Branding In Contemporary Times

Brand

A company’s most valued asset are said to be its employees, according to Anne M. Mulcahy. They provide a company with a competitive edge in defining their organizational culture. This ultimately defines the company’s brand. In essence, therefore, it means that the brand forms a company’s core. Any business serious about creating sustained market dominance would invest heavily in defining their brand and increasing awareness among its target audience.

Take for instance Apple, the world’s most valued brand. The business has invested heavily to create products that resonate with convenience and simplicity. The euphoria that follows the release of their gadgets enables them to capture the moment and hence, evokes prestige among Apple users. This explains why any Apple product user would openly flaunt the bitten apple for all to see! Through heavy investment in research and analyzing client feedback, Apple has been able to capture the imagination of its potential and existing users.

How then can a company brand elements so as to have sustained brand experience among our users? The most essential thing to put in mind is to understand the times – we are in the information age, the digital age. It is characterized by heavy influence of digital media on human behaviour and connections. But then, as times change, as surely as they do, how best can one keep up with the dynamics?

Nevertheless, there are some fundamental realities that an enterprise needs to put into consideration as it undertakes implementation of a branding strategy.

First, they need to appreciate that consumers are endowed with information. Clients and potential clients continually research and try to get information about companies and their associated entities. They are always in search of perspectives, assessments and opinions on products before and after the purchase process. Characteristic of the contemporary times, social connections have become the focal point of decision making. The bulk of these fact finding processes and information sourcing occur on digital platforms. This requires brands to forge a way of converging with consumer interests on these platforms rather than seeking them out. Enhanced interactivity and engagement between a brand and its audience on social media is just a must in this age!

Secondly, it must be acknowledged that the traditional channels of corporate authority have lost a considerable level of confidence in the eyes of the public. This is the reason why the public believes more what a blogger posts than the official account from a company. It is worthy to note that employees have become more trustworthy than their seniors as information sources. To compound this, these peripheral voices of opinion have the potential to reach a wider audience than the traditional structured channels of company communication. For that reason, it would be indispensable for companies to leverage their employees and these fora to disseminate information about their brands.

It is interesting to note that business firms are losing grasp on monopoly of information. Through widespread information sharing on digital platforms, the public can get wind of facts about a product or a company without the involvement of the official communication structure of a company. And this is where Public Relations come in, to attempt to correct any defective image whenever destructive information leaks. Third party sources e.g. websites, social media channels, and other channels that exist outside of the structured communication channels must be considered when crafting a brand strategy in this age. This is the main reason why pundits argue that a company that lacks a social media presence commits suicide.

Nevertheless, the most basic fact that a company should consider is the fact that human needs, as much as they are varied, remain the same over time. Necessities, desires and their stimulation have remained the same from time immemorial. For instance, a good taste and appeal of water would always make one who has not taken any for some time, thirsty. What changes, nonetheless, is human mannerisms. A firm would therefore need to study demographic changes to keep abreast with the dynamics of the society. If they fail to adjust accordingly, they become be less marketable. Consider Kodak, the once hailed camera manufacturer. In 1975, it invented the digital camera. Instead of marketing the new invention, it held back in fear of disrupting its market. Sony and Canon saw the opportunity and went full throttle, and took over the market by storm. It is said that dinosaurs did not get extinct because they were weak, but die to their inflexibility to ecological changes. What are you doing as a brand to keep abreast with dynamics in the market?

The digital age, too, has enhanced transparency as far as sharing information is concerned. A visit to any digital platform would reveal plenty of reviews for companies and products. Any individual can review a product and broadcast the information to millions who have accessed to their platform. This therefore forces companies to be transparent as the only way to survive.

How then can a company effectively brand in these dynamic times? Several means exist but depend on the target audience and the available resources. However, it is imperative to note that there are specific essential concerns a firm must address to ensure prosper and effective communication of a brand identity and experience.

The basic requirement is the brand should have a story. I usually refer to it as the “why” of the firm. What is the motivation behind your product development, for example? For Apple, it is simplicity and convenience. Because of this, clients buy their products to be seen. Apple therefore sells prestige by availing convenience and simplicity!  Your story has to be consistent, easy to relate to and provide a sense of direction. Through this, you ensure you have firm control of your brand or some other business will, like Kodak’s case!

Another way to build your brand effectively is utilize your employees. It has been observed that the public has waning confidence in formal company communication structures but tend to believe third party sources. As a brand keen on building your brand, leverage on your employees. For example, it pays to portray the unique abilities of your employees on public media as a way of showing confidence in the talent you have in delivery of value to consumers. Give motivation to employees to think and act as experts to make the brand values come alive in their interaction with stakeholders. Employees are better brand advocates since they have a wider scope of effect.

