- September 21, 2018
Duncan Gwaro’s entrepreneurial journey has had its respectable share of low moments. The 32-year-old Founder of 24-7 Entertainment has, however, not allowed a single experience, circumstance or person undermine his destiny.
He talks to Damaris Agweyu about the importance of following your passion and sticking with your dream no. matter. what.
Duncan, have you ever been employed?
So straight from school and into entrepreneurship?
There is a school of thought that says previous job experience is a prerequisite for becoming a successful entrepreneur, do you disagree?
Given my story, sometimes it works out – sometimes it doesn’t. It’s not a must to have been employed but then again, it’s not been easy starting a business without the professional networks, experience or even savings that many people usually have after having worked elsewhere.
‘Not been easy’ sounds like an understatement.
Let’s just say, there are times when I have felt like giving up.
And what has kept you going through those times?
I am very passionate about what I do. I am also very patient and consistent.
Let’s talk about this passion for a moment. Is it for the nature of your work or business in general?
Both. I have always been passionate about the entertainment industry and I just love business in general. My journey started when I was still very young, I lived in Kisii at the time and would watch this show that came on KBC called the Grapevine, it would give highlights of events in Nairobi and whenever I watched it I felt like I wanted to be a part of that scene. When I moved to Nairobi and started attending the events, I realized that I could create a business from this and earn from doing something that I was passionate about- But then I went to campus and studied procurement.
Procurement did you say?
Yes. It was the ‘right thing to do’ according to what my family wanted for me. In everyone’s mind, I needed to get the papers so that I would be guaranteed a good job.
But you defied them.
I wouldn’t say defied them, I just followed my heart. I remember clearing campus and being pressured to send my CV to people who were sure of getting me jobs, I would do this just to make them happy but I knew in my heart that entertainment was what I was going to do.
How was 24:7 Entertainment born?
I started to seriously think about it in 2011 but officially set up the company in 2012, a year after I finished campus. Initially, I called my company Ivory entertainment but later re-branded to 24:7 Entertainment because first of all the name Ivory was just too common and secondly, I wanted to build not just a company but a unique brand that could stand on its own and relate to what I do. I then joined an entrepreneurship program at the British Council in partnership with Strathmore University where I got to interact with other entrepreneurs- immediately after completing the programme, I got a call from a company inquiring about by services.
That was fast!
Yes and exciting! My first event! It was an organization from Poland, they called me telling me they wanted to put up an event at a school in Kawangware and needed a magician. I had no idea where I would find one but promised I could deliver. After I found one, I asked them if they required a stage set up and sound equipment. They said yes and again I started searching. I ended up outsourcing everything that I supplied to them and made a small percentage.
They just called you out of the blue?
I believe they got my contacts from someone at the entrepreneurship training program.
I was very lucky. But then after that, I did not get business again for a long long time.
A long long time is how long?
Almost 2 years. I even called the Polish people a few times to check if they wanted my services again but they never came back to Kenya. But I wasn’t just sitting around and waiting for my next client, I kept on doing research on the types of events I wanted to hold and started doing nightlife events in clubs, my aim was to build my profile and get my name out there. You know before you get established in business, no one really cares about or notices you, people always want to know what you have done before.
Very true, but surely, you had to be making a little bit of money all this time.
I would write proposals telling companies what I had to offer but none wanted to part with their money to partner or sponsor them. I wasn’t a proven bet. So I changed tack. I focused on partnerships where I’d come up with a concept that matches the objectives of an organization so we could work together. I would then come up with a cover charge for the events, maybe get some vendors/exhibitors to pay for a stand- that is how I have survived.
When would you say you became ‘a proven bet’ so to speak?
After my partnership with Kenya Wildlife Service for ArtFest – Art in the Wild event in 2015 – it was backed by them (KWS) and a number of other organizations- but believe me, even with that; it was a hustle before I got the partnership.
2 years in waiting, that’s some serious patience.
Yes, an entrepreneur needs a lot of patience.
What is ArtFest – Art in the Wild all about?
It’s a vibrant celebration of the whole artistic spectrum, a day of artistic bliss showcasing music, visual arts, fashion, crafts, photography, literature, digital arts, performing arts… think of anything in the world of art and it’s there. We have a line-up of creative and innovative activities and award artists who demonstrate creative excellence and promote awareness in biodiversity, conservation of endangered species through art.
Was your first edition a success?
It had a good feedback but there were just not enough exhibitors in attendance. The second edition was a lot more successful.
It even won an award.
Yes. The KenyaBuzz People’s Choice Awards Art Event of the Year!
Are all your events focused around the arts?
Not all. We do all kinds of events, from award ceremonies to fundraisers, corporate team buildings to trade fairs and exhibitions, weddings to fundraisers and everything in between.
In other words, you have the event scene covered.
Yes. Over and above that, we have customized events. These are like the Art in the wild event, the Family Funfest, Xtreme gaming, Urban Culture, The Green Generation…the list is endless. My company’s core is putting up unique and unforgettable events that translate to peak life experiences. We also have 2 affiliate companies that deal exclusively with travel and deliveries: 24:7 Travel and 24:7 Delivery
Do you regard yourself as a success story?
