The ability to spot an opportunity and to create a profitable business out of it is one of the hallmarks of entrepreneurship. Nyambura Kinyori has both. While researching for wedding ideas, she stumbled upon a gap in the photography industry and pounced on it. Teaming up with friends, she finally took the plunge in 2015 and launched Picha Booth. The company provides photo booth services for events and parties, including weddings, and birthdays.
She talked to Hustle East Africa about her entrepreneurship journey, the opportunities and challenges, and how she intends to make Picha Booth a Pan Africa brand. Excerpts herewith.
Hustle: Give us a brief background of Picha Booth
Nyambura: Picha Booth is a Nairobi based company that provides photo booth services for any event or party. My partners and I founded this company three years ago when I had just returned to Kenya. I run it as a side hustle as I worked full time as a PR executive, and later as an advertising executive. I resigned in January 2018 to concentrate fully on my business.
Hustle: Tell us more about the photo booth
Nyambura: The photobooth has two parts; a base, and the main part which has a camera, lights, screen, prompter and speakers which are all synchronized to work together. Our mission is to provide our customers with an ideal way of gifting their guests. They pay for photo booth services so their guests can have a fun time. Once we set up a photobooth, guests take photos free of charge which are then printed on the spot. We also have props that spice up the experience.
Hustle: How did it all start?
Nyambura: When I was staying at the USA, I had a Kenyan housemate who used to insist that we join hands to start a small business back home. I didn’t think I had the entrepreneurship gene. Once I returned to Kenya, I inadvertently came across the idea of a photo booth when I was planning to get married. As I embarked on research for my wedding, I stumbled upon a video of photo booth entrepreneurs. On watching it, I realized that a photo booth was our ideal business idea.
Seeing an opportunity, I emailed my former housemate and we set out to start Picha Booth.
Hustle: When and how did you start?
Nyambura: Having made up our mind, the next step was to set up our business. It was a capital intensive one and we had to rope in a few of our friends to pool resources. Picha Booth opened its doors in March 2015 when we acquired the machine. We started off as four partners but one dropped off in the early stages. Others followed suit in mid 2017 and I was left to run the business.
Hustle: How does it work?
Nyambura: Once we assemble the photo booth, we put up a prop table that has a variety of props that can be used when taking pictures. There’s also a backdrop to enhance the experience. All a person needs to do is to stand in front of the machine. It’s manned by my assistant and takes a series of photos.
Hustle: How was the idea received in the market?
Nyambura: As this was a relatively new idea, not many people had seen a photo booth. It was tough in the beginning. We knew from the start that we had to create awareness to create a mind shift in the minds of Kenyans. At first, affluent Kenyans and Asians were our clients. A year later, we were getting more clients. Our first event came up in June 2015. The growth has been slow but steady. Over the years, we have been able to add more clients and grow our revenues year on year.
Hustle: What makes you stand out?
Nyambura: Quality services. Everybody can provide a photo booth but not everybody can provide a good experience. We are professional, and we value our customers that’s why we strive to meet their needs. We have also invested in quality props. We take time to advice our clients on the best props that work well with the theme of their events because we want them to have the best experience.
Hustle: How much do you charge for your services?
Nyambura: We are a premium priced brand with an hourly billing system. For 1-2 hours, it’s Kes16,000 an hour; if you take it for 3-5 hours it’s Kes14,500 and if you take it for more than 5 hours the rate is Kes12,000 an hour.
So the longer you take it for, the cheaper it is. But with every package you get unlimited photos and unlimited prints. The social media integration gives you the option to either print or upload directly to your Facebook, Twitter or email. The event host gets the soft copies and the guests take home the hard copies.
All packages come with an unlimited number of props and you can customize them depending on the theme of the event.
Hustle: Highlight some of your milestones
Nyambura: So far, there are many milestones that we boast of as a company. Getting recognized has been one of the major milestones. People recognize our work and nowadays it’s easier to get a client hiring us because they saw our work on social media.
We have also expanded our client base and we are doing more events than we did when we started. The service is really popular with weddings and parties and of late corporate events like launches and office parties.
Hustle: Did employment prepare you for entrepreneurship?
Nyambura: Yes. I believe employment is important as it prepares you for entrepreneurship. By first being an employee, I learnt key lessons of how to run a business. From the basic skills of communicating with clients to business development and marketing, employment hands you the skills to start your own business.
Working in the creative space also helped me to package my business well.
Hustle: Any challenges you can talk of?
Nyambura: Like with any other business, Picha Booth has its challenges. The biggest challenge was raising awareness about the photo booth. As it’s a relatively new idea, most people didn’t know how it worked. A lot others didn’t know it could be used to create long lasting experiences for their guests. That said, it wasn’t easy convincing people to pay for our services. With heightened awareness, more people are now embracing our services.
The cost of materials is also a big challenge as we have to import the printing papers from abroad, a process that’s costly and time consuming.
The other challenge has been finding a work life balance. I started this as a side hustle as I worked my 9-5 job. I could only take up weekend bookings, so I didn’t have any family time as most of my weekends were busy. Since going full time, I have now managed to strike a healthy work life balance.
Furthermore, we would have loved to expand our business and employ more people but the industry is not growing as fast as we want it to.
Finally, I think there’s a general lack of mentorship for local entrepreneurs. If you’re a pioneering entrepreneur, you’ll find that you don’t have anyone to look up to, or a mentor to guide you through the murky waters of entrepreneurship. I think more young entrepreneurs can succeed if they have some mentors on their side. It’s unfortunate that young people have been misled that entrepreneurship is glamorous and that they don’t need to work hard to get rich. Nothing can be further from the truth.
For me, I was fortunate enough to join a program called Ongoza which is an accelerator. It has helped me know my strengths and grow the business to what it is today.
Hustle: Where do you see Picha Booth in the next five years?
Nyambura: I foresee a bright future for the company as celebrations are part and parcel of our culture. I would like to grow the company further and expand to the East African region. Of importance, I would like to reach a point where I can manufacture my own photo booths.