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Being an entrepreneur is not easy. It’s so easy to get caught up in the glamour – everyone speaks about being an entrepreneur like it’s sexy and so cool. But it’s not easy (yep I said easy three times!).

Even when you read or hear about times when entrepreneurs fail (usually the ones who are now super successful), you think, it can’t have been that bad because, well look at them now. Their definition of failure must be that they had to drink sparkling wine rather than Veuve Clicquot.

But failure is a part of the journey of being an entrepreneur and the definition of failure is different for everyone. Sometimes it’s the feeling of personal failure.

This feeling is what prompted my hiatus this month. Failure might be too strong a word, maybe dissatisfaction is what it was. I wasn’t where I wanted to be, the company wasn’t where I wanted it to be right now. But these were my personal ambitions so it’s easier to beat yourself up.

africa transformation

Either way my close friend’s wedding was a good excuse to travel and do some internal house keeping. Not quite a yoga holiday, but I envisioned lots of soul searching, reflecting and exercising.

What I did not expect was to attend a conference.

I believe pretty much all my time is valuable and it should be spent enriching myself – even if that is lying on the couch watching a movie to still my mind. But I also thought being in a city as vibrant as London, I should find ways to stimulate my brain. Reaching out to my contacts to go into their companies and find out new innovative technologies they are using, new approaches, just something that would re-energise me.

My sister asked me to visit her in Oxford – see her new apartment – ok it was more than that, she wanted me to visit – her dose of home to keep her sane. Honestly I wanted to stay in London – mope if I didn’t have anything else to do (which I didn’t). But I knew my father would never leave me alone if he knew I never went to check in on his baby girl.

She had arranged for me to go with her and her friend to this conference on Africa put together by the Said Business School and the Oxford African Society. iROKOtv were going to be present and I’m truly fascinated by them as a business. They really are proving that there is a demand for African content and online is a platform to feed this need. So I figured going wouldn’t be such a bad idea.

The conference started shortly after lunch with a keynote speech from Kennedy Bungane CEO of Barclays Africa (i.e. heads up all Barclays outside of South Africa). Mr Bungane did speak a lot of sense – actually his response to questions were better than his speech – but I have real issues with the lack of creativity and risk taking of the banking sector in Africa so I was a bit hostile to that talk. It’s great for banks to talk about supporting SMEs and entrepreneurs but it really is just talk, they need to put their money where their mouth is! My question – that I only thought about after his talk – was why can’t relationship managers have more of a function of helping to develop SME’s – helping them getting their ducks in order so that they can remain in business and therefore be more profitable for the bank? He did challenge those in the disapora to help local entrepreneurs by providing them with non-financial support, such as processes to operationalise their businesses etc – but why can’t the bank do that? That bank would add more value to their clients and might even take the lead with the number of banks they have to compete with in market – I’d pay more to have those services too.

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The next session we attended was on how technology was helping businesses transform. This session surprised me as it really focussed on the internet – which I didn’t expect – I thought it would be all about mobile phones, as that’s usually what is talked about when referring to digital technology and Africa. John Mathwasa CEO and founder of SEACOM really blew me away in his talk. It’s so amazing to listen to African’s working on the ground, succeeding and challenging the way we think about things. His big idea was about the skies above us, the fact that are orbital space is already owned by foreign entities with their satellites, but how else will we connect the rural masses if not with satellites?

He talked about the disruptive entrepreneurs who find an opportunity in chaos. For Africa this is particularly important because let’s face it, we live in a chaotic society. It reminded me of a talk I attended at Bongo Hive with Irene Banda from FSDZ talked about how as entrepreneurs we should be looking to address a problem (not, as Bob Collymore put it find a solution and then look for the problem to apply it to!).

But John didn’t stop there, he talked about the challenges of start up capital and how we could all become Angel investors, even if it means investing in your young nephew. It’s kind of that idea again of bringing people up as we come up – isn’t that just another definition of Ubuntu which we inherently believe in? We just need to act on it more.

This is something I’m also passionate about – seeing that the financial sector isn’t really working for us (to an extent), we do need to see a new way to support each other’s businesses and get businesses lending to one another, bringing each other up.

After the short coffee break, we went onto the Thinking Digital, Delivering Entertainment – the one I was really looking forward to – the iROKOtv panel. It was an interesting panel. There was Jessica Hope Head of Global Comms iROKOtv, Arthur Bastings EVP for Millicom and Audu Maikori CEO Chocolate City Group. Three different and interesting perspectives.

Audu Maikori CEO Chocolate City

iROKOtv are seeing huge traction especially with Africans in the diaspora, but the reality is that again, so many people on the continent are yet to access their services because of the challenges of the internet. Audu’s answer – for Africa, we still need a hybrid offering. We also talked about training. At the end of the day, the capabilities of the internet and other mobile technologies are a great platform, but we need the content for the platform, and the reality is that, a lot of people simply don’t have the formal training to produce the high quality exportable content (actually the moderator asked what we needed to do to make the content exportable, i was thinking, lady where have you been, it’s been exportable for ages! we just didn’t have the platform or the believed interest to sell it!). Audu agreed and spoke of his conversation with Nigerian officials to look into developing more centres of excellence for the arts.

