Exit aid enter startup africa

Many people have written about Africa being the last frontier; some African countries labeled as the African lions set to outrun the Asian tigers; Africa rising etc. Whereas there has been criticism about what aspects of Africa rising are being felt by the ordinary people, I do believe in the narrative that Africa will soon take its place among the global economies.  A lot of arguments have been raised about the impact of aid in Africa. Continued overreliance on aid from developed nations has caused lack of innovation capability by the people. In addition, majority of the funds channeled as development assistance go through the government institutions and some of these institutions are more accountable to the donors than their own people.  There is also the issue of corruption which is a major threat. Therefore despite billions of dollars being advanced to Africa, it has not really solved african problems in a big way.  As noted by Wangari Maathai aid in Africa is not directed to solving the root causes. For example, money donated goes towards provision of mosquito nets, feeding the already undernourished people and not to solve the root causes such as how to improve food security and elimination of threats in the first place. This is not to say however that all aid is bad. There are instances where it has played a big role in preventing disasters.

However, if funds are made available to undertake profitable  ventures, there would a slow culture shift towards ‘we can do it’ mentality. This can be done through own government funding, venture capital funding and other government to government engagements. I believe the challenge for us the young people is to see how we can convert the challenges we face into opportunities. For example, in agriculture, healthcare and provision of services. With more resources and emphasis on research, innovation and technology, we have the capability to leapfrog development  in a much shorter period of time. If people are empowered to be creative and innovative, we can develop local solutions to many things. In this  article, Bitange Ndemo talks about World Bank advanced to kenya $15b for youth programs and suggests new ways that the government can adopt.  Investing more in strategic activities in agriculture, light processing industries, value addition would go a long way to ensuring more sustainable methods.

One of the co-founders of Andela, Iyinoluwa Aboyeji puts it clearly, “Technologies that used to take decades to come to Africa now can be available in Africa at a very fast speed”. The challenge is to ensure we don’t just copy paste them but use the knowledge to meet local needs. For example, majority of Kenyans went from not having any means of communication to owning a mobile phone, skipping the landline phase. In addition, some have gone from being unbanked to having mobile banks accessing money through mobile phones within a short period of time. What could be next? Healthcare, logistics maybe?. Credit Suisse Head of China research notes that what Chinese are doing is that they are focusing on inefficient sectors of the economy and turning them into business opportunities. He notes that areas such as distribution networks can offer business opportunities. I do believe this is also the case of kenya today. There are a lot of inefficient sectors as well as high amount of imports while exports still remain low. Value addition for locally produced goods could do well in tilting the scale. Those who venture into such areas are likely to make it if they are resilient. I also think looking at areas that are likely to be profitable in future is viable.

But also for all this to work, the government must provide the infrastructure necessary. For example internet services, mobile connectivity, water, farm inputs, roads, electricity etc. Moreover, focus should be on ensuring there is market for locally produced goods. As Ory Okolloh says  in this article ‘We cannot entrepreneur around bad leadership, bad policies etc. “. The government should actually not be pushing for people to become entrepreneurs while they fail to provide even the basic services to the people. There is a risk if we try to excuse the government for not doing what it is supposed to do the first place. But we can still do both and this can lead to an even faster rate of transformation. All in all, i believe the next 20 years will be radically different and the nations that will be able to invest in young people will experience rapid transformation if they can be able to harness the  the energy, creativity, talent and innovation in the young people. Even as young people, we need to share more, back each other up etc. We can therefore be able to believe in ourselves more and play a role. Also to note that even as we talk of startup funding, there are few kenyan investors willing to invest in ideas and make them work. But there is a slow change towards that direction, i guess we need to believe in ourselves more. 

 

Curriculum Vitae Creativity

You’ve probably heard on Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation sharing platform that lets people find cheap accommodation facilities when they travel. Now, one person was particularly interested in working for the company. Nina Mufleh knew that there are hundreds, maybe thousands that also want to work for the company. So Nina thought ‘ how can i be outstanding?’.  Nina Mufleh decided to create a website to showcase her skills nina4airbnb.com. What made her resume interesting is that it did not focus on her past experience, which could easily be found on LinkedIn or her resume, she focused on what she knows about the travel industry, what Airbnb should be focusing on and what she could bring to the company. Here is a screenshot of the website she created.

Nina2 Her effort managed to get her an interview with Airbnb and even the co-founder of Airbnb was impressed by her creativity in job application.

