On December 31st, 2014, event planner Juma ‘Jay’ Khamis Mohammed planned an entertainment event that would see Nakuru revelers usher the New Year in style.
The event had an A-list line up of Jaguar, Jua Kali and Wyre headlining the NYE party as popular DJs and comedians planned to keep the crowd entertained.
Jay had put his money, blood, and sweat into the event. It would be his best one yet. So he thought.
“I spent about 4 million shillings to prepare for the party. I wanted everyone to enjoy themselves and live to remember that night.”
Things, however, did not go as planned. By the morning of January 1st, 2015, Jay had made losses of up to Sh3.9 million, mainly because of poor attendance. The loss left him in pain especially because he was still financially unstable.
Loss and struggle did not start on that New Year’s Day of 2015 for Juma. When he was in Form Two, lack of school fees made him drop out of school.
He was forced into hawking second-hand clothes in Nairobi, a life he says was characterized by hardships that included arrests by City Council officers.
“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.”
Throughout his time as a hawker, Jay says he was always thinking of ways of improving his life. For one, he knew he wanted to have his own company.
Then he got an idea of starting an events company, which he registered under the name ‘Parrot Company’.
Luckily, the company required zero capital to establish.
“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 sought out karaoke entertainment services from me. I didn’t have a clear idea of what they wanted. To my embarrassment, I took a TV screen and a guitar!”
Despite the blunders, Jay, who has never been employed, would not quit just yet. His next idea was to diversify his product offering to branding. Here, he would major in digital printing, posters, below the line marketing and experimental marketing.
“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.”
A branding job by Airtel Kenya gave Jay his big break. Then Stanbic Bank and Orange Telkom came on board.
“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.”
Today, Jay has worked with several companies that include M-Kopa, Telkom Kenya, Lenovo and CMC Motors among others. His company has an annual turnover of Sh70 million with assets worth over Sh40 million. He also employs 21 people.
Jay’s business venture has especially flourished during this campaign period. Politicians have been seeking his branding services to boost their campaign strategies.
Parrot Group has printed billboard banners for several politicians including Nairobi Women’s Representative Rachael Shebesh, Isiolo Governor Godana Doyo, Narok Governor Samuel Tunai, several Member of Parliament candidates and Member of County Assembly candidates among others.
“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.
I ask Jay what has kept him going for all these 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.
First published here