By Elaine Pirozzi
Two sisters, very close but also very different, start a company together. It might sound like the beginning of a joke or maybe a sitcom, but it was, in fact, the beginning of a highly successful business endeavor.
Seanice and Nancy Kacungira, of Uganda, were barely into their twenties when they decided to pool their respective skills and start Blu Flamingo, a digital marketing company. With Seanice’s background in mass communication and digital marketing, as well as her career in radio, and Nancy’s skill as a graphic designer with degrees in both communication and art, they realized that communication was an area they both loved, and that together they could be a creative force. “There wasn’t exactly a moment when we made the decision – it was more like a process,” Nancy explains. “Seanice is great at marketing and I was getting a lot of design work. It had always been our goal to build our own business, so this seemed like the natural thing to do.”
“Most women-owned business here are viewed as small businesses, and many women end up limiting their dreams accordingly. We need to break the myth that women cannot create large, productive, multi-national conglomerates in any field. As women we have to realize that no one is going to hand this power to us – we have to take it.”
The services Blu Flamingo provides cover just about every type of digital promotion, including strategizing, brand development, devising content, creating and placing advertisements, running social media campaigns, media buying, blog design and management, email campaigns, branding, video marketing, and digital education and training.
Seanice and Nancy have always been close and they shared many interests growing up. Both loved reading, exploring, and they travelled extensively from the time they were young. Yet it might actually be their differences more than their similarities that have allowed them to work so well together. “We balance each other out,” Seanice, the elder of the two sisters, explains. “I am very much a doer and a pusher and my sister Nancy tends to think first and act later. She has an analytical mind which can get bogged down in details, but also keeps us from making hasty decisions.”
Nancy agrees. “We’re very different, but we complement each other well. She’s always been able to dream up big, crazy, wonderful ideas, whereas I’m the one with the spreadsheets, figuring out where the risks are and what’s realistic. She helps me take more risks, and in turn I help her be more calculated about which risks she takes.”
The sisters started the company with money they had saved up from their previous work, and they have never needed to take out a loan. Blu Flamingo has expanded dramatically since they opened their initial office in 2009 with two employees. They now have physical offices in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Lagos, and South Africa, where they are headquartered. They remotely manage clients in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast, Tanzania, Ghana and South Sudan. They currently have a team of 62 employees.
And they aren’t done; they fully expect this growth to continue. “Before Nancy and I started the business, we had worked in numerous African countries, so this helped us understand the different markets. When we wanted to venture into West Africa I was able to make some good connections. However, you must have a good product and belief in yourself if such connections are to pan out. But really the point is not to wait until you are a pan-African multinational company to act and feel like one.”
Both Seanice and Nancy agree on the importance of building a solid team. “Finding and retaining people who understand your vision and diligently execute it is the biggest challenge, but also the most rewarding investment,” according to Nancy. “Once you have a good team in place,” Seanice adds, “the sky’s the limit.”
Although there are always challenges in starting a business, Seanice and Nancy agree that attitude and state of mind play a large role in the success of any endeavor. “More important than the presence of barriers is the will to overcome them, otherwise even molehills will look like mountains,” says Nancy. “Most women-owned business here are viewed as small businesses, and many women end up limiting their dreams accordingly. We need to break the myth that women cannot create large, productive, multi-national conglomerates in any field. As women we have to realize that no one is going to hand this power to us – we have to take it. When we see more examples of this, the mental barriers can be overcome, and that is the key to having the will to get rid of all the other barriers.”
Nancy continues, “Everything in life is created twice – first as a thought, and then as a physical reality. If the general direction of your thoughts is failure and pessimism, it is unlikely that you will get anything contrary to that. So much of life is about perspective; one person’s final failure is another’s stepping stone to success. Don’t just research successful businesses – research the ones that have failed, too. Talk to people who couldn’t make it work and find out why.”
“Failure,” Seanice adds, “teaches more than success ever will.”
And while this may be true, at this point the Kacungira sisters have considerably more experience with the successful side of business, and they plan to keep it that way.
Elaine Pirozzi lives and writes in Washington, D.C.