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The Park Bench: Eloka Agu and The Keakie Story (Part 1).

Updated: Nov 18, 2023

A Musical Journey.

I haven’t sat down with many people as markedly fascinating as Eloka Agu, co-founder of Keakie Music, Founder of Satellite Labs, a designer at heart and in practice, a young man completely absorbed and immersed in the art of creation… Eloka is a storyteller, and my task is not to tell his story, but to allow him to tell his story through me. My aim in writing this piece, is that the twinkle in his eyes as he went on in our interview is reflected in the words you read so that you, dear reader, might see it too. So, let us begin.

‘Music was my first love’ Eloka said early on, a piano lingered behind him in his study- an instrument he started playing over two decades ago, and he is only in his twenties. But what stoked his love for music wasn’t the piano in the background that I could see, it was something outside the scope of his camera. He reached beyond the span of his monitor and emerged with a rectangular device with a screen and a circular dial with buttons from what seems now like a bygone era, yet still just as familiar as when it was first introduced. The iPod nano.

‘When I was about five or six years old, my parents got me this.’ He held it up proudly, and displayed it, front and centre, so I can get a good look. He beamed. ‘I would spend 12 hours a day listening to music on this and a Walkman my aunty had… it was amazing!!’ Fast forward to when Eloka was 18, his love of music had morphed into a love of production, seeing him admire and study the way artists like Pharrell and Timberland produced beats. He wanted to understand the spirit behind creativity-a word he used multiple times in our interview.

‘I also used to love going to skate parks’ he paused for effect, ‘the only issue is, I couldn’t skate’ he said, at which we both burst out laughing. Eloka loved capturing the skills of friends and other skaters at the parks on his camera. He started to fall in love with capturing special moments. So one day, walking down the street, he saw a busker, a beautiful lady with an even more beautiful voice doing an Adele cover, ‘the light was hitting her just right and I felt I needed to capture this moment.’ And so he did. He afterwards uploaded the video onto YouTube and titled it ‘Keakie TV.’ The reason for the name was two-pronged according to Eloka. ‘I wanted a name that didn’t mean anything. So, I could give meaning to it. And I liked company names with strong ‘K’ sounds like Kodak and Coca-Cola’. Also, he looked up to people like the late Jamal Edwards and sought to imbibe some of the themes and feel of SBTV.

At Uni, Eloka became friends with a singer called Rahmon. Rahmon would sing, and Eloka would produce. Little did they know, their friendship, built on a shared passion for music, would metamorph into Keakie Music today. ‘Snapchat was really taking off at the time, and we decided to take advantage of that.’ He recalled, ‘We would go around campus and record videos of students singing or dancing, then pop it onto our snapchat as a ‘Keakie story of the day’’. Steadily it gained some local notoriety amongst the Warwick crowd.

They then took their show, if you could call it that at that stage, onto an online radio programme a connection of theirs had. This connection, Jake, was to become a co-founder.

It went well for a while, but something didn’t sit right with Eloka. ‘We had over 20,000 weekly listeners but no detailed analytics.’ You see, he wanted to know who was listening, what age they were, male or female, and for how long. But the only way they could do this was to create their own platform and build the analytics they wanted from the ground up. They also rented out an office in 2018 following a fundraising campaign where the Keakie team raised over a million pounds in funding. They kitted the office out with a DJ booth downstairs and a sneaker wall. Although they kept it low-key, ‘under the radar’, as Eloka put it, with a smacking office and a platform of growing listeners, they were becoming more and more popular amongst artists and DJs, hosting the likes of Dizzee Rascal and Maya Jama at their office. Things weren’t bad at all at the Keakie camp, no actually things were pretty good.…And then, a would-be crisis.

Covid: Adapt and Take Off.

Before we look at what they did during Covid, I think giving some context on the mind of Eloka would be helpful. In a medium article Eloka wrote in 2022, he said ‘in Chinese, the same word for crisis, 危机, is composed of two brush strokes. The first brush stroke stands for danger. The second stands for opportunity... [it is] a moment to make new decisions. A moment to reimagine what we can be.”

