Licínio Januário On Building Black-Focused Global Streaming Service WoloTV From Brazil
When Licínio Januário moved from his native Angola to Brazil in the early 2000s, he concluded that the Brazilian audiovisual production was far from diverse. The civil engineer then made a gradual career shift with the aim of changing that reality, and, two decades later, he is inching closer to bringing diversity to entertainment with technology at black streaming service Wolo TV.
Alongside tech entrepreneur Leandro Lemos, Januário launched Wolo as an all-black enterprise last year with a mission to connect Latin black creators with more than 270 million Portuguese speakers globally. The service debuted with comedy series “Casa da Vó” (Grandma’s House, in Portuguese), attracting more than 17,000 users across 27 countries since its launch in December 2020.
Based away from the large urban centers of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, Wolo is headquartered in Salvador, in the northeast of Brazil. However, the holding company that owns the business is based in the United States, with backers including DIMA, a Qatar-based investment firm. This set-up is part of the company’s internationalization strategy, recently boosted by a partnership with Portuguese TV network RTP, which has acquired the rights to Casa da Vó for its channel RTP África.
According to Januário, the unique selling proposition at Wolo, which is part of a growing black streaming movement pioneered by the likes of KweliTV and AfroLaneTV, lies on its ability to tap into a large pool of Portuguese speaking black creators and audiences. “What sets us apart is the focus on connecting black creators and audiences across Latin America and lusophone countries globally, as well as our portfolio of pop, urban black entertainment”, the entrepreneur says, in an interview with Fintech Zoom.
Wolo currently has 70 programs available on its platform, each provided by a different company: as well as Brazil, black creators from Colombia, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, United States and South Africa are distributing content through the company. The firm is set to launch its second original series, provisionally titled Minha House (My House, in Portuguese) will be launched in December and that will be followed by an action series shortly after.
“Our intention is to showcase and boost the entire stakeholder chain behind the black cinema and TV production in Latin America and Portuguese-speaking countries and not just produce content ourselves, but distribute it as well”, Januário points out.
Initiatives geared at expanding the company’s global reach include the launch of an app, which will run on smartphones as well as smart TVs. “We will be where the big [streaming platforms] are”, Januário says. He added that Wolo has made significant strides in the tech front after being selected by Google for the current cohort supported by web giant’s Black Founders Fund.
Wolo’s tech evolution under the Google partnership is expected to improve the startup’s product, while also generating awareness of the service not only to users, but also to advertisers, through data. According to Januário, getting Brazilian companies to realize the potential of talking to black consumers – which, according to official statistics represent over 56% of the population – has been one of the greatest challenges for the startup.
“The brands that are spending advertising millions in Brazil have been developing a diversity discourse, but only as a means to promote themselves, rather than moving the needle”, Januário points out. On the other hand, the firm is seeing the emergence of companies with more solid commitments: as an example, he cites Brazilian fintech Will Bank, which offers access to Wolo as part of its staff benefits package.
“The success of companies led by black entrepreneurs will help and inspire others. But this depends on a real commitment from companies and brands in relation to investment, as well as a reeducation and a cultural shift: what we do is key to that process,” the entrepreneur argues.
With the new product features and a steady increase in the network of content creators under Wolo’s umbrella, the company will aim to seek investment to grow. “We decided to advance in our tech efforts then seek capital, primarily overseas. Similarly to the way in which white decision makers at media companies and brands keep the money between themselves, the same happens among investment funds in Brazil,” Januário says.
“Funds always come up with an excuse for not investing in black founders. But in Brazil, we spin the wheel that generates billions to brands: those who drink beer whether they are happy or sad, who didn’t stop working through Covid so the country could keep going are the masses, and the masses are black”, he points out. “So it is not clever to steer clear of black-led companies.”
The good news is that businesses like Wolo are quickly advancing their ideas with technology, which, according to Januário, is the tool to break down paradigms of a traditional system. “The world is yet to realize Brazil is black, and that we are not the first black entrepreneurs here, since black women have been entrepreneurs freeing our own people since the end of slavery”, the founder says. “Our job is to dismantle the traps our ancestors fell into and reinvent markets so that we can thrive.”