Entrepreneurship For Creatives Workshop

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek. “- a quote by former POTUS Barrack Obama was inscribed aside his picture displayed at the front of the room. The picture, watermarked Versatile Photography, is another of its remarkable works. Befitting message, I thought as I settled into my seat for the month’s hangout themed ‘Entrepreneurship for Creatives’.

Jeff Kuria, a popular presenter with Inooro, photographer, MC, entrepreneur and also one of the partners of the event was the MC for the evening. Being both an entrepreneur and a creative, he perfectly fit into the role as he seamlessly stuck with the theme. Having prayed and made self-introductions, Jeff led the first session. “Image is everything!” he started off. Engaging the attendees, he picked from us examples of popular brands and we aptly discussed the ‘why’ they are successful brands and then the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ our brands should be protected. Unlike the good news, bad (negative) news spreads like bushfire and is quite an uphill task to undo. People buy the brands thus the need to safeguard them.

More photographers, writers, artists and other creatives were emerging every day, a fact that shouldn’t be ignored. Everyone was tasked to make a self-assessment on what makes them tick noting that what makes a creative better than the other is amongst other reasons: being the one stop shop, maintaining great quality work, being unique and observing some level of professionalism in dealing with customers. Closing this session, a participant, a veteran photographer & videographer shared the metamorphosis of his industry’s gear. He cited that if the current advancements in technology were assimilated into the equipment used then, he couldn’t imagine what size the equipment would be. Participants were encouraged to keep up with the advancing technology to remain relevant.

Next on stage to share his journey of personal branding was Patrick Kimani. Though known by most as the CEO and founder of Inversk, he introduced himself as a storyteller and a former motivational speaker. Rightly so, he began with a story. One that left us motivated to step up. He journeyed us through his campus days when he set out to start his business to building a successful enterprise in only 14 months! Witty and brilliantly intelligent, Kimani easily got us all glued to him – sharing the ups and down of growing his magazine that enlightens entrepreneurs on how to build businesses to success. Unreservedly, he shared the cropped out bits from told entrepreneurship success stories.

Kimani spoke of being broke & how he got out of it and stayed out of it. He spoke of the importance of carefully choosing business partners & building cohesive teams. Spoke of challenges in getting family (especially parents) to understand that being in business is ‘another job’ especially having been taken through school. He emphasized the need to stay true to one’s journey encouraging learning from others without necessarily copy-pasting their strategy. There were lots of lessons from Kimani’s story but my biggest take always were:

  1. Things may not go as planned and your enterprise may fail at which point, people will quit on you but never quit on you.
  2. When small, negative information shared about you and your company, may be to your advantage depending on how you deal with the situation. Part of the staff that quit on him spread bad rumors that got to reach him thanks to his loyal customers and he used the information to jumpstart his company.

Before welcoming the key speaker of the evening, and like a great MC should, Jeff recapped lessons from Kimani’s story adding some of his own. I noted these:

  1. Be careful when choosing business partners.
  2. Success in entrepreneurship calls for patience.
  3. Book keeping is key! Separate personal from business cash.
  4. Delegate. Do not do it all by yourself.
  5. Retreat. Take time out to think and to re-energize.

Taking to the stage, David Macharia began by confirming how much time he had been allotted. Having negotiated for 10 more minutes, he began at exactly 7.49pm. They say pictures speak a thousand words. This was the strategy he used to ensure that whatever he shared and spoke about was amplified many times over – he used pictures for his slides. No written words, only pictures. Before we knew it, Jeff was already approaching the front indicating that time was up for the session. What had happened to time? Macharia, the founder and CEO of Versatile photography had delivered perfectly. Other than the 2 or 3 questions that came through, all he did was speak and all we did was listen and take notes! I took away 20 lessons from his talk! These should certainly interest you.

