Growing up with both parents as entrepreneurs, Melissa Yumbya always knew she would rather be in business rather than employment.
With the spirit of investing and business rooted deeply in her, Yumbya began earning an income from her early days of university, securing a job as a sales and marketing executive for a popular Kenyan musician.
“Looking into sales for the artiste as well as organising concerts widened my network and gave me a lot of exposure,” Yumbya told Eve in a Monday afternoon interview.
The now entrepreneur resigned from the music industry job to finish her university education, where she was taking a marketing course.
Yumbya later secured an internship in a real estate firm as an event coordinator. She bagged the job because of her expansive experience in organising successful events and working well with other players in the sector. The firm retained her as an employee after the internship was complete.
Continuing to expand her network in her new role, Yumbya worked for eight months, but she yearned for something more challenging and in line with her passion, music.
“I was so used to being up and down striking business deals. I found sitting in an office underwhelming. Setting up my own business became more of a reality I had to execute,” said Yumbya.
Quitting was bittersweet. Yumbya knew she would struggle to make ends meet, but having observed her mother set up multiple businesses put her in a position where she knew what to expect.
“Of course, I was worried about not having money for some time, but having seen what my parents had done, I anticipated if all went well, perhaps my company would be breaking even within two years. I was scared, but had prepared myself mentally for the struggle. It definitely helped that at the time I was living at my parents’ home.”
Yumbya set up her business, Urban Live Events, in January 2011. Initially, it was an online music distribution company, with Yumbya aiming to grow her business to the ranks of international platforms.
But she says she quickly learned that the Kenyan market was not ready for it.
“This was a time when not even Skiza Tunes had been launched. It was something so foreign to consumers, that I realised I had to change direction to sustain my company,” said Yumbya.
She had left her event coordinating job with Sh300,000 saved up from her salary, which she used to set up a website and keep the company afloat before knowing which direction it would take.
Passion for music
“The company was intended to be a young, modern music distribution business, hence the name Urban Live. It was inspired by my passion for music as well as my relevant experience with working with an artiste, which had given me access to the who is who of the industry,” said Yumbya.
Within two years, Yumbya re-strategised and got into event planning, noting that her company struggled during that period when she tried to establish it as a music business.
She remembers fondly her first client was a hotel that was looking for an event planner to arrange a jazz festival.
“Because of my background in marketing, I found myself constantly being called to do events for people. I had worked with the hotel before on a personal level and when they called I took on the challenge fully. After the festival ran successfully, clients began coming to me asking for the same service,” said Yumbya.
Two years in, she decided to switch things to the event side of things, turned around and went fully into the event planning space.
“Between 2013 and 2016, I planned events for multiple organisations, and at the time, I worked with corporates only.”
Yumbya said that entrepreneurship is often affected by external changes in the market, and that a good business person will find a way to adjust to the changing times.
“Around 2016, business slowed down because of an oncoming election period, and the macro-elements in the market took a toll on my company. Corporates began pulling back in terms of spending. It was time for another change,” said Yumbya.
She told Eve that is when she shifted to product hire. In this space, she would supply event planners with various tools of the trade required, including décor, event design, securing vendors and ensuring delivery.
It has been 10 years down the line since the inception of Urban Live Events. At 36, Yumbya has established herself as a key player in the events business, having moved from only corporates to working with private clients as well.
The entrepreneur said she is happy she started business early while still supported by her parents and with minimal responsibilities.
“If anything, I wish I had started earlier. It was, however, the best decision I ever made, starting as early as I did. I would urge young entrepreneurs to dive headfirst into the deep end and learn to swim while there,” said Yumbya.
She said now that her company has been steadily on its niche, the focus is on packaging the products offered in a manner that portrays them as needs, not luxuries.
Urban Live Events gets most of its clients through referrals from previous customers.
“I am proud of the referral system we have set up. Our clients can tell that we do what we do well because it is something we love, something we are passionate about.
“Referrals are closely followed by social media. As a brand, we make sure to keep abreast with the digital space and emerging trends,” said Yumbya.