PROFILE: Eugene Mbugua talks creating 11 TV shows and being a renegade
Eugene Mbugua studied at USIU-A where he majored in Television Production and minored in Print Media.
He graduated a day after his first TV show – Young Rich – went on air; he was only 22 years old at the time and became the youngest producer with a TV show in the country.
By the end of that month, he was already a millionaire.
He went on to create 11 more TV shows, including; Get In The Kitchen, Our Perfect Wedding, Stori Yangu, My Friend, Being Bahati, Foods of Kenya, The Best Of, and the most recent, Concert Nyumbani (which was broadcast across 11 TV stations in the country simultaneously) and Sol Family.
In 2014, he was featured on Business Daily’s ‘Top 40 Under 40’ and won ‘Best Editor’ at the Kalasha Awards. In 2016, he was featured by Forbes Africa magazine as one of the ‘Most Promising Entrepreneurs Under 30’. A year later, he graced the cover of Forbes Africa magazine by virtue of being in their ‘Top 30 Under 30’ list.
Because of these accomplishments, and yet only at his tender age, Eugene says people call him an ‘overachiever,’ but he likes to think of himself as an ambitious rebel. He has been in the game for over 11 years now, starting out as an extra then boom swinger before climbing the ladder all the way up to Executive Producer, and says he’s not stopping anytime soon.
Three years ago, the dread-locked art collector opened a cocktail bar in the Nairobi CBD called Number 7 because “my friends and I used to party quite a bit, so I figured that if I’m going to spend this much time in bars, wouldn’t it make sense to get paid while doing it?”
In partnership with a few friends, he also runs a feedlot in Isinya where they purchase bulls and fatten them for a period of 12 weeks to become premium beef before selling them off.
What drives him? “I’ve been poor before, I don’t want to be poor again. As long as I see poverty behind me, I’ll always be running ahead,” he says.
When Eugene is not creating TV shows or running his other businesses, he enjoys a quiet time at home with his two dogs; Suki, a Shi-tzu, and Ziggy, a Maltese terrier.
The founder of Young Rich TV, since rebranded to Documentary & Reality Television Ltd, spoke to Citizen Digital’s IAN OMONDI on Zoom.
I can see a lot of magazine covers on the wall behind you, what’s the story behind them?
The one at the top is Nelson Mandela on TIME Magazine. Mandela always reminds me that regardless of how long a struggle takes, you must do the time.
The one below that is of boxer Mohamed Ali, also on TIME. I have that because the energy this man had was insane.
The third is a Hollywood Reporter cover of a gentleman called Malik Bendjelloul, a filmmaker who made a documentary called ‘Searching for Sugar Man’ which won an Oscar in 2013. One year later, he jumped in front of a train and killed himself. This for me has always been very meaningful because, when things started working out for me as well, I got quite a bit of mental languish. I always look at it as a reminder of what could go wrong.
You work out every morning, why is fitness important to you?
There’s a notion in business called ‘eating the frog in the morning,’ which basically means doing the most unpleasant task very early in the morning so that there’s no chance you’ll skip it later on in the day.
From December last year, I started going to the gym every day at 5:30am, and when COVID-19 happened around mid-March I started working out with a trainer at home. There are interesting people that come to work out with me as well and we keep it fun and interesting.
You’re a financially blessed man, going by all the stories I came across when preparing for this interview,when do you find that the child in you comes out to play?
I own some nice cars, and that’s cool, but I wouldn’t say cars are really my thing. Travelling is what brings out the child-like wonder in me. I had started this thing where I wanted to see all countries of the world by the time I was 35/40. I was doing six to twelve countries every year, and that was going on very well, but I think I have lost that for now due to the pandemic.
How do you define success? Do you think of yourself as successful?
I would say I’ve achieved some success, although not enough as I would want because I’m pretty ambitious and the things I have in my sights are still very big.
My definition of success is waking up every morning and being excited about what you do. And being happy, generally, because you could be successful rich and still not be happy at all.