I left the conference making new connections and feeling totally inspired. We can’t forget the numerous challenges that Africa still faces, but the reality is the opportunities are even greater! As entrepreneurs we need to be focusing on how to find those opportunities that also bring others out of poverty – either through job and wealth creation, or by creating opportunities for better qualities of life and that the African transformation is now. We need to take hold of it, or allow others (i.e. those not of the soil) to do it and make money off us, our rich resources, our creativity and everything else Africa has going for it.

I’ll have to write a part two of this blog as I have to run now – people waiting for me! For now, I’m inspired, and everyone should attend the Oxford Africa Conference at least once if they can!

Happy Africa (Freedom) Day (well weekend now).

The other day I swelled with pride when a trusted and respected associate of mine mentioned the name of someone who had once worked with Youth Media (a not for profit we founded long time before Media 365). It’s always so rewarding to have others talk fondly and with equal respect for someone you helped shape. I guess this is how mentors feel about their mentees.

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A few days later, I had another entrepreneur I know well visit us – we like having like-minded people come to the office where we engage in conversation for hours (I try to keep these visits to Saturdays for obvious reasons!), and we spoke about the role of stewardship in our respective businesses.

The principle of stewardship is very much linked to Christian teachings (if you google it). But in general it really is about shepherding and safe guarding something that is valuable. One of the things we set out to do from the very beginning – when we were still a not for profit, non-governmental organisation – was to bring up young people as we came up, being that they really are the most valuable thing in your organisation. It wasn’t just about paying it forward, but it was about empowering others to help them achieve their potential. We didn’t just want them to compete, but to truly stand out in the market.

This could be another reason I’m so passionate about mentorship. It’s not enough to be the best that you can be, you have to help bring up those coming behind you. I know some people are scared of that approach, scared if you teach people what you know, then you become redundant and they can take your job, your career etc. But to us that is a myopic view. If anything it helps better the environment we operate it. If you have a lot of like minded people, able to work efficiently, and professionally, with relatively similar skill and ambitions, ethics and other quality attribute, isn’t that just the greatest environment to operate in?

stewardship

I think it also speaks to our own beginnings. The people who believed in us and were willing to teach us what they knew to up our skills and make us compete competitively and on a broader platform than the Zambian landscape helped instill that value in us too. And that’s what we always strive to do with our own staff and the younger people we come into contact with, make them better today to compete tomorrow. And it’s deeply rewarding as I said before. I think that’s what can be said about all aspects of giving back, because it’s not just about you (though it is kind of selfish to want to have that rewarding feeling… maybe in a small way it is about you!), but a social initiative.

This is one of the ways our business will always differentiate. And it is my hope that the people who have worked with us, whether at Youth Media or at Media 365 will take that principle of stewardship into their own careers and professional environments as well. Some of Zambia’s brightest (in my opinion) and recognized young people cut their teeth with us, and it’s great to see them succeeding and really making their mark. Allow me to highlight a few:

Kachepa Mtumbi who owns and runs KPR Consulting. It is one of the few PR agencies in Zambia and his client base boasts one of the biggest brands in the world, Samsung. He is not only one to watch but giving the other more established PR companies a run for their money!

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Masuka Mutenda is an accomplished communications specialist working with international organisations making a difference in Zambian people’s lives across the country. She also founded Zedhair a business targeted at the ever growing natural hair industry, a space few (if any) operate in.

Masuzyo Matwali not only does multimedia designs for all sorts of businesses and recording artists alike, he also runs his own design studio, Graphic 404, and is probably one of the most talented designers in Zambia right now.

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Janice Matwi now the Brand and Communications Manager at Airtel, also founder of Corporate Heelz, a business that aims to inspire and motivate career focussed women to achieve their potential.

Muchemwa Sichone (I knew him as Robert!) now runs his own company, Global Link Communications. They can be credited with various of communications work, not least the simplified (i.e. people friendly) version of the draft constitution.

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Magg44 – not so much from Youth Media days (he’s probably too young :)) but from our early start with Media 365 he did some great score and sound engineering with us and just to see him, as an artist, and his business with IM Studios really flourish is also inspiring.

I could do a laundry list of all the people that came up the ranks at Youth Media/Media 365 and continue to inspire me with their personal and professional success but there are too many to mention – some who were here when I wasn’t, but are spoken of fondly by my other co-directors.

But just the few examples I’ve given above really speak to the importance of stewardship, mentorship, and investing in young people – when they are still young too. That’s one reason we will not stop.

Just recently we had a young guy who came to us as an intern, more or less straight out of high school. He left after two years as a competent video editor, with skills in sound and lighting techniques.

