Story by Kimani Patrick and Maureen Kahihu
“A photographer never quits being one; a photographer will die a photographer”. This is where our interview begins.
David Macharia, an entrepreneur, a mentor, a father and a photographer. Photography is the one decision that changed David’s entire life and it was a long journey to get to where he is right now.
After clearing high school, David joined his father in business, designing and selling bags in Kinango. “I was very efficient in coming to buy the materials in the city, Nairobi and after the bags were sawed I could sell them.” Because of all that he got exposure on how to run a business.
Macharia is grateful that his dad taught him the value of money. The people in his father’s circle saw the work he did and were impressed by his job. At some point one of them approached him seeking his sales services for some of his projects which he agreed to.
In 2000, Macharia was invited to Nairobi and he started hawking cards in the streets. Since the city council was always on his case, he had to find an alternate way to sell his cards. His sister was schooling at Daystar University; he therefore decided to go sell his cards there, after all that is where his market was at, the youth.
All this time, Macharia never used to make profits and so his employer didn’t have enough money to even pay him, so he requested him to get him a job before he goes to college. In those days being in the city was the in thing and so he had to do everything possible to stay. His dad wanted him to go back and continue with the business but he assured him of his return once he gathered enough exposure to the business world.
His boss finally got him a place to work, Mwangaza studio. Things were different at Mwangaza, everything he knew about the city was not exactly as easy as he thought it to be. He had to be trained on how to talk to people, how to handle clients and how to print photos. Photography was not an easy task but he struggled till he learnt all the necessary skills to help him survive and sustain his job.
By 2003 Macharia had finally understood his way around photography to a point where he begun advising other photographers on how to take good photos. He recalls some complaining how badly the photos were printed yet they were the ones who made mistakes, like not taking the photos in a good setting etc. This experience triggered Macharia’s interest in photography. So he begun to sneak into the studio to learn about the camera and know how it works.
One day he met Mr. Kanini, a proficient photographer and out of interest Macharia sought to learn from him. He joined Kanini in his venture and work. He would attend weddings with him, hold his bags as he watched him do the work and learn. Weeks later he was amazed not only by the photos he took but also discovered that photography was a journey he needed to prepare for. He didn’t have money to buy a camera hence had to continue with his job at the studio.
By the end 2003, the people in his hood, Kangemi, would ask why he never took photos of them yet he always had a Kodak shirt on. This was the turning point for Macharia. He combined the business skills he had learnt from his dad, borrowed a camera from the studio in the evening and took photos at night. The following day he would take them to the studio, print then take them back to the owners, in a frame! And his clients would get shocked at how he used to deliver the photos within a day! And in a frame! Because back then, it took weeks or months to get a photo delivered. As a result he got more clients as days went by and his name grew in his neighborhood.
He recalls sometimes having so many clients and considering he used to work at night had to say no to some. At this point he realized that he needed a strategy on how he could still maintain his day job and take photos of his clients at the same time. So during his days off work, he would take photos the entire day. And this made his service demands shoot even the more.
Out of huge demand, and quick money involved, Macharia decided to resign and start his career as a photographer. He still didn’t own a camera, and therefore took advantage of that of his mentor’s, Mr. Kanini, who worked as a banker during the weekdays and so Macharia could run his errands and at the same time take photos to earn money.
He started taking photos in Kangemi. The down side of this story is that the anticipation he had of the many people needing his services was cut off and his bills needed to be paid. Unlike other times when he only had the night to work with, now he had a full day to himself and so once again begun for clients who needed to take photos. He would walk in the streets of Kangemi, his coat full of pockets with his portfolio, looking for and building clientele. His customers were mostly house helps and the children in the estate because they were always at home, then on Sundays he would take photos of the whole family which he charged each at KES 50.