Another worthy factor to consider is to resolve to build your brand on ideas worth sharing. For instance, what values does your brand stand for? Do your brand elements (identity, experience, etc.) only serve as channels of product promotion or do they stand for something? A brand that is built on values can utilize these as the foundation of spreading influence among its target audience. It carries the possibility of creating a culture upon which branding content is created and built for a sustained market presence. Coca cola has used this tactic to last through generations with their emotive brand. This explains why, whenever one sights the Coke logo, they instantly feel thirsty. The brand is also associated with family times during Christmas celebrations (Coke Caravan idea). It therefore is synonymous with family values.

Furthermore, one should always think of the ultimate customer experience beforehand. Channels should be integrated their product delivery. Before the digital age, the sales pipeline was heavily used to facilitate the purchase process. It was wearisome and lacked the human touch.  In the digital age, tangible aspects of a brand are integrated with digital channels to impact the target audience. Therefore, before a purchase is made, the client would involve themselves with fact finding about the product or company. After purchase, the buyer experiences that brand. This interaction would determine if the buyer would place a positive word of mouth through their associations or not. It also influences repeat purchases. Hence, a firm should create a mechanism of integrating physical aspects of branding (product, visuals, etc.) with leverage their digital aspects for effective branding strategy (social media influence, reviews, etc.).

Lastly, most businesses anchor their brand experience on technology. Have you ever noticed that many banks have ticketing systems yet clients still complain about long queues? This is an indication of over reliance on systems. It would be imperative for firms to marry systems with the brand story to have an influential brand experience. Having a strong technological system without a story results into a mechanical, out of touch shell of a brand. It evokes no feeling. In as much as technology is a must have, it should serve as a brand enabler of the main brand infrastructure – the brand story. To have a firm brand experience, technology should complement the brand story.

Building a brand in this day and age would require effort, diligence and heavy investment of time resources. All dominant brands have their ear on the ground to monitor any changes on the ground and shift their strategy accordingly. With digitization of the world, the dynamics are even more fluid than ever before and hence the need for brands to be versatile in keeping with these changes.

Otherwise, like the dinosaurs of old, they risk extinction and their places being taken over by more adaptive and flexible ones! If you do not take care of your brand, some other entity will surely come and take it over!

 

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The BLACK Dot

The Professor stood in front of the classroom holding a white sheet of paper with a black circle at the centre.

“What do you see?” he asked his class

All the students raised their hands. Most of them answered that they saw a black dot.

You know the story and its moral – despite the bulk of what he held being white, they focused on the black circle.

This famous story speaks volumes about our lives. 

Let me twist the plot a bit: If the Professor started with informing his students that he was holding the white sheet of paper and eventually asked them what he was holding, they would have provided the correct answer  a white paper!

How does the difference come in? In the second is in the Professor enlightens the students about what he held in his hand!

Corporations all over the world invest billions of dollars to build their visibility to sustain the demand of their products over time. 

Coca Cola was established in 1896. In its nascent years, it sold an average of nine servings daily. As we speak, it does 9.6 billion bottles on average, thanks to heavy investment into marketing! Apple, the most valuable brand in the world is another case. Every new release is usually met with long queues of people in front of their stores even before they hit the market. Mark you, they buy at a premium price yet IOS system they run on is not the best Operating System! What do they buy? The simplicity and prestige associated with the Apple brand. 

In Kenya, the most profitable company is Safaricom Kenya Limited. In 2017, it announced profits that contributed to 54% of its parent companys, Vodacom Plc. The funds, if availed to the Kenyan Government, would finance its Ministry of Health for a year (as per 2017 Budget) and it would have remained with Kes. 2.1 B as change! Their game changer was in investing in brand visibility. Let us keep note that it was Airtel Kenya Limited (then known as Kencell) that started mobile telephony services in Kenya. 

As an entrepreneur, you will certainly not have a market if your products personality does not ring in the mind of your target audience. I always advice my mentees to invest in being known for something. People will never buy the product per se, but the #WHY behind your product. Invest in making it known why you exist and this will always pull people to make a purchase.  People would not know your product exists if they are not aware of what value it can add into their lives. This is why, when you see the Coke logo, you feel thirsty. Your mind has been programmed so!

I tell students alike: as you study, develop you unique abilities. Exhibit them to the world and be known for something. Those who know me associate me with perfect execution. Similarly, when I started my banking career, I known as the “perfectionist. I believe this is what enabled me to grow in my career against expectations. I made it into management from graduate entry in a record two years! Employers do not recruit for qualifications. They do for competence to enable them create value that pass on to their clients. The paper qualifications are therefore a plus. The world has no shortage of employment opportunities, it is in shortage of the employable! 

The professor in our analogy failed to make the students aware of the existence of the paper. This is why his students noticed the black spot yet the primary background was all white! As an entrepreneur or job seeker, this year invest in enhancing your brand visibility. Unlike the professor, ensure your white background is visible to the world more than the obvious (dot).  With focussed effort and consistency, you will be able to curve out an identity that you will be associated with.