Nina4bnb

Despite all this she actually did not get the job. Quite upsetting but nothing is really a guarantee despite your best efforts. However, her campaign  went viral on the internet garnering over 450,000 hits. She failed but she succeeded in another way. This is because she made a big impression and other companies were interested in talking to her. She ended up at Upwork and got interviews from many other corporations that were impressed by her job application process. She later wrote on her blog about the experiences  here. Check out her blog. She says of how she learnt to deal with rejection and forge her next move. My particular interest in this story is about the creativity being used in job applications. What Nina did showed a new dimension in job application process and I am pretty sure the trend is most likely being reciprocated maybe in a different manner. Particularly Nina focused on what she thinks the company should be focusing on based on her own overview. That to me is futuristic nature of looking at things. Resumes show your past experiences which is good and everyone can see that. But how about what you think about the future. I think that aspect is continuously becoming the focus on many companies in the current times. And creativity in showing that you have knowledge about a certain area of a company’s operations is not bad at all to get you ahead of the pack. I am no career adviser but it’s just an observation and I can bet we are bound to see more of such. Nina may not have succeeded in her initial quest but I think she opened up new ways about the innovativeness in recruiting.  Currently, there are a lot of handles in landing a dream job. The bureaucratic nature of job applications ensures that the process is fully in the hands of corporations.  What Nina did is that she aimed to make a big impression and not just through the normal job application process. She had tried other means like sending hundreds of cvs with little success. However I also believe this largely depends on the type of job. I don’t think the job application process for a high court judge is the same as one for marketing executive or a designer. Many other people are adopting other creative ways of showing their innovativeness during the job application process. Have a look at these ones.

how about a milk cv

milkcv

Facing some problem in your creative department? How about some pills to ease your creative pain.

creativepain

I found these here, you can check out more of them. Omondi Abudho was a Kenyan designer, photographer and advertising art director who designed a cv that folded into a box and enabled him to get a job at Scanad Nairobi. His innovative CV design was voted as one of the best creative resumes in 2009 and featured in many articles such as Huffington post and Business Insider.

omondi 1

source: Business Insider.

There are many more but finally Novoresume showed that resumes can be compressed into one page despite many accomplishments. They tried it with Elon Musk.

elon musk's résumé.pngAll in all, depending on your field, I think there is room for new ways in ensuring your job application process is unique and refreshing. In the case of Nina, she said that she had been doing the same thing in job application but did not get the results she wanted. Then she did something completely out of the norm, and she got something completely different. What do you think?

Book Review: The Lean Startup

One of the greatest challenges in managing a start up is knowing how to meet the needs of customers. The sole purpose of a business is to be able to meet the needs of customers. The ability of a business to adapt and evolve with the changing customer needs is key to enjoying competitive advantage. The Lean Startup by Eric Ries shows you how. The Lean startup is a book about how to start small and scale your business in small steps. Basically, the Lean Startup is about two main questions ‘why do businesses fail?’ and ‘ how can startups prevent failure ? It brings a whole new dimensions about how to build great companies.

the-lean-startup-bookThe Lean Startup begins with insights about how to build a sustainable business through a method of validated learning which is a method of evaluating success through tests or experiments. In order to build a sustainable business, Lean Startup advocates for entrepreneurs to conduct constant experiments instead of investing all the capital into product launch. One of the ways is through the method of Build-Measure-Learn. Start ups should avoid producing products that they think are market-worthy even without testing what customers really want.

Most businesses have a alluring plans with great ideas and maybe some market research about their ideas. These aspects are mainly used as indicators of whether a business will succeed or not. However, they are not enough indicators in the modern day competitive environment. Even with market research, start ups may not have the correct information about what customers really need. Start ups can successfully execute their plans and still fail. This is because they were unable to respond quickly to customers needs or worse still failed to correctly predict future customer needs. So how can startups know what the customers really wants? The Lean startup model suggests launching products/ services even before they are ‘perfect’ in order to gauge customer reaction and then constantly make product improvements based on customer needs. This is different from the old model whereby a start up generates a concrete plan and undertakes all planning, build products and then conduct a mega launch. What if no customer wants the products and services you are launching? Startups can reduce failure rate through constant product testing instead of relying purely on previous studies on market research and so on. One line goes like this “It is easy to kid yourself about what you think customers want. It’s also easy to learn things that are completely irrelevant”. Therefore with lean startup methodology, you constantly test your products at various stages of development in order to minimise the cost of producing large volume of final products that no customer wants.

The lean startup methodology works like this- First begin with a simple product with aim to answer one question ” is there really demand for this product/ service?”. As you sell the product, ensure high level of customer engagement in order to gain views and perceptions of customers. With time, you are able to gain insights into customer needs using a real product. This is different from the other method which would go like this- Go to the field with hypothetical questions and no real product and ask customers what they think. Of Course this method is bound to give you some answers but sometimes customers do not like making scenarios and they may have a problem knowing what they really want unless they have a real product. Therefore when using a real product, an entrepreneur is able to know the real customer feedback and make improvements on the products at a faster rate. The next step in the Lean Startup methodology is to create a minimum viable product (mvp). Unlike the traditional product development process that involves taking long period of time to make a perfect product/service before launching, the mvp way ensures a product is released to consumers before it is perfect. This does not however mean making a product that is not usable and then adding parts. It means making the simplest version of the product and then making improvements with time while interacting with customers. The following images can help explain how to build a mvp.

