A Conversation with Kanya King, Founder of the MOBO Organisation

One of the characteristics linking our greatest entrepreneurs is their ability to create platforms.  These are the mechanisms that bring others on the entrepreneur’s journey, creating wealth, success and impact along the way.

Microsoft, Oracle and Salesforce have created hundreds of multi-million dollar businesses through their sales-channels.  Apple and Google have created millionaires (and billionaires) through their app stores and mobile technology, while YouTube has generated wealth and impact for thousands by giving them the platform to connect with global audiences, instantly.

Kanya King founded the MOBO organisation in 1996, and has led the organisation to become Europe’s biggest urban music awards show, not to mention a powerful and much-loved brand.

As a platform, MOBO was the first to recognise Grime, consistently promoting genres beyond the commercial heartland for more than 20 years spanning RnB and Soul, Hip Hop, Jazz, Gospel, Garage, Reggae and African music.

Global artists attending over the years have included Janet Jackson, P Diddy, Destiny’s Child, 50 Cent, Dionne Warwick, Tina Turner, Jay Z, LL Cool J, Usher, Amy Winehouse, Rihanna and Tinie Tempah, to name but a few.   From the outset MOBO has played an instrumental role in the careers of numerous UK artists such as Craig David, Ms Dynamite, Estelle, Kano and  Stormzy to name a few, giving them their very first big platform at the start of their journey to global success.

Beyond the awards, MOBO support undiscovered talent in music via the Connect and MOBO UnSung, and across the wider creative industries via the MOBO Season, MOBOvation Talks and our newly established charity, MOBO Trust which aims to support young people in the creative industries via a MOBO Fund and also an all-new MOBO Academy.

For Europe, the creative industries represent some of our most powerful opportunities for entrepreneurial growth; and to learn more about this I caught up with Kanya King.

Q: What does entrepreneurship mean to you?

[Kanya King] Entrepreneurship is about taking risks and having the audacity to commit and persevere through all the obstacles and hurdles we have to overcome.

Q: What drives you as an entrepreneur? 

[Kanya King] What inspires me? Getting results, being creative, making an impact and making a difference.  I am still passionate about all the potential for MOBO to achieve in so many areas; the new ideas that are sparked by a simple conversation and all the things we could do to support greater inclusion not only in Music but across many other areas.

Every day brings another opportunity, so our main challenge is ensuring we focus so that we can achieve the best results.  I have always believed that juggling multiple tasks or ventures will spread you thin and limit both your effectiveness and productivity.

In business, there tend to be one or two activities that are the primary determinants for success. The key is to prioritise and fully focus on these few activities.

Q: What is the relationship of entrepreneurship to the creative industries?

[Kanya King] Today’s music industry is made up of a lot of different small companies, and I think artists have seen that the only way to succeed is through their own drive and determination.  That change is making a huge impact on them [artists], and there are a variety of reasons why artists might want to start to take control of their own destiny and I think it’s really, really important.

There’s never been a better time to set yourself up with your own team around you.  Today’s creative industries are significant employers, and finding talent has never been easier – and with technology it’s now simpler than ever to build a brand, become an expert, have that knowledge, assemble a team…

There’s a lot of synergy between music and entrepreneurship.  There’s that kind of similar taking risks, that innovation.  I think it’s a really exciting time.

Q: What is the role of resilience to entrepreneurship? 

[Kanya King] As an entrepreneur, you need to find out where your strengths come from and have a strong support network around you.  You need that mastermind network around you- those are the individuals who can prop you up, because being an entrepreneur is a journey with so many highs and lows.

When you’re going through a negative patch, you need people you can talk to that give you that kind of right advice and support that everyone needs.  I think you also need to look after yourself, and find out what motivates you… It’s important to have that balance you should take inner strength from your small goals and kind of pace yourself.

Q: How do you encourage those who are marginalised into entrepreneurship? 

[Kanya King] We all have obstacles we think can’t be overcome, but if our dream is great enough, and we work hard enough, the world is ours for the taking.

Keep an open mind: look for learnings everywhere and don’t be afraid to fail.  True grit is that rare strength and resilience to dust yourself off, look at what went wrong, refine your proposition and plough on.  Always be prepared to adapt: an open mind is everything – but stay focused on your end game. You can do it!

Q: How do you create strong brands?

[Kanya King] BE CONSISTENT across your communication – what your values are, what you’re trying to do – it’s super obvious but without a single clear proposition that you communicate consistently at every contact point, you can’t expect to grow an audience that believes in you.

ANSWER A NEED that resonates uniquely with your audience – MOBO originated with a strong idea at the right time and grew from that position of strength.

INSPIRE LOVE: Truly great brands inspire genuine emotion from their audiences – MOBO is trusted by generations who have grown up believing in what could be possible because MOBO was on TV showing them that.

Q: What is the role of education and mentorship in entrepreneurship?

[Kanya King] Entrepreneurship can be a lonely path to walk, so it’s important that there is both the education available at the start of that journey to teach people resilience and skills to not only cope with the challenges but to thrive and succeed under their own steam. Similarly, mentors can be an invaluable source of the professional support and advice that most “workers” take for granted in their day to day colleague relationships. I’d add networking to that – for all your preparation and textbook learning, the value of peer to peer support and learning at extracurricular evening/ breakfast events can be immeasurable when you are entering a new phase of your business or facing challenges for the first time. Chances are plenty of people have been there before and will be more than willing to share their learnings.