By the way, many never know I pursued a biomedical degree in college earned a first class honours. Nonetheless, I chose to pursue my passion and exhibit to the world my abilities. I ended up in banking and part time consulting. This is what I do even now as a part time author, speaker and business coach. You too, can purpose to exhibit your white rather than let the world choose to see the black dot! 

Can’t you?
#PersonalBranding

#Branding

#BusinessStrategy

Why Be An Entrepreneur & Not Self Employed? 


In my entrepreneurship mentorship sessions, I always float this question to my audience: why are you into business? In response, I receive an array of answers  some convincing, others not. That is normal with open forums.

In a study carried out by the Kenyan National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) last year in Kenya, it was established that over 2.2 million businesses had collapsed over a five year period. Even more shocking, was the revelation that slightly over 400,000 start-ups never lasted beyond their second year of operation. 46% of these firms die off within their first year. 

Youth unemployment remains Kenyas biggest socio-economic challenge. So enormous it is that it shakes the core of the countrys dominance as an economic powerhouse. Statistics put it that one in every six young Kenyans is unemployed. In neighbouring Tanzania and Uganda, the rate stands at one in every twenty on average. 

Ask any Kenyan youth about their occupation and they would respond that they are either gainfully employed (in a job), or self-employed (taken to mean ‘business owners’). More often than not, they venture into self-employment as an option for lack of employment opportunities. They undertake business with neither the requisite skills nor passion for it.

Nonetheless, are these who are self-employed truly in entrepreneurship? Is there a line between self-employment and entrepreneurship? 

It has to be cherished that entrepreneurship is a philosophy of sorts, a lifestyle. Methinks entrepreneurship in being a vocation, one to add value to society. An entrepreneur would identify a challenge and consequently task himself to provide a solution. His main motivation is to fulfil a human need and alleviate a pain point. Despite the challenges they encounter, they keep on trudging on the path to their objective. 

Take Thomas Edison, he who invented the light bulb, for instance. Over 999 times, he failed and never gave up. He said that each time he failed, he discovered one way that he would not do it. His optimism paid off at last. Again, let us examine Jeff Bezos, he who for some days beat Bill Gates to be Forbes Richest Man alive. When he started Amazon, his dream was to provide a link between producers and the consumers and build the worlds largest online retailer! The business made money for the founder after six years of operation. Facebook, the worlds largest social media platform, took five years before it reported a profit. Alibaba took eight years while Tesla, the world acclaimed innovative automobile manufacturer, is yet to be profitable to date!

Coming closer home, Parapet, the regions leading cleaning company, took three to four years to stabilize and post profits. While it may seem business leadership translates to super profits, Business Daily too proves otherwise. The paper is the countrys leading business publication and yet, seven years after launch, it is yet to post a profit!

Did the founders of these businesses give up since they were unable to recoup their investments in the short term? Absolutely not. In fact, with the continued negative feedback on their financial positions, they persisted and got motivated by the need to fill their identified society gap until when their businesses broke even. Hence, entrepreneurship is a philosophy, a calling of sorts!

On the contrary, those who take entrepreneurship to be a profession (self-employment) look forward to financial rewards or compensation. As such, they would get into business to be free most of the time (or so they think), to express their bossiness around, and most popular of all, earn huge payoffs from the business! Some even start a business to be able to live a defined kind of lifestyle. To others, getting their hands into business is an express ticket to wealth generation. Nonetheless, this is getting it all wrong. 

Entrepreneurship is about value creation. The sanctity of undertaking business is to enrich the human race. Their mission in life is made complete by solving a human need. It therefore cannot be a short term affair as for the ‘self-employed’. Entrepreneurs go for the long haul. For instance, Coca Cola has outlived its founders, more than a century after its invention. When the firm started in 1896, it sold nine servings per day in Atlanta. The founder passed on two years after inventing the beverage. Currently, the firm sells an average of 1.9 billion bottles daily across the globe! 

In addition, entrepreneurs are risk takers and dare invest in a venture in pursuit of their objective. They would not fear failure. Failing is just but part of the process of success. Whenever they encounter failure, they keep on working their passion to fruition. A self-employed individual is risk averse, choosing to play safe with the intention of reaping big from their undertaking. Failure discourages them altogether.

However, even more interesting is the ability of an entrepreneur to flex with dynamics on the ground. He appreciates that there are constant shifts on the ground and as such, he/she is prepared to change in tandem to the shifts. This is the reason why those who take entrepreneurship as a calling do not give up. Their flexibility works to their advantage. For the self-employed fellow, their rigidity works against them. Like the dinosaurs of old, their rigidity causes them to fail due to their inadaptability. 

How else can we explain the findings of a study by CB Insights, who undertook a post mortem on 101 start-ups that failed recently? In this study, they found out that the major cause of start-up failure is lack of a human need (up to 42%). Lack of capital only came second with 29% of subjects alluding this to their failure. This is interesting since most business founders blame the lack of capital as the cause of business failure. 