MVP 1

As shown in the above image, the goal is not to make a dysfunctional product, but a simple, version of a product and then continue improving it. The goal is to begin the process of learning. This model aims at avoiding a scenario whereby a business makes a product than nobody wants. Or invest too much time and money making a product that nobody wants because it has not been tested. To avoid, this, the mvp ensures customers get to feel and experience the products and give feedback along the way.  Using this approach a business can be able to understand customers at a faster rate and can even change the business model depending on the market dynamics. In the long run, a business can even be able to predict what customers might need in the future and make products that customers even never thought they needed. This is facilitated by constant testing of products in small batches and getting feedback as soon as possible.

MVP 2

 

MVP 3

If you want to get into doughnuts business, how do you know which flavours to add?

MVP 4

There is a very good example that i found interesting and applicable even on a personal level. Compare two small businesses. The first business sets out clear options on how to improve a product and then conducts various experiments designed to test how customers perceive the product. The second business sits around in boardroom and starts debating what would improve the product and implements several of those strategies at once and then celebrate if there is anly positive increase in numbers. Which business is more likely to be doing effective work aimed at achieving long lasting results? There is another quote i saw somewhere that goes like this ” Don’t make a product/service and then go out to look for market. Instead, be in the market, interact with customers in order to know the demand and then create supply”. who said that?  Or maybe ‘if there is no demand, then create demand and be the supplier’. LOL.

Finally, the book also gives the example of Toyota and the way it started. Let me try and summarize the ‘Toyota Way’. After WWII, the war-ravaged Japanese economy was in poor state. There was not capital for massive investments and therefore Japanese automakers such as Toyota could not compete with powerful American manufacturers who had the latest mass production techniques. Car manufacturers in American could spend huge amounts of money to buy machines that would produce car parts in thousands and by keeping the unit costs down, the manufacturers were able to produce inexpensive cars in large batches as long as they were completely uniform. Japanese manufacturers could not compete with this. Their market was fragmented and therefore faced intense pressure from mass producers. It is against this backdrop that innovators such as Taiichi Ohno, who is considered as the father of lean manufacturing at Toyota, designed new production strategies. Instead of producing thousand of parts at a time, Toyota used smaller machines that would produce smaller general purpose parts that led to production of wide variety of parts in small batches. With constant improvements in the system, Toyota was able to produce large number of more diverse products. It was no longer the notion that economies of scale can only be achieved by producing large batches of products that are exactly the same. Over time, this capability enabled Toyota to become one of world’s largest car makers  serving fragmented as well as mass markets. In 2012, Toyota was the world’s largest automobile maker (by production) in the world well ahead of GM and Volkswagen. The good thing with working in small batches is that problems are identified sooner. I believe such insights from the Lean Startup can be employed by small businesses that have massive challenges in competing with big companies. The aim is to start small, test the product as early as possible,make improvements and design your own system that works for your business.

Tracking business funding in Kenya

Over time, there have been many initiatives mainly by the government to tackle youth unemployment in the country. Examples of these initiatives are:  Kazi Kwa Vijana, Youth Enterprise Development Fund, Uwezo Fund etc. A huge amount of money has been allocated towards funding young people to undertake businesses. However, there are very few success stories. why?

startup
startup concept

 

Aside from corruption whereby such money is stolen, I also think the manner in which such programs are set up contributes to failure. One of the earliest attempts to funding businesses in Kenya was through Kenya Industrial Estates (KIE). Established in 1967, this corporation was the government’s first shot in offering funding for SMEs and they did exactly that in their early years of operations.  Royal Media honcho S.K Macharia was one of early employees at this corporation and they did a good job in setting up important structures to ensure the body played its role in providing jobs and nurturing entrepreneurial spirit shortly after independence. The body was set up in such a manner that an individual would come to the corporation and tell the officers about the intention to start a certain business, mainly manufacturing related. The corporation would then research if such product exists and whether it was viable to produce the said products in Kenya. Being in the early years of formation of a nation, there were many opportunities to exploit. The officers would then conduct a feasibility study and within a short period of time, money was advanced for initial set up costs. The corporation played an important role but over recent years it has been labeled as a sleeping giant with hope to revamp and take its meaningful role once more.  Revising its structures to match modern business demands is crucial for its survival.

