Getting admitted to Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology was most definitely by grace. Meeting and getting to know each other was either by choice or by chance, depending how you look at it. Becoming friends was definitely by choice, but it was their decision to open their eyes to the horizon that lay beyond University that forms the focal point upon which one Ben Waiganjo, James Kuria, Evans Kibet and Miss Margaret Wanjiru (Young Monroe) are defined today. It was their audacity to dare into the unpredictable waters of entrepreneurship alongside a demanding University education that sets them apart from most.
When it comes to videography or photography for that matter, I believe in looking deeper. Capturing the extraordinary in the ordinary. The personality behind the person. Rather than sterile portraits, the typical ‘look at the camera and smile’ types of photos, I believe the real magic lies in the candid moments… The moments in between, the seconds after the button is clicked. The laughs, the genuine expressions, the connection between the people, the bond… Capturing something real. It is with these ethos in mind that anyone for that matter should venture into the photography business. So I engaged the SSENCE Studio founders to find out just how much they live up to these ideals in their business.
I have to mention, regrettably, that Margaret, also known as Young Monroe, and the only lady in the team, could not make it for the interview, for reasons she miraculously successfully managed to make me understand. So I had to contend with these three gentlemen.
How did SSENCE studios come to be?
Ben; We started Ssence because we realized we love photography and fundamentally we believe that the world is a better place through beautiful pictures. However, this got more thoughtful last year November after attending Entrepreneurs boot camp which had a forum at JKUAT . It was a chance for various budding business ideas to be showcased, and we were there to showcase our business, except at that time it was not majorly photography. We had a cloth line called ‘Truce’ which we were working on at that time. We were just beginning to explore the aspect of photography but when we pitched our business ideas and got privileged to attend the entrepreneurs bootcamp, our journey got the real taste of entrepreneurship from our interactions with various business leaders from all over the world. After the bootcamp, we had sometime to reconnect ourselves and figure out what we really wanted to do with our brand. From that point we just found the essence of capturing moments and what it means to people. SSENCE was born from that point.
What are some of the major milestones projects you’ve undertaken as SSENCE Studios?
Well, on the corporate side, we’ve covered Eric Kinoti’s Entrepreneurs Camp, we did videography and photography, an event at the Judiciary, when the former Chief Justice, Dr. Willy Mutunga was launching the E-Service Delivery Initiatives at Milimani Law Courts. On photography we’ve done product advertisements, worked with some clothing lines like Cittificial Klothing. We’ve won an award recently; Master Piece award 2016 for best Wedding Photography. We’ve also done events in JKUAT, and launched a campaign in JKUAT tagged ‘Cool to Be Conscious’ which was a product of an anti-drug abuse initiative called ‘University Students Against Substance Abuse’ (USASA). Working with such big brands has been a real eye opener.
You’re a total of four in your business. What role does each person play?
James; Well, Ben is the business developer, Kibet is the videographer. Margaret is a model by profession. She handles our Social Media and she’s also our secretary. Myself I’m the photographer. Everybody has a role to play and know what to deliver in every assignment we undertake.
Most students prefer going solo in such entrepreneurial ventures. How are you guys managing as a group and maintaining your vision?
James; I think what bonds us most is that we were first friends before we became business partners. Another thing is that we respect each other. I respect what Ben does to the company, what Kibet is doing as well as Margaret because I know without any of them, SSENCE would not be what it is.
Ben; Being associates in a business helps a lot, because we get to combine different values and strengths of each team member. The truth is that having business as partners is not an easy thing, because you really have to get to know each other deeply and unearth the potential of each member, but so far we’ve had no regrets.
What is it like managing a business and being a student at the same time?
Ben; It’s not easy, that much I have to admit. James and I are students of BBIT, currently going to fourth year and I can say the balancing act is not easy. Having to balance the education part and the business, all of which are important requires a lot of discipline. On my part I can say I have tried my best to do that, especially through effective time management.
James; It’s all about the discipline, because we utilize a lot of what we learn in class when it comes to managing our business.
How did you get the venture capital to start your business?
James; Well, personally I’ve loved photography and videography since High School, and I’d bought some equipment on my own, but when we came together with my partners, everyone had to make an input towards getting better and more professional equipment, and that’s really how we kicked off.
Does this business generate enough income to meet some of your needs? Does it pay your rent?
Ben; Definitely yes, and it meets several other needs.
James; I can say the business not only pays our rent, but also its own rent because we have a studio in Juja that has to be sustained. I also have to say a lot of money goes back into the business to make it much better.
What has been some of the challenges you’ve experience in this business this far?
Kibet; I think one of the biggest challenges is resources because as a media company we need sophisticated equipment to keep up with competition, and this is not necessarily a walk in the park. Another thing is that some clients at times claim our services are too expensive, which is especially because most people do not fully appreciate or realize the value of art.
James; apart from capital, some clients don’t honor they word, especially when it comes to payment timelines, and this can be derailing.
Ben; When we started the company, we made a promise that we would deliver the best quality in the industry. Having to do everything it take to deliver the promise is the biggest challenge.
How do you guys manage to produce quality work when none of you is studying anything related to photography or media?
James; It’s true we have not professionally trained in this area, but we’ve had a very powerful tool; drive and passion. We’ve done a lot of self-training in various areas and we’ve learnt a lot through every experience we have. Passion is what has kept us going.
What lessons have you learnt when it comes to money management and the aspect of responsibility in Campus?
James; Well, what I’ve learnt is that you have to plan your money, even before you get it. The plan should have a vision for a future, and never let the money make you a slave. That’s what I’ve leant so far.
Ben; You don’t have to spend everything. If there’s anything I’ve learnt is the importance of saving, no matter how little you have. This is the only way you can achieve financial freedom.
What’s the vision you have for SSENCE going forward?
Kibet; My vision is to change the media industry and be a source of more authentic and quality products in the country.
James; Our short term vision is to have all we need to produce international standard quality services to our clients. The long term vision is to create a company that will be able to give back to the community and raise the standard of media in Kenya.
Ben; What I hope for is being the best in the industry and working with the best brands in the country.
What advice would you give to other budding entrepreneurs?
Ben; Starting a business is all about the courage to risk, so I can urge them to try something out and take the chance to be vulnerable. It doesn’t matter whether it works out or not, there’s a lot of learning and experience involved.
James; My advice is summed into three things basically; God, discipline and passion. That’s all it takes.