Jelena Uraru, Next of Kin Productions, PNG

Jelena Urara
PNG businesswoman, Jelena Uraru, owns and manages Next of Kin Productions. Photo: www.stellamag.com

Words & photo by: Amanda Donigi

PNG businesswoman, Jelena Uraru, set up Next of Kin Productions in 2004. Since then, she has grown what was a hobby into a thriving entertainment business working with the likes of Jimmy Barnes, Marcia Hines, Denny Hines, Jessica Mauboy, and Leo Sayer. In this article, she shares her experience of building a business, reflecting on the importance of money discipline, innovation, self-belief and balancing work and family life.

I’ve been operating for 10 years as Next of Kin Productions. We started as Cousins DJ in 1997. In 2004, I registered the company Next of Kin Productions and left my full time job.

Cousins DJ started out as a hobby. Basically, I had a twin deck tape player and I started off doing backyard parties. For our first gig we earned K50 between the two of us. You could do a few things with K50 then. It was big money.

Then we graduated to what was the Sportsman’s Club at the Gateway Hotel. We convinced management there to give us a gig on a Friday night and we earned K150. We had that contract for a year at K150 a night and then they gave us another two nights, so we were earning K450 a week.

We bought more gear and from Gateway we landed contracts with other hotel bars and then we approached Lamana’s garden bar.

We did their Friday night gigs and that was the beginning of Lamana Gold Club. We started with Friday nights and then added Saturday nights, then we were gigging at five nightclubs on Fridays and Saturdays, and a couple of other places from Wednesday to Saturday.

We went from one little double-deck tape player to CD players, to new sets of speakers, amplifiers, speaker stands, microphones, to mini disc players, to turn-tables with inserts for flash drives. The technology is always changing so we have to constantly update our gear. It’s not a cheap exercise.

In 2004, we were blessed to have met Karen Lapthorne from Media Partners who needed support for a project she was working on. We worked on that event for four years, our first big event. We supplied sound equipment, lighting equipment, trussing, and I bought my first truck for Next of Kin Productions. All sorts of events came along after that, driving us to invest in big screens, projectors, cameras, band gear, and a little quad-copter that takes aerial shots.

Innovation and change is important. You can’t stay the same. You need to go with the market interest. In order for business to stay alive you’ve got to keep moving, changing, creating. But money discipline is also very important. That’s one thing I’ve learnt.

Everyone says you’ve got to spend money to make money. The best business advice I have been given is to reinvest and save: spend the money wisely but put away that kina for a rainy day too.

This kind of business is seasonal. We’ll have a dry spell between January and March, so we need to save for that quarter.

Our core business has been equipment supply, and we are evolving into decorating, which has steered us towards working with flower growers, carpenters, builders, clay-potters and so on.

I want to be good at what I do. I want to supply the best gear out there. Why should we receive second best in our country? We’ve gone from three employees to 15, and when we need extra hands we can get up to 35 staff. We can comfortably do five small gigs in one night, or two big gigs.

Our work hours are a bit ridiculous. There are days when we go a full 16 hours non-stop. They’re long hours, but they’re very rewarding hours because it is always satisfying when the client is happy. When the client is not impressed then those are learning curves for us. But we aim to please and I’d say we have a 90 per cent satisfaction rate.

If you can manage your client’s expectations it makes a job much easier. Communication is really important. People like to know what’s happening all the way through the planning and execution of their event. People get nervous when they don’t hear from the supplier. Talking to the client all the time is important. We try to under-promise and over-deliver.

We’ve been privileged to work with people like Jimmy Barnes, Marcia Hines, Denny Hines, Jessica Mauboy, and Leo Sayer.

The best feedback we got was after the Prince Charles job, when His Majesty visited with Lady Camilla. They were blown away by the services we provided for sound and staging and support for the international audio-visual team.

Being a woman, and being a Papua New Guinean woman, it was very hard at the beginning to gain people’s confidence. I was blessed to have people support and nurture business relationships with us. They made my journey much easier than if I were by myself. I think a man starting a new business has a head start, firstly because he is a man. A lot of people I’ve done work for have been men. They start off a bit reserved but then are happy with the outcome and engage us again. Things are changing though. I get a lot of work now without hesitation.

I get involved with the university students who get assessed on how they manage the tourism expo. I notice that the younger generation can be surprised to see a woman at the helm of the ship, but they appreciate it too. It’s good for them to see women as bosses.

I try to look past obstacles. I am never satisfied with can’t – there is always another road that we can take. I believe strongly that God is so good. He will put you in places and connect you with people at times when you least expect it. When those opportunities come they sit right in my heart and I just go for it.

I think my motto would be, “There’s good in everybody– you just need to believe in yourself”.

Balancing work and family is very challenging. It’s a tough one juggling school and university and business and work so that everyone is satisfied. I’d encourage other working mums to listen to your children when they speak. Make time to be with them because they’re the moments they treasure the most. My oldest is now 23 and the small one is in school. I couldn’t have asked for two more beautiful girls.

I think education is very important. We schedule two hours to do homework every day. For me, school is their ticket to freedom. Not all men are nice to their women and so it’s important that a young female has a solid and moral upbringing so that she can be guided to make good decisions.

I believe very much in equal rights for women. I am desperately looking for women sound-techs and lighting techs. We’ve had women working with us who have now gone on to further their education. I think men and women should be given the same opportunities. It’s not happening everywhere yet but attitudes are definitely changing.

It’s been a good journey. Our long-term plans are to reach out to the Pacific. It would be nice if we could go to the Solomon Islands or Fiji and see Next of Kin setting up the events there.

For bookings and information visit www.nextofkin.com.pg.