Definitely. Today I live off on my business… I have come a long way. I started with nothing but an idea and the passion to follow through.
And when you say you started with nothing- you mean nothing.
I mean nothing. From capital to networks… all those things one needs to start a business. I used to outsource everything but now I have my own equipment which is even outsourced from me sometimes – the best thing I ever did was to buy the equipment because you lose a lot in outsourcing.
And a lot is…
Like 70% of your earnings. After four years I invested in my own equipment. It was in 2017, a crazy year. I got a loan which I paid back within the same year but after quite a struggle since we had elections and business was very slow that year.
These elections! We allow them to paralyse every aspect of our lives. When are we going to get our act together as a country?
When we stop being tribal.
You think so?
Yes. We lose a lot during elections and need to rethink our ways, tribalism is killing us.
What has been your biggest challenge in business?
Finding connections, creating networks – if you don’t have networks, nothing can happen, you need to have great relationships. I have people who ask me, “wow you still doing that thing?”
Whenever you start a business, many people will not believe in you- they need to see you somewhere first. But my family has been very supportive.
Can anyone be an entrepreneur?
I have had friends who worked with me but gave up and are now thriving in employment but I’m still here doing my thing; meanwhile, they are happy to be employed.
Would you ever get employed?
No. I have had offers but I’ll stick to my business 24:7.
How do you manage your people?
I have set tasks and goals for my employees with strict timelines – I tell them what needs to be done and together we work on ways of creating new business. Although sometimes I have been let down with employees in terms of delivery and that affects relationships with my clients, in such cases, I have had to step in and make things right.
What is the best advice you have ever been given and by whom?
It came from my cousin. I was doing an event and one client who was part of it wanted me to postpone it, the client was important but postponing would have affected many other people, my cousin said I should just get on with it. I did and everything worked out. From that, I learnt not to let one person or thing hold me back from achieving what I want. If you’ve set a date or a goal, don’t let anyone get in your way. Unless the cancellation comes from me or it’s a natural calamity that can’t be prevented, I stay on course- the show must go on.
Do you have children?
I have a son, he’s 1 year old now.
What would you want him to know about you?
That nothing comes easy…that he’s free to chart his own course in life. I want my son to know that business is an open choice for him.
I did procurement not because I wanted to but because there was a job waiting for me, I don’t want my son to have to go through that. I will show him how his dad works and if he’s interested in business then it’s fine, he may not end up doing what I do but at least he will be open to that possibility.
Have you ever doubted yourself or questioned your decision to get into business?
Yes! I think every entrepreneur questions themselves at some point. The challenges never end. There are times I have been really low and wondered if I am doing the right thing but then I look at where I have come from and what I have done and know that I’m on the right track. Sometimes when things seem really low, business just comes from nowhere… but I know it’s not from nowhere, it’s a result of everything I have done so far, it’s not luck. I keep the faith and continue building.
You’ve used the word ‘building’ quite a bit. What exactly is it that you are building?
A brand that will outlast me. This is not about Dunn Gwaro it’s about what 24:7 Group can do and I want to take it global. Our events have been successful, I’ve had people from all over the continent contacting me to perform at my events- they don’t know me but they know 24:7. And this is just from my past events and marketing on social media. I’ve never done a TV ad or a billboard. I ask myself, what if I did. Can you imagine how huge it would be?
On that note, there are others doing what you do with bigger budgets, more connections, bigger brands-how do you navigate your competition?
I don’t mind about my competitors because I know how unique and different my concepts are. Yes you will see many events out there but very few are done with the kind of passion mine are- this translates into creating unique meaningful events – events that make a difference to someone or the community.
Events that make a difference- explain what you mean by that
I want you to attend an event where you learn and support each other. Supporting someone’s dream, being part of environmental conservation, community development, advocating for peace, creating awareness on issues affecting people and world – if you buy an artwork you validate a young budding artist’s dream, it’s all part of 24:7’s CSR program called Ng’arisha initiative.
Tell me more.
I started it with Jua Cali, the performing artist- I was in western Kenya for a funeral and saw kids who were going to school with tattered clothes and bare feet. I took a picture of them and that situation stayed with me. During one of my events where Jua Cali was performing, I showed him the picture and asked him how we could use his influence to help- we started off by rallying for donations in form of food, clothes and managed to get some big Corporates and hotels on board and received a lot of support.
We’ve extended the concept of giving back during my events to start supporting artists who are just starting and don’t have money, I don’t charge them for space or even share any of their proceeds- as long as they have good products in the art scene, they are welcome to showcase or sell their products; when people come to these events, they feel the difference because they are playing a part in supporting young upcoming artists.
Are you an artist yourself?
I’m in the creative industry, I manage artists… I did want to be a DJ and influenced my brother to become one, he’s very good at it.
He stole your dream?
(laughs) I don’t think he did, he’s part of 24:7 Group.