Young, Gifted & Killing It: Sibu Mabena
by Veli Ngubane (@TheNduna) Multitalented Sibu Mabena (@sibumabena) holds a political science and international relations degree but made a career change and now runs a creative communications agency called Duma Collective —scriptwriting, artist and event management, influencers — and she’s only in her mid-20s!
Veli Ngubane: Tell us more about yourself: where did you grow up and what did you want to be when you were growing up?
Sibu Mabena: I grew up in Joburg and Pretoria, spending a lot of my childhood with my mom and my late teenage years with my dad. As a kid, my dream was to be a computer scientist because I had a toy laptop and was good at using it, which had me thinking computers were my destiny. I abandoned that dream when I joined an afterschool dance programme in Grade 4 and went on to join the South African Dance Team competing abroad. My first trip, to Germany, opened my eyes to entertainment and big events, which is when I decided that I want to be in entertainment. What in entertainment, I didn’t know… but in entertainment.
VN: From a hip-hop dancer in high school to running your own business, tell us about your journey?
SM: I was 16 when I started making money from dancing as a choreographer and coach. I would charge R10 an hour per child. That translated into R10 per hour x 3 hours x 24 kids per rehearsal session. At the end of the dance term, the studio owner would collect my earnings from the parents on my behalf, and hand me an envelope full of cash! I knew I was on to something when I received my first R4 500 for doing what I loved: teaching kids, and sometimes even their parents, how to dance.
During the time I was teaching, I went on to join a popular dance crew in Joburg called The Repertoires. I was exposed to the street dance world through my involvement in the crew and later went on to volunteer at a dance event called Masters of Rhythm. By volunteering, I was able to learn how to put together an urban youth event and grew my network through working behind the scenes. I was interacting with brand managers, artists, members of JOC and other dance crews. I exploited that network and connected many dots for many people ie connecting brands to artists, artists to production companies, production companies to dancers etc. I freelanced for a lot of companies as well, and eventually decided I should register a company so I can open a business account and become some type of professional. I registered my business in 2014 and the ball has been rolling at 180km/h since then.
VN: Please explain what you actually do and what an average day looks like for you [at the time of interviewing]?
SM: Our agency is a creative communications agency that services FMCG brands, artists, agencies and production companies using creative direction for live performances, influencer campaigns and management, event consulting as well as talent management and procurement as tools. No two days are the same in my world.
A Monday would be status in the office with my team at 9am; and then 10am catch up on emails; 11am status for Black Coffee’s Music Is King event which we [handled] the marketing of; 12.30pm a meeting with the Global Citizen team to align on the script which [I wrote] alongside three other people from the GC team; 3pm checked in with client at Heineken SA to align on events for the coming weekend, 4.30pm 30 back to the office to polish up my TEDXLytteltonwomen talk so that [I was] cool for my coaching session on Tuesday. Tuesday, I [had] a walkthrough at FNB stadium for Guns & Roses which [was] sponsored by Heineken SA, then an interagency meeting for another brand we work[ed] on, then a meeting about a dance workshop [we organised] then a status with client then a dance class… NO 2 DAYS ARE THE SAME!
VN: Tell us about The Duma Collective, plans for the future and how did the company come about?
SM: Mbuduma Communications was the first company I registered in 2014. It is named after my clan name: Mabena, Mbuduma, Masokasokile, Nyawo zimasweswe etc etc. I found that people found it very difficult to pronounce the name (people of colour, mostly) and figured that, from a brand-building perspective, I would do better to either change the name or register a second company with another name: enter Duma Collective, which is a derivative of Mbuduma and means thunder in Nguni or desire in the seSotho languages. Now I have Mbuduma Communications and Duma Collective. Mbuduma will be used as an investment vehicle while Duma takes over as the creative communications agency.
VN: Please would you share some of the lessons you have learnt running your own business?
- Work like a slave and you’ll live like a queen (aka, work hard).
