This month we’re focusing on Self-Starters: the brave creatives who’ve made the move to go it alone. We’ll be catching up with start-ups, hearing from entrepreneurs, and touching in with the movers and shakers who are redefining the way they work.
First up is Street Scene, the Durban-based tours and events company of Richard Powell, Sthembiso Mbonambi and Jonas Barausse. These Durban boys have taken it upon themselves to show the rest of the world that this sweaty city by the sea has a lot going on. In the last three years, they have built up a network of tours that radiates out from Durban to cover the entire country, and they have inaugurated two annual events which have become highlights of the Durban creative calendar (Interpret Durban Festival and Annual Sand Castle Contest).
We chatted to Richard and Jonas (unfortunately Sthembiso was away on a tour) to find out more about Street Scene.
Let’s start at the sweaty heart of the matter: please tell us a bit about what makes Durban so ‘kiff’ for each of you…
Rich: Durbs is such a rad place to be as with the cultural melting pot of our city it makes it such a vibey and colourful place. The awesome year round weather and world class promenade make us smile every time we hear the weather report in the morning.
Jonas: Durban is home. It’s bunny chows, beautiful winters and epic waves. It’s great coffee shops and a scene that creates strong and passionate characters, because if you aren’t strong and passionate about what you do in Durban, well you probably won’t last long. I love Durban because it has a level of apathy and that apathy helps weed out the fly by nights and keeps the city’s heart strong.
Durban came alive for the 2010 Soccer World Cup with its hugely popular South beach Fan Park. Do you think that this played a part in changing people’s perceptions about what the city had to offer?
Rich: The 2010 World Cup really put Durban in the limelight from many people around the world as well as South Africans. With the city investing in our World Class stadium and promenade it has really been the spark to take our city forward which has resulted in being ranked as one of the Top 10 most underrated cities in the world.
Jonas: I think Durban’s beachfront had been going through quite a slump before the upgrade of the promenade. Once completed as Rich said the World Cup threw a big old spot light on the beauty of the city with her warm ocean and melting pot of cultures. So yes definitely, the promenade and the fan park that constitutes a part of it played a strong role in the shift in perception.
Street Scene Tours started that same year, and Street Scene Events a few months later. At this time, did you feel that Durban was underrepresented?
Rich: Street Scene actually ran it’s first official tour on the opening day of the World Cup – June 11th 2012. This was a coincidence but couldn’t have been better timing if we tried. We certainly felt that the current tours on offer didn’t really give visitors the opportunity to discover the real Durban that we love so much and hence the birth of our company.
Jonas: Without a doubt. At least in regards to tourism. I think at the time the focus was a little bland. We have a cultural richness in Durban that can easily compete and rival our two big sister cities. Our focus at Street Scene wasn’t to compete though. We were just beyond proud of our home town and wanted her citizens, other South Africans and international visitors to know why we loved her so much.
A Street Scene Tour is a distinct experience, offering a “unique view of South Africa’s most culturally diverse destination” [Durban] to local and foreigners alike. What sets your tours apart from the rest…
Rich: Whilst many tours stay away from or observe from a distance the reasons that make our city so diverse we dive head first into creating first hand experiences for our guests.
Jonas: We didn’t want to be unique or different. We just wanted to do things the way we would want to experience them ourselves. We want our guests to see our home town. Not a tourist brochure. I guess in many ways that became seen as a “behind the scenes” approach to tourism. You don’t need a tour guide to take you to an aquarium or the stadium. They are well marked and the staff there well versed in showing guests a great time. You need a guide to take you to places that make the city special but aren’t in the guide books. And that’s what we love to do.
Street Scene Tours is based in Durban, and although it now offers tours across the country, it retains a distinctly Durban ‘vibe’. What’s this all about?
Rich: As much as we are proud Durbanites we are even more proud to call ourselves South African. So wherever we are in the country or surrounds we try to portray our country in as positive light as possible, with some Durban flavour being mixed in there.
Jonas: I think that’s just who we are. We are Durbanites. We love our city and our country. But we speak with Durban accents, we like our curries hot and our ocean waters warm. And we retain that flavour in everything we do. A Durban flavour.
What have been some of the challenges that you’ve faced getting Street Scene off the ground and gaining momentum?
Rich: Street Scene was almost nothing more than a name registered with CIPRO as when ever we thought we had all our documents in order we were suddenly told to get another document. Some of which can take up to a year to receive – if you’re lucky. There were many days standing outside KZN Tourism where we thought that our dream was going to be nothing more than that but we stuck to the task and kept on going.
Jonas: Gaining momentum came naturally and we were extremely blessed that our passion for what we did translated so well to the experience our guests had and events we held. But as Rich says, wanting to do everything 100% by the book meant it took a long time to get things off the ground.
What have been some of the best/proudest moment for each of you and Street Scene so far?
Rich: Some of our events and school tours have been amazing but the standout tour for me was taking the Premier of KZN, Ella Gandhi and ex-President of Zambia, Kenneth Kaunda on a tour. That day we also met the Shembe King so for me that is going to take some topping!
Jonas: An event that always stands out for me is when we announced the winner of the 2nd Annual Durban Sandcastle contest in 2012. For the most part those guys you see making amazing sculptures on our beachfront are living in shelters and practice their art as an alternative to bumming cash at traffic lights. Anyway when we announced the winner he came running onto the stage his eyes as big as saucers (there was a rad cash prize), his aunt burst out the crowd (she is a local beach vendor) and embraced him. They started dancing around each other with everyone else following suit and it just felt like we really made a difference to someone’s life that day.
How have people responded to the tours, foreigners and locals alike?
Rich: Generally people are blown away that there is so much incredible history and heritage located so close to the suburbs in which we grew up but never got to experience. For me it is always that much more rewarding when a local on our tour says to me that they are blown away with our city and surrounds. The fact that we are able to breakdown social barriers through a day out touring around makes coming to work everyday a worth while thing.
Jonas: For the first year or so something like 80% of the people who came on our tours were Durbanites. I think that says a lot. If you can take people who have lived in a city for 20, 30 and 80 years something they have never seen before you KNOW you have something special to share with everyone. The response has always been amazing.
Richard, you say that “Street Scene isn’t our job, it’s our lifestyle, so this isn’t work. It’s living.” Please tell us a bit about the pros and cons of being your own boss…
Rich: The pros have got to be knowing that at the end of the day everything we put into the business is what we get out of it. Even those days where friends are planning things doesn’t really make you feel like you’re losing out as growing our business and touring around is a pleasurable experience. Those are things that I’m sure as a business owner are often the cons but with what we do it never appears to be that way.
The cons can be the things that you don’t like doing and keep putting off until it becomes urgent so trying to be disciplined for me can be challenging at times.
What advice do you have for creative entrepreneurs wanting to start out?
Rich: Go for it! If you don’t try you will never know. Whilst not every idea will work, if you do some quality research into the idea and chat to people in the same field you can gain a better understanding on whether you can be successful. It’s also important to do some sums to make sure that your idea will be profitable as making money is not as easy as you think. Marketing is also vital as without people knowing about your amazing idea you will never be able to get people to buy it.
Jonas: Believe in what you are doing. Get rich quick schemes are just that…schemes. Hard work really does pay off. It’s like anything, you have to put in the time, dedication, a bucket of heart…a pinch of luck doesn’t hurt either. Good friends are always a key, as is coffee!
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
Rich: Always treat people how you’d like to be treated as that will take you a long way to creating your dreams.
Jonas: You can’t moan about your city if you haven’t supported it. Buy local. And always be a tourist in your home town. You don’t have to board a plane to explore.
Photos by Luca Barausse.