I see businesses today scared to invest in their staff, worrying (as is the norm in Zambia, where loyalty is such a coveted asset) that their staff will leave to work with their competitors or start out on their own, taking their client base, which are all real possibilities. The principle of stewardship is not just about training on hard skills but advising and mentoring with soft skills and advise. And that is far worth more than worrying about something that may or may not happen in the future!

Anyway, this is something I’m passionate about so I could speak about it for ages, so I’ll stop here and hope it gives you pause to think about how you can apply stewardship into your own life.

I’ve never thought of myself as a particularly organised person. I know I’m process driven, because I think order helps the balance of getting stuff done, but in the last few months I’ve been thinking a lot about the role organization plays in doing something successfully.

ruff kaida performing at ZMAs

In February we (as in Media 365) co-produced yet another good Zambian Music Awards (I’m anxious for it to go online to share the link with all that missed it and embrace the talent of our local artists), approximately a month later the ZNBC Born and Bred Music Video Awards happened. There was a lot of talk, both on social media, and in ‘real life’ comparing the two shows. For the record I think Born and Bred really stepped up their game this year, and it wasn’t such a bad show.

And for all the people commenting negatively about it, the fact of the matter is you watched the entire show, so if we had people ratings, the show would still have been a ratings success!

I do think it’s important that we’re constantly learning and improving and maybe that’s why I’m not so ready to bash ZNBC for Born and Bred. I don’t think they really took into consideration the points raised at their stakeholders meeting in 2012, I do think they did a better job at acknowledging that if the ZMAs could do it, there was no reason why BnB couldn’t be better. And that needs to be applauded. I’m yet to understand why people in Zambia (and yes I’m generalising because it’s more of the norm than I care for) are so full of hate and malice. So quick to criticise and cut people down. I hope this year being 50 years of independence we’re learn to let go of our own issues (because the issues are with the person hating and fixating on the negative) and learn to embrace and support each other – it can be done, while there was some very quiet corners regarding Love Games and Freddy (repping M365 of course) winning an AMVCA (that’s for another blog), there was also overwhelming support from Zambians across the country and indeed the world. We can support each other, but there is still way too much hateful vibes from ourselves – what’s up with that?

Love Games wins at AMVCA

Anyhoo back to the matter at hand, when I watched the 3+hour Born and Bred Award show (it was unnecessary to be that long), their issues were easily fixed and somewhat minor, although they made all the difference to the show and the viewers experience (especially the at home viewers).

I can’t underscore the importance and need for planning and having the resources to enable you to get going with stuff. ZMA planning started months ago – and even that was too late. Realistically I think to put on a really amazing show you should start planning at least 6 months in advance. You have to remember that first and foremost it’s a show. And there is so much that goes into a show – Costumes – Cleo Ice Queen, Salma, they all had outfits made specifically for their performances.

Cleo Ice Queen channeling her inner Beyonce

Salma remixing old classic Mate

The choreography, the actual performance – Roberto had a pianist and violinist perform the musical arrangement for Good Woman (and it was originally supposed to be a string quartet – all female – yeah, hard one to find in Zambia, especially with only two weeks to the show! lol).

roberto

And stage design and lighting design? All those elements can’t be rushed. And ZMAs didn’t even have those six months but still pulled off a pretty decent show.

Then it’s about rehearsals. I think the artists at the ZMAs pretty much hated us for their constant rehearsals – the last two days they spent entirely at the venue rehearshing and rehearsing to get everything right. And I’ll give them credit because it would have been easy to be lazy about it and leave, but they committed to the rehearsals. And they received and welcomed feedback, which showed in their final performances.

The rehearsals were important for a number of reasons. The artists were performing live so they needed to rehearse to get that right – especially important for the singers. They needed to know their marks – the cameras needed to know their marks. I laughed the other day when we had some talent in the office who complained we ruined TV for them when I explained that rarely is anything spontaneous because camera, sound, lighting, producers all needed to know what the person in front of the camera was going to do at every moment to ensure it worked technically.

You’ve seen previous shows on TV (ehem ZNBC) where the camera didn’t follow an artist because the camera team didn’t know the artist was going to move off that mark – probably because they didn’t rehearse before hand. Each performance, each guest presenter, everything was timed. I’m not sure how the guest presenters on the BnBs managed to go so off script so often but I don’t see why that should have happened… perhaps it was the selection of presenters… I don’t know. There just seemed to have been a lot of issues due to timing and control of that time (I won’t speak to the non-live performances, think we all have a problem with that – though ZNBC said their audience for the show – the kids (who couldn’t afford to attend the show even if they wanted to) didn’t have a problem with lip syncing… alrighty then). I think if they could have got all their marks on their running order, we would have seen a notable difference just from that…

Generally this issue of time and allocation of it seems to be a common problem in Zambia. I recently started going for driving lessons – I figured with a bit of downtime on my hands I really ought to become compliant with the laws of the country. It is easy to drive around without a license but not only is it illegal, it’s also nerve wrecking to be dodging the police! I was shocked to find that you can rock up any time you feel like it and wait for an available instructor. For some of us who actually have time sensitive lives, this way of operating is really frustrating.

