At 27, Eugene Mbugua owns and runs Young Rich TV and is the MD of the Number 7 Chain of bars. Due to his entrepreneurial spirit, he has prominently featured on several illustrious business platforms such as Forbes magazine and others. He shares a few insights with Christine Odeph.
Your hustling side began long before the Young Rich show graced TV screens. What was your driving force?
Getting out of poverty was the motivation. I was hungry and driven. Although I was lucky to have a guardian pay my school fees, there wasn’t much for extras. I was the odd guy walking around campus in slippers. I learned early in life that I needed to make my own money to survive. I attended school part-time and tried my hand at income generating projects like a movie shop, a video game arcade, some travel consulting, and teaching film part-time. My big break finally came after five years when Young Rich was picked up by a national TV station. It came with a huge monthly pay cheque. The rest, as they say, is history. I graduated soon after and have since reinvested money into other TV shows and businesses.
What lessons did you learn from those early hustling years?
I learned patience and how some things can take long to materialise. The idea for Young Rich TV came years before its manifestation. A lot of people get into business thinking there’s a formula to it and in most cases there isn’t. If you think something will happen in a year it will probably take three. Nobody tells you that it’s all about managing expectations. I learned how to negotiate better, and about giving value in your work. Sometimes you only get one shot, and when you are poor you never waste any opportunity because it might be the only one you get for a long time. So from early on, i ingrained self-discipline as part of my character. I showed up on time and gave my best. I do that do date. Of course some situations may be out of my control but I am a stickler for time.
How did you handle the initial flood of success?
I did not handle it well. I have mentioned this before; I had a difficult childhood and I grew up on survival mode: isolated with no social support to speak of. I dreamed of freedom and choice – things I didn’t have as a child. As a result I learned to just ‘shelf’ (negative) things and focus only on where I was going and what I needed to do to get there. Suddenly, all the things I dreamed of became a reality. But once you get comfortable where you are no longer surviving, all the grief and emotions rush back in full force. As a result, I fell into very heavy depression soon after that. I continue to struggle with it to date but I am lucky to have many good people in my life who support and empower me. I read, ask many questions and do a lot of introspection.
What more would you like to achieve as a production company?
I am not one of those people with detailed five or ten year plans. I just genuinely enjoy telling stories. But my company supports dozens of employees now and I would want to remain sustainable for them in future. Our shows have already crossed into the wider regional market so my main focus is to continue with making positive and enjoyable African content.
What about other investment projects you are involved with?
My business partners and I currently own two bars: Number 7 in the CBD and the latest Number 7 Lion in Westlands. The plan is to expand it to a lucrative 14-branch chain and then flip them. Some friends and I have branched into beef farming. We realised that Kenya often doesn’t make its quota for beef. To meet this demand, we started a feed lot. I have also branched into real estate, advertising and publishing but my main work remains television.
What does mentorship mean for you?
I believe it’s about having someone who has walked a similar path who can help you avoid mistakes on your own journey. Mwaniki Mageria is one of my mentors but he is also family. He fills a father figure role in my life and shows me perspectives that I would not ordinarily see. Dennis Makori is also another one of my key mentors who has taught me immeasurable lessons about business. In their unique and warm ways, they have grown me because it makes a world of difference to have someone you can always call with questions or one who can steer you towards a better way of doing things.
What interests do you have outside of production?
I love camping. Something about camping reminds you of the basic things you need to survive and I find that refreshing. You realise that all the stuff we think is important or that we need are actually not. I like to go camping often just to click on that refresh button to remind myself. I also travel extensively. It reminds me of how small we all are in the grand scheme of things and New York is one of my most memorable destinations: I mean its New York after all! Other than that I play with my dog and I work.
Tell me about your (arm) tattoos
This is an ambigram. So when you read it says ‘Life’ and when I look at down at it I see the word ‘death’. The reason I have it is to remind me of my mortality every day. When you are reminded that you can die at any time you live every day to the best that you possibly can. The other one is a poem about money and work titled ‘Life is a just employer’. It was originally written by Jessie Belle Rittenhouse and I had two stanzas tattooed on me. Most people would want to blame their background or circumstances for not getting what they want, but this poem is a reminder that life, unfortunately doesn’t care. If you want something, the wage is set and you must be willing to bear the task and that is where the problem comes in. The task is often not easy.
What legacy would you want to leave behind?
Nothing so deep; I just want to be a good person to the people who are good to me, that’s all.
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