, NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 29 – If you purchased and read the book ‘Soar like an Eagle’ by George Wachiuri and did not cry, the author asks that you contact him and demand for a refund of your money.
The serial entrepreneur, motivational speaker and lately a twitter ‘big-wig’, says that the story of his life, as articulated in the book, is so moving that it is bound to make even the strongest man cry.
“My father died when I was very young. My mother had to play both roles to keep us going,” Wachiuri tells me as we start our entrepreneurship interview.
Admittedly, Wachiuri also went to bed hungry and dropped out of school a time or two. He took odd jobs as a teen such as selling onions before launching into the world of business while studying his Bachelor of Commerce at the University of Nairobi, Lower Kabete Campus in the 90s.
“I used to wash clothes at a fee for my colleagues in school. For an extra coin, I’d iron their clothes. It gave me upkeep money that I badly needed.”
After graduating, Wachiuri then registered Optiven Limited in 1997, a real estate company that did not make any profits until almost ten years later.
In between, he struggled with more than ten businesses. They all failed.
“I tried my hand in the cosmetics business as I had heard that those make a lot of money. I was basically making shampoos and hair conditioners. It did not go very well.”
Of the many businesses, another was car hire services. Here, he lost about five million with the majority of cash having been acquired through loans. “I also had a supply business. My business partner conned me a lot of money. He disappeared without a trace.”
This taught him one of the many entrepreneurship lessons he shared with me, ‘start a business with people you can trust.’
So was he ever even employed in the first place? “Yes as an accountant, I got fired at some point.”
He also worked at the United Nations, which he says, planted the seeds of philanthropy and passion of environment in him.
Hence he is the embodiment of true resistance.
Optiven, the real estate company he registered after University, wouldn’t officially open doors until 2008. Its idea was simple, buy land, add value to it then resell it to the public.
“The company was launched through a partnership between my wife, brother and I. We acquire land, develop it then sell it. By developing it, we basically drill boreholes, put up roads, connect electricity and ensure there are necessities such as security and major social amenities.”
Today, the company which he says is worth millions employs about a hundred people.
Optiven’s business model is slightly different from what is available in the market as Wachiuri says. According to the CEO, the company offers value, unlike what a majority of property companies do today. Customers buy a piece of land in a value added plot that eventually becomes part of a gated community. Others buy the plots with hopes of reselling them.
The company sells its plots in the portion of an eighth of an acre with prices ranging from Sh450, 000 to Sh1.9million, depending on the location.
The company has sold such plots in Kitengela, Ruai and Kamulu. It has also sold land in Eldoret and Kajiado with plans of expanding into the counties.
“To date, Optiven has had seventeen successful projects, including a project that had 40 acres,” Wachiuri said.
The company’s smallest project is 15 acres while the biggest – Shekinah Project in Kajiado – is 100 acres.
Buyers are given the option of building their own home or contracting Optiven Construction, an arm of the company, to build for them.
The properties are winning the hearts of many because of reasons such as flexible payment methods which include paying in installments over a period of up to two years. People can also buy plots in groups such as family groups, ‘chamas’ or friends.
What is the company therefore doing to wade off competition?
“I’m not worried about competition; it is the least of my worries. The country is in a housing crisis. In Nairobi alone, 80 percent of people do not own their own land, this means that the pie is really big for all of us,” Wachiuri says. He however says that the company’s values are however what give it leverage over others, which includes customer care.
True to his words, Optiven was crowned the Best Company in Customer Orientation and Marketing in Kenya at this year’s Company Of the Year Awards (COYA).
According to him, the company is out to do more than just ‘house’ Kenya and make money.
It has therefore, set up the Optiven Foundation, which seeks to give back to the society. According to Wachiuri, one of the foundation’s vision is to create impact in the country and beyond.
“Optiven foundation is looking to address four areas. These are poverty eradication, environment, health and education.”
To do this, the foundation is supporting Soweto Orphanage home which hosts children with HIV. It is also supporting the elderly in homes for the aged in Kitui and Siaya. He hopes the model is replicated in all counties.
Wachiuri also says that the foundation is investing in young people by educating the less privileged in the society, a move that is inspired by the problems he faced while growing up with the hunger of getting educated.
“We are also looking into conserving the environment. As a result, we are aiming to plant one million trees per year in the next five years.”
A staunch Christian, Wachiuri is not shy of discussing his faith. According to him, his Christian faith is his biggest blessing. In fact, Wachiuri admits that if he was not in real estate, he would be a pastor.
He is not afraid of discussing what it feels like to be married to his business partner who is also Optiven’s General Manager.
“You literally spend the whole day at the office with your wife, then you head home with her, doesn’t it get boring?” I ask him, to which he first laughs to before answering; “No it does not get boring. It is actually a good thing; she complements my strengths and knows my weaknesses. She also understands the company’s vision best. This makes her the best business partner I could ever ask for. We also know our boundaries, we separate work from business.”
So what is his advice to people, especially young men, who may be looking up to him? “Do not be afraid of marrying early. If you meet someone you love and you have similar goals, go for her, it’s easier to establish a lasting relationship with someone when you have nothing, than it is when you have made it. Furthermore, is there anything such as making it and being completely satisfied in life?” the father of three asks in conclusion.