There is the societal view of success where, regardless of what one has achieved, people will always ask about their wife and kids and family. Is that something that worries you?
I’m really not concerned about what the general population thinks, I like to think that I’ve been a renegade most of my life. I tend to take the path less travelled, I’m not a prisoner of people’s opinions. So it’s not really something that keeps me up at night, but I wouldn’t say I’m blind to it.
Doing what you do, do you feel like you’re achieving the purpose for which God placed you on this earth?
I don’t tithe to God because I’m not a very religious man, but I feel that my purpose is to tell stories. I take immense pleasure in telling stories. I’m very big on only the African positive stories, we don’t do any of that poverty porn. Our shows are uplifting and positive, and so I feel like this is my purpose here on earth. That and, hopefully, being a good housemate to my dogs.
You turn 30 in November this year, what is your greatest fear as you head into the third floor?
That’s a beautiful question. *Short Pause*
I think I fear the same thing I’ve always feared all my life; not being able to fend for myself and be in charge of my destiny.
I also fear failure very much. My company recently had to let go of some employees and change a few things because of COVID-19, this was pretty scary because you never want to see what you have built collapse.
What are you currently reading?
My routine involves waking up at 4am every day, making some coffee, responding to emails for about half an hour, then spending an hour reading before working out. I’m not a very fast reader, I do about 30-60 pages depending on the book.
I’m reading two books at the moment; ‘The Strategist’ by Cynthia Montgomery, who teaches at the Harvard Business School, and the second is one of those books that have a quirky title, ‘How To Get Rich’ by the late British publisher Felix Dennis.
I recently saw photos of your meeting with former Vice President and Wiper party leader Kalonzo Musyoka, what was that about? Are you politically conscious?
I’m actually very active in following politics. I don’t think I‘ll ever be a politician myself, at least not in the traditional sense of campaigning and whatnot, but I definitely plan on being involved in leadership. Because the idea is, would you rather be at the table where discussions about your future are being held or outside being affected by them?
At the table…
That’s my thinking as well. I’m a big fan of Kalonzo’s gentlemanly style of leadership and we’re making a very beautiful documentary about his life and achievements.
How did you convince Sauti Sol to do a reality show? Because, C’mon, it’s Sauti Sol…
I wish I could take credit for it but I didn’t convince them, I think I’m going to start lying and saying that I did because it sounds like a more fun story.
I’ve known Sauti Sol for a while, they have a gentleman called William Nanjero who handles their business end of things and who approached me towards the end of last year and said that Sauti Sol were curious about doing a show. I was just one of the multiple producers that they were looking at, and I went and presented my case like everybody else. We went to a few meetings and the decision was made very quickly; Sauti Sol have a very functional team that is quick on their feet.
If you were a car, what model would you be?
I would be one of those old Toyota Land Cruisers from 1997 that you can’t break. I actually own one. They’re sturdy, powerful, they don’t stop for anything and are built for tough terrains. That’s me.
Do you ever feel like there will come a time when you will say ‘enough is enough’ and just stop creating, hang up your camera and retire somewhere?
I used to say that I would retire to a farm and live a quiet life with my dogs, but I don’t know if that’s possible anymore. I feel like I’m now addicted to the game, I like pushing things forward and winning.
Initially, it seemed like the goal was being on the cover of Forbes Africa, but after it happened I just thought, well, let’s just push it and see how far we can go.
I’m enjoying the journey, so I’m going to keep at it. But the day I’m tired I will stop and leave; I just don’t know when that day is.
If I could ask you something off the record, I promise not to publish this, you have created TV shows for almost all stations in Kenya except Citizen TV, why is that?
There’s no concrete reason I can give as to why I haven’t worked with Citizen TV. I would love to create shows for Citizen TV, and I hope this will happen at some point.
You actually don’t have to put this off the record, quote me on it, I hope Wachira Waruru reads it and puts me on.