I have spoken to hundreds of young Kenyans from all over this incredible country. The entrepreneurial spirit and desire to succeed exhibited by our young people is second to none I’ve witnessed around the world.
That desire however often comes with some negative side effects. It’s based on what I’ve observed, and my experience in idea-stage business acceleration, that I base this guide. By no means is it authoritative, but I believe this is a solid start and grounding for any startup business in Kenya.
What do you know best. Pick a sector that you know. Knowledge is key in the implementation and running of a business. If you’ve heard that a specific sector is lucrative, but you have no experience in it – learn about it inside and out before you try starting a business. Just because the sector makes money doesn’t mean you automatically will.
Being inundated by ideas is not good. Young Kenyans don’t usually have one good idea, they have at least 5. That is a problem. You need to master ONE before you move on to the next. Always aim to be a master of ONE rather than average at a few. When you’ve mastered one, you’ll find you have the necessary knowledge and capital to move on to the next idea, rather than struggling along multiple fronts.
Working within your means and resources. Too often we say ‘I do not have the capital to start my business’. This is quite often an unjustified excuse to not starting. Idea stage businesses are not capital intensive. Waiting for a golden ticket to getting started is the stuff of fairytales. You have to start somewhere. Always look to innovate within your means, and the resources at your disposal. Think outside the box. You will be pleasantly surprised at how much you can actually accomplish when you use what you have access to efficiently and productively.
Time is the new money. Idea stage businesses are not capital intensive if you are willing to put in the time into making them work. 5 hours a day is a hobby, not a business. If there’s one currency our unemployed people have in plenty, it’s time. Use it to your advantage. If you can set aside 15 hours each day to working hard and smart on your idea, you’ll find success will follow. Anything less and you’re not serious enough about success. Your time is free to you. Use it!
Always add value. Whether it’s for your customers or clients, you must look to add value to their existing needs. If you find that you are not adding value to the masses, and are targeting niches as a result – you’ll be spending a lot more time and money trying to attract that niche to your product or service. If you can find a way to attract the masses to your goods or services, you are sitting on a goldmine.
There is no fast track. Patience is key in building your company. There is no quick ticket to being wealthy, no matter how badly you want it. My journey has taken 7 years. Some take longer, some may take shorter. The key is to always have the big picture in mind, but work with what you have. When you realize that this world owes you nothing, and it’s the labour you put in that will drive success, you will be on the right track.
Business is not always fun. Much of the time it is toiling with little reward. When you find that you have been slogging away with little success, it’s time to reevaluate your strategy. The effort that you put in when things are stacked against you will define you. Do not let the slow moments break you down, always look to learn and innovate to stay relevant.
Partners in your business. Kenyans tend to have 2-3 partners in their initial businesses. These partners are usually friends, relatives, or neighbourhood acquaintances. Pick your partners carefully. Make sure you all share the same vision. I’ve lost friendships over business. If there is one regret I have, it’s having gone into business with people I knew well and cared about. It works differently for many people, but in my experience, friendships are better kept for social activities. A business partner needs to not accept or make excuses based on your relationship. That is one of the greatest stumbling blocks to a startup.
And finally, Plan your business. Always be proactive. Know the pitfalls of your business. When you can identify how you are going to lose money – you’ll be able to make more. Every business has the inherent ability to generate revenues, the ways it loses are key to knowing whether it will be a long term success. Plug the pitfalls for long term sustainability.