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Eddie Butita reinvents into a businessman

Eddie Butita reinvents into a businessman

“Buda, tunaeza re-take hiyo shot tena? Nafikiri bado haijaingiana,” (Could we retake that shot? I feel it still lacks some oomph), says Eddie Butita in his usual heavy sheng intonation.

The comic and scriptwriter turned director isn’t making it easy today, clad in a made-to-measure Caribbean short-sleeved shirt as he directs a 10-person crew.

The 31-year-old, also rocking charcoal grey jeans matched with black and yellow sneakers, is shooting an advert for a client in a go-down in Nairobi, where he has requested we meet.

It’s difficult to have a calm conversation with him without interruption. A minute hardly passes without a phone call. Most of them he ignores, but those he deems important, he answers with the same tagline: “Naeza kukupigia baadaye kiasi? Niko set.” (Can I call you back later? I’m on set.)

The Kariobangi-born and raised comic is the man of the hour, with his newfound camaraderie with President William Ruto only fanning the flames. His recent trip to the US as the creative representative accompanying the president to Tyler Perry’s film studios in Atlanta stirred a huge social media buzz.

You snooze, you lose

Everybody now wants a piece of him. The pressure is intense, but he is careful not to drop the ball.

“I have to stay focused, I can’t slack. You snooze, you lose. My association with the head of state has come at a cost—the pressure. It’s something I have been adjusting to without getting distracted from my path of reinvention to become an entertainment businessman,” he says, as he calls out to one of the cast members who walks over to our shade. He feeds her the line she seems to have forgotten.

Before breaking into the limelight in 2012 through the once-popular TV stand-up comedy show Churchill Show, Butita worked irregular jobs as a graphic designer. Thanks to his highbrow, he quickly metamorphosed into a satirist, writing jokes for fellow comedians like Daniel Ndambuki (Churchill), Phelix Odiwour (Jalang’o), and Eric Omondi to perform on the Churchill podium.

This growth saw him temporarily step back from stage performances to concentrate on creative writing. It built his scriptwriting foundation and landed him a lucrative deal in 2021 when he was contacted and contracted by Netflix to scriptwrite and direct its first Swahili comedy show, The Upshaws—a dubbing of the American sitcom of the same name.

Butita has also been involved in scripting all four instalments of fellow comedian Njugush’s (Timothy Kimani) stand-up special Through Thick and Thin (TTNT) productions. The first instalment was released in April 2020.

Reinventing into brand influencer

Much of Butita’s astounding success can be traced to the Covid-19 pandemic when the Churchill Show came to a halt. With no free-flowing gigs, including emcee engagements, which had been core sources of his income, it was time to adapt. But he took advantage of his immense social media following, over one million cumulatively, to become a brand influencer.

“The only reason I have been able to cope in this creative industry is my ability to reinvent myself. I can’t even recall the last time I did a stand-up comedy show. I think I need to do one,” he says.

Building an empire

But for a creative think tank of his stature, Butita always envisioned himself running his own empire. With the pandemic, there was enough time to conjure ideas that saw him launch his startup creative hub, Stage Presence Media (SPM Buzz), in April 2021 from his bedroom.

“SPM Buzz’s first office was my bedroom, which I had turned into a makeshift working space with just four microphones worth Sh10,000 and a table. Initially, we were only three, but now the team has 14 employees on retainer and sometimes bloats to 45 when we have production assignments,” Butita points out.

He describes SPM Buzz as a 360- degree content hub dealing in content production, digital media, creative strategies, and marketing. Three years into operations, the hub has begun generating millions of shillings, leading to an expansion in personnel umbers and equipment acquisition.

Sh10 million loss and lessons

However, there have been significant losses along the way.

“You have to understand that when starting out, I had no business mentors. Neither have I done any business courses. Everything I’ve learned, I’ve learned on the go, and with that, you are bound to fumble. I have incurred losses of Sh5 million, Sh7 million, up to Sh10 million, but that’s the price you pay when chasing success,” Butita reveals.

Sometimes he had to dig into his pockets to keep his business running.

“For a while, I ran the hub with a freestyle mentality. I didn’t care much about accounting for expenditure, and I learned my lessons the hard way. There were so many blunders—you would find the books not balancing, someone forgot to file returns properly, or we couldn’t tell if there was a loss or profit realised,” he says.

These lessons made him realise that what he had envisioned was beyond just one man—himself.

“With mistakes comes enlightenment. I realised I needed to find the right team. Now we have an accountant in place. We’ve also reached a point where we need a human resource manager because the team has been expanding organically, and we need someone to handle the different personalities so we can work efficiently and effectively,” Butita explains.

These challenges give him satisfaction, seeing many people earning a living through his brand.

Eddie attributes his success to two factors: honing a product—Creative Think Tank Consultancy—that many others viewed as destined for discount bins, and not putting too much thought on finances whenever an idea arises.

“From the beginning, my strategy has always been to be a think tank because my satisfaction comes from seeing things work. Because of this, I’ve ended up being used and exploited by the creative industry. Many of my peers would complain about how I allow myself to be used, but I always believe in being a destiny helper for someone. The beautiful thing is that my virtuosity is now being appreciated, and I have been charging premium rates, which is now part of my business model,” Eddie vaunts.

Underscoring his unconventional approach in idea execution as another winning strategy, the comic says, “Finances are always a Kenyan favourite excuse for why an idea wasn’t or can’t be pursued. I don’t see it that way. Great ideas don’t need money to execute. If the idea is tough to execute, then it’s not the right idea. Great ideas always find a way.

A good example is when we were planning the premiere event of A Nurse Toto (sitcom). We had almost no budget, having exhausted our money shooting it. But when we announced tentative dates for the premiere, we immediately landed sponsors. Why? Because the idea was great.”

An episode of the sitcom, which wound up after two seasons, cost between Sh300,000 to Sh500,000 to produce, depending on the cast and the script of a given episode.

“That’s the minimum, having done a lot of cost-cutting measures, but the ideal budget would have been Sh1 million per episode,” Eddie notes of the production he chose to solely distribute on YouTube.

Steve Harvey Master Class

“I saw you on YouTube,” were Steve Harvey’s first words when he shook hands with Butita at Tyler Perry Studios. With Perry missing from President Ruto’s visit to his studios, Harvey, an accomplished entertainer and businessman, stepped in.

Eddie recalls with nostalgia how surreal it felt shaking hands with his idol, who, just like him, began his career as a stand-up comedian, breaking into the limelight in the 1980s before developing a business acumen that has seen him gross over 200 million dollars from content.

“If I’m being honest, I never thought such an opportunity could ever present itself. These are people who are technically out of your reach, but you grow up idolising them, and seeing yourself in them. Meeting them in person is beyond a dream. When he said, ‘I saw you on YouTube, you are doing an amazing job,’ referring to A Nurse Toto, it felt so humbling. He had done his homework on me. He didn’t need to—after all, he is Steve Harvey,” he says.

But when they sat for a luncheon after the tour of the vast Tyler Perry Studios, it turned out to be a business master class from the 67-year-old.

“He appreciated what I did with the sitcom A Nurse Toto, but his concern was on the business side of entertainment, which he believes our industry lacks. How Harvey put it is that Africa has great potential, but what is needed more is for us to be shown other models that have succeeded in other parts of the world and have them replicated in our industry,” Eddie recalls.

He continues, “Most of his talk centred around effective distribution models and content marketing—in other words, how to sell a show and attract more budget. He gave an example of his Family Feud game show that he produced in South Africa and Ghana.

He had been discouraged from attempting to produce it in Africa, being told it would incur losses, but he made his money back through proper distribution.”

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