Start-up snapshot: Free mobile TV streaming app for African audiences

Start-up: Tuluntulu, South Africa

Pierre van der Hoven, founder of Tuluntulu

Pierre van der Hoven, founder of Tuluntulu

Pierre van der Hoven, a South African serial media entrepreneur, is the founder of Tuluntulu, a TV streaming app for mobile phones and tablets. It was officially launched in June, after a two-year test phase, and targets a pan-African audience with a range of 24/7 TV channels.

The app has already been downloaded over 60,000 times, with around 70% of its users currently being in South Africa and Nigeria.

Tuluntulu is based on a low-cost model for users, which is mainly subsidised by advertising and through partnerships with content producers. The app is free to download, and the channels are free for users to watch, meaning there is no subscription fee. It also caters for low-bandwidth environments with technology that can deliver Tuluntulu channels on EDGE (Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution) below 85kbps.

Van der Hoven decided to make the service free because he does not believe the payment mechanisms are properly established in Africa to cater for the mass audience.

1. Give us your elevator pitch in 100 words or less.

We all watch TV; nobody needs to be taught about watching TV. And there are two things in the world that have exploded – mobile and video. So globally we have been seeing people watching lots of video content on their mobile devices and tablets, and what we are doing at Tuluntulu is we are bringing African content to African audiences, by putting TV on mobile devices. And the model that will work in Africa is the ‘free to download’ and ‘free to watch’ model.

2. How did you finance your start-up, and what platforms have proven successful to find funding?

I self-financed the business. And I have an angel investor.

I have some rather controversial views about the South African venture capital scene. I think its poorly developed and it’s very risk averse, so my advice for most people is you actually have to get in and do it yourself, rather than try and sell it to people who are inherently hostile in this industry and, if I can say, inherently ignorant. But the overseas investors who understand the Twitter, Facebook, Airbnb and Uber models are much more open to discussions, and we are seeing a lot of them coming into Africa through all these tech hubs. So it’s the same old story and my advice to other start-ups is to believe in yourself, keep going, don’t take no for an answer, and don’t only rely on local investors.

3. If you were given US$1m to invest in Tuluntulu now, where would it go?

I would invest it in marketing and content.

4. Describe your most exciting entrepreneurial moment.

It’s to see the uptake in the market. To actually put money into [advertising on] Facebook and just see the app take off. So for example we did a little test and we started to market via social media in Nigeria and the uptake was instant and huge. And that was massively exciting.

5. Your biggest mistake concerning your start-up?

Outsourcing marketing to marketing experts was a mistake. When we started doing it ourselves it was the best thing we did. Why? Well I think there is a lot of new stuff happening in Africa. It’s an unknown frontier, and there are a lot of perceptions about it that I think are wrong. The so-called experts have not got it right, they are also learning. So it’s better to learn yourself than to outsource it and triple the cost to use somebody else who actually can’t do it any better than you.

And another mistake was to assume that there wasn’t sufficient African content. On further investigation and digging and marketing, [I found] there is a huge desire for Africans to tell their own story, and in fact a lot of content exists.