Our London Writers Network series offers aspiring writers the resources and knowledge they need to develop their writing craft and career. On 12 September we’ll be meeting four brilliant creative entrepreneurs for an evening of talks and discussion. Ahead of this, Spread the Word’s Aliya Gulamani interviewed Nigel Twumasi, who will be speaking at the event.
Nigel is the co-founder of mayamada – a creative manga brand, creator of GamePad!, workshop leader and a committed advocate to creative learning. We asked him about his professional journey, his pitfalls and successes as an entrepreneur and what tips he has for aspiring creatives…
Aliya: Hello Nigel, thanks so much for chatting with us. I just found out that you started life as an engineer! Engineer to entrepreneur – how did that transition come about?
Nigel: So I went to Brunel University where I studied Computer Systems Engineering, then worked as a software engineer for 4 years after graduation. During this time I had been writing a little as a hobby, but always had some interest in comics, cartoons and creating stories from when I used to draw as a kid.
While at work, myself and a group of friends talked about starting a brand to sell Japanese inspired t-shirts…but we were engineering and computer science graduates who had no idea what we were doing, and it really showed!
After legally starting a business (i.e. filing with Companies House) all that initial enthusiasm was slapped down by the reality of no plan, no brand, and really bad designs.
Things fell apart after 18 months or so (they never really got started to be fair), and from the initial group of five, three dropped out and it was left to myself and my co-founder Lao to completely rebrand. That’s when we came up with the idea of mayamada as a manga brand and a universe of characters we would write comic stories about.
Soon after things got started I was at a point in my job where I didn’t feel I cared enough to want to get any better. I was coasting, which isn’t a good place to be. I decided that rather than split my efforts I leave my job while I could and focus on building this creative brand.
Aliya: Your first manga (in collaboration with Lao Karunwi) – Samurai Chef was launched via crowdfunding and help from the charity, Prince’s Trust, which is incredible. Can you tell me a bit more about that and the impact it has had on your career development?
Nigel: The Prince’s Trust had a big impact on my development as an entrepreneur. I had already co-founded the brand with Lao before joining their Enterprise programme, but coming from an engineering background meant that I wasn’t fully equipped for starting a business.
So learning the basics of marketing, bookkeeping and receiving loan support from the organisation, as well as general business knowledge, has really helped shaped my thinking for the better. They’ve also provided me with a network of people I have collaborated with in some way still to this day.
After getting into the Prince’s Trust, we started work on the complete edition of Samurai Chef through Kickstarter. We had already produced the first volume through Indiegogo, so had some previous support. But this was a bigger campaign and one that actually failed the first time around. So we were really grateful we could re-launch and succeed the second time around with that one!
Aliya: Soon after this, you co-launched mayamada – a creative manga brand and a utopia of sorts for manga fans. How have you built up your business over the years and enabled its continued sustainability?
Nigel: We funded the business out of our own pockets in the early days before the Prince’s Trust. We didn’t know much about the business support available through loans and grants, we just wanted to build this brand so got started the only way we knew.
It wasn’t until the Prince’s Trust and getting that initial loan that we really started to get things building. We had also approached crowdfunding through Indiegogo and now Kickstarter. These two avenues allowed us to create our first manga titles as well as invest in products and marketing ourselves through exhibiting at conventions.
From there it’s been a combination of product sales, loans, grants…anything we can get really! We’ve added revenue opportunities through our GamePad! event and our workshop programme that have helped us towards building sustainability as well as a long term community of fans who continue to support our brand.
Aliya: As well as mayamada and GamePad!, you also deliver regular workshops and talks across the country, on creativity and creating comic books. How do you manage what appears to be such a busy schedule?
Nigel: At times, not very well! In the past 18 months especially, I’ve learned the hard way that I can’t do everything myself and need a team to achieve the things I’ve set out to do as a brand. So I’m working on delegation and bringing people into the team who can contribute to our goals and help that individual develop too.
So for example, there is a team of around 20 odd people who deliver our GamePad events. My job is to set out the vision and plan for them to succeed and enjoy themselves as that then reflects on the event positively. I’m working on applying that to other areas of the business so we can grow, and I can keep my relative sanity!
Aliya: Whilst developing as an entrepreneur what pitfalls did you come across and how have you overcome them?
Nigel: There are so many that I’ll just have to take a selection…when we started we really, really overestimated how much we could do in a given amount of time and budget! Sometimes your imagination gets the better of you (or so I’ve been told) but I’ve learned to start small and build. It’s more about continued progress than expecting everything to happen right now.
We learned that for the first time when our first Kickstarter failed, and it was a valuable lesson. It also taught us to not take failure as a permanent state. This is something that can be hard to take but we’ve learned to continue making progress on our plans despite set back.
I also ran into the pitfall of not being able to delegate properly, still working my way out of that one! But if you don’t you’ll eventually get to a point where you do get overwhelmed. So if you want to do more you will need other people on the journey with you.
And lastly, the pitfall of either not being able to say no, or giving unconditional yeses. Not every opportunity is a worthwhile one, so being able to turn down those that don’t get you closer to your goal is another valuable lesson.
Aliya: On top of everything else that you do, you’re also a member of the ‘56 Black Men’ to challenge stereotypes, which I believe, started when you went to London Comic Con and found that you were one of the only black comic creators there?
Nigel: 56 Black Men is a great campaign that I’m grateful to be a part of. It was started by Cephas Williams who I’ve known for a few years prior…I think we actually met at a Prince’s Trust networking event!
He knew about the work I do with mayamada and before he launched the campaign I had told him about my experience at places like Comic Con and the lack of diversity in the independent creators on show…to this day I get very surprised looks when I tell visitors to our stall that I’m the creator of the brand, and not just some guy helping out.
When Cephas asked me to take part in the campaign I was happy to accept the offer. It’s been great to see the impact it’s having and the places he and his team have been able to take it.
Aliya: And finally, we’re looking forward to speaking more on 12 September, but ahead of the event, can you share a few tips for aspiring creative entrepreneurs who want to launch their own projects please?
Nigel: The first one is a bit of a cliche, but it’s to just get started. Nothing will happen if you don’t take the first step. There have been many occasions where I’ve met people who have more writing experience than I have, but haven’t started making a book for whatever reason.
So I like to stress that I had zero formal writing experience but am building a business based on the books I write. If I can do it so can you. It’s really easy to make excuses as to why you can’t do something, but at some point you have to make a move and get started on the journey.
Another tip is to have some an end goal or vision in mind early on. How you get there will change, but having something to pull you through the many challenges is so essential because it can often feel like the reasons to quit outweigh the reasons to keep going. That goal will be able to motivate you and others you need to support you, so make sure it’s clear in your mind.
Linked to that is having strong self-belief. When you start as an entrepreneur you’re building something only you can see, at least in the early stages. So don’t always expect other people to see the value in what you do, especially when it’s not making much money at the start! I’m still growing but have found that the more I do the more others start to take notice and want to support and it all comes from that initial belief.
London Writers Network: Meet the Creative Entrepreneurs will be on Thursday 12 September at Idea Store, Whitechapel. This event is free to members of the London Writers Network and £4.80 / £6.00 for non-members. Find out more and book your ticket here.
Published 6 August