How to add some rhythm to your venture

This week I feature the company Marimba Jam, which was founded by Kiara Ramklaas.

From a young age, Kiara was able to build resilience; helping to take care of her younger sister she became independent and self-motivated.

She played many instruments at school, including the flute, trombone and marimba.

It was her desire to share the joy and benefits of playing marimba with less fortunate schools who had no access to music education that led to her starting Marimba Jam as a small community project when she was just 16 years old.

After the first Marimba Jam workshop, which reached 10 girls from a school in Langa, Kiara continued teaching marimba bands as a part-time job whilst at university to help fund her studies.

While at university, Kiara’s father and stepmother both lost their jobs; she leveraged her entrepreneurial spirit by selling hand-made flower crowns at markets on the weekend to make extra money and eventually managed to save up enough money to buy her first set of marimbas which cost R18 000.

The growing interest from the schools coupled with the desire to make a deeper impact in the community led to her formalising it as a full-time business in 2018.

Since then, Marimba Jam (Pty) Ltd has grown to become a thriving and dynamic social enterprise, providing marimba lessons to over 500 school learners on a weekly basis across 15 schools in the Western Cape.

Marimba Jam runs annual teacher training courses, festivals, eisteddfods and workshops and currently provides part-time employment for over 25 university students.

In 2018, they broke the Guinness World Record on Women’s Day for the Largest Marimba Ensemble in the World.

In 2019, Marimba Jam executed their biggest Marimba Jam Festival to date at GrandWest, giving their school bands the chance to perform alongside well-known South African artists such as the winner of The Voice SA, Craig Lucas and The Kiffness.

What are the challenges that women entrepreneurs face?

As women entrepreneurs there is a lack of representation when it comes to role models in the industry.

Growing up, entrepreneurship was not spoken about as a viable career choice for many young girls in schools. Kiara remembers the odd market day at school, but there wasn’t enough emphasis on exposing them to successful women business leaders.

She has experienced the “imposter syndrome” that comes with being a young woman of colour, leading an organisation not knowing if you are worthy of the title of CEO.

What is your value proposition?

Marimba Jam believes music has the power to unlock the creative potential that lies within every child.

They aim to make music education more accessible to the youth of South Africa by providing regular marimba classes to learners who want to experience playing a musical instrument without the barriers of entry such as being able to read music before learning how to play an instrument.

What are the three lessons learnt over the years?

Do not get bogged down by the paperwork: sometimes the paperwork can seem overwhelming when starting your own business and might dampen your enthusiasm. Kiara has learnt that it’s best to just start and once you see traction in your business then start the process of formalising it.

No matter how optimistic your team is, always have a devil’s advocate around to question financial decisions − they learnt this the hard way, because their team tended to be too optimistic without doing the proper research and they ended up making happy-go-lucky decisions but paid the price later

Understand that people are unique individuals and as a leader it’s important to accommodate people with different circumstances, because that is when diversity will thrive in your organisation.

The same goes with the students − each student/ customer wants to feel special and not like another number in a system − take time to get to know the people you interact with and make them feel seen.

What is the value of support?

It is a very scary journey to start your own business and it can get lonely along the way −being part of a business incubator exposes you to a community of other entrepreneurs who have a lot of value to offer in terms of shared experiences and peer-learning. Furthermore, it takes a burden off your shoulders having a business coach to be your soundboard and help you see things from a different perspective.

The incubation process is like a safety net – if you fall, they are there to catch you and help you before hitting the ground.

Why should young people look to entrepreneurship?

In a country with the highest youth unemployment rate in the world, young people (qualified or not) are struggling to find jobs − entrepreneurship is a way to empower yourself (and others) to break the cycle of unemployment.

You have the power to take control of your destiny and in the process go on to create jobs for other young people.

Kiara is a strong advocate for social entrepreneurship where businesses are not solely making a profit, but also making a social impact. With all the inequalities we face as South Africans, the more youth who start building social impact into their business models will help drive the economy and be part of creating a better future for all.

She also thinks entrepreneurship allows young people to explore the wealth of their potential as you create your own career path and start unlocking skills you never thought you possessed.

● Steve Reid is the manager of the Centre for Entrepreneurship at False Bay College. Contact him on Steve.Reid@falsebay.org.za