Myke Rabar: DJ's accidental business grows into an empireMonday March 13 2023
Myke Rabar is the incarnation of limitless self-confidence and drive for change. The chief executive listed Homeboyz Entertainment at the Nairobi Securities Exchange in 2020, making it the first and only entertainment company on the bourse.
The move, right in the middle of the economic turmoil of Covid-19, was both unexpected and audacious. But the former DJ has never been afraid of going hard on the deck of his desire.
This is easily the highlight of his career. ‘‘It cannot get more fulfilling than that.’’
His hair may be fast taking on a hue of grey, but when he paces his delicately furnished office in Nairobi’s Galana Plaza, he does so with an assuredness of manner and erect posture that are symbolic of his ambition.
Educated in the United Kingdom, Rabar is a meteorologist by training, a sound engineer by practice, a businessman, a father and a sportsman, hats that he wears with effortless ease.
This is the story of the man who built a Sh300 million company in 20 years through sheer intent and an entrepreneurial acumen.
Dealing with the belief in this market that entertainment is not a serious business was his first battle.
‘‘In many cases, it has always been a side hustle for players. Never the core business. For us, entertainment is more important than anything else. We create employment, provide a service and generate wealth for [our] investors.’’
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He admits, however, that Homeboyz was ‘‘never set up as a business’’ and that it became one by accident. The drive to list, he adds, was ‘‘to prove to ourselves that we are a business with the same DNA and ethos like any other in the market.
‘‘Part of this journey has been to distil perception on what we do as an institution. We evolved as we tried to fill certain gaps in the market. This is what made us into what we are,’’ he says.
No business plan
Rabar recounts that they had to formalise most operations before listing. ‘‘We did not even have a business plan. Ours has been organic growth,’’ he adds.
Besides music, the company specialises in client management, video production, and Public Relations.
‘‘There are competitors within each of these products. But few companies are offering turnkey solutions because it is involving and expensive,’’ he explains.
Did listing on the Nairobi bourse boost business?
Growth after listing
‘‘It helped us to acquire a new wave of clients. These are drawn from this and other markets. Through partnerships, we are currently serving more external markets than the local one. We produce content for some major broadcasters in the world.’’
Clients also do not want to work with ‘‘unknown entities’’ because the risk is too high, he adds.
‘‘They want a credible institution they can take to court if you fail to deliver; a business with a sense of longevity and history,’’ he says.
Social media nuisance
To what extent has social media eaten into his business? The question appears to trip a fuse in him. Rabar does not hide his dislike for ‘‘the obsession with social media’’ which he accuses of setting a low bar for arts and eroding artistic finesse.
His assessment? Social media does not care about quality, he says.
‘‘You spend a lot of time developing a movie script but someone who makes a video of them laughing like a donkey generates more hits. It is all about evoking emotions. Making people laugh.’’
But it is the fact that professionals who spend a fortune to acquire equipment and skills compete on the same platforms with amateurs ‘‘who create content with minimal effort’’ that upsets him even more.
Death of art
He says the consequence is a ‘‘non-discerning consumer’’ who is contented with any product, thus promoting mediocrity in art. ‘‘When you erode substance, you kill art. When art forms die, you bring down an entire industry,’’ he warns.
‘‘It is unfair to [compare] a Michelin-star chef who has spent years learning his culinary skills with someone who microwaves a snack and serves it.’’
He studied meteorology at the University of Nairobi before moving to the UK to study sound engineering.
‘‘During our time, you did not choose what course you studied in the university. You were placed on a programme subject to availability. People ended anywhere,’’ he recalls, saying specialisation occurred later.
On parenting, the father of two daughters, aged 20 and 15, says raising children in this age is about negotiations with them. His eldest daughter is in university and the youngest in high school.
‘‘Girls can be hard-headed. But you have to make it comfortable for them to say what they want. You must be patient and understanding.’’
He notes that a Christian background has helped him to inculcate positive values in his children. ‘‘They have their opinions on certain things, which may not always be right. As a father, however, you have to accommodate those views even as you guide them.’’
Sometimes his daughters ask questions he has no answers to. ‘‘You have to admit you do not know.’’