The crux of the matter is the motivation for an individual to get into entrepreneurship. That is what determines whether a business will last or not. Of particular noting is the fact that all the mentioned businesses that have outlasted the times had one common denominator  their founders had the right mind set. To them, business was not a means to earn a living. It was a calling, a vocation. If we re-evaluated our motivation to get into business, we would reverse this failure rate of businesses in our country and region and reap big from the ripple effect in terms of economic growth and sustainability. 

So then, would you rather be self-employed in business or choose to be an entrepreneur? The better choice is quite explicit!

-Ends-

This article was first done for publishing in the Cytonn Investments Plc Blog by Michael Okinda,  the author.  

He is an acclaimed personal branding & business coach under his PBL Africa initiative. 

Still, I have Faith in the Kenyan Enterprise Story

This week I have had mixed feelings about a subject I love most  entrepreneurship. And more so, about Kenyan startups and enterprises.

After a short period of mourning one of the major brands I have celebrated over and over because of their ingenuity, I got some really glad news about three of our brands, two of them home grown that won major awards at the World Tourism Awards. Kenya Airways, our national flag carrier, was voted as the top airline brand in Africa for the second straight year. It beat South Africa Airlines, Rwanda Air and the likes. Maasai Mara Game Reserve, the eighth wonder of the world, was voted the best in the national parks category beating Kruger National Park (South Africa) and the Namibian National Park. Sarova Hotels and Lodges, our premier tourist hotel chain, also won top awards in the hotels category in the continent.

But that is not news. Nakumatt was the biggest surprise of them all. After a prolonged period of negative publicity due to dwindling business fortunes, there was some good news  they have started restocking their stores again! To those who are not up to speed with the goings on in Nakumatt, the retail mart chain has been having it rough in the last 24 or so months. Faced with growing debt and a strain on their working capital reserves, the supermarket chose to start rolling out of the markets they had entered. They first closed the Ugandan store and later on, followed up with their Thika Road Mall (TRM), NextGen Mall and Westgate Mall stores. Last week, their landlords, the Junction Mall in Nairobi threatened to close their shop due to reduced traffic. One more in Nairobis Industrial Are and another in Mombasa too have gone down too. People have been avoiding going to their stores for lack of sufficient supplies despite their we need it, we’ve got it brand tagline.

 It was therefore a sad thing to see the mighty bronze elephant statues being dismounted from the entrances of their stores as the giant slowly fell. 

But the story of Nakumatt is reminiscent of the Kenyan entrepreneurship story. An entrepreneur comes up with a great concept, works his way to make it established like a colossus. But the problem starts to arise when the firm reaches its maturity stage and the growth either stagnates and declines or continues to rise and forms its Achilles heel. The latter is what happened to Nakumatt. Nakumatts rise has been anything but phenomenal. In a few years from being a small backstreet store, it established its footprint all across the region. As at the beginning of the year, it has slightly more than 60 stores across Kenya and Uganda. With increased stores and pressure to deliver to its clients, Nakumatt relied heavily on suppliers credit to meet the demand. With no cash to pay for its supplies, it resorted to extend its debtor days from the standard 60 days to more than twice that number 120. But what even made things worse was a strategic decision by the Nakumatt management to start producing their products under the famous Blue Label brand. In this case, it approached producers of various products and bought in bulk to resell to its customers, undercutting its suppliers. The Blue Label products were even more popular with consumers as they were cheaper than the conventional ones. 

However, we have to appreciate  that the Nakumatt enterprise is a wholly owned family outfit. Atul Shah, the current heir, is the son of its founder. Many suitors have approached the family to invest into the firm but they have continued to hold on. As such, the working capital has been provided through external borrowing and sources from within the family, which limited its operations. With a restricted cash inflow to finance operations, suppliers refused to provide more suppliers on credit since the delivered goods were not being paid for. And that is how the firm was pushed into a corner since human traffic was reduced significantly. Stories of stores with empty shelves were abound on social media and the print media, further eroding its brand position and equity. They remained with no option but roll out of the markets they had entered, further deteriorating the situation.

This therefore means the cookie started crumbling when the owners of the firm refused to adjust to the demands of the business in terms of capital. A business that grows demands a huge outlay of capital and when the owners are restricted, it ultimately collapses. Most startups are started with an all- mine mindset by the owners. They start businesses with an intention of being the sole beneficiaries of returns and hence choke it up in the fullness of time since growth is stifled for lack of capital. What we need to appreciate is the fact that a business is like an asset. No asset is held for good. There must be an exit strategy sooner or later in the course of time. The owners must be ready to cede part of the shareholding and ownership in exchange of additional resources (financial or knowledge) to help their vision advance to even bigger proportions. 

As the founder, you will still remain the originator of the business idea and the vision carrier. But moving the business from its nascent stages to maturity would demand that you leverage networks and resources. And this is where the call for additional shareholding is most welcome. It is time we learnt from firms founded in the West. Facebook, Google, Apple and the likes, were started off by one or two people who came together. With time, they needed additional resources to grow and as such, they had to cede control of their firms in exchange for additional resources that have made them the conglomerates we know them to be, today. It pays to know when the time is ripe for an exit in any undertaking.