Finally I asked the owner of the driving school – who interestingly enough is quite hands on with how it’s run – why they simply didn’t allocate time slots to each student. She seemed nervous, but the way I see it, we (Zambians) need to start respecting time, there are only so many hours in the day. If we commit to something, let it be in an organised fashion. If I book my driving lessons for 10-11am then I need to be there during that time or I lose my slot, and therefore my money. Would we not follow that procedure? And for us more controlling people, we’d prefer services like that, because I can still plan my day around it. Right now, my driving lessons might only be for an hour, but I could be out of the office for over 2 hours as I wait for an available instructor or car. Doesn’t make sense to me. It’s the same thing with the driving test. All the driving schools rock up at the same time and convince the examiner to let their school go first. But surely again, each school can be given an allocated time and limit? It’s just more structured, and more organised.

Somehow it seems we just like to live in chaos for no reason… oh but then again, it’s in chaos that other businesses thrive I guess…

Wish me luck as I take my driving test next Tuesday! I so need to pass… I don’t do well with failure…

Yes, that was Lupita Nyong’o I was referring too. And the other two siblings I didn’t name check were Mary and Freddy – sorry about that, it’s just Tasha was there in the audience! 🙂

The whole premise of TED is about ideas worth spreading. When I was invited to speak at TEDXEuston, which is the premiere event on ideas worth spreading related to Africa, I was excited and anxious at the same time. Have you watched some of these TED talks? They are freakin awesome! So what was I going to talk about?

I had so many experiences, but what was worthy of sharing? I chose something a little bit controversial but true to who I was and what I was feeling (or going through) at that time. I’m less angry, but I still believe and stand by what I was talking about.

However, on the day, my nerves kind of got the better of me (plus 15-18 minutes is a lot less time than I thought!), so I’m not even sure I got my points across. My original topic was on how I believe that the development community kills creativity in Zambia (I couldn’t speak to other countries in Africa, though I did have similar experiences with my work in Kenya), yes I was having my Dambisa dead aid moment! But to be honest, that wasn’t going to be too helpful to sit around bitching about the problem, I needed to address it critically, to say so how do we change this?

Let me take you back a bit. My issue stems from when I look around at billboards, or TV adverts, posters etc related to some development issue, be it HIV, malaria, etc, and it’s bad. It’s not creative or compelling. It’s not comparable to the commercial ads (ok some local ones are questionable too), it’s not like coca cola, or FNB, or any other brand that’s doing some pretty awesome stuff. And don’t get it twisted, some of these ‘prosocial ads’ have a pretty good budget. Budget aside, they could still try and be creative.

But it was almost like there is a belief that because it’s made in Africa or made for Africa it needs to be, well, shit. Samsung do made (built) for Africa the best – it’s not shit, it’s innovative, and works for our terrain – which is what we need. But otherwise, we remain the dumping ground for rubbish.

It frustrates me because despite how many educated and skilled people are in the country, we still contend with Washington telling us what we can and can’t do. I’m not saying we have all the answers or that we can do everything, but we make a plan – that’s the point.

And why do they settle for substandard? There are creatives in this country (ourselves included) who want to deliver good quality and international products, who have pride in their own outputs and take exception to using low resolution photography, who won’t steal images off the internet, or not think through the use of colours etc. Rather than say ‘this is the best Zambia can do’, look around and find the best.

My bigger point though, was that as these development communication and/or marketing are supposed to improve our lives, we too have the power to say, ‘actually it’s crap, so I don’t want to buy what you’re selling – because it doesn’t speak to me, or my values’, and if these development agencies don’t want to work with us, or at least listen to what we have to say (regarding creativity and production values), then we have to do the communication our selves.

The same way we want to be responsible for the stories coming out of Africa, for us to tell our stories, is the same way that we should also get involved, and indeed be responsible for our development agenda, and our development messages. We don’t need to shortchange ourselves by putting out substandard products when it’s related to one of the most important product to sell – our health and our wellbeing.

Watch the full talk and I hope I didn’t miss my point!

I write this letter out of frustration with the service and service delivery of Zamtel’s ADSL service. My latest experience has made me make the decision to terminate my services with this provider, I’m sure Zamtel won’t care to lose one customer, as most businesses in Zambia tend not to care about losing customers – despite the fact that it is cheaper to retain a client than get a new one. However, as customers we have the right to demand that where we are spending our money, we are respected and getting the service we were promised.

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The company I run has been using Zamtel for the last two years and the service has been less than reliable at best. Sometimes it works, other times you’ll be calling the service center relentlessly trying to get information on why the service is not working.

Recently we moved office from one location to the other (within Lusaka) – I won’t even talk about the process just to get that done, with every person we spoke to telling us a different process. Perhaps Zamtel should consider training their staff properly, or for those staff members that can’t remember their training, a simple handout of the process that can be given to clients would suffice.

