From setback to thriving business

For any ordinary no-hoper twosome, whose kwaito album fell flat on its back, the daily routine would pretty much be following a typical township-diaries script by now.

There's nothing more demeaning than a failed career in the entertainment fraternity.

Most kwaito album flunkers are sitting at the corner still rapping the could-haves, shouldhaves, would-haves.

But it was this embarrassing slap that got Peter "Blasto" Sibeko and Bongi Vilakazi to bounce back with more business acumen.

Together they formed Pebo Productions, an events and production company that's been in existence for over eight years. Some call this reaction the upside of failure.

The two met in college in 1994 and learned such fine details of production as video photography, lighting, floor management, script writing and sound engineering.

Just like most of us, talks about starting a business of their own commenced back then.

But just as life dictates that you need a few knocks to give you discretion, they had to learn through trial and error.

"Our course was pretty much spent in the field so we were ready for work before we even graduated," says Sibeko.

"Because we had been skilled in so many facets of the multimedia industry, we knew we could be anything, but we needed to work and make money before forming a thing of our own."

And through personal contact with the industry, they were able to work hard, dream harder and take chances where most had feared to tread.

Vilakazi worked as a cameraman for SABC and Sibeko worked as a sound engineer for various recording downtown studios on Goud Street in Johannesburg.

"That's where the idea of recording an album came about," reminisces Vilakazi.

"But when it failed to take off the shelves, we decided to get serious and use our qualifications and put all that we had learned into good use."

So they went around companies pitching business ideas and through rejection and affirmation of their different proposals, they honed this ability, turning it into their forte. Business started rolling in.

They produced many events such as Music May Day, Business and Arts Awards and the Golden Stars Awards.

"But just as we don't exist in a vacuum, we learnt that even being gurus in this business is not enough. The Golden Awards for instance received such bad publicity due to bad management, we had to work on contingency plans for future events," Sibeko recalls.

"The incident that happened a few years ago about a stage (set up by some other company) that nearly collapsed on the president, changed a few rules. Inflation has sent what was normally a giving hand into a ball of a tight fist. Clients are simply cutting down on expenses."

Yet not even these erratic socio- economic factors or political dynamics has changed how they envision the business.

And while it's natural for people like me to want to depend on the human spirit and my blackness for business comfort, Vilakazi says ours is a colour of liability in this business.

"People always assume that you think you know what you are talking about and out of fear, until they give you a head-on-the-block chance," he says.

"But there are a few that will give us a job because they know business is an everyday risk anyway.

"Those who've given us business though have become regular clients and that tells us we are doing something right."

In the last five years Pebo Productions has been able to penetrate and do work in Nigeria, Lesotho, Mozambique, Swaziland and particularly in Botswana, where it staged one of their most prestigious and biggest national events on the calendar of that country, the National Sports Awards.

Today Pebo has about 27 employees and produced numerous corporate events where they have gone as far as scriptwriting.

A consortium venture with a company of a similar nature is about to be clenched.

It's a far cry from peers who would otherwise be doing a puff and puff with zol around the corner, harassing young girls for R2.

But like a few of us, they swam with the little fish before soaring to fly with the eagles.