When the pandemic hit, the Keakie team negotiated their way out of their office lease and focused their full efforts on building and scaling up their online platform. With full attention on the online platform, the team birthed a new idea. The Keakie team felt that with platforms like Spotify and Apple Music, the entire musical experience wasn’t being encapsulated. ‘If you like Drake, these platforms will show you Travis Scott or other similar artists.’ Eloka said, explaining the rationale behind what became a gold mine of an idea. You see, Keakie wanted to do something different. They wanted to mirror the musical experience of festivals on their platform. ‘Festivals offer you a cross-genre exploration of different tastes’ Eloka explained. Keakie took this festival experience and designed an algorithm that took users on an exploratory musical journey. Rather than giving them more of what they already like, the goal of Eloka and the Keakie team was to show listeners that there is so much more to love in different genres of music. This unique twist was a hit and, by the time of Eloka’s exit in 2022, Keakie had around 200,000 monthly listeners.

It is important to point out that through this period of Keakie’s growth, the team was a small one. Their size allowed them manoeuvre and adapt with agility and decisiveness at such a critical period. The decisions they made led to Keakie taking off in the streaming world and inserting itself into the market. It highlights the importance of getting a small number of the right people rather than filling the room with all the best people. Too many cooks as they say. And as Eloka put it, ‘small squadrons of people are the ones who change the world’.

The Park Bench and The Hidden Hands of its Designer.

Steve Jobs is synonymous with Apple, as Bill Gates is to Microsoft, as Elon Musk to Tesla, as Rihanna to Fenti, but what about Eloka Agu to Keakie Music? It struck me that Eloka didn’t have the radical following that you’d expect for someone of his profile and achievements. I was curious to find out if he was shy, calculating, or someone who just didn’t care about the spotlight. He smiled knowingly when I the question to him. His answer was more suave than I expected. ‘You know, the park bench is always there, it’s ubiquitous. But no one ever asks who came up with the idea of having a park bench.’ He went on to speak about the American pop artist Andy Warhol, and his studio, ‘The Factory’. You see part of the genius of Warhol was in how he created a space where designers, artists, photographers, and architects would come in and do what they did without Andy feeling the need to get involved or to be too visible. ‘He was there at all points, but it wasn’t really about him.’

I noticed that throughout the interview, Eloka had used words like ‘designer’, ‘creative’, and ‘artist’, the word entrepreneur never popped out from his mouth and by this time we were over an hour in. It was more personal for him, a purpose, a love, beyond simply tackling a problem and solving it, through inspirations like Andy Warhol, Eloka thought how the solution could be made beautiful. ‘God is a designer’ he said. ‘And we are made in His image and likeness. So, I am a designer too.’

Early Investors.

The success of Keakie would not be possible without the other co-founders, Jake and Rahmon, the latter who has gone on to co-found creative agency ‘Loud Parade’, and the rest of the Keakie team. Not to mention Eloka’s friends who he could bounce ideas off- people like fellow Warwick alum and co-founder of ‘Fanbytes’ Timothy Armoo. And certainly, it would not have been successful without early investors. By early investors, yes, I mean those who had faith in the Keakie idea and put money in when the team held their first funding round. But I also mean his first two investors who, according to him, sacrificed a whole lot to give him the opportunities he had.

Eloka spoke, a mist of pride over his eyes, about how his father grew up with a single mother in a war-torn Nigeria in the 60s, moved to the UK with Eloka’s mother in the 90s. How his mother, a young human rights lawyer, worked a year without receiving payment until her boss found out she was a mother with a young child, him. How they sacrificed and toiled to bring him up. ‘I love my parents’ Eloka said and continues saying that due to all the sacrifices his parents made, he did not see any other choice but to make something of himself. ‘Life is a continuum. We take the baton from our parents, and we continue the story.’ And oh boy has he continued the story…

A New Chapter: Bring on the Hardware.

My interview with Eloka was three hours long and I couldn’t possibly cover everything we discussed in one article. But there are some things that are just too good to leave out. So, I’ll just write a second one. In this next article, Eloka discusses his shift from co-founding a software company to starting a hardware one. He tackles the statement ‘hardware is hard,’ and talks me through the importance of continually reinventing oneself. Stay tuned for what’s coming. But for now, here’s to the crazy ones…


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