Nakumatt was approached by investors interested in injecting additional cash but they chose to cling onto their baby. Now they are struggling. It is my hope that they would indeed heed to the needs of the business and give in, for the preservation of this important national success story. And I do believe that other startups would learn this lesson and follow suit. This is why I still have hope for the Kenyan Enterprise, that indeed we will thrive!This week I have had mixed feelings about a subject I love most  entrepreneurship. And more so, about Kenyan startups and enterprises.

After a short period of mourning one of the major brands I have celebrated over and over because of their ingenuity, I got some really glad news about three of our brands, two of them home grown that won major awards at the World Tourism Awards. Kenya Airways, our national flag carrier, was voted as the top airline brand in Africa for the second straight year. It beat South Africa Airlines, Rwanda Air and the likes. Maasai Mara Game Reserve, the eighth wonder of the world, was voted the best in the national parks category beating Kruger National Park (South Africa) and the Namibian National Park. Sarova Hotels and Lodges, our premier tourist hotel chain, also won top awards in the hotels category in the continent.

But that is not news. Nakumatt was the surprise of them all. After a prolonged period of negative publicity due to dwindling business fortunes, there was some good news  they have started restocking their stores again! To those who are not up to speed with the goings on in Nakumatt, the retail mart chain has been having it rough in the last 24 or so months. Faced with growing debt and a strain on their working capital reserves, the supermarket chose to start rolling out of the markets they had entered. They first closed the Ugandan store and later on, followed up with their Thika Road Mall (TRM), NextGen Mall and Westgate Mall stores. Last week, their landlords, the Junction Mall in Nairobi threatened to close their shop due to reduced traffic. One more in Nairobis Industrial Are and another in Mombasa too have gone down too. People have been avoiding going to their stores for lack of sufficient supplies despite their we need it, weve got it brand tagline. It was therefore a sad thing to see the mighty bronze elephant statues being dismounted from the entrances of their stores as the giant slowly fell. 

But the story of Nakumatt is reminiscent of the Kenyan entrepreneurship story. An entrepreneur comes up with a great concept, works his way to make it established like a colossus. But the problem starts to arise when the firm reaches its maturity stage and the growth either stagnates and declines or continues to rise and forms its Achilles heel. The latter is what happened to Nakumatt. Nakumatts rise has been anything but phenomenal. In a few years from being a small backstreet store, it established its footprint all across the region. As at the beginning of the year, it has slightly more than 60 stores across Kenya and Uganda. With increased stores and pressure to deliver to its clients, Nakumatt relied heavily on suppliers credit to meet the demand. With no cash to pay for its supplies, it resorted to extend its debtor days from the standard 60 days to more than twice that number 120. But what even made things worse was a strategic decision by the Nakumatt management to start producing their products under the famous Blue Label brand. In this case, it approached producers of various products and bought in bulk to resell to its customers, undercutting its suppliers. The Blue Label products were even more popular with consumers as they were cheaper than the conventional ones. 

However, cognizance has to be taken into consideration that the Nakumatt enterprise is a wholly owned family outfit. Atul Shah, the current heir, is the son of its founder. Many suitors have approached the family to invest into the firm but they have continued to hold on. As such, the working capital has been provided through external borrowing and sources from within the family, which limited its operations. With a restricted cash inflow to finance operations, suppliers refused to provide more suppliers on credit since the delivered goods were not being paid for. And that is how the firm was pushed into a corner since human traffic was reduced significantly. Stories of stores with empty shelves were abound on social media and the print media, further eroding its brand position and equity. They remained with no option but roll out of the markets they had entered, further deteriorating the situation.

This therefore means the cookie started crumbling when the owners of the firm refused to adjust to the demands of the business in terms of capital. A business that grows demands a huge outlay of capital and when the owners are restricted, it ultimately collapses. Most startups are started with an all- mine mindset by the owners. They start businesses with an intention of being the sole beneficiaries of returns and hence choke it up in the fullness of time since growth is stifled for lack of capital. What we need to appreciate is the fact that a business is like an asset. No asset is held for good. There must be an exit strategy sooner or later in the course of time. The owners must be ready to cede part of the shareholding and ownership in exchange of additional resources (financial or knowledge) to help their vision advance to even bigger proportions. 

As the founder, you will still remain the originator of the business idea and the vision carrier. But moving the business from its nascent stages to maturity would demand that you leverage networks and resources. And this is where the call for additional shareholding is most welcome. It is time we learnt from firms founded in the West. Facebook, Google, Apple and the likes, were started off by one or two people who came together. With time, they needed additional resources to grow and as such, they had to cede control of their firms in exchange for additional resources that have made them the conglomerates we know them to be, today. It pays to know when the time is ripe for an exit in any undertaking.

