Inyarwanda team at work. (Moses Opobo)
Inyarwanda team at work. (Moses Opobo)

His idea then was to create a one-stop online platform for Rwandan music and musicians ? a place that Rwandans living in foreign lands could truly call home, music-wise.

Inyarwanda team at work. (Moses Opobo)
Inyarwanda team at work. (Moses Opobo)

After his first year, Masengesho returned home for his annual vacation, a trip that he also used to sell the idea to three people; Nelly Wilson Misago, Gustave Nkurunziza and Pascal Kagarama. The resultant exchange between the concerned parties would soon set in motion the creation of the country?s first online news and entertainment platform, Inyarwanda.com. That was in 2008.

Today, the website enjoys an enviable position of the most popular/most visited local online entertainment platform, and second most popular local website.

The managing director, Wilson Misago, better known as Nelly in local entertainment circles still vividly remembers the events at the time:

?When he (Masengesho) met me and my friends and sold his vision to us, straight away we jumped on the band wagon and agreed to work as a team.? Luckily, he already knew Masengesho ? somewhat.

?I had known him, but only in name as I had never met him before. All I knew about him was that he loved entertainment, especially home-grown entertainment.?

Getting started

The website launched its operations in 2008, but only started operating as a business two years later, in 2010.

?Before going commercial, we were just students doing it for fun ?writing articles about local celebrities and uploading local music which was mostly audio, because at the time there were few local music videos in circulation, and most of them were of poor quality.?

The group started out by hiring a small room on the fourth floor of the La Bonne Adresse House, next to the UTC building, in city centre. Nelly recalls that ?we had just one table and one desktop computer that Gustave used. It was a very old computer which needed to be repaired almost daily. As for myself, if I had a story to type, I?d go to a cyber caf?, type and mail it from there.?

He still recalls vividly how life was ?very bad? at that time. Although he lived in Gikondo, a city suburb, he had to come to work in town on foot every day, and back.

As for lunch, it was not even an option, as he and his colleagues seemed to have more pressing problems.

?Whatever money I landed on, I used it in the internet caf?, which was my real office since in our office I didn?t have a computer from which to work. To make matters worse, internet at that time was very expensive as compared to now.?

What kept them going during the hard times was a combination of factors; passion, sheer hard work and clarity of mission: ?Our main focus as a team was finding news, and good local artistes to promote.?

But finding local artistes and celebrities to profile wasn?t an easy task, mainly because most of them would be hearing about online media for the very first time.

Further still, getting press invites to social and media events was next to impossible, ?because wherever you?d go, people asked you ?what is Inyarwanda.com?? This would leave us with only one option -to pay, but the problem is we were always broke, so we would just walk away disappointed.?

A ray of hope

If getting media events and artistes to write about was hard, finding advertisers would prove even harder. Until, that is, one afternoon in October 2010, when one of them, Gustave Nkurunziza received a surprise call from MTN ? a call that would forever change the fortunes of the budding media house.

Yes, MTN was proposing a one-year advertising deal with the website, and they were willing to spend handsomely on it. It seemed too good to be true, yet it was here ?the money; and big money at that.

With it, they bought a few more computers, and begun to have something to eat while at work. ?The following year, we bought a Nikon D300 camera, and that?s when we started getting the real feel of journalism,? recalls Nelly.

Gradually, the website started engaging a few freelance writers from different local universities. Because of the money from the MTN advertising deal, these freelancers would receive something small ? between Rwf10,000-20,000 at the end of every month ? no small amount for a university student.

Getting freelancers at universities soon proved a wise move, and indeed, as a company, they shot two birds with one stone: Firstly, the university students were willing to contribute to the website for the mere fun of it, with or without money. These would later get trained to become the next crop of journalists, and indeed, most of them have stuck with the company to this day.

The second benefit of penetrating university campuses is that these provided ready catchment areas for the website ?music being at the core of most university students? recreational activities.

?That?s how we got known, because the students were not only reading the website but also talking about us, since some among them worked for us.?

The company further engaged radio presenters, especially those who presented music and entertainment slots, pitching to them trending stories from the website.

The net effect of all these sustained efforts was more ads in the following year.

In 2012, they moved to a bigger space within the same building, occupying two rooms this time. After all, the number of journalists was getting even bigger, and new departments were being created.

At the beginning of this year, Inyarwanda.com moved once more, this time to the first floor of the same building, above the Blues Caf?, where they are located to this day.

The office takes up four large rooms, including the front office, which also doubles as a photo booth, a video suite, a newsroom, web hosting room, as well the managing director?s office.

The website?s mission statement is well-articulated in its slogan: ?Entertainment and People.? It covers anything from entertainment news, local music (both audio and video), business news, social news, and incidents. The website also provides a host of other inter-related services like music and video production, web hosting, photography, TV commercials, 2D and 3D animation, graphic design, and live streaming.

Currently they have a popular TV show that is airing on TV10 ?Friends, for which three episodes are produced every week.

Asked how the website managed to garner a mass following among local music lovers in such a short time, Nelly observes:

?We were the first online platform to promote Rwandan music. That?s why we are liked equally by the artistes and fans. We?re like a music store which has all genres of music in it, which you can access at anytime, even on your mobile phone.?

This December, the website will be marking its fifth year of dedicated service to fans in its traditional way: the Inyarwanda fans? hangout, at the Hilltop Hotel in Remera, on December 26, Boxing Day.

?We increased our appreciation for Rwandan music, which is why we thought of an event where fans can meet their stars ?be it in music, comedy, film, models, or sportsmen. We bring together all Rwandan stars, and then invite fans to come and mix and mingle with them. We deliver the invites personally to the artistes wherever they may be, just like we do when we go to interview them.?

By Moses Opobo, The New Times

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