The Q&A bit was not long. We had refreshments soon after and though it was a little past 9pm, people seemed to enjoy sticking around. Exchanging contacts. Sharing notes. Mixing and mingling. It was a must attend event for all creatives. The small attendance fee of only Kshs 1,000 (further subsidized to Kshs 500 for students) that was charged was far less the worth of the intense and very useful learning received. I am glad to have attended the event, it was an evening well spent. My advice to you, do not miss the next hangout. Follow the conversation… #VersatileHangouts #BrandingCreativesKe.

True to the quote by former POTUS, change begins with you and me. If you and I do not bring out the best in us and be the change agents, we would be doing great disservice to the universe. We should go forth and shine!

David Macharia has mentored many creatives, especially those in the field of photography and videography and inspired scores of others within and without the creatives’ world. There would have been no better person to be the key speaker at the inaugural hangout session than Macharia, the CEO & Founder of Versatile Photographers. He used no notes at all but ingeniously shared his story, momentarily making reference to projected pictures. I was privileged to be amongst those learning from the best and was able to pick 20 practical lessons:

Lesson #1: Shun excuses to grow.

Macharia grew up in a rural setting. And when he finally moved to Nairobi, he did some odd jobs until he landed a job with a then leading photography studio, Mwangaza Studio along Latema Road. Armed with no experience, no skill, no money but with a passion to grow, he gave his best to his employer though he earned no salary to begin with. This internship became his launching pad to a successful career in photography.

Lesson #2: Be open to learning.

Macharia learnt as much as he could while with Mwangaza Studio. When the studio had its staff wear branded t-shirts (Kodak branded), many assumed that he was a photographer and he started getting requests to take pictures in his neighbourhood. Thanks to his swift learning, he started making money on the side, taking pictures of families at night! He constantly consulted the photographers who brought pictures to the studio for processing, further honing his skill.

Lesson #3: Build relationships.

With more requests for more photos, Macharia left his employment to venture out on his own. His first clients were the nannies. He took good photos of them and in turn they marketed him to their bosses. He even risked taking photos of the children left in their care and these were later paid for and even if not, drew future orders from the home owners. With time, these home owners introduced him to corporates and his business kept flourishing.

Lesson #4: Build trust.

When Macharia set out to pursue photography on his own, and even earlier on when he shot part-time, he had no camera of his own. He relied on borrowed equipment. He took extra care of the borrowed equipment and strived to return it when he said he would. He thereby built trust with the photographers without whose help starting off would have been difficult.

Lesson #5: Invest in quality equipment.

With time, Macharia realized that he couldn’t get the equipment that he needed whenever he needed it as sometimes the equipment would be in use. He began saving deliberately and with that progressively bought his own equipment. He now boasts of a wide range of modern equipment that have enabled him to venture into different categories of photography.

Lesson #6: Dare to be different and deliver quality.

Macharia’s photos were delivered in time (next day) against the norm which was a week’s wait. His photos were delivered in envelopes and not in little transparent polythene bags used then. He was always neatly dressed and ensured that he exceeded his client’s expectations always in terms of picture quality & creativity. He stood out thus his customers kept coming back and with them their referrals.

Lesson #7: You must network!

Your network is your networth. You must especially know people in your industry to learn from them and for possible collaboration. Whilst with Mwangaza studio, Macharia made friends and grew his contact list. Some of the photographers who visited the studio then were the same ones that helped him learn the ropes, literary holding his hands at the very beginning. Networking was also encouraged to provide a platform to market one’s craft.

Lesson #8: Find a mentor(s).

Find someone who is better than you and emulate them. Macharia owes his success to the mentorship received from various mentors, Boniface Mwangi and Muturi Kanini being most notable when he started out. These two shot pictures so well that Macharia wanted to produce great quality just like they did. He accompanied them for shots and sought their counsel while stuck. He learnt a great deal from them.

Lesson #9: You must have a portfolio.

A creative’s portfolio is his/her CV. The website alone no longer works. Showcase your work! Your potential client wants tangible evidence of works you have done. For his case, Macharia had an album with his best pictures taken and these opened a lot of doors for him. Show people what you are good at.

