Entrepreneur watch: I sold my wedding ring to stay in business

How we made it in Africa’s Regina Ekiru speaks to Jenny Luesby, founder and chief executive of African Laughter, a Kenyan public relations and new media company. Luesby is a long-time international business journalist, trainer and an economist.

Jenny Luesby

Jenny Luesby

Tell us about the inception of Africa Laughter?

It started as a vision to transform the Kenyan media through the internet at a time when international media painted a grim picture of the country. African Laughter has several lines of business, ranging from PR services, contract publishing, e-marketing solutions, consultancy and training. On the publishing front, African Laugher publishes Kenya Kidz (www.kenyakidz.com), UzimaKenya (www.uzimakenya.com) and Webaraza (www.webaraza.com) among others.

African Laugher also runs an independent news agency providing content for local and international newspapers. In the future we will be moving into audio and begin selling podcasts. All these are geared towards transforming Kenya’s media and will help in disseminating information to all people across all economic and geographical divides.

In time, we shall be reviewing stories online, adding media training tools, local media statistics and research reports on media issues. This is an investment for us in providing the local media with its own information centre.

What challenges did you face in the early stages of setting up African Laughter?

If I had known how big the challenges I would face in business would be, I might never have started African Laughter. Twice we had all our computers stolen. At one time our office manager defrauded us over Ksh. 1 million (US$12,000) and twice we found ourselves in the middle of property wrangles disrupting our operations. We had all kinds of challenges.

As an international business journalist – I had worked with the likes of the Financial Times and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and I did a Masters in Economics – one would expect that running a business would be a walk in the park for me. But it was the exact opposite. As the saying goes, experience is the best teacher. At one particular time I really didn’t think we were going to make it. Our power had been cut off and we were having cash flow problems. I sold my wedding ring and mobile phone to get enough cash for the generators’ fuel to keep our computers running. That was the absolute lowest point for us. It was the company or the wedding ring.

With all these challenges didn’t the thought of giving up cross your mind?

I actually think, looking back, the reason I didn’t give up was sheer stubbornness. I just wouldn’t be beaten. I did everything in the media, from being a reporter and rising through the ranks to editor in chief. What else would I do if I let my business down the drain? It had to work out.

Your advice to other entrepreneurs?

To succeed in business, one needs to be aggressive, plan well, and most of all have determination. Know yourself as a company and know where you want to get to. You have to invest a lot. If you know where you are going it will drive your decisions. It is important to have a vision. Most of all, never give up.

What is in the future for African Laughter?

I would like to see African Laughter go regional, open more publications and expand its news agency. We will open in Kampala, Uganda anytime soon. We also plan to launch two new media products before the end of the year. Our PR business is growing, which is impressive based on the fact that this is becoming a very competitive field.