The parents now began referring him even in their places of work and since cooperates also needed professional photographers he would be called in. From there, Macharia started networking. He says, “Every time I met a client, I would build a good relationship to ensure that anytime they needed a photographer, I would be the first person who would come to their mind. And even to date, I do the same.”
He finally managed to get his own camera thereby became even more flexible in his service delivery. He began meeting other photographers, worked for them as a learning process and also sold photos to them (a paparazzi kind of work).
In 2005 he met Boniface Mwangi, inquired about media photography and decided to join the standard media group. He was given assignments which never raked in good money. He earn KES. 500 per assignment and in case his photo didn’t make it to the newspapers, got nothing.
He began doing fashion photos for the Pulse segment with a dream to just see the caption ‘photography by David Macharia’ in the papers. However the assignments were not giving him enough income so he quit and decided to concentrate on his clients who gave him value. “After all I couldn’t eat out of dreams alone.” He embarked on building his portfolio which without a doubt was good. People loved his work. He concentrated mostly on wedding, family portraits, cooperates and mostly the work passed to him by fellow photographers.
Finally at a wedding, he got his big break. He met a baker, Matthew (owner of Valentine Cake house) who asked him to take 3 photos of his cake. He knew Matthew was one of the key players in the wedding industry, and so decided to take more photos of the cake in different angles and framed. He delivered the photos to him and Matthew impressed by the work he did begun recommending David to his own clients for photography services.
Clients literally swarmed in his directions. He confesses that he didn’t even know how to charge them at first. From the money he got, he started buying other equipment’s especially the digital camera that could satisfy the kind of market he was getting himself into.
In 2007, Mathew managed to make an arrangement with Kiss FM to cover a wedding that they had organised. He was called in for an interview and found himself in a board room with a panel consisting of Caroline Mutoko. Macharia narrates, “At first they couldn’t believe that i was the one who did the work in my portfolio. But since I was the only photographer who could match the standard of work they needed I was offered the job.”
It was one of the biggest weddings that happened that year, Pan Victorian wedding, he had to go look for other photographers to be able to cover the event. This was the ‘it wedding’ and everyone who was someone in this country had their eyes glued to it. David’s work was all over the media.
He was now able to get more clients who were able to pay for his services, he even increased his prices and clients still thronged. He attracted so much clientele to a point where he started referring them to other photographers as he was fully booked. But still the clients needed his services and at this point he realized he was losing out on a lot of money and so he decided to register his company.
Versatile Photographers! That is how the company was born. “I must however confess that coming up with a name for the company was hard”. He was inspired by Richard Branson’s Virgin brand logo, “It looks young and classy, it can connect with young people” he says and he desired the same feeling for his company’s name. The only thing that came to his mind was versatile, he could have named his company unique photographers but that was too ordinary, he needed a vibrant name.
Versatile represented, and still represents the different kinds of photos he takes. They were not just any other pictures; he had a variety of tastes in photos he was producing.
He began looking for other photographers to team up with but most looked down upon him; after all he was just a beginner, while others simply had a bad attitude towards him. ‘There was lack of professionalism”, he cites. But even this didn’t get to him, rather probed him to work harder.
Macharia needed more staff to help run his company but in as much as he acquired more employees he ended up disappointed at the productivity yielded. So he began a mentorship programme, if a candidate was good and displayed exemplary work then he would hire them. He has mentored the best photographers in the country such as Thomson Kube and Ben Kiruthi. He even mentored his sales team on how to sell a package.
He finally had his own website put up as he continued to obtain more lessons online making him deliver more excellent photos to his clients. In 2011, he had a big team of photographers but couldn’t still manage the inquiries he had. He even went further and increased his service charges but still clients came back such that he couldn’t handle the traffic. He decided to search for more photographers online, joined them in a group on Facebook and called it Photographers Association of Kenya. In the group he exchanged ideas and merged people together to help each other. It is now a registered association.
