On December 31, 2014, event producer Juma ‘Jay’ Khamis Mohammed organized an entertainment extravaganza for Nakuru people to ring in the New Year in style.
Jaguar, Jua Kali, and Wyre headlined his New Year’s Eve party, which also featured prominent DJs and comedians to keep the crowd engaged.
Jay had invested his time, money, and effort in the event. It would be his best performance to date. So he reasoned.
“I spent about 4 million shillings to prepare for the party. I wanted everyone to enjoy themselves and live to remember that night.”
However, things did not proceed as planned. Jay had lost up to Sh3.9 million on the morning of January 1st, 2015, primarily due to low attendance. He was devastated by the loss, especially because he was still in financial distress.
The Starting Point
Juma’s loss and suffering did not begin on that New Year’s Day in 2015. He dropped out of school in Form Two due to a lack of school fees.
He was compelled to sell used garments in Nairobi, a life he describes as difficult, with arrests by City Council officers among the challenges he faced.
“You wouldn’t know what hardships are until you’ve lived the life of a hawker. But I thank God because that job gave me a ‘street degree’, which is much more valuable than any formal education I’ve ever received.”
Jay claims that he was always thinking of ways to improve his life during his time as a hawker. For one thing, he knew he wanted to run his own business.
Then he had the idea to launch an events company, which he named ‘Parrot Company’ and registered.
Fortunately, the business started with no money.
“My job was to identify people who needed to hold an event and had no idea on how to do it. I would then come in by planning and supplying them with the necessary equipment.
Once business picked up, I started being contracted to do big jobs such as the one where I lost a lot of money.”
His event planning blunders would however not end there. “
Barclays Bank of Kenya once hired me to provide karaoke entertainment. I wasn’t sure what they were looking for. I took a TV screen and a guitar, much to my humiliation!”
Despite the mishaps, Jay, who had never worked before, was not about to give up just yet. His next thought was to expand his product line to include branding. He’d focus on digital printing, posters, below-the-line marketing, and experimental marketing at this school.
“The early days were difficult because this was something I had never done before. However, I had friends who were in the business who guided me.”
Jay got his big break thanks to a branding assignment with Airtel Kenya. After that, Stanbic Bank and Orange Telkom joined the team.
“Parrot was given a contract to handle Orange’s branding during the promotion of the low-end ‘Kadunda’ mobile phone. That was really a milestone for us.”
Jay has worked with a variety of firms, including M-Kopa, TelKom Kenya, Lenovo, and CMC Motors. His business generates Sh70 million in annual revenue and has assets worth more than Sh40 million. In addition, he employs 21 workers.
Branding for Elections
Jay’s firm has been particularly successful during the campaign. Politicians have sought his branding expertise to help them improve their campaign strategy.
Several politicians, including Nairobi Woman’s Representative Rachael Shebesh, Isiolo Governor Godana Doyo, Narok Governor Samuel Tunai, several Member of Parliament candidates, and Member of County Assembly candidates, have had billboard banners printed for them.
“We are offering these candidates different products and services that include vehicle branding, banners, 2D and 3D signage, road show trucks and branding consultancy among other services.”
One of his greatest achievements so far was when he was contracted by State House Nairobi to brand President Kenyatta campaign vehicles.
“For a former hawker, that was really a great moment. We went to State House to do the impromptu job that required perfection. It was quite a scene; doing what we do in the company of State House security,” he says.
Thanks to elections, Jay says his profits are up by almost 70 percent and he could not be any happier.
Be honest, don’t give up
I ask Jay what has kept him going for all this years, despite the frustrations he has encountered. “I don’t know how to give up. Failure to me is not the end, it’s just a signal that I need to improve or do something differently.”
He also insists on honesty, saying that for him it has been his most valued asset.
“If you cannot deliver a product or a service within a particular timeline, do not lie to your client. Tell them the truth. A majority of business people lie because they want to maximize their profits but do not care about the services they offer.”
He also urges budding entrepreneurs to cultivate a good reputation.
“Good reputation will give you repeat customers and referrals, which is what you really need.”
What does he remember most about his days as a street hawker?
“I remember everything. I remember how hard life was. I also carry the lessons I acquired along, especially on negotiating and spotting a serious client,” he says in conclusion.