Lesson #10: Go global.

With the social media prevalence, creatives have no excuse. Every entrepreneur should seek to have an online presence. Search for forums in your industry then join them to learn and to showcase your mastery. Macharia found a photography forum on which he learnt a lot more and used the same to market himself to other photographers. These people he networked with now work with him, globally.

Lesson #11: Brand yourself.

Defend your idea and put it out there to create awareness. Be known as the go to person when it comes to quality or when it comes to expertise in a specific area. When Macharia founded Versatile Photographers, he sought to produce and maintain the very best quality. This he has instilled in his team that produces only quality including collaborators/ partners from different categories with whom he engages.

Lesson #12: Look out for opportunities.

When Macharia met Mathew, the founder of Valentine Cake House, at a function where he was covering as a freelance photographer. He was tasked to take a photo of the cake, then deliver it to his office as he collected payment. To Macharia, this was a golden opportunity to showcase himself. On the date of delivery of this picture, he took with him his portfolio. Clearly in awe at his work, he was introduced to the staff and asked to leave his cards for referrals following which he received lots of customers.

Lesson #13: Master your craft then go the extra mile.

When Macharia was contacted to cover the much publicized Kiss FM big wedding, he did not fret as he had what it took. Meeting the station’s management he was able to assure them that he would deliver and he got the job! Macharia & team went all out to deliver brilliant coverage of the event…and your guess is right, the phones never stopped ringing since!

Lesson #14: Build leaders.

With time, Macharia knew that he needed to have quality photographers working for and with him. Having realized there weren’t many of these he sought to train those willing to grow in skill and with his company. Within his organization, he has managed to create structures and put systems in place. He is now able to go on holiday as his business is able to run independently.

Lesson #15: Be innovative.

Go big or go home! Creatives should learn the emerging trends in their industry. Move with the times. Know the latest gear. Understand the clients’ changing needs and adopt accordingly. Doing this is what has kept Versatile tops in its industry. Versatile now does training (school of photography & videography), does documentaries, does content creation and more with even more to come.

Lesson #16: Be humble.

Do not be too choosy as a creative. Macharia offered to cover a client’s dad’s funeral himself as he couldn’t get a photographer to do it at the proposed rate. It is here that he established contact with people from whose reference the American Embassy got his contact. This earned him the coveted position of the official photographer when the then POTUS, Obama visited Kenya. To date, in spite of his success, Macharia still takes up shooting jobs some of which start off very early & end late.

Lesson #17: Be ready for the opportunity.

Opportunities don’t come knocking twice thus when they do, smart creatives should always be found ready. When the White House called on Macharia to cover the entrepreneurship summit graced by the former POTUS Barrack Obama, he did not say that he wasn’t ready. He had the right equipment, the right skill, the right team and the right attitude. He knew that he could deliver and as usual he did not disappoint.

Lesson #18: Keep abreast with the current affairs.

All creatives should be up to date with news to be aware of whatever major events that are happening. By the time something is trending creatives should be alert to participate, be it in capturing the moment in writing, shooting the event, etc. A single event could not only earn someone a tidy return but could also be one’s breakthrough to fame and unending opportunity.

Lesson #19: Mentor others.

Macharia owes his success to mentorship received. It is no wonder he has mentored so many. Someone once said that if you want to be better at what you do, teach another. Macharia says mentoring people has enabled him to create a web of photographers that produce work that he can trust enabling him to collaborate with a lot of his mentees. Mentor others to grow.

Lesson #20: Practice consistency.

Set your standards and maintain them. Do it yourself first. Macharia first mastered his craft before passing on his skill to this team. He has now managed to create desirable standards in his organization and with it created an enviable culture. At the various divisions of Versatile – the photography & videography school, the studio and other – the same quality standards are upheld, across board whether he is present or not.


Gladys Juma
The Travelling Accountant