She studied biology in university and got a job as a lab assistant. Four years later, she finally accepted that she was in the wrong profession and walked out of her job without a fall-back plan or an idea of what the future would bring her.
Four months later, Carol Njau joined design, print and branding company, Ecomedia, to run the administrative side of things. Today, the 38-year-old is a director and head of business development at the firm. She talks to Hustle about finding a new path and excelling at it.
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How did you end up studying something you didn’t have much interest in?
I have five siblings. My dad was very hands-on when it came to our education. He used to look out for what we excelled in during our high school years and then pick a major for us. He picked biology for me. I tried to stay in the career path, but I was unhappy. Just before giving birth to my first daughter, I quit my job at a research firm. I’ve never looked back.
Did you have a plan?
No. People thought I was mad. I mean, I was expecting a child as a single parent. But the conviction to leave was very strong; I follow my convictions.
After having no job for four months, a friend told me that an acquaintance was looking for an administrative manager. I walked into his office, interviewed for the job and got it. That was the beginning of my career at Ecomedia.
How did you go from that to co-owning the business?
Ecomedia was founded in 2003 by Conrad Mulibo and another partner.
Though the company was great at design, they struggled to find time to do things like keep the books, follow up on payments and queue jobs properly. So they weren’t growing at the rate that they should have been growing at. My job was to streamline these things.
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Perhaps biology helped because I’d worked in many labs, and in a lab, everything has a system and an order that you follow or you’ll get flawed results. I applied this principle.
The work quality was never an issue because Conrad and his partner were great designers. The issue was translating that into a sustainable system that consistently brought in money.
In 2010, after contributing to the continual steady growth of the business, I was appointed one of the directors of Ecomedia. Conrad’s business partner had left the company in 2007. I accepted the directorship and eight years later, here we are. My day-to-day work includes supervising staff, following up with clients and suppliers, and ensuring strict quality control on production.
What’s within Ecomedia’s scope of work?
We’re a development communication agency that provides solutions, from concept, branding and consulting to actual implementation.
We design and do our own in-house printing, having invested in equipment like the latest computers, wide-format printers, and 3D and digital printers.
The jobs we undertake vary from something as simple as an invitation card that would take a few hours to design, to something as complex as branding a five-day conference, or an entire office from logo to the signage in the parking lot.
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Who are your clients, predominantly?
More than 95 per cent of our clients are NGOs and research companies in different areas of advocacy, reproductive health, agriculture and technology.
We’ve worked for organisations like Save The Children Foundation, USAid, Ilri (International Livestock Research Institute) and Agra (Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa). We’ve also done work for the US and Irish embassies, and the World Bank.
What’s the most complicated job you’ve had to do?
Wow, in this industry you get many of those, mainly because of the time factor. Everything is dated, whether it’s a conference or a book launch. Sometimes a client will come to you late or the powers that be who are meant to give approval for final designs delay the process, and then everyone has to scramble to finish in time.
There was a time we had to take incomplete products to a venue and finish them there. This was at 1am for a conference that was starting at 8am. Then I had to go home, nap and take my daughter to school by 6.30am and be at work by 7.30am.
Have you ever not completed a job on time?
Thankfully, no. But the closest we’ve ever cut it was when President Uhuru Kenyatta was launching a product at a company, which included a book that he was meant to be holding up in a photo-op.
We got the job on a Tuesday night at 8pm. The President was meant to be holding the book on Thursday morning at 8am. I didn’t want to take the job because I didn’t want our name associated with failing the President. But the company that was hiring us wouldn’t take no for an answer.
We got the book to them on Wednesday night at 9pm. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so much pressure in my life.
Despite the high-pressure situations, is the pay worth it?
It definitely is. Any company looking for growth will need marketing, which inevitably includes branding, design and printing. Companies also need merchandise and conferences, which inevitably include branding, design and printing.
A five-day conference, for instance, can bring in revenue of between Sh1 million and Sh2 million, sometimes more. A lot of pre-conference materials are prepared two to three weeks before the event.
In a month, you can get two to three of these conferences, which means you can get a turnover of about Sh6 million. But there’s no set revenue because the industry is seasonal.
What’s the making or breaking point for a firm in this industry?
Outside of good work quality, I’d say planning. For instance, you can get an order for 5,000 books and 10,000 flyers from two different clients who want their products delivered on the same day. You can have someone else asking for a business card or a few prints on mugs. You have to satisfy all these customers.
At Ecomedia, we pride ourselves in doing the work just as exceptionally for the client of 10 printed mugs, as we would for the client of 10,000 calendars. The growth we’ve registered has been driven by quick turn-around times, quality, reliability and value addition.