Four years ago Dorothy Ghettuba quit her job at a venture capital firm in Canada and moved back to Kenya to follow her passion for TV production. With no education or experience in the field, the only thing Ghettuba was armed with was her determination to make it.
Ghettuba is the founder and CEO of Spielworks Media, one of Kenya’s leading production houses. Some of its TV shows includeBlock D, Lies that Bind, Higher Learning, Saints, Ladies 1st and civic education drama series Know Your Constitution, which have aired on TV stations both in Kenya and outside the country.
Ghettuba has always had a passion for acting but could not pursue it as a career after high school because it was not financially sustainable. She went on to study communications and political science at Andrews University in Michigan, United States.
When she visited Kenya for a friend’s wedding, Ghettuba was amazed by how a local TV station had risen from the bottom to become the most popular station because it aired local content. “I saw an opportunity to create quality content,” said Ghettuba, who is also an actor, singer and writer for film and television.
Although she went back to Canada after the wedding, Ghettuba thought hard about the opportunity she had witnessed. “I had to decide; do I want to stay in Canada and do what has already been done and [be] this small fish in a big sea or do I want to come to Africa?”
Eventually she decided her best bet was on Africa and Ghettuba set up Spielworks Media while still in Canada. “I had always known I was not coming home to be employed,” she added.
Just months after turning 30, Ghettuba packed her bags and moved to Kenya.
“It was tough because I had never done this before,” she explained. “It is always risky; packing and leaving everything. I left Kenya when I was 18. I had never lived in Kenya as an adult. Coming back home, for me, was a new experience. But I am a risk taker. I am very daring.”
Despite the challenges, Ghettuba was determined to make it. She joined a local TV show as a production manager and learnt on the job. “It was baptism by fire. It was so hard. Mistakes were made, lessons were learnt, but that is what it is. From the producers I learnt how not to produce. I am forever grateful… I would not swop that experience for anything whatsoever,” she said.
After six months, she decided to begin working on her own production. She came up with an idea and presented it to a network executive who loved it, but demanded to see a pilot. However, Ghettuba did not have money to finance the pilot and the network executive was not willing to write a cheque just yet.
Drawing from her knowledge and experience in venture capital financing, Ghettuba approached her family and friends and managed to secure some money.
“I remembered [that] people don’t buy into an idea, they buy into people,” said Ghettuba. “Money came from people who thought I was nuts, but they also wanted to support my dreams. When you want to start a business and you really believe in it, look at your inner circle [for financing].”
Ghettuba took the pilot to the network executive who wanted to pay half the price she had asked for. She knocked on more doors and eventually a local station picked up the drama series Block D. That opened doors for more productions.
“We have come a long way,” she added. “We are now going to be shooting four drama series and five talk shows simultaneously. That is very exciting. We are really pumping content because content is the new petroleum.”
Ghettuba is, however, surprised by the success Spielworks Media has achieved in just four years. “I knew there was potential; the speed however is very surprising. The demand for local content has been crazy.”
She attributed the increasing demand for local content to the growing pride among Africans in their heritage and stories. People in the continent, she said, want to watch stories that resonate with them. Outside Africa, curiosity is also fuelling demand for African content.
“People want to know about Africa. Long gone are the stories of ‘do you ride giraffes to work’ or ‘do you live with lions’. Our show is in the UK and in France. People are curious and we shoot scenes in slums and in shopping malls. Content is in great demand, that is why it is the new petroleum.”
Ghettuba reckons that while she has faced various challenges in her journey in entrepreneurship, she chooses not to focus on them. “Every challenge to me is an opportunity.”
She is optimistic about the future of Africa’s entertainment and arts industry. “There is massive talent here, especially talent that is untapped. It vexes me. I want to make creativity a financially viable option and parents will entrust their children with me. They will let their kids be actors, singers, directors and lighting assistants,” she said.
Ghettuba’s plan for the future is to grow Spielworks Media into Africa’s version of the US motion picture studio Universal Pictures. She hopes to achieve this in the next three years.
“Things happen in two ways; first they are created in the mind and then you do them. Nothing is impossible. I just think that if you can dream it, you can achieve it.”
Besides, Ghettuba noted, Africa is the place to dream big and live those dreams. “This is the place; there is a buzz in Africa. You dream big, you dream in colour, you believe it and then you get wonderful people and you work with them. You just do it.”
She encouraged other aspiring entrepreneurs to acknowledge their fears but not dwell on them. “This is how I look at fear. It is something I read; a fog that spreads across 100 blocks, when condensed fits a glass of water. You must look at this like a glass of water. If you then put it in perspective, you are able to overcome it,” said Ghettuba.
Entrepreneurs, she added, ought to believe in their dreams and be tenacious. “Giving up cannot be an option. If you fall down, because we do, you get up and go again.”
Ghettuba said she hopes to see collective growth in Africa where people work together to lift each other up. “We are doing it at our company. I am determined that the parking space at our company should be filled with cars,” she said. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go further, go with others.”
Regardless of their circumstances, Ghettuba advised the African youth not to adopt a defeatist attitude, arguing that a lot of people who are successful today did not inherit their success but worked hard for it.
“There are fewer Paris Hilton stories than there are rags to riches stories,” Ghettuba added.