Q: What is the opportunity with social entrepreneurship?

[Kanya King] Doing something which has a social purpose gives you the motivation to overcome the hurdles and obstacles that you will meet along the way.  It gives you that inner strength when you’re doing something and you know it’s making a massive difference and a huge impact.  It’s human nature; everybody needs to remind themselves why their job matters.

It’s easy for people to lose sight in their job of what’s important.  And I think even if you’re making an impact to your boss, you need to be reminded of that… That gives you the drive to take things forward and take things to the next level, when you know you’re making a big difference to somebody.

Everybody wants to know they’re making an impact in somebody’s life.

Kanya King is CEO of the MOBO Group. You can connect with her via @kanyakingkanyaking.com and mobo.com


View Interviewee Biographies

Kanya King MBE is living proof of the old adage that a genuine leader moulds, rather than seeks consensus. An internationally renowned entrepreneur, Kanya, through her role as CEO and founder of MOBO – displayed the drive and vision needed to help take urban music from the margins of British popular culture to the very heart of the UK mainstream.

Kanya founded the MOBO Awards in 1996, when a broadcast slot with Carlton Television arose.  She was given just six weeks to set up the very first awards show. Many thought there was no audience that would be interested in a celebration of the diverse genre’s ranging from Reggae, RnB, Hip Hop, Gospel, but 18 years later the awards show holds the distinction of being one of the most televised urban music awards shows in the world today, reaching in excess of 400 million viewers across over 200 countries.  the MOBO platform has helped launch and propel many of today’s biggest musical talents such as Emeli Sandé, Tinie Tempah, Rihanna and the late great Amy Winehouse.

Kanya has always been an innovator and has had a lot of practice at persuading people to come round to her way of thinking. The youngest girl of nine children born to a Ghanaian father and Irish mother, Kanya grew up in a ‘crowded council flat’ in Kilburn, North London.  While her family faced ‘a huge amount of discrimination’, Kanya chose to be influenced far more by her father’s advice to ‘be the best you can be’.  It was that advice which motivated her to start contributing to the family finances from a young age. It drove her to study English Literature at Goldsmiths College and later, while working as a TV researcher, gave her the courage to take forward her convictions that there was a place for a mainstream British awards ceremony that celebrated those music genre’s originating from black culture that were not recognised at the time .

When she could not find a financial backer or many supporters in the wider music industry who agreed with her at a time when Britpop was at its peak and British urban music was practically invisible to the mainstream, she ‘put her money where her mouth is’, remortgaged her property (which she acquired at a very young age) to fund the TV production herself.  She not only persuaded Carlton TV to broadcast the 1996 event but, also managed to organise and book the talent within this short period.  A testament to the dynamism of a woman who has become a watchword for great British entrepreneurship, business acumen and a trailblazing pioneer.  The first MOBO Awards ceremony starred Lionel Richie as its Lifetime Achievement recipient and a soon-to-be Prime Minister and his wife, Rt Hon Tony Blair.  Kanya succeeded against the odds, everything done since has proved it was not a one-off.

MOBO has become much more than just an awards ceremony – it’s now an iconic, year-round, agenda-setting brand encompassing everything from a live tour to a TV channel and website, while offering training and guidance to several generations of aspiring singers, MCs, DJs and producers.

Kanya was presented with an MBE in 1999 by Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace. She was invited back to the Palace in 2004 for an historic lunch with the Queen to celebrate exceptional achievements by British women with the likes of J.K. Rowling and Cherie Blair. Kanya has also been acclaimed as one of London’s ‘Most Influential People’ by the Evening Standard newspaper, and also as one of Britain’s ‘Most Entrepreneurial Women’ by Real Business. More recently, ‘Women’s Hour’ on BBC Radio 4 selected Kanya as part of their 2013 power list of the top 100, most influential women in Britain and she has also been listed in the Guardian Music Power 100.

In addition, Kanya has received numerous honours for her business and community achievements, including an Honorary Fellowship at Goldsmith’s University and a Doctorate of Business at both London and Leeds Metropolitan Universities. She is also an honoured patron of Music at the City of Westminster College.  Kanya is a board member of the E2E Exchange, an entrepreneurial network along with Richard Branson and Duncan Bannatyne. She is hugely in-demand as a media figure, making regular appearances on the BBC, Sky, ITV and CNN and featuring in everything from the Sunday Times, The Guardian and Telegraph to InStyle, Stylist and Hello! Magazine.  She also starred alongside the likes of Duncan Bannatyne and Jacqueline Gold on ITV’s “Fortune – Million Pound Giveaway”, giving financial backing to worthy causes and ambitious young people.

With plans afoot to expand the MOBO brand and its influence further into international territories and various brand extensions, there’s still more to come. Even after all her achievements, you can bet she’s just getting started.

As an iconic inspiration to budding female entrepreneurs and music lovers worldwide, Kanya has created a brand that recognises, motivates and inspires talent on an international scale.



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