There was  also  a graduate loan scheme being offered by Pan African Bank and thereafter KCB in the early 1990s. University graduates who wanted to pursue business related activities would easily get loans for start up. In addition, there was a scheme by Kenya Management Assistance Programme (K-MAP) which was established in 1986. This scheme was adopted in order to help SMEs tap into into skilled human resource management of large corporations based in Kenya. The large corporations offered managerial as well as technical training to start ups.  This was a good way of offering SMEs training in relation to aspects of financial management such as cash flow, marketing and human resource management. These skills are important for SMEs and contribute to success or failure of a start up.  Fast forward to 2003, came the Narc government with new initiatives to tackle youth unemployment. For example, kazi Kawa Vijana aimed at providing young people with job opportunities related to digging trenches, clean up initiatives, road construction and other manual labor kind of initiatives. The project was intended to create about 200,000 jobs. I don’t think it managed to achieve its objective and even if it did, the jobs provided were only temporary.  Audit from the World Bank revealed that issues related to: poor internal controls, irregular transactions, improper payments and allocation of funds to ghost projects were some of the causes for the collapse. However, I also don’t think the framework was properly thought out before being rolled out. I believe it is the same story with Youth Enterprise Development Fund. Generally, the approach of telling people to organize themselves into groups and then offer them funds to start a business is a tricky undertaking. I tend to think that previous initiatives that aimed at offering business support, scenario analysis and training were more effective than the current ones. This is because starting a business is simple but running it is a whole different ball game.

YEDF

My thinking is that incubating of projects, providing training, expertise and support throughout the initial stages of start ups are some of the more sure ways of reducing the high rate of failure of such initiatives. Many business fail because of lack of skills to manage cash flow, management of human  resources, marketing and strategy. Indeed the trend of start up incubation is already picking momentum with bodies such as NaiLab and iHub.  In addition, the Manu Chandaria Business Innovation and incubation center is a noble initiative. More public-private sector partnerships would also go a long way to ensuring more support for SMEs. I know of other initiatives that aim to bring young people to share and learn from each other. There should be more platforms that bring people together to share ideas, strategies not just in business but also other social issues that are of importance. Such platforms offer support and enable people to learn about things to avoid and how to ensure their business or ideas survive. Platforms offered by  organisations such as Arena Kenya are important in bringing young people together to share, interact and learn from each other. The discussions, ideas and environment offered by such institutions and platforms are all crucial for people to learn. Constant learning of new practices and skills is one of the sure way of ensuring ideas and new initiatives survive.

 

 

Sports Business

Majority of Kenyans keenly follow the European Leagues, mainly the English Premier League.  Across Europe, countries such as Germany, England and Spain have managed to turn their football leagues into a global phenomena. In Africa, countries like South Africa are reaping big in their sports industry. In Kenya, we have great talents in football, rugby and field related activities. If we build more capacity, sports can play a more leading role in contributing to development of the country. Sports industry is not only related to athletes in the filed but a whole lot more. For example, sports journalism, sports marketing, ticket sales, sponsorship, sports management are some of the aspects of the sporting industry. According to The Telegraph, the whole sports industry in UK supports over 450,000 jobs in and it is estimated that the industry is worth 20 billion Euros.

sports business 2

sports business

Many countries understand the impact of a vibrant sports industry.  Why would a club in Russia or China be willing to spend a lot of  of money to buy players such as Eto’o or  Jackson Martinez etc. Its because this brings more focus to their own industry and this partly fuels growth of their own sports industries. To show how the government is committed to enhancing sports development, President Xi Jinping of China visited Manchester city facilities to see ways to make sports a profitable and viable undertaking in China. It clear that sports development is an important tool to spur economic development through creation of jobs.  The sports industry can ease pressure on over-reliance of traditional industries such as manufacturing, processing, teaching for job creation and economic growth.  If we don’t do it, others will do it. Developed countries will continue poaching our athletes and building brands around them. Its time we took steps to changing this narrative. In the past we faced brain drain and now muscle drain is real.

As demonstrated by football success in England and Spain, investment in well funded sports academies is one the main important steps. But this will require funding and support in terms of people with skills to run such institutions. The important thing is to build our own sports industry based on sports talent available in the country. Lets look at rugby for example. Our national sevens team is only second best to South Africa in the continent and we have even beaten South Africa on a few occasions. Take note that the sevens team has achieved all this against a backdrop of many challenges: lack of adequate pay, poor training conditions as well as other issues with the unions.  Moreover, Kenyans are known to excel in track events and the potential to exploit these capabilities lies in the way we perceive sports in Kenya.

sports business 3

Since childhood we perceive work as something that is done from Monday to Friday between 8am and 5pm. Other activities done after that time are mainly perceived as recreational or entertainment. We have therefore failed to capture the potential that lies in exploiting other industries such as sports, entertainment and art as instruments for drive economic growth.  We have done little to create the necessary conditions that would make a young person study sports management as a career or even pursue sports as career. If we see sports as a business industry then we can slowly begin to transform the sector because currently, its a sleeping giant. The same report by The Telegraph indicates that in UK, there are more than 10,000 graduates with sports related degrees every year who get absorbed into sports related events or even other industries. Of course UK is far more developed but this shows the potential the industry has in Kenya given the great enthusiasm that is associated with sports in Kenya. There is scanty information about the worth of sports industry in Kenya further indicating the lack of real focus on this sector.

