O’Brien’s passion for the music sector was ignited when she toured the country as a dancer for Mr Shakes and the Groove Masters at the age of 17. She later started Splakavellis Management in her hometown of East London.
“The music scene in the Eastern Cape was non-existent at the time,” she says. “But all I ever dreamt of as a child was to live a life surrounded by music, so I did everything I could to path a way for myself.”
As a young woman with no capital, business experience or mentors, O’Brien managed to establish a successful artist management base in East London and was later headhunted by Soul Candy Records and became their first female Marketing Manager. “It was such a great opportunity. They really gave me scope to spread my wings and find my weaknesses and strengths,” she says.
Today, Splakavellis Management manages artists such as Mi Casa, RJ Benjamin and Giggs Superstar. The company covers all spectrums of the entertainment industry, ranging from artist management to brand development consultation, performance coaching and music tuition.
“I’m really proud of every single day that turned into a year. It hasn’t always been easy, but we’ve been in business for over 16 years and I’ve got big plans for growth,” says O’Brien.
Navigating the music sector, however, wasn’t always easy and O’Brien admits that she made a lot of mistakes. Earlier in her career she invested in a national tour with two partners and when it didn’t work out, she was swimming in debt.
“It took me several years of struggling and juggling to recover,” she says. “I had to juggle three jobs just to pay off all the debt which took about eight years, all while struggling to keep my business going and my body functioning through the complete exhaustion. It taught me that money rules the streets and that you can’t trust anyone, so it’s very important to have ‘Memorandums of Understanding’ in place to cover yourself legally.”
She adds that failure in business is guaranteed, but it is your best teacher. “The more you fail in the beginning of your start-up, the higher your chances of success. Failure is temporary, but quitting is forever.”
Now O’Brien is focusing on her new business venture, Solethu Visual Group, a media company specialising in content creation for brands as well as post-production for TV. She has partnered with five other creatives and envisions it becoming a leading media company. “In the long-term I would like for Splakavellis Management to keep evolving. Then I plan to marry the two empires, hand over the reins and retire!” she muses.
O’Brien’s advice for aspiring businesswomen:
- You can do anything you set your mind to. Whether you are a single mother like me, a survivor of abuse (like me), remember that your circumstances don’t define your future.
- No man is an island. Whether you like to admit it or not, you need people with various skills and knowledge to work with and learn from. It’s also important to have supportive friends and family.
- A business is a needy child. You need to make sacrifices to nurture it constantly.
- Just take a leap of faith! Take one step at a time, one day at a time, speak to people, research your areas of interest and do one thing each day that can get you closer to turning your dream idea into reality.