Brian Afande and Mike Ilako of BlackRhino VR
Brian Afande and Mike Ilako of BlackRhino VR

Brian Afande is a former brand manager at Converse, and had been at it for 7 years when he realized he had a great understanding of what assets a brand has and also quite a great view of current trends. Dan Nduati was developing websites, and Converse happened to be his first big client and that’s how Brian and Mark met, and started doing business together. Micheal Ilako dropped out of the fourth year of medicine and surprised his parents when he said that he’d be joining Mo Amin School of journalism, a step that would see him end up being a movie director.

These three started Black Rhino VR, a company that produces virtual reality videos for clients. The three take up company roles as follows; Brian is the Business Development lead, Micheal is the Head of Production and Dan is the Head of Strategy. Black Rhino VR team spent their first 8 months of the 2 years the company has been in existence doing research and development. Understanding how Virtual Reality can be applied in the Kenyan market, before they went into business.

A regular PC can take 72 hours to render the videos,… beast drops that time to 7 minutes.

In the early days, they were working from their houses, and that’s when they learnt that producing Virtual Reality content would mean powerful hardware. Much powerful than they had in terms of personal computers. And they couldn’t get that hardware in Nairobi. They then embarked on a project to ship in parts and build their rendering machine from start. A regular PC can take 72 hours to render the videos, this new machine they call beast drops that time to 7 minutes.

They had found a new passion. Brian says that they are not driven by the money, although the money and satisfied clients is a motivation on itself. What motivated them the most is changing lives, social impact. They want to create a different visual narrative of Kenya and Africa, tell the stories that people don’t know in immersive Virtual Reality (VR) content.BlackRhino VR

In the two years they have been in operation they have netted several client with the first big client being Safaricom’s Blaze last year in May. This opened up paths, they had a commercial project in their portfolio and new clients have come in including Vivo Energy and Netherlands School. With Netherlands School they developed VR content for students to visualize space in their science lessons.

The big distribution problem

Developing VR content also comes with that problem of distribution, that’s if you depend on consumers with VR headsets. Very few people have these headsets and that as a target demo isn’t sustainable in the short term. Fortunately, with Facebook and Youtube, there is VR content hosting and any smartphone with an accelerometer and a reliable gyroscope can show this content. These are available from Kshs 14,000 (USD 140) smartphones.

A big break came when they developed VR content for one of their clients, Greenlight Planet with a solar product Sunking. “When we shot the documentary, our content was chosen to be played in international VR platform VeeR VR. This got our name out there as capable of telling African stories in Virtual Reality,” says Brian. And now they are ready to face the world. Brian says they are already in contact with news agencies abroad to tell African stories.

Blackrhino VR, now with an office at Nelleon Place, Rhapta road in Westlands has a vision to be known as the African storyteller of African experiences and while at it create awareness of VR content to become mainstream and also affordable in Africa. They have put their skin in the game, and have so far sunk in Kshs 3 million to see their project work. On the advice of Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru, they exhibited at Connected Kenya 2017 which is happening on the dates 9th to 13th of April 2017 at Leisure Lodge in Diani, Kwale County.