Supporting the sports industry does not entail buying athletes lunch and paying air tickets. This is just a knee-jerk reaction to a more complex issue. I have no problem with a politician or any other person rewarding our sporting heroes once they perform good. But a more solid way of supporting these athletes and the industry at large is needed. For example, during the recent state of the nation address by the President, there was no mention of the state of sports in the country. This is against the backdrop of looming failure to meet the anti doping rules, poor performance of Harambee stars as well other issues relating to payment of sports personalities. Actually, Kenya has missed the WADA (World Anti-doping Agency) deadline for setting up a new Anti-doping agency which expired on April 5th.  If WADA finds Kenya non-compliant, the country risks being banned from competing at the Olympics. The laxity by both the government and sports agencies is discouraging. The government and those involved clearly do not see sports as an investment that is worth being allocated resources.

My suggestion would be that the government focuses more on early sports development and not just at the national level. Building stadiums as promised by the government is good but also more capacity in terms of academies at the grass roots to spot and train talent is also necessary. Recently, there have been suggestions about changing the curriculum from 8-4-4 to a new system. A sneak peak into the new proposed system shows that it lays more emphasis on nurturing and training talent. If so, then this is a good step towards encouraging more people to participate in sports as a career and not just hobby. A long term thinking of turning sports into a viable industry is therefore the only long lasting solution that can enable more people to join the industry and stop the wasting of talents that is currently witnessed in this country.

I don’t know much about NFL but i know Beyonce performed during  The Halftime Show alongside Chris martin and Bruno Mars for Superbowl 50. The numbers from that whole sports event are just crazy.  For example, the amount of money spent on promotion, parties, ticket sales, team apparel, food and drinks is staggeringly high. According to Forbes, the average price for a 30 second ad is $5m and around  $50 million is spent on drinks. We can make our own version  here in Kenya depending on how we manage and organize our sports industry to be a high valuable undertaking for both corporate, members, community, the fans, sports management and sports personalities.

superbowl 50

source; Forbes

In Kenya the potential is there. For example, there was something in the news about building a F1 track in Machakos. In Mombasa beach soccer is largely untapped. In Iten there should be a whole industry built around that. How about Rugby and Football?. There was an effort for Kenya to host one of the world rugby sevens circuit. That would be great and we need to build more capacity form the grassroots in terms of education, training young talents, community development etc. This cycle can create an industry that does not only support the athletes but also other people who can be employed in various types of jobs within the industry.  Developed nations will continue to develop because they tap into new ways of ensuring sustained economic growth. We need to embrace this as a nation and reignite these industries in order to make their meaningful contribution to economic growth in Kenya.

 

 

The Beginnings

It’s no secret that I am fascinated by entrepreneurship related stories. I think entrepreneurs are creators, people who bring ideas and concepts to life. Such stories and experiences leave me wondering what we could achieve as a country and continent if we embraced those perspectives. The ability to see opportunity where others do not see is not common and entrepreneurs have the ability to shape the way we live our lives much more than the politicians can, but that’s a story for another day. In the recent past, i have read about the founding of PayPal and how it came to be. Basically, it’s a story about Peter Thiel, Elon musk, Max Levchin among other guys who were instrumental in founding of PayPal. They later sold the company at $1.5 billion to eBay in 2002. These guys, both founders and early employees, have gone on to form many other tech based companies through networks and partnerships and they have helped form or been part of many other companies in Silicon Valley. The trio is famously known as the ‘PayPal Mafia’. Companies such as: Tesla, SpaceX, Linkedin, YouTube, Yelp, Palantir among others are closely related to the PayPal Mafia. This shows the power of networks and maintaining professional contacts. The case of PayPay is basically about success. This blog post is basically about ‘the beginnings’ and I curated a few other experiences about some of the experiences that  entrepreneurs and other personalities underwent as they began their journeys.

paypal-mafia

source; Google images

For example, did you know Elon Musk partnered with a friend in college and turned a fraternity house into a night club? These guys rented a 10 bedroom house and turned it into a part time club and made extra money on the side. Richard Branson, the Virgin Atlantic guy, began by starting a magazine. Branson interviewed people and featured them on the magazine. it became a success despite he and the team not having any experience in that kind of business.  The CEO of Goldman Sachs, Mr Lyod Blankfein used to sell sodas during matches. As people watched football (American Football) the guy sold sodas to people and he found a way of making some money on the side. Others like Hillary Clinton had a stint at selling fish in between studies at Yale.