So finally we get a new phone number and our ADSL reconnected at our new premises, but then we get told that we’ve got a new account number – I was actually told that when you move offices you are given a new account number. I spoke at length to the person on the other end of the phone about how that didn’t seem to make sense as then your business has multiple accounts, how would you know which was the right account? The man even agreed, and just said that was how it worked and they were actually going through the process of removing inactive accounts for that very reason.

On the 14th of January I accidentally paid our ADSL bill on the old account and on the 16th of January I went back to the Manda Hill branch where I paid to correct the mistake as well as find out why yet again the internet was not working.

I have to admit at this point – 10am, I was already irate because I had been unable to do any work due to the lack of internet connectivity. I had planned my day that required me to be online to deliver on key work.

When I got into the service center at Manda Hill the first thing I did was go to the Customer Service counter, just to be told that there was one line for all desks – even though the other desks were for bill payments. In terms of providing service in a timely manner for your customers, this way of operating does not make sense.

I waited in line patiently behind people who wanted to pay bills (even though there are at least three desks that could service bill payments). Finally I get to the counter to be served by Batuke Kalimukwa (who didn’t want to give me his full name by the way). As any irate customer would do, I complained that Zamtel’s customer service was poor. He didn’t even try to appease me, and just asked what service I needed.

I explained to him our problem and he said that I must have given Zamtel instruction to open a new account – which I didn’t. So he advised me to write a letter to Zamtel asking to close the account. What about the money paid on the account, could that be transferred to my active account? Nope, because it’s a pre-paid account (the inactive one), but I could write to Zamtel to ask for that to be reimbursed (good luck, was his attitude).

So how can you help me because my business can’t function? He could log a complaint in the system. Sigh

I asked him if he could tell me why the internet was so slow this morning. Because we’re on a package that only services five or less computers – ‘It was in the brochure’, he tells me, like I ever received a brochure! Instead I told him that it was one of his colleagues who sold us the K900 a month package, and we were never given the brochure.

Tough. I was told to write a letter to lodge in all my complaints, and address it to the Customer Service Manager. After asking for a name and address to write to, I was told simply to address it to the Customer Service Manager, Zamtel.

Pray tell why there is no name for the Customer Service Manager? What does that say about transparency?

Finally I asked if he could tell me if there was a fault on the network as only three computers were connected to the network so by his own admission, the ADSL package we’re on should work. No, he couldn’t tell me because his machine was only for payments. Hence the reason I wanted to go to the customer service desk in the first place – but then again, who knows if she would have that information to hand either.

At this point, in the middle of my complaints and queries, Batuke’s phone rings, which he answers in front of me, with no apology or concern that I had not yet finished trying to get a solution for my problem – though I guess at this point, it was clear that he was unable to offer a solution.

As a Zambian, I am frustrated that a company we in effect own, treats its customers, it’s Zambian customers so poorly. But I also don’t believe that we should reward bad services with our business, how else do we let companies know it’s not ok? I have given Zamtel enough chances, and now I believe it is time to move my account.

Processes and systems are good when they work, but as human beings we should have enough intelligence (or just common sense) to be able to operate in a manner that uses common sense, this is what sets us apart from computers. But my experience with this person at Zamtel was his inability to problem solve and offer workable solutions. Perhaps Zamtel doesn’t empower its employees to take initiative or to think, when today’s environment demands that we do attend to client’s needs, and sometimes that means thinking outside of the processes to keep your client happy and to keep them with you.

The service provider I went to after my Zamtel experience, to get a quote for their services, greeted me with a smile and was able to answer all my questions. Her pleasant manner and putting my concerns first (she even asked me if it was ok for her to answer her phone when her maid called), put me at ease and made me want to switch to them.

Zamtel can not just rely on its affordable price strategy, but to actually deliver on the service to match – and this isn’t just the service of its products, but of its people too. Gone are the days when anyone needs to be held to ransom due to lack of choice. Zamtel would do well to also remind its staff that their attitude, their work ethics, their ability to do the job ultimately is a reflection of the Zamtel brand. The service I got today tells me that Zamtel is an arrogant, archaic giant that does not value its clients. I hope for Zamtel’s sake that I am the only customer who feels this way or has had such an experience with its representatives.

2013

2013 has been a year full of ups and downs, massive successes, at huge prices. If you’ve been following me, I don’t need to remind you of the year I’ve had. But we’d finally been making progress – seeing the light at the end of the tunnel when two things happened that sent me reeling.

Loyalty has always been something that I value, in all aspects of my life, and most certainly in the business. The last week of the working year for us, I felt as though I had been stabbed in the back. The hurt I felt can not even be described, one act compromised the business and was just plain evil, the other was just a bit of a double cross. But put together, it was in short the straw that broke the camel’s back.

After discussing it, and thinking about it, we knew to grow, we needed to always put the business first. Even if it meant sacrificing.

There are definitely parts (and people) of 2013 that I’d like to erase altogether, and I think mentally I have done that. But as I believe every day is a learning day, I’m not mad (anymore), it’s just another lesson learnt that I’ll take into 2014 to build the businesses bigger and stronger.

Before going into 2014 we’re taking a much needed break, and we will be back.

