career in public health, I started to feel far removed from what got me into it in the first place. As I thought more and more about what role I’d like to play in healthcare, I realised that from my dad’s experience and even mine as an Nigerian woman that wants to live healthy, there was no authoritative and credible source of health information that speaks to my Nigerian identity or what I call my Nigerian essence. I’ve always wanted to read more African health stories as told by us; to be able to understand the nutritional benefits of our foods and their role in achieving a healthy lifestyle; and so on. But that platform did not exist anywhere. Even as a student, I remember periodically Googling ‘Nigerian/African health magazine’ and not seeing much.

Perhaps all that Googling was retained in my subconscious because as many times as I had searched for Nigerian or African health magazine, it never occurred to me to start one up until one early morning when I was out jogging and thinking my usual thoughts about healthcare in Nigeria. The idea just came to me very clearly to start a Nigerian health magazine… almost as if it were a brand new thought. I literally laughed out loud at the absurdity of me doing such a thing but somehow by the end of that run (it was a 10-miler), I had my mind made up to do it. And here we are.

As far as financing, my husband and I have financed it although we might have thought twice had we known then what we know now (laughs).

Transitioning from a pharmaceutical background to publishing?

My training is in pharmacy and public health. By the time I started Radiant I had already transitioned into working fully in public health, so it’s been a few years since I practiced pharmacy. Unlike my previous careers and transitions, I had no formal training or know-how in publishing and so my biggest challenge really was figuring out how to start a magazine and the business of running one. I basically read a lot to learn as much as I could about publishing. I also never thought I had a creative bone in me. I had always joked that staying in school was my only option to making a living because I had no talent to rely on. But I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how creative one can get when push comes to shove.

Is Radiant Health your first business venture?

Yes. I actually come from a long line of entrepreneurs in my family. So in my mind, I feel like I’ve always been in business, but now that I think of it, Radiant Health is my first business venture.

What mistakes, if any, have you made with your business?

Ha! If any? I’ve made plenty and continue to make them. A major one that comes to mind is that I wish I spent more time engaging with my readers in the early days. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in running a business but talking to the people you serve can really cut all that guesswork and hard work in half and let you serve your audience better.

Why online? And how does it generate profit?

Just about everyone is online these days and publishing digitally allows us to have a wider reach. The magazine is a quarterly production available for subscription via our app and can be read on any mobile device. However, we started off publishing all our content for free on our website. We still publish new content weekly on our website and currently have over 300 published health articles there. Our revenue comes from paid subscriptions, adverts and Radiant fitness and wellness programmes. We have other products rolling out in the third and fourth quarter of this year.

How many people do you employ?

Excluding our freelance writers, we have a team of nine.

What is your take on women and tech in Africa? Is it a business space that women need to exploit?

Definitely more African women need to tap into technology. I’m often amazed at what I’ve created with just a laptop and internet connection. That doesn’t mean it’s easier, but for women, who tend to juggle a lot between family and work, I like the opportunity and flexibility a tech business can provide in the long run. Like any business, there’s a lot of hard work involved initially but I believe with proper systems, a tech business can offer the best of both worlds in terms of ability to make a good living and have a reasonably balanced life.

Describe some of the major challenges faced by women entrepreneurs in media in West Africa?

I think the challenge is more about being an African woman entrepreneur, period. For me, balance has been one of my biggest challenges. As a mother of two young kids, it has been very hard to balance motherhood and the demands of a new venture. I have a very supportive husband and still it’s been tough. Your relationships suffer because even the most well-meaning friends and family cannot fully grasp the new demands on your time. I will like to see more African women entrepreneurs collaborate and support each other because we understand what we’re going through. In media specifically, we can achieve much more together than apart if we’re able to find more common grounds for collaboration and support.