We speak to Andrew Simelane Co-Founder and CEO of Blacknation an independent digital, and television production agency that produces #POPLITICAL content aimed at the Pan African Youth.
CN: When did your journey as a creative begin?
Andrew Simelane: Towards end of high school I had a dream of becoming a film director, but my parents weren't willing to support the vision. I think the exorbitant tuition fees at film schools was another reason for my dad to decide against it. But, being the driven individual that I am; I never gave up on this mission. When I got to the University of Johannesburg, I studied Public Relations Management and it exposed me to a lot of dope corporate industry experience, i.e. client management, content creation, communication skills and more. The latter enabled me to navigate the industry much better, because I had some of the know-how and etiquette, and this has helped in terms of advancing my career. Best move and a blessing in disguise. I'd advise a lot of creative practitioners to consider a path similar to mine. You get to eliminate a lot of unnecessary industry hustles.
CN: What were some of the challenges you faced at the beginning, and how did you get through them?
Andrew Simelane: Generally, the biggest obstacle is assembling an adequate team to execute high quality work that attracts more business. It takes a lot of time to achieve this and you constantly have to work on it. Professionalism and compliancy are some of the other obstacles to mention, i.e. understanding business practices, bookkeeping, paying taxes, getting the necessary operational licenses, etc.
CN: How important has it been working with others in your work and journey?
Andrew Simelane: As much as I'm an advocate for collaboration, I also have my reservations. The BlackNation Video Network is built on partnerships. For example, 80% of all the content we have created was achieved through collaborations with other content creators, from videographers to photographers, stylists, presenters, editors, etc. However, in order for young creatives to realise the true meaning of this practice - a lot of elements/details need to be in place, i.e. benefits and contributions of the participating parties need to be clearly defined and met. Another skill that one needs to develop is identifying time-wasters from the onset; this will improve the growth of your business.
CN: How important has asking for help and mentorship been?
Andrew Simelane: I think it's super important for entrepreneurs to ask for help or assistance, simply because the mistakes can be very fatal for start-up companies. If you don't know and fail to understand a topic, don't make the mistake of not asking for help or assistance. This will save you a lot of chest pains and stress/depression. As for BlackNation Video Network; we don't have a mentor, but there are a lot of human resources that we tap into, i.e. industry network (content & corporate), fellow entrepreneurs, lawyers, accountants, etc.
CN: What have been some of your most important lessons?
Andrew Simelane: Compliancy, compliancy, compliancy and discipline. These have been the most important lessons for me in this entrepreneurial journey. Without compliance, you can hardly clinch any business and discipline is important for young entrepreneurs because it helps you stay focused, and put you in a position to be successful with your endeavour.
CN: Best moment of your career?
Andrew Simelane: There are a few moment of glory. Some were real entrepreneurial struggles and learning very important lessons for the journey, i.e. Consistency, coping with pressure, using the little you have to achieve the impossible. The first moment was being able to produce a daily programming schedule for BlackNation Video Network through collaborating with other content creators. The second one was establishing a longtime and fruitful relationship with the guys from Creative Nestlings. The latter enabled us to explore the creative industries and invest in some really cool projects that are taking us to the next level. This was definitely the tipping point for our business.
CN: Hardest moment in your journey?
Andrew Simelane: General struggles of any other entrepreneur, i.e. being homeless for the dream and sleeping at the office for an entire year. But this was also a blessing in disguise because we had an opportunity to fully explore our business and industry, positioning ourselves as industry leaders within the digital content creation space. Pivoting was another trying time for us, but this too...provided an opportunity for us to further explore our business model and ensure that we're compliant with the industry in order to growth and become a global competitor.
CN: What motivates you to keep going when you feel like giving up?
Andrew Simelane: I don't like giving up and I'm a very optimistic individual. I also teach this to all the top players in the company. In addition, I believe that we have a solution to change the content creation industry with regards to improving employment opportunities for the majority of people of South Africa as well as the transformation that needs to happen in the industry.
CN: Have you ever had to let go of some ideas/ or opportunities?
Andrew Simelane: Yes and I think this is very important for young entrepreneurs to understand. Not every opportunity is ideal or best for the growth of your business. We've had to turndown investment opportunities because our research and gut-feel didn't allow, and I believe this stance saved us a lot of heart-aches. At the end of any business day, you have to deal with the decisions that you make as a company.
CN: Have you ever had to make compromises in your creative career?
Andrew Simelane: Yeah, I believe that's what collaborations are about. It's important that we accommodate one another. Compromises such as allowing people into your creative space are crucial, this opens up other great opportunities for one to explore. For example, we don't have experience in making mas'kandi music; therefore, we have allowed our elders with experience in this field to guide and help us make music that will appeal to a wide range of consumers of the genre as well as a new target audience.
CN: What advice do you have for your fellow young African creatives?
Andrew Simelane:Whether you want to work as a freelance person or a company, it is vital to pay attention to your business operations. If this element of the business is not functional, there won't be any growth or success. For example, upon registering your company; one needs to make sure that there is a bookkeeper, legal representative and a strong team that shares your vision as a leader. Compliancy with any government or industry regulations is also super important, this ensures that your business is protected and attractive to various stakeholders, i.e. investors, funders, etc.
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