About a week ago, we had a discussion about what our ideal job in a perfect world would be. My answer was definitely building impactful organizations/companies. I believe that I am a builder and this is ideally pretty much what my career has been so far.
I was born into an entrepreneur family. To my knowledge, my dad has never been in formal employment for a day and the same applies to that whole side of the family. Probably that had a lot to do with my love for entrepreneurship, understanding capitalism and how all these impact the wider economy.
With that, I decided to do a piece on the lessons I have learned from being an entrepreneur.
The first business I ever officially started was setting up a shoe shining stand in Juja. We were sick of getting to town looking strange after the long walk to the bus stage. After our experiences setting up AIESEC Projects, we felt quite invisible.
$500, Co-founder issues and multiple implementation challenges later (including a motorbike mafia), I had learned 3 key things.
- Build a business you care about
- Market research comes first
- Hiring is not as easy
At this point, a friend’s sister was running an events company which we took over and expanded to include a gifting enterprise. Our first pilot was on Valentine’s day where we raked in sales worth over $500 in a day, not bad at all.
This business ended up being my introduction to side hustle mentality. There was no clear business model or growth strategy, there was no time dedication to the enterprise and no desire to grow beyond being a lifestyle business.
I had no passion for the work, no eye for the business and was motivated by the quick money. This led to a disastrous implementation a year later which saw profits drop drastically, loss of clients and eventually, my resignation from handling logistics for the company.
I have since watched a company with the same business model scale tremendously, being one of the most successful tech-enabled outfits to come out of iBiz.
These lessons would come in very handy in the first company I built while in campus. KA Consultancy was tech-enabled and in the business of content, research, and education. At its peak, I had over 10 employees working remotely and this was a crash course in communication, hiring and firing. Through gaining and losing clients, I understand what effective communication meant and also the value of referrals for any enterprise.
After 1 and a half years, the operations were pretty much self-running, the onboarding process for part-time staff was seamless and I decided to become more hands-off too fast. Quality reduced, I lost some key accounts and my sweet monthly income ($1000-$1500), which was quite nice being a student.
I had no desire to actively rebuild the company and operations were reduced drastically to just 3 employees today.
There were a couple of colorful experiences in this period which I talk about on the Chini ya Maji Podcast: Culture Rules 2: Mindset Challenge . These included a WiFi business and 3D Screening for football matches among others.
At this point, I was obsessed with building solutions and teams. This was now the real deal. I have been part of setting up different organizations/companies and teams over the past 2 years namely: Volunteers for Kenya (V4K), TEDxYouth@Parklands, Nuovo Tech, and Impact Africa Network.
The truth is that at some point I thought I was a serial builder (the bad kind) until I came across Bill Gross of Idealab, over the last 20 years, he has been part of setting up 100 companies in the US. Being the ‘ideas’ guy is not crazy! All provided it is coupled with the patience and will to execute. Watch his talk, A Devotion to New Ideas.
Over time, I finally narrowed down my millennial focus to issues I care deeply about which are empowering the next generation of young Africans through Tech, innovation, and entrepreneurship.
Key Lessons Learned
As I transition in life from one role to another, there some key things I have learned which guide my next ventures:
- Side hustles are not all bad, they build entrepreneurs. The challenge comes in knowing when to stop and build something greater. It is integral to note that not all businesses and companies are meant to be big enterprises.
- Selecting a Co-founder or Partner should be taken as serious as choosing a life partner, you don’t want to make a mistake. It is important for your motivations and life goals to be aligned.
- In Nairobi, you just learn to always have a ‘GUY’. Whether its business cards, company seals, printing banners on a whim or finding an office on short notice.
- When it comes to building a startup, people are at the center of everything, and especially once you’re in traction/growth mode.
1. Your team – Organisational culture eats strategy for breakfast. Keep the communication channels open and information trickling down through the organization.
2. Your Customers – your bosses determine how valuable your product becomes eventually. Talk to them, keep them close.
- Money is fuel for your company, not the destination. Bootstrapping is very possible in Kenya and only take in money when you need it and are ready for it. The most recent hub we set up under V4K, SM HUB in Kariobangi cost us almost nothing as an organization yet it serves over 40 kids daily in a day as of 2018 November. It is all in the ability to build networks and partnerships.
The lessons will definitely keep growing but one thing’s for sure, love what you are doing and you will never have to work a day in your life!
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