Five things you can learn from Kenya’s top businesspeople

Over the past years How we made it in Africa has interviewed many of Kenya’s most successful businesspeople and entrepreneurs. They have all overcome numerous hurdles to get to where they are today. Below are some insights to help you get ahead in your own endeavours.

Mike Macharia says

Seven Seas Technologies CEO Mike Macharia says businesspeople should consider the opportunities across the continent.

1. Be patient and don’t give up too quickly

Gina Din-Kariuki, founder of one of Kenya’s most successful PR companies Gina Din Corporate Communications, says entrepreneurs shouldn’t give up on their ideas too quickly.

“Every time I have wanted to quit – and there have been a few [times] – it’s at that point that [I was at] the very verge of greatness… that moment after is when it’s your next leap of success. It’s really interesting,” she says. “What I would say to people starting their businesses now is hang in there. The journey of an entrepreneur is never straight. There are… potholes on the way but we have to stay in there for the long haul.”

Bob Collymore, CEO of mobile telecommunications giant Safaricom, agrees, saying businesspeople and entrepreneurs need to be patient. “Success is a long journey whose path is wrought with missteps, wrong decisions, discouragement, skewed plans and sometimes, failure. Be flexible; if something doesn’t work out, learn from the situation and move on.”

2. Get involved in what you know

Pete Muraya has had many failures in business before finding success in property development. The CEO of Suraya Property Group advises other entrepreneurs not to make the mistakes he made by investing in businesses they know nothing about. Real estate has attracted a lot of investors in recent years due to its potential high returns, but Muraya urges entrepreneurs to exercise caution.

“Real estate is good business, there is good money but one needs to be careful. If you want to go into real estate, don’t do it because you heard Muraya is making money, [otherwise] you are going to burn like crazy. Spend time researching it. By the time you get into it, you should have a good understanding about what it involves.”

3. Listen to the advice of others

Entrepreneurs shouldn’t have a know-it-all approach, says Joanne Mwangi, founder of marketing company PMS Group. She adds that listening to advice and criticism, especially from outsiders, can be eye opening.

“You must accept that you are not perfect because for a lot of entrepreneurs that is our greatest weakness, me being one. Someone else might just tell you something that will completely revolutionise your business. There is nothing as important as an outside perspective. Somebody looking from outward-in will see things you don’t see.”

4. Turn challenges into opportunities

“I have no time to think about challenges,” says Njeri Rionge, tech entrepreneur and founder of Wananchi Online. “Even when they come I try to solve them so quickly and get over with it. Because I convert them, they stop being challenges. I have been at many points where I knew the cookie was about to crumble, but my focus was [that] it cannot crumble, therefore I focus on the upward movement.”

5. Think beyond your home market

Many African countries are currently experiencing strong economic growth. While numerous challenges remain, industrialist Manu Chandaria says people should grab hold of the opportunities on the continent.

“When [the] iron is hot, you hit it, you shape it. This is the time that Africa has all the possibilities and whoever misses it will miss [out] for good,” notes Chandaria.

Mike Macharia, CEO of Seven Seas Technologies, agrees that businesspeople should consider the potential in other parts of the continent outside of their home markets.

“My vision has expanded on a radically global scale. I don’t sit down and think about Kenya only, as was previously the case. I have re-energised my passion and consider myself an African entrepreneur,” says Macharia.

Africa has plenty of innovative, like-minded entrepreneurs who, he says, need to start looking at the region as a whole and creating partnerships to drive the African agenda globally.

“The Chinese look at Africa from this continent-wide perspective with a view to consolidating opportunities and combining resources. We need to stop compartmentalising countries and looking at Kenya on its own, Uganda on its own, and so on. It would be significantly value adding all-round to find solutions that address African problems as a whole,” advises Macharia.