Ben Gachie, 34, like every campus student went on a job hunt after graduation. And like every other graduate, the routine soon became predictable. Within a short period of time, he already had enough of the vicious cycle. He went back home and had a candid chat with his father.
“What’s the difference between a guy who goes looking for a job and a guy who goes round looking for business?” he asked his father who was an entrepreneur himself.
“The difference is that the guy who is going to look for business carries a company profile while the guy looking for a job goes around carrying a CV. The companies they are going to are the same, the process is also the same only that the guy who carries a CV will get a job with a stated amount of money at the end of the month,” his father answered.
Armed with this insight and the challenge his father gave him, he launched out the next day, though this time round armed with a company profile.
The entrepreneurial bug actually bit him when he was still a student. In high school, circumstances forced him to be inventive. His mother travelled to the United Kingdom. His father who believed that a man had to fend for himself was left with the responsibility to care of him.
Apart from fare and small shopping, the concept of pocket money was a myth. He had to be smart to survive. He started buying a full loaf of bread worth Sh20. He would divide the bread into four different pieces and sell each at Sh10, making a 100 percent profit.
First forward, 10 years later, his business acumen was becoming to shape up.
“I ventured into trading IT related products like desktop computers, servers, laptops, printers among others, because that’s my background. I did the job for around 5 years. But when the IT products were tax zero-rated, the market became flooded,” says Gachie.
Many entrepreneurs look at the red tapes as a stumbling block, initial capital being the leading challenge. How did he get the first money to invest in the business?
“My dad gave me Sh18,000 which I used to register my company. I was able to negotiate with suppliers to get credit, and that’s how I began.”
Gachie explains he had to look the part to gain the confidence of businesses and suppliers. He realized people don’t just buy the product but also the person selling the product or service.
“There is a gentleman called Stanley. He was the dean of a local university. Immediately I got the company profile, I went to him. My request was simple, give me business. While I was doing the follow up, I decided to buy a suit worth Shs 3,000. I picked my dad’s old Peugeot and used it to look for business. And the day I went into his office, wearing a suit and a carrying a car key, Stan told me that he was going to give me business because I looked the part.”
This prompted him to get an office space at Railways go down where he would pay Sh1,000 per month. But it was a small space so he had to make it look big by talking big.
“Part of entrepreneurship is looking the part. Because you might not have the financial muscle backing you up but suppliers are people who want to sell. Based on how you look, they will either give you business or not,” he insists.
“It also depends on how you talk about your company. Don’t use words like ‘I will,’ use words like ‘we will.’ This creates an image of a company that is operational and big because nobody wants to deal with a startup. But is there a difference between a start-up and an established company? Nothing, only the people who go to sell them,” adds Ben, who now runs shared space offices in Nairobi.
And that’s how the virtual offices business concept came in. He realized that many entrepreneurs are suffering because they cannot afford a decent office space to carry their business. He decided to fill this gap by giving them a good address, a receptionist, Internet, snacks, boardroom and such.
“You do not necessarily need a full-time receptionist for 10 hours per day as a startup. It doesn’t make sense to hire a permanent receptionist. The idea of a virtual office is to have the receptionist permanently stationed as a shared resource. So is the internet, the printer and office space. It becomes cheaper if it’s shared,” Gachie explains the basics of what has become the shared economy.
Ever since he acquired the first 1000 sq meters of office space which was quickly taken up, the growth of the company has been exponential and the journey adventurous.
To identify a prime piece of shared space, put ourselves in the shoes of a start-up. So you need a place which is accessible with public transport and a prestigious address.
Gachie remains guarded on the value of his company.
“Let’s not focus on the money. Let us focus on the journey and lessons learnt. That’s what is really important. Sometimes we focus so much on the money and we miss the lessons.”
His parting shot: “Read read read. Research all the time. Invest in marketing. Develop a thick skin. Be open minded because you don’t know where the winds of entrepreneurship will take you.”
Ben Gachie is the founder of Target Office Kenya, a company which is involved in offering office space to startups.