Then there are others who had a lot of trouble and discouragement.  Jack Ma (ALibaba) on the other hand had interest in learning English and would guide tourists in his local area for 9 years in order to improve his English. The guy also failed university entrance exams three times. He later became a teacher. Ma went to US and heard about the internet the first time in 1994 and started a company to create websites for other Chinese companies because he realized internet had not yet picked up in China. Now the funny part is that when he first began the website building business, he invited people to his house to come and witness it. It took 3 hours to load half a page. Guys drank, played cards and watched TV as they waited for half a page to load. waah!

Apart from first business ventures, I also found out some interesting aspects of famous entrepreneurs in their respective fields. For example, Thomas Edison, the guy who developed the electric light bulb, was told by his teachers that ‘he was too stupid to learn anything’. (LOL).  How about this-Walt Disney was fired from a newspaper company the reason being ‘he was not creative enough’. JK Rowling (the person behind Harry Potter stories) was also fired from her job as a secretary because ‘ she spent a lot of time daydreaming’. Well, see where her daydreaming has taken her now. And Oprah Winfrey was first fired because ‘She was unfit for TV news and she was too emotional’. Jerry Seinfeld, an actor, did not actually know he was fired; the guy showed up and found his part of script for a read-through was missing, and this was in middle of shooting a movie. There are also other success and failure stories from African entrepreneurs that can serve as important lessons. The problem is that they are not amplified much and celebrated as it is in the case of entrepreneurs in the western world. We therefore need to do more especially in the mainstream platforms so show that indeed people can make it in Africa. For example, take the story of Anda Maqanda, South African electrical engineer who decided to start his own engineering company instead of looking for formal employment in 2008. However, he failed terribly at first and had to seek formal employment because things did not work out as planned. He re strategized and with the knowledge gained revamped the company in 2010 and now employees more than 150 people and has expanded to other cities including Nairobi. There are also very many others in Kenya and beyond that need to be shared more in order to resonate well with Kenyan and African entrepreneurs. 

I believe that it is not a must to fail in the first business in order to succeed. Neither is it a guarantee that when you fail in the first venture then you will succeed in your next. It depends on the lessons learnt. Everyone has their own story, but the bottom line is that we must all undergo through the learning curve. I have realized from these people that learning the lessons, being vulnerable are all part of the business. But as long as you keep an open mind; a mind-set wiling to learn and try new things, then success is not very far away.

 

 

 

Era of the internet and business

The current era is being referred to as the information age. If you have been observant enough, you will notice that entrepreneurs are ditching the old business models and using rather unconventional ways of doing business. Regarding business, modern day companies can no longer ignore the influence of the internet in doing business. The proliferation of online based business has mainly been spearheaded by young people who are ditching the bureaucratic way of doing business.

With online based business, an entrepreneur can start operations from the comfort of his/her home. I think this is the way to go with the current problems of raising enough capital to rent expensive office apartments. The brick and mortar way of conducting business is highly expensive. However, I agree that even internet based enterprises still need offline presence, they can do this progressively as the enterprise takes shape. One of the main aspects of internet business is through ecommerce. E-commerce has gained a strong foothold in Kenya in the last few years. I will dwell with small-scale retailers. With eCommerce entrepreneurs are setting up simple websites and establishing a consistent social media presence. Through this model, entrepreneurs are identifying business opportunities and setting up shop from the comfort of their homes. All they need to do is post products online and make deliveries to customers. Of course its not all rosy because one has to be consistent and offer unique products but it also offers a wide market is properly utilized.

ecom

ecommerce offers a myriad of advantages both to business and customers. For example, the cost of doing business decreases because all a business needs is a store or a warehouse when all products are kept. Through a consistent online marketing strategy, a company can offer deliveries to customers within a specific region. Other aspects such as product customization, cheaper products, delivery and ability to offer a wide range of products are all advantages of adopting online based business. Also, use of company website and social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram can be avenues adopted by your business. One of the main challenges faced by this type of business is having streamlined logistics especially as the business grows. However, one can start with investment in motorcycles which can quickly navigate through traffic in the city. The business is also easy to scale if you identify the target market and offer unique products or solutions to customers. With the high usage of mobile money services such as Airtel Money, Yucash and Mpesa, the process of paying for goods and services is even easier. There are various thriving businesses in this field; from food deliveries, clothes and fashion to drinks.