Nakumatt was approached by investors interested in injecting additional cash but they chose to cling onto their baby. Now they are struggling. It is my hope that they would indeed heed to the needs of the business and give in, for the preservation of this important national success story. And I do believe that other startups would learn this lesson and follow suit. This is why I still have hope for the Kenyan Enterprise, that indeed we will thrive!

             ***** Ends******

The writer is an acclaimed business author of Passionpreneurship Demystified and Business Networking: How to maximize on your contacts for Business and Professional Growth. Both books are available on Amazon. He is also a Personal Branding and Business Speaker with PBL Africa and a Cytonn eHub Mentor. In case you need assistance to give your business or profession a jump-start, he can be reached via the following contacts:

Email:                pblogix@gmail.com

LinkedIn:             https://www.linkedin.com/in/mike-okinda-9652b210a

Telegram:             @Mokinda

Telegram Community:      https://t.me/joinchat/EkprBT6zCKCRUmQUaDD9cQ

 

Alibaba’s Founder Business Success Secrets


Arguably the richest man in mainland China and Asia, Ma Yun, famously known as Jack Ma is a man with a pack of lessons especially for startups struggling to make a mark in the world of business. The company he founded, Alibaba, conducted a record breaking IPO in the USA that raised USD 20 Billion a few years ago. His life, ever since he started cultivating interest in the English language at a tender age, presents many lessons that we who are rising up in entrepreneurship can adapt and have guaranteed success.
Lesson 1: Treasure your Passion 

It is said that when a young boy, Jack Ma used to cycle for over 45 minutes to a hotel which was frequented by western tourists so that he can practice speaking English. Through the interaction, a young female tourist could not pronounce his Chinese name properly and she christened him Jack Ma. It has stuck to date.

Through his love for language, he was employed as part of a governmental team that went to Seattle in the USA for a government exchange and that marked his initial interaction with a home PC in a friends home. And it fascinated him that through the desktop box, he could get a lot of information but not for his dear country China. When he returned, he purposed to develop Chinas first internet commerce platform for local businesses. And hence, his love for language birthed his ecommerce business.

What can you do best? What are your talents? Purpose to discover and develop these by developing a passion around them. Utilize these special gifts you have to help solve a society challenge and you will be in business! History has proven that no business anchored on passion has ever failed. I call these passionpreneurs.

Lesson 2: Be objective about providing solutions

Despite him being wealthy, Jack Ma confessed during his inaugural Africa Tour in Nairobi that he had no intention to be rich. He did business to provide solutions. Africa, he said and especially Kenya, presented a perfect environment to launch enterprises due to the various challenges facing the populace. 

Let your business be run based on values. When you have a value system, you enable your clients build trust and loyalty towards your brand. Ma questioned the current business school model with the following: The business schools teach a lot of skills about how to make money and how to run a business. But I want to tell people that if you want to run a business, you have to run the value first, to serve the others, to help the others  thats the key.

Vision never follows money. The converse is true  money always follows vision. Let your vision be anchored on a foundation of values that concur with societys needs. Dominant brands learnt this secret and they build their brands on this and that is why they withstand time.
Lesson 3: Anchor your business on your dream

From his own narration of his entrepreneurship story, his dream was to enable Chinese businesses reach out to the world He wanted to open up the space for local Chinese firms to sell to the world. And there was no better way to do this by employing the power of the international World Wide Web also known as the internet. And thus, by creating passion on his passion, which was to pursue English language and employ it, he built his dream of opening up his closed country to the world and thus Alibaba was launched. 

Do you have a vision of where your business would be in a few years time?  What is your dream? Build your business on that!

Lesson 4: Be optimistic

He is known to be a failure, going by world standards. Sample this: he failed twice in his primary school exams. In his middle school exams, he failed thrice once again. When he applied for his admission into University to pursue a degree in English, his desire, he failed again, thrice! He later graduated with a degree and he unsuccessfully looked for a job as a teacher. His search for a job was equally punctuated by failure. He reckons he did a record thirty job unsuccessful applications in total. When KFC opened its franchise in China for instance, he and twenty-three others applied for jobs. The rest were accepted except his which was declined. He also applied for a job as a police officer with three of his friends. They were all taken and he was left out. The reason for his rejection was given that he was no good.

After getting frustrated in his quest for a job, he chose to entirely rely on his English skills to earn a living. And that is how he ended up in being an English translator and being absorbed by the government in its foreign missions. And that opened up doors for what we know him for today  Ecommerce.


They say tough times do not last but tough people do. Being pessimistic about a business situation does not help matters. Maintaining a positive attitude does. Successful entrepreneurs do not let setbacks get them down and they see both what’s impossible and possible, but the difference is that they focus only on the possible.

Lesson 5: Be crazy!

 He was christened Crazy Jack Ma by his fellow Chinese for his outlandish internet commerce idea when most could not believe in him. In contrast to his fellow Chinese corporates who are conservative in nature, Jack Ma loves to make fun of himself.

