Roller-coaster ride in a creatives’ incubator

HustleSasa put me through a crash course on turning passion to profit

In Summary

• HustleSasa called for applications for a Passion-to-Profit digital incubator initiative

• I did successfully, learning how to monetise artistic talent into a potential business

My stand with the Qwani books
My stand with the Qwani books

Almost as if it were poetic, my team and I launched Qwani on April 1 last year. Since there hadn’t been any ostentatious show of work from either of us in the preceding days, some friends took it to be a Fools’ Day joke when we sent them invitations.

“How could it be possible that you’re launching a whole anthology of 65 different stories, when we haven’t been seeing you working on anything?” they asked.

Just like the biblical tale of the Apostle Thomas doubting Jesus Christ’s resurrection, our friends needed reassuring to attend our book launch at the Alliance Française Library, where we’d reveal the palms of our hands, to attest how we’d been burning the midnight oil. At the time, the cost of the midnight oil wasn’t as high as it is at the moment, but we still struggled to purchase it.

It is then, for that reason, that we spent the following weeks after the launch, looking for ways to mitigate those costs for repeat instances in future. The aim was to find whichever grants we could come across to help us in future publishing.

Richard Cushing, an American prelate of the Roman Catholic Church, was once quoted saying, “Always plan ahead. It wasn’t raining when Noah built the Ark.” Just like Noah’s sons, who survived the deluge thanks to their parent’s intervention, so had we in our case. The wise thing to do, from then henceforth, was to start making our own Ark. You could say we were saving for a rainy day (pun intended).

Fortunately, I came across a poster by HustleSasa calling on creatives to apply for their Passion-to-Profit digital incubator programme, where they would learn how to monetise their artistic talents to turn them into a successful business.

Stephanie Gogo, better known as ‘Steph Unruly’, who is HustleSasa’s head of community and project manager, said, “The incubator curriculum caters to a broad range of creator types, such as musicians, painters dancers, event organisers, writers, chefs, beauticians, haircare and skincare specialists, photographers and many more.”

My eyes lit up when I saw the word ‘writers’, and so, even though they hadn’t promised to offer funds, I applied nonetheless. I knew I would gain a lot of knowledge and expertise from them. Didn’t the wise men of yore say that half a loaf is better than none?


A couple of months later, I was elated when I received the news that I had been selected as one of the participants to take part in the programme. Therefore, for the next five weeks, we took part in the Masterclasses, where we were virtually taught a wide range of topics.

These included Financial Literacy, Pricing your Art, Budgeting for Creative Projects, Branding, Social media Advertising, Customer Service and The Future of Art. Of course, those facilitating these masterclasses were industry experts, including: Tetu Shani, Olivia Ambani, Victoria Kimani and Steph Unruly herself.

Once the masterclasses were over, we moved on to a Digitisation Phase, where each of us was taught how to create a HustleSasa account, from where we could sell our merchandise, be they art, digital records of one’s music, designer clothers, event tickets or, in my case, books. This was a really beneficial addition to our creative work, since it helps us display all our commodities in one place, like a stall. Perhaps that’s why they called it a storefront?

Right at the middle and at the end of the schedule, we even had Physical Meetings, where those of us available would meet at The Alchemist. You see, in a meeting between Business Executives, you’d definitely expect them to be dressed in suits. In a meeting between Bishops, they’d be clad in those long flowing robes, as if they’re hoping that a bleeding woman somewhere would touch their garment as they did to Jesus’. In a site meeting between construction professionals, they’d be dressed up in reflectors and helmets.

But in a meeting between creatives, especially where 20 per cent of them are fashion designers, 20 per cent musicians, 20 per cent make-up artists and another 20 per cent painters, then there’s no way you can describe the dressing pattern to encompass everyone.

Especially as a writer whose looks resemble a younger Ngugi wa Thiong’o (save for the hair), I can say that I was a black sheep in the middle of a colourful herd; black, in this case, to mean dull in comparison to everyone else.

