When signs of the economic downturn began showing in Europe, civil engineer Sam Wanjohi decided to return to Kenya in 2007. He then founded Foresight Interiors, which provides fitted kitchens and other home interior products and solutions. Wanjohi has since diversified his interests to include an online concierge service, called Dash2do. Wanjohi told How we made it in Africa’s Dinfin Mulupi why moving back to Kenya was the right decision for him.
What inspired you to venture into business?
Up to 2005 I was a civil engineer in England. I started buying and renovating small properties and when I began making more money from that I became more interested in business. For the next two years, I renovated houses and sold them off at a profit. When the economy started changing in Europe, I decided to move back to Kenya.
When I got back to Nairobi I realised companies here were not doing things at the level I thought it ought to be done. That inspired me to establish Foresight Interiors (formerly Kitchen Direct). We do custom designed kitchens, wardrobes and cabinetry. We don’t import; we only bring in raw materials and customise the fittings. We have a team of 160. In a year we do about 1,000 installations.
How would you describe the demand for modern kitchens in Kenya?
It is a very good investment because it adds value to your property. We get a lot of referrals from ladies who visited their friends and saw a unique kitchen. Apartments are more expensive today and that has raised the expectations of buyers thus creating a market for us. A developer cannot just do an ordinary fitting, or they will not get the sale price they want.
Describe the challenges you face.
Our biggest asset is our employees who work very hard to exceed our customers’ expectations. The biggest challenge, however, is a few members in the team who don’t work as hard. We are getting better though as we motivate them, hire the right people and get everyone to move to the same direction. We have skills in Kenya; what we lack is attitude and that you cannot teach.
You also run another business. Tell us about that.
Last year we established Dash2do, a platform that allows customers to post a booking for any task they want done. Dash2do allows people to get help when they need without having to employ someone full time. We call them simple tasks, skilled tasks, virtual tasks and trusted drivers.
We get clients who want presents bought and delivered or want to book a taxi as well as event organisers who need employees urgently. Most people who want these tasks done cannot employ a full time employee because that would be expensive and the tasks are temporary, such as weekly shopping or monthly hairdressing. We have a team of 60 students spread across the country who perform the tasks at a fee. Students have a lot of free time when they are not in class and most of them are willing to work. After they sign up we call the students and interview them. We like to work with eloquent and intelligent people who can think on their feet. We also have skilled professionals like drivers, barbers, cocktail mixers and hairdressers.
We don’t control the pricing on tasks. We take 20% of the price offered by the customer while the students take the remaining 80%. We believe there is a market for this because helpers are becoming more expensive and people are busier and cannot find time to do these tasks themselves. All payment is online, so someone in the US can have a task done and pay online.
Why the diversification?
When I first moved back to Kenya I thought in five years I would have 1,000 employees. I have not achieved that goal. I was young then and I have since learnt that complete employment comes with a lot of difficulties because of the labour laws. There are so many reasons why companies are afraid to grow their workforce. Dash2do is growing exponentially. We are now looking at students in Cape Town and Johannesburg because it is all online. We hope this can fulfil that objective to have 1,000 even 10,000 people employed.
What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?
You need to decide whether you are in a lifestyle business or a business that you want to grow aggressively. There are lots of people who run businesses that fit their lifestyle: pay their bills with no drive to grow. For those who are after something extra, they ought to choose scalable industries to avoid frustrations. I wouldn’t say I am frustrated at Foresight Interiors, but I can see it has limitations because it is a bricks and mortar business. That is why I took my ambitions online because I can sell to anyone in the world. Lastly, be innovative, do not copy. You will never be passionate enough to work hard at something you are copying. There is so much learning that goes into anything successful.
You came back to Kenya because opportunities here were more attractive compared to Europe where the economic downturn was just starting. Are you still optimistic about Kenya?
Coming back to Kenya was the right decision for me. I think the country is at the verge of huge growth. Because of the economic downturn in Europe, there is a lot of money available at low rates that can be invested in Kenya and the rest of Africa. Things are going to be amazing here.