Finally he was able to get a bigger office and space for the studio at Hazina towers 9th Floor. Just when he had settled in with all his equipment that was worth Ksh. 4 million, he got robbed. At this point he hit the deep end and almost got into depression. He however had to start afresh, and as fortune would have it, he was back on his feet again and took off again!
In 2015, Macharia got a call from the white house in USA to cover the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Kenya. He says he couldn’t believe that they wanted him. He was given a brief of what needed to be done and according to them his work was up to standard. He went through a series of interviews and finally the day arrived. Simply summed up, “It was the best experience I have ever had and will never forget.” After that his company’s name went viral.
He still continued with his mentorship programs, till it got overwhelming for him and couldn’t handle the crowd. He therefore sat down with the people he had mentored came up with a curriculum and started a school called Versatile School of photography which in the near future he hopes to be a university. They are teaching people hands on skills, how they can start their own business as they don’t need to seek employment.
One thing that he has really built on is that, his business can still run without him. He had to come up with an effective system that runs his business because he has plans to branch out, soon to village market and also Tanzania. He needed a system that can manage and run all branches at the same time from the customer service to his workshops in a particular order. He doesn’t have a huge team but works with creative people who he empowers to begin their own ventures.
Macharia’s Advice To Most Employers
Never limit a creative person. For instance asking them to come to work from 8 a.m-5p.m they like working in their space and comfort to be able to be creative and productive and you can’t fight and stop them. David had to come up with a system for them too, when to deliver their work, how to deliver, all this was geared towards making their work easier and for the efficiency of his company and for their own personal brands too.
Why bring them together?
When the ocean rises the boats will rise too. That is why he believes in bringing more photographers together, mentoring and teaching them. He believes photography has not yet been fully tapped in Africa. He has met other international photographers while on assignments, and the more he goes out the more he feels the need to develop photography in Kenya.
Where Does Macharia Get His Inspiration
Macharia prays to God but also seeks counsel from his mentors when he feels like he is lost. He regularly attends short training programs available to learn and get more ideas just to stay on course.
Why Versatile Is Unique
Our efficient service delivery and the quality of the work we produce. The versatile team is amazing and we thrive in professionalism which brands us as a company.
Best Advice Ever Received
It is from his mentor Mathews, when you have grown accept that you have grown. To get there you will need help and when you achieve greatness you will need to mentor others. For you to shine you will need to help others shine more.
The future of Versatile…
The next time you hear of Versatile Photographers, expect a leading university in photography in Africa. The school is a combination of many innovation of photography in Africa like fine art in photography and wildlife.
One life lesson he carries dearly to date, he learnt in South Africa. He went to KFC and had their chicken and it was awesome, later on a branch was opened in Kenya and when he tried their chicken it was exactly of the same taste and quality as that he had in South Africa. As he thinks of opening up branches globally, that is the exact quality he wants to emulate; that of quality duplication.
There is also a stock image company coming up which will be storage of images taken in Africa. The photos will be posted online just like shutter stock where people can be able to buy images online.
He also has a vision to change the story of our own country and Africa as a whole. We have so many untapped resources and at the same time there are so many investors looking for places to invest in, someone needs to highlight these resources and tell a pictorial story. During the interview, I was stunned to find out that we have a desert safari, a beach and boat rides in Turkana that I had no clue existed.
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From the Village to the World, There’s Not Stopping for Wanjuhi Njoroge
Being brought up in a small village at the foot of Mount Kenya didn’t prevent the 29 year old Wanjuhi Njoroge from being a successful entrepreneur. Today, Wanjuhi is the CEO of The Web Tekies LTD and RootEd Africa (both which have now been rebranded to Nelig Group).
Her father nurtured her entrepreneurial and leadership skills. She sold eggs and plums mostly after her KCPE. “It was my dad who discovered and nurtured leadership and the entrepreneurial skills in me. I was only 12 and without prior business experience, but my father’s great wisdom guided me through it all.” Says Wanjuhi.
