Nkululeko Legend Manqele is upfront about entrepreneurship struggles, his aspirations and TV in the new era.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: In this week’s Moneyweb SME Corner we speak to TV and film producer Nkululeko Legend Manqele, the founder of Bar Leader. Nkululeko, what’s Bar Leader all about?
NKULULEKO LEGEND MANQELE: Bar Leader is an audio-visual lexicon. We pride ourselves on curating and making content – proudly South African content. Whether it’s in the community or whether it’s for the world, we purely just deal with producing content.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: When and why did you decide to go on your own?
NKULULEKO LEGEND MANQELE: About a year-and-a-half ago the feeling came about, and I acted on it. The reason why was because I was really feeling like I needed a shift, I needed something else to do and that was to sort of own what we do already in this industry.
I was employed by New Vision and previously by Don’t Look Down, and these companies are great on their own; they have great leaders. But I just felt they didn’t have the vision I had. And so I saw a gap in the market because these are big players.
I waited it out and I said once I get enough strength to leave, this will be my vision. No one else has seen it; no one else is going there; I’m going to be the one who goes there. So yeah, I think that was the reason behind me leaving: the vision that I saw and the gap that I saw in the market.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: Having said that, how has the industry received you?
NKULULEKO LEGEND MANQELE: I have to say, in the first couple of months it was very ‘honeymooney’ – I was being received so well. Not that it’s changed, but it was very unexpected. People would champion me [saying] “go for it, do it let’s see you succeed; you can do it; you’re the guy to actually do what you are doing, and to do it this way”. I received a lot of support, actually.
I know a lot of people say it’s very hard in the beginning and it’s very difficult to necessarily navigate a start-up. But I say ‘honeymoon’ because the first six months were great – I had great relationships. I knew that I was going to start this. So I’d almost pre-empted some business and other decisions and people were willing already to come on board.
But those contracts come to an end and you have to now [form] new relationships because you are no longer playing within that circle of people. You can’t do something for them as much as they can do for you. So now you have to sort of start asset-managing your platform. I say ‘platform’ because when you start a company it’s an opportunity for others to either gain from, learn from, or support you or whatever. But when you start a company, think of it as a platform, and that’s what I’ve come to think of. So I’ve had to asset-manage and make sure that my company is viable and looks good; it sounds great.
Having learnt … how to do that has been quite difficult because you lose a lot of relationships on the way. Once you clear your vision, certain people aren’t necessarily within your mission statement. When you write up your company profile, there are goals and there are things that you sort of live by. And those things guide the vision. So certain people fall out even if they are offering you what you want, [because] the vision isn’t that any more, because you are trying to go for the bigger ones. It’s been very difficult to necessarily get to that level, but we are getting there.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: On paper, how do you then sell your company to investors?
NKULULEKO LEGEND MANQELE: I’m not necessarily in the business of selling myself. I don’t like doing that. I like selling the work. I think the work sells the company. We will do passion projects.
Last week I was in Braamfontein. I haven’t been in Braamfontein on a Saturday for about two years…I had my camera on me and so I just started walking around, shooting. I came across groups of people and we shot a two-minute video… it looks great, and the quality of it is amazing, because when I got back to the office it was like ‘there has to be something here’.
So producing work for money, but producing work for just the sake of the art is also how we sell our company. I don’t have a strategy when it comes to that, I think.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: What other challenges have you faced in this journey so far?
NKULULEKO LEGEND MANQELE: I’ll tell you now, money-handling is something that I still need to do well. We are doing it, but it’s still something that I need to do well. I’m at a point where I can forecast what the year is looking like, which is brilliant, and I can compare March 2015 with March 2016 and see where we are. That stuff I am still learning, but I know it’s important. Just the other day I [realised that] last year I didn’t know what the year was going to look like, or what November was going to look like. But I know what November is going to look like this year, which is brilliant. That’s what I struggled with.
What I’m still struggling with now is taking myself seriously, because I trade on talent. I trade on something that’s sort like God-given. I never went to school for this at all. I never went to a tertiary [institution] for this. I literally have a matric.
It’s taking yourself seriously and knowing that you know this very well and just as much as the other guy who has a degree – probably more because I concentrate so much on what I do, that no guy with a degree or a doctorate or whatever can ever say, “Listen, this [qualification] is what I have – what do you have?” I don’t want that conversation to ever come up. I have complexes around that stuff.
As a small company you need support, whether it’s a mentor; whether it’s somebody to just chat to in the evening after work, or to consult and say, ‘Listen I don’t know what M-Net, Mzanzi Magic or SABC 1 is doing right now, but where should we be within their strategy? How should we as a small company attract big corporations like that?’
So my biggest thing is taking myself seriously and making sure that I look back and I go, ‘Actually you’ve done well in the last eight years; you’ve got some great shows under your belt. As an employee you’ve done well and as a businessman you are going to do well. Just in one year you sort of reached numbers that weren’t even imaginable for a small business of this kind.’ So I need to take myself seriously.
