In the world of business and innovation, not everything is planned. Some things, we just stumble upon. In 1968, scientist Spencer Silver was trying to create super glue, but what resulted was glue so weak nothing it was used on would stick.
It was that glue that gave us today’s post-it notes. In 1853 an African American chef, George Crum, was upset by a customer who kept sending his serving of French fries back to the kitchen because he said they were too thick and soggy. George, in frustration, cut super thin pieces of potatoes, fried them to a crisp and added salt. It was that dish that gave us today’s crisps.
Bringing it closer home, in 2015, business owner, Sebastian Davies Ngida wanted to give himself a catchy Twitter handle. He used the tag, Kenyan Entrepreneur. To his surprise, people started following him and asking for business advice. He realised that despite how much information there is online about all kinds of businesses, many people didn’t know how to find it.
He started doing research and answering the questions he was asked on entrepreneurship. The demand was so high that he eventually got the idea to hold events that addressed questions on business. Kenyan Entrepreneurs Conference on Trade and Development (KENCTAD) was born.
Three years later, the 32-year-old runs a dynamic profitable company, dealing not just in events but branding, 3D creation and media buying. He speaks to Hustle about how his ‘mistake’ is now a viable livelihood.
What gave you the idea to use Kenyan Entrepreneur as your Twitter handle?
After Barrack Obama visited Kenya and co-hosted the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Nairobi (2015), many young people were realising they couldn’t trust the job market for employment. Like those young people, after I had completed university in 2011, I spent two years looking for a job without any luck. My tag was meant to be a source of motivation for me to keep pushing. It was by complete mistake that it ended up motivating others as well.
Tell us about your business model.
We have three main avenues of business; event planning and execution, creating 3D concepts, branding and media buying. Branding and media buying are self-explanatory and though we get fewer of those contracts, when they do come, they bring a significant amount of revenue into the company.
In 3D concept creating, we take the idea that a client has for their event and build it using three dimensional images that give them an actual feel of what their concept will look like when it’s brought to life. Take for example a client who wants to do a wedding in Mombasa.
We get details like venue, number of guests, menu, entertainment and so on. We then build this wedding virtually, incorporating all the aspects they want included. This makes it easier for a client to decide what changes to make, like a change of venue or more tables, bigger tents etc. A 3D concept basically takes you to the event, before the event. It’s a vital tool that many event organizers and companies are using today.
What do you charge for your services?
Branding and media buying vary depending on the orders made. We have executed orders for as little as 100 pieces to as much as 50,000 pieces.
For 3D concept creation, we charge anywhere between Sh30,000 to Sh70,000 depending on how intense the design is. If a client wants to us to organise the event as well, we can do that. On average for an event of 50 persons, the cost would be between Sh350,000 to Sh500,000. However, most of our events are concepts we have created specifically for KENCTAD.
Give us a few examples.
Our very first event had 200 people and our topic at the time was how someone could launch themselves as an entrepreneur. What it brought to light for me was that the economical reliance on formal employment was changing.
We knew these kinds of events would be profitable simply because of the hunger for specific industry knowledge.
What did you charge for your event?
We didn’t. We have a policy not to charge anything for dispersing information. We actually learned this the hard way. After our first successful event we hosted another one at an even bigger venue. We were expecting at least 500 people and had a door charge of 2,500 per person.
Only five people turned up, our sponsors and exhibitors were understandably unhappy. But in the end, since their own staff members gained from the networking and training during the event, they embraced our concept and ended up partnering with us again.
What’s been your most successful event?
In terms of numbers, we had a headcount of 1800 people for a real estate, insurance and banking event that we held at Thika Road Mall.
People seem to think it’s a missed chance when we don’t charge for these events. But we collect data on every single person who attends our functions, including their areas of interest.
Sponsors give money to make conversations on their products and services or gain visibility. If I can assure a bank that I have 1,000 young people, fresh out of campus, looking for an institution that can help them build their businesses, that converts into new or sustained bank accounts for my sponsor. If I can assure a real estate agency, that I have 300 young adults starting families and looking to buy their first home, their sponsorship can translate into sales.
The benefits of using sponsorship versus ticket sales for your event is that your revenue is guaranteed; because your revenue is guaranteed you can focus solely quality control and driving in the numbers to make the event extremely successful and beneficial, not just for your sponsors but for those attending as well.
People who gain valuable information and networks, will always come back. Sponsors who get visibility and conversions will also invest again.
What’s the largest turnover you’ve had at an event?
We held a regional event which included companies from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania and got a turnover of about Sh6.2 million. The key though is consistency. We organise five entrepreneurship events every year. The medium-sized events will bring in a turnover of roughly between Sh450,000 and Sh500,000 per event and the bigger ones a turnover of Sh1 million.
What was your start-up capital?
Sh2.8 million. Before KENCTAD became a company, it was running under one of my other businesses, Social Media Africa Limited, which I co-founded in 2015 with two colleagues.
Luckily by the time KENCTAD branched out on its own, we had amassed capital. We used the money to register and get all legal documentation for the company, secure salaries for six months and then have a running capital to enable us to execute jobs that typically have delayed payments, for instance, bill board advertising.
Have you broken even?
Yes, we have. I strongly believe when it comes to events, there’s more demand out there than can be met. When you couple that with dispersing valuable information, you’re winning.
Kenyans want to build legacies and good livelihoods. I’m inspired as I watch people start with almost nothing and steadily grow their craft. I’ve watched an egg vendor open a supermarket in less than six years. KENCTAD wants to be at the forefront of companies that give the correct information at the correct time for more stories like this to emerge.