Merry Christmas and a Very Prosperous New Year.

An entrepreneur, according to Dictionary.com, is defined as “a person who organizes and manages any enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk.”  Forbes goes a step further to state that ‘entrepreneurs find a need – any need – and they fill it’.

An entrepreneur is said to be a money multiplier – they invest to gain rewards, but at the end of the day, they run businesses.  What is the point of a business if it’s not going to make a profit?  In that case it’s not a business, it’s a charity, or a non profit organisation or maybe even a non-governmental organisation.

The reason I’m banging on about this is because I’m not sure if the point of being an entrepreneur is really understood in Zambia.  Some of my clients think I should lower my prices or discount everything for them because they work in developmental work and so I’ll be aiding in national development if I do this work for free!  Erm, no, I’ll be aiding national development if I am successful enough to provide jobs for other citizens of this country and pay taxes (more than I pay now due to more revenue :)).

Or the other day I was told about a three day event from a foreign government to learn about how entrepreneurs can aid in sustainable development.  I was baffled.  I costed out the potential lose of business to the company – as in my line of work, everyone’s time is charged out – and the outcome of this venture was for the business to understand its role in sustainable development?  Not the potential to win a really large contract?  Not an opportunity to pitch a sale?  Not an opportunity to showcase our work (so that we can attract new clients)? Potentially an opportunity to network (which is never a bad idea, but can be done in one day).

 It got me thinking – is it that we have a different role as entrepreneurs in Zambia?  Is entrepreneurs seen as the new darlings of development, the NGOs and non-for profit have had their day so now it’s all about the cute, fuzzy entrepreneurs cropping up around Africa trying to make it on their own?  

 Ok perhaps I’m being a bit harsh, I’m sure the thinking behind these entrepreneur workshops are well intentioned, and maybe if the workshop was specific to my industry, or just a bit more clearer on its objectives as a whole I won’t think of it as so ‘insulting’ to my entrepreneurial spirit!  

 I guess it came at a time where I was just angry, angry at how difficult the path is for an entrepreneur with challenges that can’t solely be solved by workshops (though you can make great connections).  Unless the workshops are targeted at real business challenges that all SMEs face, about operational cash flow, about access to finance (and not the BS ones the bank tries to sell you), on management, on product development, processes and whatever else entrepreneurs get caught up on, it’s just time away from growing my business. 

 The entrepreneur in Zambia is not applauded, despite the fact that in our economic climate, it might be the only way to go, it’s certainly not easy to get a job!

 Though with some of the young people out there, who think it is easy to get a job, maybe this is why being an entrepreneur is not such a big deal.  I have had two young people work with us recently, who frustrated me no end – it’s amazing how kids today can say they want to be the best of the best and then not actually do the work or learning to make them the best of the best.  Anyway, there was a real disconnect, as if they were doing us a favour by working here!  In fact one who left recently was totally chuffed that they were going to work as a PA for a start up they know nothing about!  It was like being here was a holiday, and now they suddenly have a real job.  I shrugged my shoulders, thinking was I really than vacuous at 21?

 Don’t get me wrong, by no means do I believe that we’re the best of the best (yet), or the number one choice place to work (yet), or the super successful, trail blazing business (yet), but hey, I do know potential when I see it!  And I think for some businesses maybe those type of workshops are necessary and important for them, they’re just not for the type of business I want to be.

 Ok perhaps if they asked me to speak at the event I would have gone 🙂  Seriously though, I think when you set out to run your own business, you have to know what you’re in it for, and there are lots of reasons to run your own business that aren’t based on profits alone, but at the end of the day, you have to ask yourself, if your business isn’t making a profit, and it can’t sustain your needs, then why have the business?

Entrepreneurship is not for everyone.  It’s hard, it’s long hours, it’s emotionally draining and there is so much failure involved.  But it’s also fun, rewarding, and life affirming!  I just wish that people in Zambia would regard it as a serious endeavor instead of some new craze.

 Oh dear, am I beginning to sound just a little bit too angry?!

I had the pleasure of attending the premiere of Maliposa last night. I was honoured that Mingeli Palata the creator of the movie invited us to watch. The creative industry in Zambia is small and competitive, but not always healthy competition and good sportsmanship (for lack of a better term).

I have never worked with Mingeli per se but we’ve interacted quite a bit and share a passion for production and the industry in Zambia. Mingeli first told me about Maliposa a few months ago, and even sent me a copy for my opinion. At the time, I was going through my own reflection process – was I too critical of everything? Shouldn’t we be focussed on the fact that people are trying and not berate them for standards (or lack of)? After all, look at the Nigerian film and TV industry – it started a mess, and there still are programmes that are a mess, but it’s also produced really good productions too. And I was starting to believe that the point is to start, regardless.