Wanjuhi vividly remembers her first mistake in business while she was still young, “A kilo of sukumawiki (kales) was KES 7 by then, but this woman came and requested that I sell to her a kilo at KES 5 instead. She was poor and said that her children had been sent home for school fees. I knew she had been struggling and so I decided to sell the kales at KES 5. My father wasn’t amused when I narrated the story later that evening but he made me understand why I had to be firm in business.”
Wanjuhi says this early exposure is what motivated her to going into business and her father remains one of her greatest support.
Wanjuhi went into employment at 19 while she was still in college. “I didn’t like it, it was too rigid and constraining. I didn’t have the freedom to spread my wings,” says Wanjuhi.
This dissatisfaction in employment experience saw her go through a series of jobs in different companies. “The longest I stayed in a job was 6 months.” She says.
Her life changed when she went to work in a startup, founded by a young man in his 20’s. “At first I thought his parents were rich. But surprisingly his parents were not rich. This was my very first experience with a young person who was running their own business. I realized that it was very possible for one to quit and run their own business.”
“In 2011 I went to my parents and told them that I was quitting employment to start my own business. My mother didn’t take it lightly. She demanded to see my bank statements. She meant well. I decided to start my business as a side hustle while I worked full-time and took part time classes. My parents eventually approved of my resignation and my company opened its doors in January 2013.”
Today, the University of Nairobi graduate who pursued a double major in Sociology and Communication is a full time entrepreneur. Wanjuhi, together her with her business partner, Eva Njoki, have founded two companies; The Web Tekies Ltd, which is a media conglomerate that assists startups, organizations, individuals as well as groups tell their stories online and offline while RootEd Africa is a social enterprise she founded out of her passion for ICT, mentorship and education.
RootEd Africa seeks to transform lives in rural and remote parts of Africa through ICT and non-curriculum activities such as sports and mentorship. RootEd Africa works with primary schools and the local communities around these schools with an aim of eradicating school dropout cases especially among teenage and adolescent girls who often dropout due to teenage pregnancies and early marriages.
Wanjuhi is also a Vital Voices Fellow 2015, a Global Shaper with the World Economic Forum and the youngest member of the Nyeri County Affirmative Action Social Development Fund (AASDF) Committee. Ann is also a Board Member & School Patron at Kabaru Primary School.
Her advice to young people who want to venture into business is to have a passion, patience and be ready to invest time in learning that thing they want to do. “Start from where you are, from zero and learn your way up.” She advises.
When not courting her clients, Wanjuhi is on the road for adventure, reading a book, watching a documentary or writing on her blog .
Article first appeared at Inversk Magazine on June 20 2016
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How Exposure, Hard Work and Resilience Helped Johnson Mwakazi to Build Himself
If background could dictate your future then that of Johnson Mwakazi could have been the worst. The joys of life of having a decent upbringing are a tale for his childhood; nevertheless, his adulthood is a total success.
Where Did Our Legend Start?
Mwakazi attributes his success to exposure and resilience. It all started way back in Kibera when he ‘said’ a poem in the presence of the director general of world health organization.
The stars were rightly placed for him. “He called me to perform the poem again in Switzerland Geneva, I have shared a table with the richest man in the world”, he says. That was his starting point and he has never looked backed ever since. Sooner than later he got a job at hot 96 FM where he mainly did voice over and was paid 4000 Kenyan shillings after six months.
“One day the producer said that they had heard enough of me on the radio and that I should try the TV. I applied for a job at citizen television without any tertiary academic qualification and I got the job.”
He had no godfathers or know anyone who knew someone else in order to get his job. Mwakazi attributes his success to his starting point, Kibera. “Coming from the largest slums in Africa made me have a clear cut of my responsibilities”, he affirms to me. “All of us have starting points, and that should move us to have a clear mindset of what we want in life.”
Who/What Has Influenced You This Far?