In the early 200s, Time magazine called him crazy for his out of the world ideas in a world that was conservative. He responded by saying the he may be crazy but not stupid. His ambitions would be seen to be too lofty but he was wise to always aim at achieving his life dream. 


His management style has been termed as unorthodox since he blends western and Chinese management philosophies to come up with a winning formula for entrepreneurship where he puts his customers first, followed by his employees and lastly, the shareholders interests last. To him, hiring a more talented employee than him is a bonus.

You need not get the approval of the world to make it in business. So long as you have a belief in an idea, and it can solve a world challenge or problem, go for it. Just be crazy about it and pursue it! 
The writer is an acclaimed business author of Passionpreneurship Demystified and Business Networking: How to maximize on your contacts for Business and Professional Growth. Both books are available on Amazon. He is also a Personal Branding and Business Coach with PBL Africa. In case you need assistance to give your business or profession a jump-start, he can be reached via the following contacts:

Email:                              pblogix@gmail.com

LinkedIn:                         https://www.linkedin.com/in/mike-okinda-9652b210a

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SECRETS OF DOMINANT ENTERPRISES

This week, Facebook announced that they had hit 2 billion subscribers. Facebook is urguably the world’s biggest media content provider inasmuch as it does not create any content of its own! 

Uber, the world’s largest taxi hailing company, also does not own a single cab of its own. Neither is Alibaba, the biggest online retailer as far as business inventory is concerned. Airbnb follows the same fashion, with no real estate of its own, despite being the world’s largest accommodation provider. 

Coming closer home, Safaricom Kenya Limited is the biggest telco in East and Central Africa. With its profitability hitting Kes. 45 Billion ($ 442 Million) this year, the amount alone is enough to finance Kenya’s Health Ministry for an entire year, going by the country’s 2016/2017 budget. 

However, Safaricom is not known for being a communication company alone. Its flagship product is MPesa, a mobile wallet value addition which enables subscribers to undertake financial transactions. Banks have in effect, rode on the platform to offer lending products. So far, it is estimated that over 27 million Kenyans are subscribers of this mobile money service making Safaricom to be Kenya’s and East Africa’s biggest bank, quite literally! Mark you it does not own a single brick and mortar vault! 

Peter Drucker, the infamous management guru, said that the main function of business is marketing and innovation. This therefore implies that the main purpose of enterprise is to create customers. And hence, it follows that a successful business is only one if it creates and builds its customer base. It is therefore be logical to conclude that a business’ growth is only measured by the number of its clientele. 
This is the secret that has alluded many  businesses that exist in this day and age. Most startups are established to churn out revenues and monetary payouts to their owners. But then, it also explains why a huge percentage of startups fail – due to lack of focus on growing customers. Jim Collins, another guru in management, postulated the Hedgehog concept in which passion, ability to perform and cash cows are factored to create dominance by a firm in a sector. A firm can never generate sustainable cash flows unless it has the numbers in terms of customer numbers. If you study all dominating firms, they have invested heavily on acquiring and maintaining their customers to realise the returns they have.

It therefore calls for the entrepreneur to study his intended clientele well enough to keep up with their tastes and preferences and in addition, changes if any. Firms that withstand the test of time are those that are able to mutate in tandem with the changes in their market niches. This is exactly what cost Kodak and Nokia brands  – rigidity in their product innovation in conformity to customer tastes. New entities came, adopted to the client preferences and took over their markets. 

It again demands that the core corporate values of a business entity have to be in tandem with values of the populations they target. Safaricom Kenya Limited, as mentioned, was not the pioneer telco in Kenya. Kencell was. It later changed ownership and became Zain and currently is branded Airtel. However, despite being the pioneer mobile telecommunications company in the country, it is still struggling to capture the majority share of the available market. Safaricom commands slightly more than 70% market share thanks to its Mpesa value addition on its service. Mark you it is not the cheapest hence the price factor is out of question!

Now for one to understand Mpesa, one has to appreciate the culture of the Kenyan people. Kenyans are a closely knit society which values sharing and blood relationships. As such, more able members of the family travel out in search of job opportunities and whenever they land a job, they would remit some of their earnings to their homes as a way to assist others. This sharing philosophy is what Mpesa was built on – to remit funds, albeit in small quantities. At the time of its launch, most banks had locked out most of the population by their stringent account opening conditions. For one to subscribe to Mpesa, one just needed an ID and a Safaricom line. And that is how the revolution started in 2007 with the launch of the service. Through MPesa, Kenyans could send cash, buy airtime, pay for goods, even borrow on short term basis through the click of their button. And that is how Safaricom wormed its way into the hearts of Kenyans, and assured its place into the Kenyan culture. Its value tag was “Get connected”, in consonance with the social connectedness of the Kenyan people.

Well, do you desire your business to live beyond you and post better returns? Then you have to think about your value system and match it to your clients’. That way, like Safaricom, Facebook and all the others mentioned, you will be assured of longevity of business. 

