TUMISANG NDLOVU: In this week’s SME Corner we speak to Charmaine Ngobeni and Amanda Sibiya of Conté Creatives Agency. Charmaine, take us through what Conté Creatives Agency does?
CHARMAINE NGOBENI: Conté Creatives is an agency that is meant to supply services and products to clients – that’s the agency side. But the beauty of Conté Creatives is we also own another company under it called Conté Magazine.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: Tell us about the magazine, Amanda.
AMANDA SIBIYA: The magazine takes African creatives and it gives them a platform to live. We expose them and basically give them a chance to have a voice, because we think that the African creative voice has been dumbed down by all the other voices, so we are trying to be the voice for them. We let them speak in our magazine.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: Wonderful! What kind of content are we talking about here, Charmaine?
CHARMAINE NGOBENI: The content is actually very simple, it’s not a lot of text – it’s a lot of visuals. We are trying to get people to understand that we are not all about pretty pictures. People can tell stories using a theme that we give them in their fields: you’ve got your architects, interior designers, photographers and so on, and everybody just tells their own story visually.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: Amanda, how did you guys meet and decide to start this company?
AMANDA SIBIYA: It’s a story we love telling. Basically Charmaine and I met at my first job. We were graphic design interns [at a specific company] and we were three months in [when] we both realised it was not what we wanted to do and we had a bigger passion and something that we wanted to achieve.
We left the previous company on November 5. On November 6 we just knew we had to start and that’s when Conté started…it basically started while we were working and it grew to something that has more potential than we can even imagine.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: Charmaine, how has the industry received your product?
CHARMAINE NGOBENI: I think we’re very different from a lot of the magazines that are out right now. Our main focus is we’re not trying to be your typical monthly magazine; we want to be a book at the end of the day. We want people to read the book, put it on [their] coffee table and keep it, refer back to it like five years from now.
I feel like people are receiving us very well because we’ve even got (SA hip-hop artist) Khuli Chana interested in partnering up with us.
He understands the business acumen and the way we’re running things and what we’re trying to build. I think everyone is excited about what we’re doing, especially because we got featured in New York a week ago – so clearly people are taking note.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: What kind of challenges have you faced so far in your journey, Amanda?
AMANDA SIBIYA: There are quite a few and I think the one challenge was that both Charmaine and I came from a very creative background: she studied illustration, I studied multi-media. So we’re very creative and very artistic, and we’re not business people. We had to take off that creative hat and put on that business hat and that was difficult to do, taking into consideration that we didn’t go into business school for three years and we didn’t have that business experience and that background. That was the first challenge going in – the experience was not there, but it’s something that we’re willing to learn going forward. I think the trial and error part is something that we’ve been learning throughout.
Another challenge I think, especially when it comes to the magazine, [is that] printing takes a whole lot of money and you can’t print 10 000 copies and then struggle to sell them. You need to print what you anticipate selling. So because our reach was not gigantic we had to print a very small number, but even that small number was very expensive to print and it was money we didn’t have. We didn’t have rich fathers who had a trust fund and so forth. So we basically started it with nothing and having to want to print out something, I think the first issue cost us about R48 000 to print and that’s money we didn’t have. It doesn’t sound like a lot but it is a lot if you have nothing.
Right now the other challenge is distribution. Again, people still don’t know us as much as they should. That’s another thing because there’s a lot of money that has to go into marketing, so people know who you are, so people can buy the product, so people can appreciate the product. So people need to get to know us, so that they can buy [the magazine].
Another thing is people trusting what we are bringing onto the table. With just one issue out, they may say “probably a one-hit wonder and then next month they won’t be here”. So having to build a name for ourselves because our names did not have weight, our names were just names and we needed to build that traction for ourselves, so that people can trust what we do and trust the product that we produce.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: With what Amanda has just said, Charmaine, what are your views on the current SME space in South Africa? Do you feel that entrepreneurs have enough support or is there still a lot more that needs to happen?
CHARMAINE NGOBENI: A lot more, trust me. We had this amazing meeting just before we got here and we were discussing understanding strategy and how to get your business to be out there.
Right now as a female entrepreneur one of the difficulties we are facing is the fact that no one wants to take you seriously until you put your money where your mouth is and we don’t have money. So we are always looking for people to look our way, help us out, put us out there and I don’t think there’s enough happening.
No offence to the government but I think there is so much more they can do for us, because in a business like ours we are trying to give back; we are trying to create more jobs; the artists we feature in our magazine we try to use in our agency.
If a client says they need a photographer for something we’ll call our artist and we say “here’s a job”, it’s a freelance job but it’s something. So a platform like this should have more support, especially on a government level.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: Lastly, Amanda, how would you advise someone then looking to start their own business in this particular industry?
AMANDA SIBIYA: Just before we came here there was one person who said – [when] I was expressing how tough it is – “it’s not tough, that’s just the way it is”. You just honestly need to have that perseverance, as in I’m doing this because I really want to do it. If you’re in it for the money, it’s not for you. If you’re in it just to make a quick buck, it’s not for you. If you’re in it just to impress, it’s not for you. You need to really want to do it to go on.
I think the one thing that’s led us to be where we are at the moment is that we really want to be here and if we had zero rand in our account we would do it all over again because that’s how much we love it. You have to have an entrepreneurial mind, if you don’t then what are you doing? You need to have the passion for it and that’s honestly the only thing that’s going to drive you. If you want to start something in any industry, and not just ours, and not just publishing, you basically need to really be there – whether you have the money for it or [not].
TUMISANG NDLOVU: As a parting shot, Charmaine, where to for Conté Creatives Agency?
CHARMAINE NGOBENI: Big things. Right now we’re trying to build our name and partner up with the right people. So we have a couple of things coming up with the University of Johannesburg and, as I said, Khuli Chana is one of our partners as well; we’ve done some stuff with Sony. So we’re trying to to also build more brand awareness so that those brands in future can use some of the artists we are promoting. So the whole aim is to get bigger and better and be the platform [so] that anybody looking for African creatives will come directly to Conté Creatives.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: That was Charmaine Ngobeni and Amanda Sibiya of Conté Creatives Agency in this week’s SME Corner.