Kenyan serial entrepreneur talks about the power of a personal website

“You, as a personal brand, are one of the most powerful exposure and reputable building tools that your company has,” says Robyn Young, corporate marketing strategist and owner of Brandheart Marketing and Personal Branding. “So that is why it is incredibly important for you, the business owner, to build your personal brand.”

Kenyan entrepreneur Tonee Ndungu

Tonee Ndungu

One Kenyan serial entrepreneur who strongly agrees is Tonee Ndungu, whose latest startup is Kytabu. The company offers a textbook subscription application on a low cost tablet that allows primary and high school students to rent all the textbooks in the Kenyan education curriculum on an hourly, daily, weekly, monthly or annual basis. Kytabu has recently managed to attract US$350,000 in investment.

“I think the moment I met my first investor was when I realised the power of personal branding because the investor was basically making a decision based on two things,” he explained to How we made it in Africa in an interview yesterday. “The first was my reputation which they had heard by word-of-mouth was of value. But second by the information they could find on and offline about me.”

Ndungu highlighted that up-to-date public profiles on websites such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook can provide valuable information and insight about entrepreneurs for investors. He added that investors are not necessarily looking to simply invest in a startup company, but are also looking for an entrepreneur they can trust and rely on. For this reason, Ndungu said it is necessary for entrepreneurs to focus on branding both their business and themselves online.

“So personal branding is really about selling yourself… You are trying to get people to see, ‘this is where I am right now but this is where I am really trying to go’.”

In addition to profiles on social media websites, Ndungu added that a personal website can also be a great way to promote yourself. For example, it can tell investors what your goals are, how you got where you are today, and what you need in order to achieve your goals.

According to Ndungu, his personal website took him two hours a day over two weeks to successfully complete, and requires little updating. It was also completely free.

What should an online profile say about an entrepreneur?

Ndungu said a personal website should not only promote what an entrepreneur does, but who they are.

“Your passion,” he emphasised. “I think it’s important to be clear and extremely precise about your passion: what are you doing all of this for; what is the driving force behind you? If you can articulate your passion in a website then it becomes even easier for you to articulate your passion as an individual. So I think a personal website should be able to articulate a passion – whether it is writing, whether it is art, whether it is love of food…. that is what should be on your website. Nothing else, nothing fancy, no creations, just you.”

For Ndungu, his passion is entrepreneurship, and to position himself as an expert in the field, as well as to attract people to his personal website, he uses the space to publish advice to other entrepreneurs.

“So being able to provide information for other people that helps them grow their entrepreneurship skills as well is of great value… whether that information is mine or somebody else’s, which I always give credit to such as Seth Godin or many other like-minded individuals.”

Ndungu has experienced both success and failure in entrepreneurship. When he was 25 years old, he raised $40,000 to talk to teenagers at Kenyan schools about leadership. A few years later, he built a company with friends that failed. He then built an ICT incubator and raised €5m for five years for it and, on selling it, had just signed a $1m incubation partnership agreement with the World Bank.

Ndungu encourages entrepreneurs to make both their past successes and failures public on their online profiles as this help others relate to them. Personal websites should not be about creating hype or elevating an entrepreneur to something he or she is not, he explained.

Stand out

“Anybody who wants to market anything must read Purple Cow by Seth Godin. It is about standing out… We have all seen a cow. It is strange if you have not seen a cow. But a purple cow is interesting.”

Ndungu’s uses this idea on his Kytabu business card which describe him as “founder; innovation architect; nice guy”. The plan was to make his card stand out and be more memorable to investors who usually leave a networking event with a collection of business cards.

“And every time somebody reads that card, they always respond to it. So it has worked out.”

Other than Purple Cow, Ndungu suggests that every entrepreneur should read The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss and Good to Great by James Collins.