The man behind the success of the The Real Housewives of Nairobi has an equally interesting story.
Amidst the ever-changing landscape of entrepreneurship, Eugene Mbugua is a role model in Kenya, embarking on a journey that found its roots in the most unexpected of places — a high school canteen. Nestled within the hallowed halls of Nairobi’s Upper Hill Boys High School, Mbugua took his first steps into the world of business by joining a student-owned canteen that offered break snacks. This early foray ignited the flames of entrepreneurship within him, leading him to become a shareholder in the venture and explore unique avenues, such as selling creatively-adorned envelopes to fellow students, designed for penning letters to girlfriends in other boarding schools, whose letters were sent via post.
When he moved on to university, he continued his quest to explore the world of business. He dabbled in various enterprises, from a shop selling bootleg DVDs to a haven for video game enthusiasts between classes. “I also tried my hand in different businesses varying from event management to a tour company; they all failed,” says Mbugua.
It was during his last year of university that the tide turned. A chance encounter with the world of film-making after high school, courtesy of a cousin who brought him to a film set, ignited a passion that would change his life’s course. This newfound love led him to pursue a course in television production at university, while concurrently managing his small businesses and exploring various job opportunities in the field.
Throughout this tumultuous journey, Mbugua held onto a dream – the dream of creating his own TV show.
“This whole time I pitched to quite a number of different TV stations. Eventually about a month prior to my graduation, our first show Young Rich was bought by a local station”. It focused on young entrepreneurs and quickly became a top-ranking, award-winning TV show. “That was our first milestone, the premiere of our first TV show Young Rich in 2013. It’s what set the ground for everything else that came”.
Mbugua and his team at D&R Studios went on to produce more than 20 television shows, establishing a prominent presence in Kenya’s media landscape. Their latest sensation, The Real Housewives of Nairobi, is capturing audiences’ attention not just in Kenya but on an international scale, thanks to collaborations with platforms like Showmax and NBCUniversal.
After a successful run of their reality show Kyallo Kulture, Mbugua got into the beauty space, forging partnerships with entities and personalities that allow the studio to not only take advantage of their clientele base but also tap into their huge following to provide value for audiences and broadcasters.
He recently launched a cosmetic line called Unapologetic in partnership with media personality and entrepreneur Betty Kyallo.
What makes Mbugua’s journey particularly fascinating is his ability to adapt and innovate. One major pivot came in 2020-2021 when D&R Studios attracted investment and established a governing board.
“We took in investment and set up a board which now governs the company and to which I answer to as CEO. The board’s input has often helped us expand our view of what our business is capable of and has also helped us put together governing structures needed to scale new heights,” says Mbugua.
This strategic move allowed him to expand the company’s horizons and put in place the structures needed for scaling greater heights. As an avid reader now learning to play the saxophone, he finds inspiration in books.
Challenges abound in the film and television industry, with the rapid growth of digital media and technological advancements like AI rendering some job roles obsolete. However, Mbugua and D&R Studios seem to have met these challenges with a proactive attitude. Mbugua predicts that streaming services will continue to thrive, offering on-demand content to an audience reluctant to return to traditional TV schedules. Self-publishing through platforms like TikTok and YouTube will also gain momentum, providing fame and fortune for emerging talent.
“What I think will provide the most disruption however is artificial intelligence. If one is able to use these tools well, it is possible to generate very good content very quickly and this might build some new fortunes and destroy others.”
For aspiring entrepreneurs entering the industry, Mbugua, an alum of the FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 list, offers an essential piece of advice: “Start where you are with what you have and embrace new technology quickly. In a rapidly-changing media landscape, early adopters are handsomely rewarded.”