- Don’t be insecure because that will make you scared to collaborate with people. If a client wants to work with YOU, they will work with YOU and, if they want to go elsewhere, they will go. Don’t be scared to collaborate for fear of losing clients to your collaborators.
- There is enough work for all of us. We don’t all have to go for the same piece of the pie.
- Love what you do or stop doing it.
VN: Why do you think the advertising industry is struggling with transformation and what do you think needs to be done to fast-track transformation in our industry?
SM: Reliable alternatives to what already exists are hard to come by. The industry is made up of people who like to work with tried-and-tested options and, more so, people that they know and like. If we are to transform, first we need to grow the pool of skilled and knowledgeable alternatives, not necessarily experienced, but people with the KNOW HOW and capability. The pool exists, but it is small and you see the same “transformation” candidates being rotated in the industry instead of new people coming in and the pool to choose from growing. OPEN UP THE INDUSTRY AND THEN GROW IT.
VN: What is it like to work as a female in a male-dominated industry and how do you think the industry may attract more female creatives?
SM: I don’t struggle with getting work and I’ve never struggled with holding it down in a boardroom. Where the ‘boys club’ surfaces, if I’m right, they will see that I’m right and, if not, I accept it and get the job done someone else’s way. I don’t do it kicking and screaming and wearing my emotions on my sleeve as expected, but with grace, humility and understanding. Emotional intelligence goes a long way in this industry, whether you’re male or female, and I think that’s what will keep us thriving. The industry needs to become fertile ground for females to excel and I think it is making strides in becoming that. I can only speak from my point of view/experience.
VN: What do you feel is missing in our industry today?
SM: The will to be EXCELLENT at our work. We used to have EXCELLENT work coming out of agencies. I think we are comfortable now. The energy that fuelled healthy competition between agencies is gone now. We all just do our work and keep it moving. I used to look at the FMCG marketing space and wish I could get into that space. Now that I’m in it, I ask myself, is this it??? I need to do more and create that energy and excitement I witnessed for myself, I guess.
VN: Where and when do you have your best ideas?
SM: With client in the room!
VN: What advice can you give to young women wanting to get into the business?
SM: Start today!! Right now. With whatever you have, start today. Waiting for whatever you are waiting for is only going to eat away at your opportunity to do what you want to do! Start!!!!
VN: Tell us something about yourself not generally known.
SM: I spoke fluent German as a 4/5/6 year old but I’ve forgot it all now.
VN: Brag a bit, what has been your biggest achievement so far? You worked on the Global Citizen event… did you meet Beyoncè?
SM: South African Music Awards, South African Film and Television Awards, Metro FM Awards, GLO CAF Awards 2015 and 2016 in Nigeria, MTV Base Africa Awards 2015 and 2016, Castle Lite presents JCole, Travis Scott, Axecess Jozi, SAB conference, South African Sports Awards, Comedy Central International Comedy Festival, Nickfest, Afropunk Broolyn, MTV EMAs, Miller Kendrick Lamar SA tour, Global Citizens Festival (lol [at the time of this interview I had already met her publicist and creative director]), Fill Up The Dome, Orlando Stadium and FNB Stadium, Mail & Guardian Young South Africans 200, The Plug 100…. a lot!!!
VN: What exciting projects were you working on at the time of this interview?
- Global Citizen Festival SA — scriptwriter
- Black Coffee’s Music Is King at The Dome — marketing manager
- A new influencer campaign for a car brand (so exciting)
VN: Please would you supply two or three pieces of work you have been involved in?
Veli Ngubane (@TheNduna) entered the world of advertising with a passion after completing his BSocSci (law, politics and economics) at UCT and a post-graduate marketing diploma at Red & Yellow, where he’s currently advisory board chairman. He also sits on the IAB’s Transformation & Education Council, is a DMA board member and Loeries, APEX, Pendoring, Bookmarks and AdFocus. He is the group MD of AVATAR, one of the largest black-owned and managed integrated agency offering in South Africa. In his monthly column “Young, Gifted & Killing It”, he profiles award-winning, kick-ass black creative talent in South Africa.
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