My feedback at the time was actually it was alright. It was still better than what was currently on our screens and the story was relevant and timely. Maliposa, funded by Ministry of Gender and Community Development, deals with the all too pervasive issue of sexual assault and gender inequity. And it was shot with this blue filter that symbolised the sadness of the issue. But Mingeli was not happy. I understood that too because as a creator, you want to see your vision, as you imagined regardless of what people said. (It’s like how I feel about Love Games season 1 – but I didn’t have the luxury of budget to reshoot it). There were some technical challenges, and Mingeli went back to the drawing board and reshoot the entire thing. And I admire him for sticking to his principles and values regardless of the cost.

So yesterday watching it, was like watching the film for the first time. I do applaud Mingeli and Gardner Media for doing that film because it’s not easy. I’m not a technical person – in terms of camera styles, angles, lighting etc so I won’t speak to that. But from what I do know, the hardest part of doing a film that is funded, and is there to convey a specific message is getting the message right.

You can be excused for thinking that it’s easy to write a script with a message. But the reality is it’s not. There is an art to messaging, and not to toot our own horn (though why not?) but that is something we’re really good at, and it helps that we’ve been doing this for a long time.

Also because I am such a ‘girl power’ fanatic, I was disappointed with the script, and more so when I found out it was written by a woman. However, the only caveat to this statement is that in their defence, they created a 2 hour movie from a 13 part series for TV, so there could be things in the TV series that will strengthen the content. I wonder how many real life stories they draw from, because it’s one thing to read the stats or to read transcripts from court cases or whatever fact based research was done, without talking to the real life people behind the stats, or having gone through the experience yourself, there is a level of authenticity that is missing.

However, I do think a good majority of people will nonetheless enjoy this production – even after the premiere last night, it seemed a success and the Ministry very happy – a happy client is always a good thing! And I do see the show traveling, even outside of Zambia, but as a tv show and nothing more. Great for Gardner Media, not so great for the Ministry and its donors who were trying to address an issue.
Content is an issue for us, us as in creators in Zambia. We’re getting the technical right but when you look at what we’re producing, it’s content that is letting us down. This morning I watched a music video that again, technically looked good (remember I’m not an expert, I’m sure if I showed it to one of my more experienced film/tv/video makers they would pinpoint lighting errors and all sorts!) but for me where it let me down – like so many other good videos before it – was the content and lack of a concept (if there was one, it just wasn’t clear).

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think one person has to be good at everything – that’s why we can rely on partnerships, to strengthen where one is weak. I think it’s great we’re getting our industry together and we’re definitely putting out better things than in the past, but let’s still be open and honest about the challenges. This will help us all improve.

I hope you’ll all watch Maliposa, because supporting our own, also helps grow the industry – we need to be hungry for our own content to grow it to the standards we want it to be. And it will happen, I believe it. I really hope I won’t get mistaken for being a hater – too often when we criticize people think it comes from a place of hate, but really I see too many people giving false feedback meaning no one can learn and improve. I just don’t want to be that person – I do want to give honest feedback, but still encourage people to keep doing them – we’re not at the stage where any production (TV/Film/Video) is faultless yet. Just keeping it one hundred.

I seem to spend an unhealthy amount of time complaining about the inefficiencies, lack of services, lack of work ethics, and all sorts related to my stay in Zambia. Today I’ve decided to write about some positive experiences – so you know it’s not all bad!

We’re into the 22nd day of shooting Love Games season 2 (only 24 days more to go!) and I’m so excited with how the shoot is going. It looks so good! We also have some new cast that are amazing, and some celeb appearances that I’m also excited about. I would say who now but it might be announced in a leading local paper so I can’t say anything until that deal is concluded (or not). But trust me when I say season 1 has nothing on season 2 – this is the bomb for sure and will really make us proud of what Zambians can achieve if we really put our minds to it.

sandra and michael

Ok, we did get some help from our friends down south. We are still a growing industry and if we really want to compete internationally (or just regionally) we can’t be afraid to ask for some help – it still is a Zambian production.

Also thanks to the success of season 1 we’ve been able to get more businesses interested in coming on board to help out with sponsoring the materials to build and design sets – Handyman’s Paradise, and to help with our own set catering needs we have Eezee Instant Noodles for days! But you can read more about them on the official programme website in a few weeks. But it was interesting that it was still a hard-sell to many other businesses. Even in this months’ Bulletin and Record Love Games has been tagged as must watch TV, (unfortunately it won’t be on air in May), so shows just how popular it is. While productive placements are big business in some mature TV industries (namely the US), sadly Zambia’s marketing tactics are left to traditional and basic advertising tricks, but that’s for another blog!

These two companies coming on board haven’t necessarily save the production budget loads of money but has enabled us to do more – people can work longer with food, and we can get better sets with the availability of the materials! Which all in all add to a better product at the end of the day. I know as a business I should always focus on the bottom line, but I couldn’t in good conscious ignore the end product as well. Love Games has been so well received it only made sense to do it bigger and better – even with the small budget – because the audience and the Media 365 brand deserves as much.

