Patricia Mbatia is the founder and chief executive officer of Game Changer Marketing, an experiential marketing agency. A free spirit who prefers to “march to my own drum,” she knew from an early age that she would own her own enterprise. She had business names lined up from when she turned 30. She shares her business journey with HUSTLE.
When did you think the time was right to start your own business?
I left university and started my first hustle immediately. My father helped me set up an art school with my fine arts graduate friend, Irene. We had lots of fun but did not really understand how business worked. We did great work, had lots of art students and projects, but we kept very little of the cash we made. So we decided to pack up and join the corporate world to learn how to make a business work.
Creative communication is my world. So I sought opportunities in that space. Being very young and unfettered by doubt, I aimed rather high and applied for a brand management job that I saw in the papers. In a stroke of luck, the managing director of the organisation I had applied to saw my inexperience but also saw my potential and shared my CV with his friend, the managing director at Ayton, Young and Rubicam. Thus started my lessons on how to run a creative agency. Afterwards I moved to the public relations arm of the company. A couple of years later I moved to MultiChoice as public relations manager. Seven years later I discovered my dream space – experiential marketing. After seven years, circumstances finally made it the logical step to go back to being my own boss, and I founded Game Changer Marketing. I had come full circle and discovered that every step in my journey prepared me for my current hustle.
What preparations did you make before quitting your job?
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I learnt from my first stint at being my own boss that a business needed cash. Without cash, nothing moves. I recommend you either start the journey very early when you have no obligations and can bootstrap your way to success, or work for some years, save and have a war chest to survive the first year of being your own boss. Dan Lok, a speaker on entrepreneurship I follow on Instagram, puts it rather bluntly: “If you’re struggling financially, it’s the worst time to start a business.
How much capital did you start with and how did you source it?
I used my savings and converted a few assets into cash. When I needed a top up, I was lucky to have amazing founder partners, goodwill in the industry, and angel investors. Starting up cash depends on your industry and the projects you get. I was able to get my first clients to pay deposits and leveraged goodwill to get vendors to give me good credit terms, which I honoured.
Did you attend any entrepreneurial training when you first started out?
I was too busy to do anything outside work. Then Game Changer Marketing won the Safaricom Blaze Project pitch and we got to spend the next few years organising in-depth mentorship and empowerment of youth across Kenya. Suddenly I was privileged to have front row seats at summits and co-creation camps where a bevy of mentors across various business industries advised the youth on how to be their own bosses. I saw the true value of mentorship and started to look out for other opportunities.
What mistakes did you make and what did you learn from them?
My mistakes have been many, but my hiring mistakes have been the most painful because their impact can be felt for years. Some of those mistakes have been choosing extroverts (candidates who present themselves very well, speak well and seem quite confident). I have come to see that quieter candidates are a much better choice; not quickly firing a person who was not a good cultural fit. I have learnt that it does not matter how good someone is at what they do – if they are not a good fit in the team, things just go wrong. Assuming a candidate who is familiar with the industry will “hit the ground running” I have learnt to take hiring slow. I have a HR team on board and a longer process that slows things down. Nowadays I look out for a “DNA” match between the candidate and the agency. This DNA is some three or four characteristics that the top performers in the company share and are the backbone of our culture – deep curiosity, tirelessness, selflessness, and fearlessness. Also, rather than focusing on university degrees, at Game Changer Marketing we prefer to focus on cognitive ability.
What advice would you give working professionals who want to venture out to start their own business?
Work on your leadership, people-nurturing, networking, and sales skills wherever you are right now. You will need to be great at said skills. Find what you are really great at and figure out how to monetise it. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.
Game Changer has won several awards from the Marketing Society of Kenya. What would you attribute your success to?
The people around me have been my success angels. My team is the most amazing collection of creative communicators and project magicians. My co-founders keep me grounded even in the face of the whirlwinds that sometimes blow through our business. My family has been my backbone, from bailing me out of my cash-strapped times to enduring my crazy schedule with good humour.
How do you cope with failure; in business and life?
The truth is failure sucks and it can dent your confidence. Whenever I think I’ve failed, I ask myself if I did my very best and figure out what else I would have done so I can be better prepared. Sometimes there’s nothing more you could have done. You failed because you put your very best, but it wasn’t right for the occasion. But if the case is you dropped the ball, it is easy to circle around the wound and constantly kick yourself. Instead of dwelling on it, suck it up. The past can’t be changed, but you can change the future by doing something now. The question to always ask is, “What is the solution?”