Nonetheless, it was an amazing experience to meet fellow creatives, and to learn that I’m not the only one who detests that 9-5 job schedule and, instead, wishes to pursue their creative hobbies. This, I learnt, when we all networked and learnt about each other’s crafts.

Brenda Wairimu arranges the accessories on her stand
Brenda Wairimu arranges the accessories on her stand


Fast-forward to December 10, and 120 of us creatives were invited to The Alchemist for a Concert and Craft Market. The event, titled, ‘The Grand Showcase’, was to constitute 120 Live Acts and Vendors.

Lined up amongst the live acts were renowned artistes Maandy, Coster Ojwang, Charisma and even Bensoul. The vendors included none other than Yours Truly, selling his books. Alongside me was Wagwan Wango, a visual artist and fashion designer, selling Karibu Nairobi merchandise, and Brenda Wairimu, a jeweller and beadmaker, selling her accessories. Entry to the event was free, therefore, all and sundry were welcome.

We got to the venue by 9am, early enough to set up our wares before people started streaming in at 11am. Now that the only thing I was vending were the books, I just lay a Maasai shuka on my table and displayed my books there for every Tom, Dick and Harry who was passing to see.

I seemed to have Lady Luck on my side, because I was given a vending spot close to the entrance, where everyone would pass. Therefore, I just had to use my charming tongue to convince people to come and check out my books. I usually abhor those sales and marketing jobs that entail going to the streets to convince potential clients to purchase a product, yet here I was on this day, parroting persuasive words like a hawker to get people to come to my stand.

My first client was a mzungu, and believe me, I had to summon my English fluency from the deepest pits of Hades and have it bypass the watchdog Cerberus, which, in my case, was my ghetto accent, in order to converse with him eloquently and tell him all what the book is about. Safe to say, the Qwani book is currently on Kenya Airways Flight KQA113, on its way to Paris, France, where it’ll find a permanent residency on a bookshelf next to Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables.

I spent the next few hours reading the Sunday newspaper, since buyers hadn’t started walking in in large numbers. At around 2pm in the afternoon, I was ready to rumble, and thus got up from my seat to begin the marketing work. On the other side of The Alchemist, some of the musicians who were part of the programme had been given a chance to perform their crafts, too. The sale went on until 7pm, when we vendors finally closed our stalls to allow for the musical concert to take root. I had made enough sales by then and bought numerous people into the idea of Qwani, so I was satisfied.


Since the night was still young, I decided to join the party at the stage. First of all, we had Kevin Mugambi, a 5’2” friend of mine who played the violinist so well, you’d think he’s the reincarnation of famous Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi. Next up, we had Clark Keeng’s band, composed of, other than himself, Zawadi, Zalali and Ric Gikonyo, bring the house down with their electric performances, so electric that they caused a nationwide blackout once they were done.

After them came Ayo Dee, Yabba and the artistes I had aforementioned, who performed for the rest of the night. I was in no hurry to leave, seeing as there was a blackout in the rest of the city, yet we had lights at the concert. I finally resonated with a famous meme of a Spanish man dancing in a club, and then says, “There’s so much pain in the world, but not in this room.” Only after getting fatigued did I leave at midnight.

Overall, the whole experience was amazing, from the Incubator programme to the Grand Showcase, and I’d like to appreciate the HustleSasa team, particularly Steph, Desiree and Nicole, from the bottom of my heart for this opportunity.

I believe it is crystal clear how lesser incentives there are for creatives to pursue their hobbies in Kenya. And so, seeing HustleSasa doing this was amazing. Desiree Gogo said, “I loved how much interaction happened between creatives of all kinds. So many people expressed how they made connections with each other and how they enjoyed all the acts.”

I’m sure we all benefited from it in terms of knowledge, exposure and, for some, money. Now that we’re done with the programme, it’s time to turn our passions into profits!

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