Sailesh Savani is the founder and CEO of CompuLynx, a technology solutions firm headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, that specialises in retail management software, identity management, fraud and loss-prevention solutions, as well as hardware products.
1. Tell us about one of the toughest situations you’ve found yourself in as a business owner.
After about 16 years into the business, I got to a point where I didn’t know how to take the business forward from where it was at that time. Sales were plateauing, we were not able to attract talent, access to funding was a big challenge [and] we had no strategy and plan.
I realised that I had reached my “level of incompetence” and I needed help. Help that would bring some fresh thinking into the business and rejuvenate the team, the environment and the fabric of the business.
I, therefore, started looking out for help from outside the business. I reached out to my ex-boss, who was my immediate manager in my job before I started the company. I ended up engaging him on a part-time assignment to help us restructure the business and bring in some processes in all aspects of the business.
The key learnings for me were not to be in denial when you have a shortcoming or a problem within you or your company, [and] not to shy away from asking for help. There’s nothing wrong [with] asking for help. It’s [alright] to say, “I don’t know and, therefore, I need help”. If you are the smartest person in your team, there’s something wrong. Be open to hiring people who are smarter than you.
2. Which business achievement are you most proud of?
I strongly believe that as an entrepreneur and business owner, one important responsibility I must shoulder is to develop people around me. I realised this a bit later into the journey, but then started focusing on this, among other activities.
“Create an environment where people can flourish and grow,” [a common value of mine and my company], clearly reflects this. I can proudly say that I continue to develop people in the organisation and people who have worked with us have prospered in various aspects, including personally, professionally, financially and spiritually.
3. Describe your greatest weakness as an entrepreneur.
I have seen a lot of entrepreneurs who have this skill of evaluating people’s skills, ability and trustworthiness within minutes of interaction. My biggest weakness is [that] I take people at face value and trust them for what they say and what they appear to be. By default, I trust people unless they breach the trust. And, to top it, I’m bad at judging the true character of people within [a] short span of interaction.
This has resulted in several breaches of trust and financial loss to me and the company. I am now learning to “trust but verify”, which, for me, still doesn’t come naturally and I have to make [a] special effort to put in the mechanism of “verify” in every “trusted” relationship and interaction.
4. Which popular entrepreneurial advice do you disagree with?
I have heard a lot of people say, “Have a perfect product before you hit the market”. I believe we are in a world of imperfection and if we wait to perfect the product before we hit the market, we will miss the bus as the speed of innovation and idea replication is the highest in this day and age. I believe that as long as the product meets the minimum requirements of the target market and customer, one can hit the market and continue to “perfect” the product from the initial launch.
Talking about technology products, if you look at any product today, they are launched as long as the product meets the minimum requirements of the customer and has at least one customer delight feature. Companies do not shy from launching it with known flaws and shortcomings and continue to evolve the product as the product gets accepted in the market.
5. Is there anything you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before you got started?
I wish I had a better understanding of some basic rules of building an organisation and running a business.
I got the opportunity to enrol for and attend the three-year, part-time Entrepreneurial Master Programme at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston in 2014, which is co-sponsored by the global Entrepreneurs’ Organisation, of which I am the founding member of the Kenya chapter.
I learned a lot right from the first year, some of which I was able to implement in my business even before I graduated in 2016. I was able [to] create a better foundation for a sustainable organisation.
‘The journey so far’ series is edited by Wilhelmina Maboja, with copy editing by Xolisa Phillip.