There are also other methods that are changing the way people work and do business. For example, co-working is a major concept in the USA, Europe and Asia. The model works in such a way that work space is provided for independent contractors thereby creating a community of people working together but on different projects. This means that you don’t have a permanent office but you pay when you need to. The majority of the other work is done online. You can get access to office amenities such as office internet, stationery, amenities such as tea and  food  even without owning an office while working around other people who are totally unrelated. This concept provides a powerful tool for working on-the-go as well as networking. Besides, the main advantage of this model is enabling a community of freelancers to work together who share similar work values but work on different things. Such environment can offer great opportunities for startups to share and network while saving on normal start up costs. Studies show that this trend is set to grow even further.

 

coworking

source: Hera Hub

Co-working is mainly being applied primarily for hiring consultants or specialists in certain fields. Imagine a case whereby a company can hire specialist consultants in specific areas such as accounting, web consulting etc to undertake specific tasks when they arise. These people are paid purely on the basis of work done. Therefore, a company can save on staff costs associated with permanent employees. Only time will tell if this concept will spread globally.

All in all, i believe that the internet and technology are here to stay. The Internet offers immense opportunities even for small businesses. Unlike in the past, the internet is making the playground level for both young and seasoned entrepreneurs and it is upon us to look into ways of using it to gain competitive advantage in different aspects. Some of the things that are happening are not highly pronounced or even visible in the mainstream media, but there are people out there making it big on the internet with other things such as freelance writing, blogging and transcription. Leveraging on the internet platform can and will be the game changer in a few years time in Africa and Kenya in particular as these new work concepts spread around the world.

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saccos and entrepreneur spirit

I have had interest in the concept of Micro-finance since my encounter with Kuya from Kenyatta University.  Kuya was a very interesting lecturer for a unit called Economics of Micro-finance. I remember vividly how Kuya went on and on about the concept of group lending that later spread all over the world.  In brief, Mohammad Yunas started the concept in Bangladesh and encouraged people from poor backgrounds to get small loans at affordable rates of interests to improve the livelihood of poor people. This later led to formation of the first micro-credit bank called Grammen Bank. For his work in advancing this model, he won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.  Through the concept of micro-credit, entrepreneurs from poor background were able to get access to affordable finance that they would otherwise not have been able to get access to in traditional banking system model.

Fast forward to today, this model has been advanced to form what is the basis of modern day chamas and sacco movement. Kenya is ranked the best country in Africa in terms of number of saccos, growth, management and impact of Saccos to the common people and 7th globally. With an estimated 15,000 registered saccos in Kenya, majority of people especially in the rural areas have been able to uplift their living standards and alleviate poverty. Indeed, i believe that if we entrench the Sacco basics to the young population in Kenya, we are able to cultivate a good savings culture for people at a young age. Kenya cannot achieve its Vision 2013 without reducing the sprawling levels of youth unemployment that we are witnessing today. Given that not all people can get access to funding, ensuring that young people in the informal sector save through a well established sacco system can have a more positive impact. In rural areas, Chamas have been transforming the livelihoods of many people because they are present in virtually all sectors. People contribute as low as ksh 50 or even ksh 100 daily and within a short period of time, they undertake investments that they would otherwise not have been able to undertake. More resources in terms of member education on financial literacy could be very vital for these chamas that have grown to eventually become registered saccos.

sacco1

One of the basic principles of a sacco is that one must save in order to get access to credit. Majority of the Saccos offer up to 3 times the amount of savings. Therefore consistent savings of up to Ksh 50,000 can give you a loan of about ksh 150,000. I consider the model of savings and investing through Sacco a good model because firstly it gives you that saving culture.  Imagine If someone decides to save ksh 150,000 for a project. This might take a long time. If you save ksh 5,000 every month, you can be eligible for skh 150,000 loan after just 10 months or less. However, for you to save up to ksh 150,000 it would take 30 months (If you save Ksh 5000 every month). Considering the time value of money, you can save for 10 months and get a loan to finance your small scale project. By the time you get to 30 months, your project could be on its way to success. in addition, saccos offer lower rates of interest on loans compared to banks. Majority of the Saccos offer as low as 12% interets p.a mainly on reducing balance basis. Compare that the current bank rate of over 19%.

