Martin Kiarie is the co-founder and CEO of Kenya-based Bean Interactive, an agency that specialises in strategy, product innovation, design, web development and digital marketing.
1. Tell us about one of the toughest situations you’ve found yourself in as a business owner.
There have been several challenges over the years, but the toughest I have faced is ensuring organisational alignment when trying to steer the organisation – from shareholders and board members to employees – to a new direction.
When [a] company is in its infancy, it’s easy to align the thoughts, energies and actions of [a] team towards a common goal, [because] a lot of the time that team is you and your business partners.
What I learned during this time is to mature as a leader. I realised I didn’t need to be the hero who came in and saved the day, I needed to be the captain who steered a great team to a shared destination. It was hard for me to let go of attending every important meeting, joining each brainstorm, but I overcame the challenge by trusting the people I hire.
I realised they are way smarter and better than me at their core competencies and I didn’t need to hire people to then hire myself back. By letting go of more things and assigning those things to people who were infinitely more capable, I was able to focus on steering the ship.
2. Which business achievement are you most proud of?
This year we celebrate our 10th year anniversary. That is an achievement I am really proud of. However, the greatest achievement I have had the privilege of being part of is enabling businesses transform digitally and seeing the effect that has on them.
Delivering the service and value we promise and retaining clients are always our biggest goals, and thus accomplishments. Enhancing and improving how we deliver our value are a constant task at Bean. We never really get there, but love the journey.
Last year we re-positioned ourselves as a digital transformation agency making a conscious effort to work with our clients not just on digital marketing, but [also] on product innovation and defining our clients’ overall digital transformation strategy.
3. Describe your greatest weakness as an entrepreneur.
Believe it or not, [it] is not taking time to plan something out. When I latch on to an idea I go straight into execution, driven more [by] bringing it to life – and not necessarily thinking of what could go wrong. The effect this has had, previously, is I move too fast and leave people behind. Secondly, it leads to costly failures. It’s expensive to fail in the field.
What I have done to avoid this is to work with a strong project management team at Bean, which ensures we are intentional in all our project planning. And thanks to the Stanford Seed Programme, we have adopted the design thinking methodology to our product development and communication design services. [It] allows us to go through a process which ensures that what we do is relevant to the consumer and not just focused on energetic execution.
4. Which popular entrepreneurial advice do you disagree with?
That you have to dominate [the] competition. I really think this gets it twisted. I think there is too much focus on competition and less on product innovation and adaptation. When a company is focused on competition, this leads to a commoditised environment that is only differentiated [by] cost.
It’s a race to zero – no one wins. But when you focus on value creation and being true to your vision, your “competition” becomes your ability to execute what the market needs.
5. Is there anything you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before you got started?
That you don’t need money or connections to be successful. Just a purpose, energy, relentless action and patience. The connections and money are a consequence. They show up because of the value you are creating, they don’t create it.
‘The journey so far’ series is edited by Wilhelmina Maboja, with copy editing by Xolisa Phillip.