In this exclusive interview with Emmanuel Akaolisa and Chikamso Okoye of The News Chronicle, Mrs Jennifer Madubuko, founder and CEO of JBASS Events, a household name in event management in Abuja and beyond, shares her passion for creating memorable events for clients and other general issues in the industry.
TNC: Good day Ma, it is our pleasure to have this discussion with you, I will like to know more about you, JBass Events, how you started, how the journey has been so far and also the inspiration behind setting up this company?
Jennifer: I am Mrs Jennifer Nkem Madubuko, a graduate of banking and finance from Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka. I am a mother and wife, the CEO and creative director of JBass Events.
JBass event is an event management company, what we basically do is curating custom tailored events for our clients; we do event consulting, coordination, vendor scouting and negotiation, onsite coordination, basically for all types of events – burials, birthday party, wedding, corporate events, social events and so on.
About how JBass started, I have always loved planning, right from primary school days, I have always loved to celebrate birthdays, you can’t be my friend and not celebrate. No matter what the budget is, no matter what the event is, a party must go on as long as I am there. During university days, my friends were always looking forward to me planning their parties and events. After I graduated, I worked in a healthcare consulting firm as the knowledge management officer. Every month, we did something like a team bonding, a book club kind of thing; it was not my department but I was always organizing it because of my flair for event planning.
At that time, even with little budget I was always coming up with something new, everyone would be surprised how I did come up with that kind of party just with the little money available; so with time they were excited to see what Jennifer will do this month and the one to come. And then my CEO at that time, Dr Nkem Eneh, saw the flair I had for event planning and asked me to plan her 50th birthday party. It was a big deal for me because I have never done something so big and professional by then, but it was so successful that I would count that event as one of my most flawless events of all time. She was so happy and paid me for it, wow, it was then I realized that I could actually venture into event planning as a career. So that was literally my breakthrough moment, coupled with her advice.
So I registered JBass Events in February 2018, and that has been it. We have done over 300 events [we have lost count actually] since then, high profile ones too – the presidential/royal wedding of Yusuf and Zara Buhari, we are the official planners of ministry of foreign affairs and so many others in and outside Nigeria, like in Mauritius, United Kingdom, Italy etc. It is safe to say that we are global.
TNC: I would like to know, it is not easy to set up a business, especially in a country as complex and tasking as Nigeria, what has been the challenges JBass has faced and how have you been able to manage them and keep up with the business?
Jennifer: Our basic challenges have to do with clients and vendors sometimes. When someone pays you huge money to plan their events, you really need to put in extra work to deliver and gain their trust. Event planning is gradually becoming a norm in Nigeria, when I started, you had to do a lot of convincing to your client and their parents for example why they need professional planner for their events. So it is a big deal for someone to trust you with their money to plan their event when they can easily do it themselves; and to think that we just don’t offer tangible or physical service like catering, ‘DJing’ etc but just to plan and put things together, is really something someone cannot easily pay for. So you need to put in every effort to make sure that the vendors you work with deliver to your taste and that of your clients.
Trusting creativity as well, the client needs to know that we know what we are doing, having been in the business for a long time, they need to find a reason to believe that our concepts and standards are good enough. Communication is another general challenge in this industry, when a client doesn’t provide the actual information of how the event would be, for example, a client tells you to plan for three hundred guests, which you did, but at the event you see five hundred guests, come on, it will be a big blow on our side, so clients communication is a challenge too. Managing vendors is another challenge we also face, you really cannot influence how someone manages his or her business, for instance a client can refer you to a particular decorator or caterer that is not your usual, so we have to be careful, and if anything goes wrong we could be blamed, so that is another challenge we face.
TNC: Your portfolio shows that you are quite good at what you do, the ambiance, design pictures and all, so is there like a kind of special trait, skill or let me say education someone must have before venturing into event planning, or can anybody just do it?
Jennifer: I do not think event planning is what anybody can do, you need to have passion first, then patience and endurance, because you are managing people, so managing upsets and insults is a skill you need to have because it is inevitable in event planning. So you have to posses those skills first before thinking of further training or internship, I actually interned in a company here in Abuja before starting my own. So those are the things you need before you can say you want to be an event planner.
TNC: One would think that event planning is what anybody can do, like in families where they assign different people to different roles in an event, except you have the money to spend on event planning, what do you think?
Jennifer: I really do not think so, there are lots of cons to an ordinary person doing that, not even pros. For your event to go well, you need a professional to help you direct it; you cannot rely on family members who too want to enjoy the party. So you need someone to take off the stress from you and your family members, you need a neutral person to help you share souvenirs without fear or favour. An event that is planned by a professional is nowhere close to an ordinary one.
TNC: This is basically entrepreneurship, do you think anyone can be an entrepreneur, sometimes people advice not to look for job but go into entrepreneurship; what is your take on that?
Jennifer: Yes I said something about passion, but when it comes to entrepreneurship, passion is not enough; a lot of people think that entrepreneurship is all fun and easy, being your own boss and doing everything whenever you want, but it is the total opposite. You need to be dedicated to be an entrepreneur because you are your everything, you are your own lawyer, your marketer, accountant, CEO, managing director and so on; imagine being that all in one, you need to put in extra effort to make sure that your business grows.
TNC: What has JBass done differently to stand out from other even planners and carried on over the years? What is that magic wand?
Jennifer: One of the things we do is offer excellent customer service, the way we relate with clients is different, for example, a bride getting married, we do not only act like her planner but her friend too. Over time we have turned a lot of clients to family and friends, established good relationships, and that is because of the way we handled their events. So our relationships with our clients makes us stand out from others.
TNC: You spoke about unforeseen circumstances, I understand that this business is all about expecting the unexpected, so tell me how you manage the unexpected, like your budget going way out of line in an event or something like that?
Jennifer: In this business you always have a Plan B, for everything I do I have plan B, I have contacts and back up contacts lined up for every vendor I need. And sometimes I go to the extent of putting in my own money to salvage any problem that comes up, that is the risk and sacrifice. Clients may talk about cost on their side, which is understandable, yet event planners also factor-in risk and sacrifice to see that everything goes as planned. For example there is an event we planned where the car refused to start and the bride had to go to church, so we had to quickly improvise and rent a car with our own money, sometimes the client may pay you back and sometimes they may not.
TNC: Rounding up, I would like to throw in two questions; do you also handle the security aspect of your events, and also where do you see JBass in the next five years, what is your plan to take JBass to new levels?
Jennifer: Security? Yes we do everything from start to finish; just that in Nigeria, trust issues is a big deal where a client is unwilling to disclose with you their full plans and how much they are willing to spend. So we offer everything, just make the investment, tell us what you want, then go and sleep because we will give you everything you want.
My plans for JBass for the future, I would say that we would like to be an international event planning company, which we are already getting to. A lot of people in Nigeria know JBass but we would like to get to the point where someone in the UK, US for example will also know JBass. We want to get to the point that we will be a one stop shop for event planning, where every single thing you need for event planning can be gotten, like the Amazon of event planning; and also where many people and vendors will seek to be our partners, that if you are not a part of JBass you are missing out. So that is our hope for JBass.