Six established Kenyan entrepreneurs share tips for success

Flora Mutahi, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and founder of Melvin Marsh International (Nanjinia Wamuswa, Standard)

Flora Mutahi

I am…CEO and founder of Melvin’s Marsh International

Been in business for… I was employed for nine months before starting my own business.

Biggest business mistake I ever made…Failing to try because of fear and listening to others while I should have done what I wanted to do.

What I would tell anyone looking to start a business? 

People are your most important asset. Be slow to hire, take your time, carry out several interviews and get a professional opinion if you can afford it. When they join you, train them. Also clarify their job description, have regular feedback meetings which need to be two-way. Hire for attitude and you can train on aptitude! However, be quick to fire if it does not work out after doing the above. Most importantly, treat your employees how you would want to be treated.

Mary Muthoni Jason

I am… founder and CEO of St Petroc Premier School. Also the President of Women in Business Community Network.

Been in business for…15 years

Biggest business mistake I ever made … I once reduced the fee for pupils in my school to try and attract customers. That was a wrong move. Often, the first thing entrepreneurs resort to when business is tough is to try differentiating on price. Cheaper prices mean more customers, right? Wrong! Most customers are willing to buy more expensive items because of the greater quality or the added convenience. During tough economic times, an increase in price, coupled with improvements in quality or convenience, can drive customers to your door. Price slashing is a dangerous game, which could lead to slashing employees or salaries to keep costs down.”

What I would tell anyone looking to start a business? 

Countless people dream of becoming entrepreneurs, but they never do. They’re burdened with excuses and fears of failing. From money to time and responsibilities, you can make a million cases for not starting a business. Worrying about the risks of business ownership is normal. But, excuses only slow you down from reaching your goals. If you really want to start a business, you need to address the reasons you think you can’t start a business and get rid of them. Also, know the legal requirements for starting a small business, be a solution and keep it simple.

Bonus tip?

It is important to focus on your skills, experience and passion. Either go with what you already know or be ready to be a really fast learner. Evaluate business-lifestyle fit. If balancing work and family life is important to you, then avoid businesses that could require working 60 hours a week. 

Again, test your idea. What service do you wish existed that currently doesn’t?

Fredrick Simiyu

I am… Chairman of IQ Marketing

Been in business for…Over 20 years

Biggest business mistake…Taking a major international branding job, investing heavily, and then the payment came a year after delivery in small batches. I didn’t do my due diligence before taking on the task.

What I would tell anyone looking to start a business?

Refine your brand and make sure it identifies with great values like trust, security and quality. That will influence the customer’s decision in favour of the brand.

First, a brand is not a logo, design, advertising or a communication instrument. It is an economic asset. It is a long-term investment you need to make. In your startup, you are the brand ambassador. Attractive and successful brands know who they are and what performances they deliver, and conduct all their activities accordingly. They concentrate on those things that fit their personalities and correspond to their talents and strengths. Successful brands do what they do better than anyone else consistently. When a company provides performances at consistent quality over a long period of time, these performances eventually settle into brand values. The difference is, while performance has to be proven over and over again, values are believed.

Bonus tip?

Your staff are also your brand ambassadors. The moment their jobs are placed in uncertainty, expect the same for the organisation.

Habil Olaka

I am… CEO of Kenya Bankers Association 

Kenya Bankers Association CEO Habil Olaka .[David Njaaga, Standard]

What I would tell anyone looking to start a business…

When you borrow funds, realise that one way or other, you have to pay back eventually. Make it a rule that when it comes to loans, you only take what you know you are able to pay back. It is critical to borrow within your capacity to repay rather than borrowing because you need the money. Sometimes your needs might be beyond your capacity to repay, and when you are driven by your needs, you might overstretch to borrow beyond your capacity to pay. 

At the end of the day, the debt repayment comes from the cash flow generated from the business. Therefore, your capacity to borrow is determined by cash flow generated in the business. If you have a high need without the capacity to borrow from banks, look for alternatives to finance your business. Go with your personal savings, or ask family for help. You can also get an equity partner.

Andrew Muriungi

I am…founder and managing director of Rhino Mabati 

Andrew Muriungi Managing Director Rhino Mabati Factory Limited at his factory in Kitengela. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

What I would tell anyone looking to start a business…

Be consistent in what you offer your customers. It should be very clear to anyone who interacts with your brand what it is you offer. And that your quality of service is consistently good and reliable. Also, remember that what you offer isn’t about you. It is about your customers. It is their needs you are anticipating. When you do that, the service or good you deal in will sell itself.

George Mburu

I am… CEO of Mizizi Africa Homes

Been in business…Actively for three years now.

Biggest business mistake I ever made…Getting the timing to get into business all wrong. 
I left gainful employment and ventured into real estate business just a few months before Covid-19 struck. It threw the business into a lurch, since most activities across the world came to a standstill. I would not call it a waste though, as great things came to pass. Later in 2020, we would be recognised at a local awards show as the leading low-cost housing developer of the year.

What I would tell anyone looking to start a business…

Before you venture in any business, ask yourself whether it is the right time to start investing in the project. This also applies to real estate investments. Secondly you must understand the market and key trends shaping the industry you are getting into. Don’t get into an industry you know nothing about. For example, in my industry—real estate, having rich knowledge will dictate whether you should be putting your money into commercial or residential estates.

Also, know the economic value of the project. Is it a profit or loss-making venture?  

If you are looking to get into real estate as a business, know this…

1.      If you are new in the industry, have a clear plan of what you want and your end goal. It will guide you on what you need, including key areas of focus in selling your product and most important your customer, who the business revolves around. Also, attend real estate fairs and connect with senior experts in the industry to learn from their experiences and get guidance on trends and opportunities in the sector. While there, ask questions and learn. 

2.      You might need to heavily publicise your project, ideas and concepts for buy-in and acceptance by your target audience. You never know, you might be having a very unique, potential and innovative idea that cannot only attract customers but also investors who would want to associate with your transformative project.

3. To attract customers to a particular targeted area, you will need to do a lot of investor open     days and forums. Besides getting new customers, this has the potential to give more referrals in future because your customers are immersed into your project.

 4. Your network is your net worth, so ensure that you find amazing ways of maintaining links with clients even if you only had a single engagement. They might know someone who might be interested in your project. This has been a key pillar in the growth of my business.

5. Always be open to all customers as they come with diverse purchasing power. One may have cash up front and others may have less than what is required to close a transaction. Don’t turn anyone away. Find a way to accommodate them that leaves both of you happy. And they will be loyal customers.

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