Exposure, it plays an important role in making us achieve our dreams or even meet our mentors in life. My mentor, who I also describe as my spiritual father, Rev Tom Otieno is one good man who helped me get into the spotlight. I first met when my mother took me to All Saints’ Cathedral church.
You do not have to meet your mentors face to face for you to be inspired. Technology has really made it easier for us to know our mentors. If your mentor is Chris Kirubi, get on YouTube and search for his talks. Listen to them; if the first three lines do not appeal to you then he is not your mentor. Just because everyone loves him and sees him as a great person, it does not necessarily mean that he will be appealing to you.
How Can young people get mentors?
This narrows down to you as an individual. What are you looking for in a mentor? The problem with the current youths is that most of them are pleased with the wrong behavior. They think that being cool, dressing is some ways or even talking in some tone makes you famous and admired with so many people.
Yes you might be famous for a while but that is not a long lasting heritage that you will be proud of as you age or even for your children. Do not be mentored by someone who wants to destroy others, be mentored with people who inspire your integrity. Mentorship starts from the brain and not anywhere else.
The Journey To The Top
While he is a household name in our, Mwakazi says it was not easy for him to make it up to the top. Immediately he got a job with Citizen Television, he had to work twice harder to compete with people who were well versed and well learned in the field of journalism. He had to enroll at Daystar University.
However, this was not a walk in the park for him. He would work during the day and be in class in the evening. When I asked how he was able to overcome the challenge he simply recommended a book for me to read. Readers are leaders, as much as this may sound like a cliché it’s the truth of the matter. His main mantra is always, if you spend 10,000hours onto something that you love, you become an expert at it.
“Having a talent without fully focusing on it is a waste of time totally. You must be consistent in what you do, you should be concise. Being concise comes with a clear mind on what you want to achieve. For instance if you want to go to the gym, what do you hope to achieve after three months? Having such questions enables you to have a time slot that will ensure you do not under do it and despite the circumstances surrounding you, you need to do what you had planned to do.”
“It’s not a walk in the park or bread and butter affair; to be able to realize your dreams and live in the full splendor of your purpose. The process of making your dreams come into reality means that you are aware of the hard and tough choices you will have to make. There will be disappointments, lots of failures and more so a lot of pain. These rough times, subsequently, come and pass. Smooth seas never brought tough sailors. The moment you have that at the back of your mind, you are good to go.”
Mwakazi believes that to be great is not a childhood illusion, nevertheless, it is a feature that exists in all of us and not as believed that it is for the chosen few.
As a global business man who wants to invest into business as well as advice young entrepreneurs who want to startup businesses, Mwakazi insists that if plan A does not work not work there is plan B and there is no way you will move to plan B if you haven’t worked on plan A. You need to work with what you have, if it does not work move to the next resource.
“Resilience is the key to every business startup. Surround yourself with people whose brain works harmoniously with yours not people who compete with you. This will help you develop ideas strongly. It is important that one goes for a meet in places that allow you to think.”
Full feature on Inversk Magazine Issue 006. Head on to this link and start reading the magazine. Article first published on March 2, 2017.
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Kyalo, Gathii and Their Koncepts
There are many articles and books that pop up on a simple online search on how to critically choose a business partner.
While it is obvious teaming up with unemployed fresh college graduate is not a consideration, the risk is even bigger when the starting capital is a borrowed Ksh 1,500 and the first dive into a mega corporate agreement delivers a Ksh 400,000 loss.
This is exactly how Cephas Gathii and David Kyalo started. Their story featured on Inversk Magazine cover of the August – September 2019 edition. Head on to this link here to start reading the magazine now.
A mutual call to meet up in Thika town was a determined move to deal with the giant of unemployment for David Kyalo a 29 years old Bachelor of Science in Human Resource Management Degree holder from Moi University, and Cephas Gathii, a 28 years old computer science and mathematics graduate from Jomo Kenyatta University of Technology and Science.