I haven’t been on set as much as I’d like… ok I lie, I’m not of fan of being on set – it can be stressful and long (22 shots and numerous takes later), but I’ve been watching the rushes and I’m excited. Sometimes I worry the storylines are not as ‘fun’ (i.e. no real bandit behaviour) but when I look at how beautiful the sets are, how great the framing is, and just the style of shooting, I’m excited, almost wishing July was here already!

Though we did attempt a skills transference process in season one, in season two it has come together much better, with teams in camera, continuity, sound and post – we even have a new title for someone, Digital Imaging Technician! So far it’s going good – and everyone is learning – it goes both ways doesn’t it?

In season two we’ve brought in a variety of new cast – especially for supporting roles (total number of cast, including leads, supporting and bit roles is coming up to 40! don’t even ask about walk ons and extras!), and have a new lead character, who are all doing an amazing job. I can safely say I’m truly excited about Season 2.

But at the back of my mind I still have to remember that once we wrap this production at the end of July, we need to focus on what the next thing is, as there is no season three of Love Games. Loads of ideas, now just need to find the funds to back it up. I read somewhere on twitter yesterday that Robert Townsend said that running a business was like climbing a mountain. Yup that’s how I feel. But imagine the feeling when you get to the top…

The last month has been very interesting. We have spent time looking for the production crew to work on the second season of the highly successful Love Games. A lot of people don’t have the experience or the education for working in TV production, not surprisingly, Zambia doesn’t really have a TV industry. It is definitely one that is growing, but not yet as mature as our neighbors, especially not like South Africa, or Kenya even.

Career vs Job

But I looked at some cvs of people who’d had the opportunity to study abroad, and they all have degrees in stable career paths, like economics, law, business etc. When asked why they wanted to work on the production as say a make up artist, they said it was because it was their passion. So my follow up question was, ‘then why didn’t you study it in school?’

Most people had the stock answer, ‘I needed a back up just in case.’ Erm, you have no experience, or education in the field you’re passionate about, so how does that show it’s your plan A?

As an African child raised by a very African father, I understand the not doing what you really want to do. My father wanted all of us to go to university and get a degree in something traditional like economics, law, business etc. I said, ‘nah, I think I want to study film.’ He sighed and told me to prepare myself for a life of unemployment.

Plan-A

It didn’t deter me though. I didn’t necessarily go on to study film for many reasons, but I did ingrain myself in the industry where I could. My former boss at MTV has no qualms telling anyone who’ll listen how much I bugged her to get a job there – I was pretty bad. I’m sure she hired me just out of frustration! Lol. Now, I’m not sure that type of persistence will always get you what you need, but you do have to have some persistence for people to take you seriously.

And then it’s not all glamourous to start with. There is real grunt work to do when you’re on the come up in the TV industry. It’s hard work, it’s late nights, and all for not much pay… or pretty much any industry really. It’s all about determination and focus – you know what you want, and you work towards that.

My whole career has been focussed on working in the media arena in one way or another and honing my skills to make me better each day – I keep telling people, every day is a learning day!

The last couple of years (well will be 2 years on Sunday) in Lusaka I’ve been shocked by the work ethics of most people I’ve met. People be like give me a job and let me show you want I can do. And then they show up to work late, write in text speech, they expect you to accept their shoddy work, and get surprised (and upset) when you fire them. Actually in most cases they fire themselves! Walk off set, or don’t show up at call time for no valid reason. They saunter back on set when they’re ready and expect to find a job waiting for them!

After my stint at MTV I’m used to people working like slaves to get ahead – ok it didn’t help that it was fairly obvious that there was a queue of hundreds of people waiting to take your job if you didn’t perform. But I do truly believe that fortune favors those that put in the effort for their career. And there were countless examples of the interns who rose to SVPs (senior vice presidents) at MTV, exemplifying that anything is possible.

Yet, here, just working past 7pm is a problem for people. And can’t be dedicated to one thing… I don’t know, it’s frustrating.

success

Again I understand it’s scary to commit to one thing, especially when there is no industry to show that it’s worth the commitment, but how do you know for sure if you don’t try?

There will be many that come, but only few will remain. And these few will be the ones that establish a real tv and entertainment media industry for the country.

Right now I have little tolerance left, and like America, I refuse to negotiate with terrorists. If it means I have to fire someone even if I don’t have a back-up person, so be it, we make an alternate plan, terrorists can’t hold us to ransom!

For me there is no going back because I don’t have the back up plan. Plan A has always been my plan, so I might fail at times, but I always have to get up and dust myself and keep it moving. I don’t quit. I might let go of things when I’ve tried every means to make it work, but I won’t quit. And I like to surround myself with the people who have the same spirit. It’s not always easy, those close to me have seen when I’ve fallen apart, frustrated, not knowing what to do, but we get up, we solider on. No one said it would be easy – and they do say anything worth having is not easy.

Maybe I do push people too hard, or expect too much, but I do truly believe that everyone can achieve greatness – or at least what they want in life. I just don’t have the patience for anyone not trying to achieve what they can, with some hardwork, focus, and determination.

In the words of my friend Believe + Achieve! (though ok you need a little bit more than believe, but you know what I mean!