And I think I [also] struggle with looking for support. As a small company you need support, whether it’s a mentor; whether it’s somebody to just chat to in the evening after work, or to consult and say, ‘Listen I don’t know what M-Net, Mzanzi Magic or SABC 1 is doing right now, but where should we be within their strategy? How should we as a small company attract big corporations like that?’
So for me those are the struggles because part of me and part of my job is to be a kid. It’s to be fully a kid and it’s to be very creative and to be very vulnerable as well…. A lot goes on and you have to take yourself seriously, and then you have to look for support, and then you have to do business strategies and company profiles and all these things.
All these things are done, but … the bottom line is once you’ve done all these things, all the paperwork in the world for your company, take yourself seriously. So that’s what I struggle with.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: Now you spoke of your profile in this industry. What are some of the big shows that you’ve worked on so far under your company?
NKULULEKO LEGEND MANQELE: Under my company we’ve worked on Dineo’s Diary – that was my first project outside the employment contract. That was really good. Season 4 I think had the most audiences watching at the time. Even the repeats were quite big. That was our first contribution to TV-making as a company. We partnered up with Dineo – she has a company as well. So we would handle creative and part of my company would handle the technical. So that’s what we really, really enjoyed in our first few months.
And then we geared up to work on the Channel O Top 50, which aired in December last year. That was a very good project for us because, one, I got to work with somebody I always looked up to: Scoop Makhathini (Siyabonga Ngwekazi) – I’ve always looked up to that guy. We’ve always worked [together] but not under my company. And that was something that I really, really got to enjoy and look at and go, ‘wow’. We were shooting this thing with our own cameras, where we were talking to Ngwekazi under our own authority – this is brilliant, this is what we were actually trying to achieve … dreams that we had when we were in high school and primary school.
And some of the people we get to work with this year again. Like a journey. For me it’s two-fold – these worlds are parallel. There is the dream-achieving and then there is the contract, the signatures that need to sort of land. I’m lucky to say that I have both.
We got to work on some Vuzu fillers as well, little clips for Vuzu.
We are looking forward to this year. TV officially starts in March, basically. So we’ll see what we land, we’ll see what we get this year. We are hoping we’ll get more. There is a project that obviously I can’t speak about now – it should air in June. Those are the things that we are basically looking forward to.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: We are seeing this emergence of young black productions. What are your views on how that transition is going in South Africa?
NKULULEKO LEGEND MANQELE: First of all, I just want to say I really look up to those guys. They are doing so well when it comes to landing the contracts and sort of defining youth TV in this era. I think those guys are really, really probably leading the pack right now, I would say.
My take on this new era in TV: I think it’s quite interesting. It’s obviously new territory. I really don’t know what to say on it, but I’m looking forward to seeing growth in all areas.
So again, dream-achieving and also the money side of things. It’s very important to sort of live in both worlds, because in our business it’s content…. You have to be genuine.
…people are getting smarter, people are getting more demanding of smart content, clever content and authentic and genuine content. So in this new era there can’t be any fluff, there can’t be any fly-by-nighters. This is the time we make new Urban Brews, new Red Peppers
This is the time that we sort of deeply root ourselves and say I’m going to last for 25 years, and how do I do that? Yes, cool, there is this new era, but am I aware of the traditions? Am I aware, six years from now, what TV is looking like?
I can tell you seven years ago I knew that reality was going to be a very big thing, and soapies were going to fall away. Is that going to happen in South Africa? Definitely. I think it is going to happen because we as a content industry in this country are still very much on the back-burner of the world leaders out there. But I think the small guy – if you think of your Expressionist, The Unculture Club, even us on our side – Bar Leader wants to necessarily live online: short little clips. You’ll see it on your Instagrams. Basically content is everywhere.
So I don’t have to tune in to TV any more. I can get YouTube, ShowMax, Netflix – all these things these platforms regulate, but what they also do is they make sure that there are no fly-by-nighters. The quality is so demanding of the company or of the individual making it, that you have to be the real deal to actually sort of survive in this new era of TV. That’s what I think.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: Lastly, where to for Bar Leader? What can we expect soon?
NKULULEKO LEGEND MANQELE: Expect youth content – youth content that is from a youth perspective. I’m not talking YoTV. I’m talking about if you really in tune with the really big content hubs around the world. Expect that from us because that’s what we look up to, and that’s what we’d love to sort of carry forward.
So our big thing is the youth need platforms and platforms like these as well: platforms like I can easily say Brown but I think that’s done. Do you know what I mean? There’s a new thing, and what is that thing? So expect it from Bar Leader. We are going to find it, we are going to show it to you. Expect reality shows, expect entertainment, and expect a short film that we are hoping to complete this year: we’ve been writing this for about two-and-a-half years…. I’m hoping by November we [will be] done.
And expect travel. I want to show you travel through visuals. I want to show you men, women, dark-skinned people through visuals. I want to have that library that says, where those agencies say we need people smiling. I want to have that, and authentically so. So we are looking forward to a library of youth content this year.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: That was TV and film producer Nkululeko Legend Manqele, the founder of Bar Leader, in this week’s SME corner.
Thumisang Ndlovu is a journalist with Moneyweb Radio. This story was first published by Moneyweb and is republished here with the permission of the editor.
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