The two are the founders of Koncepts and Events who meet back in 2004 in Thika High School but it was not until there was a need that they synergized to earn a living and survive the high cost of living.
The duo started off with an IT company, Afrique Ventures, which majored in developing websites for schools and other small businesses. When not developing websites for their clients they would walk around Nairobi city seeking to find anyone who was in need of business cards and company logos so they could design for a small fee.
“We could to sit at the Kenyatta University food court and help ourselves with the campus Wi-Fi to run our business,” says Mr. Gathii.
The business however conceived and bore a company for concepts and events development for products and organizations when they visited a prospective client and though their request to design a website for them took a rain check and they left with a better deal; to plan a kid’s festival.
Smart or Hard Workers?
“If you are working hard and smart at the same time that is a double-edged sword,” states Mr. Kyalo the CEO of Koncepts and Events who was listed on the Top 40 under 40 men list in 2016. Mr. Kyalo says that in their business they are on toes to work hard smart and hard to outsmart competitors and changes in the technology sector.
Yet, at the on onset of the business partnership the pair was marked with hard but not smart results as they lost close to 400,000KSH after they executed the kid’s festival as demanded by their client -a huge corporate business in Nairobi.
It was after the well-attended sponsored event that they realized that the sponsored event was not to pay back the money they had borrowed from friends to organize the event leave alone yield profit. The grand mistake was as a result of communications which were done on Email ignoring the signing of the deal which required a written and contract.
“Our mistake was our big break and our major retainers came from this event.” Points out Kyalo
Having been classmates in High School and even participating in the competitive Science Congress Contexts as a team while in form three and emerged third at Provincial level, the team eyed for a bigger price as a reward for cutting ties was at zero guarantee.
The hard work applied on the well planned and executed open to public kid’s festival, had a ripple effect on the market earning them referrals and attracting clients of all cadres including World Bank, Mountain Mall, Garden city among others. Through these events they were able to pay back the borrowed money and made to a near KSH5 million turn over in the 2015/2016 fiscal year.
“Some of the World Bank’s staff had attended our event and recommended us to their bosses,” said Gathii who was also listed in the Daily Nation top 40 under 40 men in 2017.
Since its inception in 2014, Afrique faced a brand misinterpretation where people easily confused the contents in the package with Travel and Tours Company, making them shy away from the brand. Like many entrepreneurs’ hunt for profit, the company had to face-lift by rebranding to Koncepts and Events, a name that say it all, in order to penetrate the market and attract more germane clients.
Reinventing the wheel is a risk that Events Companies suffer through handling different clients with same needs.
Hitherto, the success of Koncept and Events is attributed to a great team of young talented and creative personnel who are dedicated to give a unique experience, not showing up during the event, but engaging the clients from planning to completion of their event. Their oldest employee is 29 years of age. The company claims that young employees are more innovative and creative which is a vital quality in the industry.
While quality goes hand in hand with the price tag, Koncept has devised a way to deliver events with lowered pricing without sacrificing quality of events or client experience getting ahead of their competitors in the aggressive market of events.
“Our Goal is to launch and be grounded in a number of African countries in the next five year as we are looking for dominance and not only competition with a million dollars turn over,” says Kyalo.
With expertise in events management, Public Relations, marketing, live screens, décor and information technology Kyalo and Gathii are passionate and prefer events to IT business because it gives room for creativity and innovation, enabling them to create platforms where people interact with brands while brands network with brands.
The duo says that they love to be in events and have held successful World Bank Fun and Talent Day events, organized the Annual Young Entrepreneurs Expo drawing top industries and corporate among other event like press conferences, dinner parties, Annual general meetings, corporate and team building events and road shows.
Koncepts and Events have had it all figured out and they look forward to empower more than 100,000 successful SMEs by 2030 which will have fairly unraveled unemployment crises which the co-founders, who now do not regret this partnership, are victims.
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