This past week was exciting for the creative community as the long awaited conference; ‘Ideas Expo’ kickstarted on the 5th of June and stretched into the weekend. Several speaks gave entrepreneurship advice and shared moving personal narratives on the challenges they faced after giving up the “normal” corporate life to join the creative industry. The common thread among messaging delivered by the different speakers was that; “It wasn’t easy.”
“I had to give up a good remuneration package entailing large bonuses and a really good salary to start up my own thing. Success stories are inspiring but what people hardly tell us before we attempt to start our own businesses is that before you start eating well again, it will get so rough, you will even begin to question why you decided to quit your old job. Entrepreneurship psychology is really important,” said Bakang Seretse, a director at Afena Capital.
Clothing label owner and Creative Director at the popular South African brand, ‘Ma-gents,’ Didier Magents, really brought it home. A good number of people who graced the presentation had tried their hand at the branded T-shirt business and failed. Didier, just like Seretse expressed that it was not easy when they started Magents. “I hear a lot of Batswana decry lack of support and that that’s what discourages them. Well, let me share with you that being a creative anywhere in the world is not easy. Somehow we always think it’s easier in a different country. When we started Magents, we had difficulties in South Africa because investors at home couldn’t really understand our idea. For one I was a white guy selling an idea of a t-shirt with the map of Africa printed on it and worse, with a name like ‘Ma-gents’ and this was in the 90s when things weren’t as flexible as they are now,” said Didier.
“Challenges will always be there and when you are a creative, they just seem bigger Didier lectured. But don’t ever give up, if your local market is difficult, try tapping into other markets outside your country. I remember that when we started, although it was difficult to penetrate the African market, overseas our brand did really well. We blew up in Vietman and were even manufacturing there. For close to two three years, we were supplying high end stores in Paris, Italy, Germany, Japan and even America and making a lot of money from it. But all this comes with challenges,” said Didier, adding that in 2008 they made a bad business decision and lost all their merchandise and ideas so decided to take a break for nine months before starting all over again. “It took us five years to get back on our feet. The point is creativity is like a library, it constantly needs to be filled all the time.”
Didier opined that in a continent that is full of boarders, sometimes those boarders are let to restrict ways of thinking and determine how far entrepreneurs can go. He emphasized the importance of creating new boarders in business people’s minds to determine how far they can go. “We need to be conscious of who we are as Africans and tell our own stories and not be restricted. Let us take ownership of our stuff and see Africa rise,” he concluded.
Speakers that came were from a diverse mix of creative and business industries and were not only limited to creativity alone. Locally there was Gabriel Mothibedi, Industrial Design Lecture at UB, and Bakang Seretse the Managing Director of Afena Capital Botswana and a founding partner in the firm who headline alongside other international speakers from USA, South Africa and Zambia respectively.
The overarching theme for Ideas Expo Creative Week was ‘Ideas without Borders’ which was designed to explore the intersection where creativity and skill meet business. “This breaks through industry and discipline where an Art Director can learn from an Innovation manager and vice versa. The theme further suggests just how far a simple idea can go to unify profitability with integrity, compassion, and global responsibility,” read a statement from the organizers.