Customers feel their needs are met by firms whose values fulfil their needs. It is upon the business to craft its strategies around values that will give the potential clients assurance that their needs and preferences would be fully met. That way, one is guaranteed long term loyalty and growth. 
The writer is an acclaimed business author of Passionpreneurship Demystified and Business Networking: How To maximize on your contacts for Business and Professional Growth. He is also a Personal Branding and Business Coach with PBL Africa. In case you need assistance to give your business or profession a jump-start, he can be reached via the following contacts:

Email:                             pblogix@gmail.com

LinkedIn:                        https://www.linkedin.com/in/mike-okinda-9652b210a

Telegram Community: https://t.me/joinchat/EkprBT6zCKCRUmQUaDD9cQ

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Why That Business Plan May Prove Useless for Your Startup.

It is the norm for any business advisor speaking to newbies starting on the journey of entrepreneurship, to suggest that they start their business by doing a business plan. In fact, for many financial institutions, this is a core requirement for financing. But then, do business plans really work?
We have to accept that natural law of success: failing to plan is automatically the recipe to fail. Hence, failing to plan is planning to fail, so goes the adage. It therefore goes that planning in itself is a critical component in starting out as a business. It just cannot be wished away. Studies done to evaluate the relationship of business planning and success rate of the same give a direct correlation between the success of business and planning. This has been the theory that has been peddled all along by conservative business trainers, coaches and tutors.

But doing a business plan in itself is tedious. It requires input of many hours and abstract thinking, of where the entrepreneur needs to see his business in the foreseeable future. in actual sense, for one to do a practically applicable business plan, it would require technical expertise and this is not only discouraging, but expensive in the course of time. Its implementation too is another issue altogether. Business plans are rigid and structured that are almost always not flexible to the constantly changing conditions on the ground. This in effect implies that the conditions at the time of formulation of the entire plan are not guaranteed to be similar at the time of implementation.

Business markets change almost on an hourly basis and hence, relying on a plan drawn up in the past for the present situation would almost always result into failure. Hence a fluid, more adaptable system of business planning especially for startups is needed. Its implementation is even hampered by its cumbersomeness. No plan is less than a page and hence it requires that one has to ruffle through the numerous sheets of paper to get a point.

Faced with these challenges, Alexander Oxerwalder developed a simpler, fluid and highly adaptable business planning tool, which he aptly named the business model canvas. The model was planar and hence visualization of the business was simpler and less tasking as opposed to the conventional business plan.

The model has nine critical components: value proposition, key activities, channels, customer segments, customer relationships, revenue streams, key resources, key partnerships and cost structures. It defines clearly and in a diagrammatic, planar form, how a business is going to create value for its target clients, what activities it will involve itself in in achieving this, how it will deliver this value and through which means, what strategic partners it would create linkages with, cost factors associated with its activities for maximum revenues, in a simple structure.

It is aptly called a model because it is fashioned to adapt to the conditions on the ground. Hence, if the cost factors change, or the taste and preferences of the target market niche change, the model is adjusted to ensure that the maximum returns are obtained at the tail end. It therefore ensures the concerns of the business stakeholders are taken care of at all times.

The Business Model Canvas (Picture: Courtesy)

On the contrary, a business plan cannot adapt to conditions on the ground. Therefore, any shift destabilizes the entire plan and hence, it is considered rigid. The business model canvas is based on experiential operationalization and hence, concepts and theories are tested before full implementation. Ideas are tested using the model. For the plan, this is not possible. The input to output process flow is fixated on the process major, with the theorized output quality and quantity realized at the terminal end of the entire process chain. The thought process is also exclusively applied on paper rather than testing on the ground.

The business model canvas also is more result oriented with a special emphasis on the how to component of achieving results and returns to the shareholder. The business plan is deficient on this. It only dwells on the final result or outcomes rather on the techniques and strategies to attain that. On another front, the business model canvas is more visual. As said before, it is planar as opposed to the business plan which is voluminous and made of several pages. It is more of hypothesis and theory than being practical. Hence, it is nearly impossible to visualize the business from the initial stage of idea conceptualization, through to implementation and finally, delivery of the final product to the desired market. The business plan therefore falls short in representing the business as a vision which the business model perfectly does.

Startups in their humble beginnings require fluid and agile tools that would perfectly fit into the business system and enable the outfit adopt to the ever changing business external environment. A business plan would not be able. It is a known fact most who draw up business plans eventually discard them since their implementation is near improbable. If you are currently operating a young enterprise, or in the threshold of starting one, it is time you change with the times and draw up a business model canvas. That is assured to work out fine!
The writer is an acclaimed business author of Passionpreneurship Demystified and Business Networking: How To maximize on your contacts for Business and Professional Growth. He is also a Personal Branding and Business Coach with PBL Africa. In case you need assistance to give your business or professional a jump-start, he can be reached via the following contacts:

Email: pblogix@gmail.com

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mike-okinda-9652b210a

Telegram Community: https://t.me/joinchat/EkprBT6zCKCRUmQUaDD9cQ

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/maikol.okinda