To attain international standards and contribute significantly to the country’s GDP, his prescription for the Kenyan entertainment market is to replicate what has been done elsewhere.
‘‘There is an industry that exists within more mature markets. We do not have an industry here. Instead, we have many entertainers. The DNA of the sector is still disenfranchised.’’
He is making reference to Nigeria and South Africa whose film and music production sectors have grown enormously in recent years.
‘‘South Africa has been identified as one of the best locations to produce a film. They have some of the best creatives in the world. When you are known for certain qualities, you attract interest and business.’’
Specialisation, Rabar emphasises, builds demand for skills in the entertainment value chain, with opportunities for cinematographers, videographers, IP lawyers, promoters and finance professionals ‘‘who understand the entertainment economy.’’
These skills are also complementary, he says. ‘‘A good script writer for a movie will do a good script for a song.’’
Learning from Nigerians
He believes Kenya can learn from Nigeria’s successful music industry which is built on the country’s film industry. ‘‘Nigerians realised they needed good soundtracks for their movies. They invested a lot in the music industry to complement the film sector which was growing fast. The two are now almost at par.’’
On the one hand, he cites a lack of strong record labels and the absence of celebrity culture for the slow growth of Kenya’s entertainment industry. ‘‘We do not have major investments to support brands and products. We have a lot of catching up to do.’’
A creator and a consumer of content, Rabar says he loves fast-paced, dynamic sports, with football, rugby and racing among his favourites. He considers cricket ‘‘hard to watch’’ and too slow. ‘‘I want to see results instantly; goals scored and tackles being executed.’’
He believes today’s consumer has infinite choices. ‘‘Before you had to wait for a movie to show on TV at 10pm. Now you can watch movies where you want and however you want.’’
This freedom of choice cuts across all genres of entertainment, including sports. ‘‘Mainstream sports come with limitations. They are expensive to host and enjoy. But there are sports such as freestyle football that not many people knew existed, that are becoming popular by the day.’’
In freestyle football, an individual performs stunts with a ball in front of an audience. It is already considered an Olympics sport. ‘‘Four Kenyans went to Qatar during the World Cup to showcase their skill and entertain people. The country will host world championships in November this year.’’
Has he played any sport himself? Rabar says rugby was never an option in his school. ‘‘You just had to play.’’
Now he plays golf. ‘‘I do not have a handicap yet. We also manage events at Kenya Open. With international athletes coming to play here, you must benchmark with the best. It takes about a year to plan.’’
‘‘You have to understand nuances of the sport, the players’ personalities and the worldwide tour and how the country benefits for hosting the event,’’ he adds.
Some upcoming artists can pay for premium management services with established production companies such as Homeboyz. This, though, is out of reach for hundreds of young artists. He sees it as a structural challenge.
‘‘Other markets have instruments such as lotteries and funds that go into developing the infrastructure that facilitates art.
‘‘Programmes that support theatre, recording studios, video production and sports are funded through public money. Artists can walk to these studios and record almost free of charge,’’ he observes.
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In such an ecosystem, tertiary institutions too are well facilitated to ‘‘encourage students to take up the arts.’’
Does it mean this market invests in the wrong places? He thinks Kenyans are individualistic.
‘‘There are cultural nuances that dictate how we perceive success. Looking at success through the lens of material wealth is the reason our people in the Third World are frustrated and depressed.’’
To him, success is when one consistently does what one enjoys. ‘‘At this stage in my career, I can dictate what I want to do. I go to bed thinking about how I can become better. Success is having healthy children, progressive people around me and a good home – not a big one.’’
Creating a platform where young people can practice their trade and earn a living too gives him this fulfilment. ‘‘It is rewarding to host an event where people can come, enjoy music and have a good time.’’
Importance of policy
To Rabar, the importance of policy cannot be overstated. A sector without proper guidelines cannot be saved from collapse, he notes.
‘‘A lot of good talent falls by the wayside when you do not have proper regulations. Do we enforce regulations on how much of local content should be aired? The more we embrace it, the more you force the industry to adopt higher standards.’’
When he finally exits the scene, Rabar will be glad he listed his company at the NSE ‘‘alongside other accomplished companies.’’
‘‘I have acquired property and I have children in school. This company employs 200 people full-time,’’ he adds on personal wins.