Sacco logo1

The case of  Ubunifu Sacco  (‘Ubunifu Sacco’ on Facebook) can be used as an example of the potential that lies with youth based Sacco. Ubunifu Sacco morphed from a savings club to become registered as a Sacco in April 2015. The start up Sacco (which i am part of) was formed with the purpose of mobilizing savings from young entrepreneurs who would otherwise not get credit from banking institutions. Within a short period of time, we have been able to grow membership to 41 members currently with cumulative monthly deposits of about 1.8 million.  An amount of close to ksh 1.1 million has already been disbursed as loans since the Sacco started lending in November 2015. Currently, around ksh 500,000 is advanced as loans every month to members. Members contribute only ksh 4,000 every month. (about ksh 130 daily). The Sacco has achieved the above within a few months of being in operation, imagine what will happen a year from now if the consistency is maintained. The potential is definitely there (PS. Join Ubunifu Sacco Today, Check out the Facebook Page for details).  I believe there are other youth based saccos out there. They present a good opportunity for pooling funds that can be channeled to viable investment opportunities. Members who a year ago could not access loans from banking institutions despite having incomes, though irregular, have now the ability to borrow money to pay for school fees, fund their businesses and support their families. Members act as guarantors to each another thereby eliminating the need for elusive collateral in terms of fixed assets. There is untapped potential here and Saccos can help entrench the savings culture while turning around the living conditions of young people.

The most important aspect that can propel growth and success of youth-led Saccos is training for board and employees in terms of financial stewardship and corporate governance. This can enable the Saccos to generate enough wealth to cover operational costs. With support from institutions such as Ministry of Industrialization, SASRA, District Cooperative officers and other agencies such as Co-op Consultancy and Insurance Agency (CCIA), these Saccos can and overcome the initial start up barriers. The entrepreneurial spirit can be nurtured early enough while at the same time enabling young entrepreneurs to learn important money lessons while still in their early years of growth.

Sacco 2 Mobile

Innovativeness in Sacco products is one area that youth based Saccos need to fully exploit in order to become more relevant to young people. Services such as access to credit through mobile money services is one of them. Linking these money transfer services to back-office financial databases can lower operational costs because saccos will require fewer staff while increasing efficiency.  In addition, with right framework, Saccos can offer products such as funding of innovative start ups from  members. Switching to virtual platforms that eliminate the need for brick and mortar establishments would also be a viable avenue for growth. Integrating technology innovation and new products can be expensive for start up Saccos and therefore partnerships with ICT companies and other institutions could prove very strategic.   Its time more young people became involved in their our future rather than laying back and wait for ‘the big break’ while we can use what we have to build a more promising future. we can use the little income we get from side hustles and do bigger things. We just have to imagine big, pool funds and start small.

 

 

African entrepreneur story

Over the years, writing has been one way of passing knowledge and  wisdom from one generation to the other. This applies to academic writing, writing for pleasure, business writing, columnists and novelists.  In case of entrepreneurship, writing about lessons and experiences is a good way of passing the information gained to future generations.

However, i have realized that majority of African entrepreneurs have not compiled their experiences in form of books that would be passed to new and future entrepreneurs. if you look at established entrepreneurs of our generation such as Richard Branson, Mark Cuban and Arianna Huffington all have written about their journeys to the top. Through such books entrepreneurs can easily gain knowledge and use it to better their own entrepreneurial journeys. In Africa, successful entrepreneurs have not done much to share about their journeys which would serve as important lessons for future generations. I believe that entrepreneurship is one of the ways through which we can propel ourselves out of poverty and unemployment. However, there are some problems in Africa that are unique to Africa and therefore there needs to be an African story from the already established entrepreneurs. Majority of the existing stories about entrepreneurship and business in Africa are told by ‘foreign experts’ who perceive that they have a complete understanding of the African story. This has contributed to the current situation that African stories are not shaped by Africans themselves. This has heavily contributed to the narrative that Africa is a’Dark continent’ because predecessors have failed to explicitly tell their own story.

Every year Forbes publishes a list of top entrepreneurs and business people in Africa. However, majority of these successful entrepreneurs have not put down their experiences in form a memoir or even autobiography for other young entrepreneurs to learn from. Failure of these successful people to write down their stories has forced many entrepreneurs to look up to western based entrepreneurs whereas there is plenty to learn from pioneer entrepreneurs in Africa. In addition, the insights of these established entrepreneurs would enable the upcoming entrepreneurs to identify new ventures that would be instrumental in turning the continent around.

African entrepreneurs need to write more more books because knowing how an entrepreneur thinks is more important than observing or being told about the person.  In Kenya, there is also lack of Kenyan success stories in form of books that would go a long way in becoming a source of inspiration for young and upcoming entrepreneurs. Moreover, i believe that scholars, technocrats and other people in  the private and public sector owe us books about their journeys and lessons for the future.  A Few of the sucessful people have written their sucess stories but majority have not. This denies future generations a chance to share in rich heritage and history that will have contributed to Kenya’s economic growth years to come. For example i would love to read all about the experiences of Bitange Ndemo, David Ndii among others. Their thoughts and ideas could go a long way in providing lessons for the future generations.