In June 2013, TechMoran ran a story on UpStart Africa, then a new social enterprise incubator with plans to launch Kenya’s first
reality TV show.
The reality show founded by Sankei Ole Kenga aimed at helping young entrepreneurs develop their ideas into scalable businesses. The reality show was aimed at training teams on how to form ideas, develop prototypes, market them and eventually monetise. Kenga never told us how he would monetise and we never asked him because he was running a social enterprise.
Then in October, the reality TV series began conducting auditions in Kisumu, Mombasa and Nairobi inviting creatives, developers and marketers before a team of judges. The very first episodes of this show was supposed to go live on NTV mid November.
With partners National Bank of Kenya, Tecno, venture capital investors among others Upstart Africa’s vision was to use the weekly episodes to inspire thousands of young people across the country then launch out to nurture the continents up and coming entrepreneurs.
The young talented individuals participating on the show were to make teams of three, with different skill sets that complement each other and then work on ideas that use tech to solve real world problems. Mentors were to guide the teams along each step and a panel of VCs were to act as the elimination panel so that at the end of the day, the winning team takes home investment for their business.
This did happen Kenga tells TechMoran. The Kisumu and Mombasa auditions did happen. The Nairobi auditions took place at the Kenya National Theater. It was noble, it was brilliant and we loved it. The 25 successful youth to join the show were transported to Nairobi, housed, fed and offered mentorship. They were trained on product development, sales and marketing and on building companies. Upstart Africa also had mentors in and the camera crew shooting.
Earlier Kenga had told TechMoran, “We want to the youth to take up opportunities that abound around them instead of waiting for jobs or the government to help them. Upstart Africa is an opportunity for the youths to get mentorship from professions in business development, marketing and product design. It aims at supporting youth to start companies and become competitive across the continent.”
But months down the line, things weren’t easy.
“It immediately occurs to you that the magnanimity of the task at hand requires the fortitude of a soldier and perseverance of desert camel. Being a startup ourselves carrying out a complex project with multilevel engagements became a strenuous and extremely taxing exercise. What really compounded the pressure is the fact that everything concerning the project was time bound with a lot of expectations from various stakeholders.
Kenga admits to the fact that the pressure to deliver the complex project on time caused a lot of strained relationships.
“Our partners especially our sponsors had a lot of expectations in regards to timelines set out in the project. We felt that we had not lived upto our partners expectations in respect to timelines. Our commitment however to deliver the show despite the challenges was unwavering,” he says.
Some of Upstart Africa employees and producers claimed they had not been paid and some claimed they had no contracts at all and everything was done informally. Kenga in response to the allegations expressed his commitment to parties involved.
” We are very committed to our obligations and even though times have been hard everyone with a valid claim will be compensated in due course, ” Kenga asserts.
Our sources say some partners pulled out of the project, forcing the founder to look for other means of sponsorship including personal sources. According to details we managed to obtain, the founder was firm on carrying out the project despite the limitations.
One of the emails to the producers read, “At this particular moment key deadlines have been missed that are a critical lifeline to this project. The broadcasting deadlines for flighting the show on the 10th of December has not created any sense of urgency on yyyy‘s part meaning Upstart is shouldering both the weight of asserting credibility on the competence of the production team as well as managing expectations of the internal stakeholders.Its intrinsically clear that if drastic measures are not taken immediately, this project will run aground…..but if not am afraid we shall have no option but to discontinue this relationship.I hope i have given you a critical perspective and look forward to your response.
In a document obtained by TechMoran, the new production firm says, “We were made to understand that the 35 hours of footage was digitized. It was not. Instead the tapes were delivers in raw format. Rather than HD footage (1080i digitally coded) it was shot on DV (on magnetic video tape) which is significantly lower in its visual and audio quality. So much so that it cannot be broadcast effectively. The Raw footage was not logged. There were no notes to explain what auditions were shot and where they were. This meant that essential footage could not be targeted without going through all 35 hours in real time! Furthermore the tapes were inadequately labeled.The sound and visual quality were poor by any standard e.g. hazy lighting, bad shadows, cluttered background and people walking across frames to say the least.To add to this, the sound files could not be matched to the video files because of the lack of professional file-naming conventions. We have unanimously agreed with camera, sound and editing departments that the above is true and verified. As a result we are unable to create a professional episode using the poor footage as per our mandate going forward. We cannot take any responsibility for the quality of footage that we have not created ourselves with our production crew.The above declaration has been copied to the production department as well as our legal department to ensure that the above is correct and verified in its entirety
After back and forth with the second producers, Kenga managed to have something tangible out and invited all key stakeholders for a screening of the 1st episode on Tuesday evening. He had worked very hard to restore faith and confidence with partners involved on the viability of the project and then things fell apart in December.
Happy new year to you.We are in the process of realigning the production strategy for the Upstart Africa TV show and we wish to engage with your team at this planning stage.Kindly let me know if its possible to have a meeting on Thursday 9/1/13 to discuss the aforementioned with aim of receiving input on the mechanics and branding on the show.
According to the communication, his fears about the project were not unfounded, time was not on their side.
He writes, “The imminent risk we face is that if filming does not start as soon as possible the contestants will begin to leave the house after a few days and bringing them back to Nairobi for a shoot will not be possible. The accommodation sponsorship for the contestant is time bound and it will therefore not be possible to extend the same past the agreed period which will be in the next 14 days. The filming crew must also start work otherwise they will take up other jobs. The investment and input by various stakeholders(Sponsors, mentors, Investors and contestant) will not bear the fruits intended.
The opportunity cost, of not completing this process will have unintended consequences and we wish to avert this scenario by all means possible.”
The concerns from some of this parties Kenga says he believes are valid but the culture of mudslinging, dream killing and character assassination is backward and completely unnecessary.” We are discouraging young entrepreneurs from venturing out to do risky ventures for fear of failing and being stigmatized for the remainder of the lives. The word perfect only exists in the oxford english dictionary. Everything and everybody else must only try”
“We are a startup building other startups, and it’s challenging because we are doing it for the first time this side of Africa. The road has been tough and the climb has been steep but we did not stop the project even once, we went on got new sponsorships and we are soon to launch the first episode,” he concludes.
You can watch raw footage here but not for distribution.