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

 

Advertisements

How To Effectively Make Money On Facebook

fb money3

Startups and nascent enterprises face a myriad of challenges, capital constraints and market penetration being some of them. However, with social media, most have been able to introduce their products into the market and even penetrate albeit with much struggle.

I bet, like myself, you have come across these ads posted on public walls advertising abut a product by sellers. But then are they really effective? It seems the script is to send to as walls as possible and this is really annoying at times.

So you don’t know how to make money through Facebook groups?

People have been asking me why content marketing does not work for their business and I have three major reasons for the:

  1.  You don’t write using a proven template that delivers.
  2. You are communicating the right message to the wrong audience.
  3. You fail to write compelling content that can convince anyone to buy your product.

I have had such an experience before – I set out to do an entrepreneurship masterclass for nascent entrepreneurs and got so many responses. Come the day of the training and none turned up. Actually a group of three came up and went away promising to be back and we never saw them again up until the time we had hired the hall lapsed.

fb money2

People are on social media to have fun. And most times, our friends and family may not be our target audience and that may render your content marketing strategies useless.

This means you can’t afford to ignore Facebook communities totally.

I’m sure you are wondering, what should you do?

I will explain this and assume you make and sell wigs…

Firstly, identify your target: men don’t wear wigs (unless they are a Supreme Court of Kenya Judge). You know your target market is women.

Secondly, find women communities: just search Facebook with women communities and you will find lots of them… Don’t go to communities where members are predominantly men. Women have the final say on things related to them.

Thirdly, come into the community to educate, entertain and create awareness. I did not say come and sell like somebody in Gikomba market….! Create content that educate women on about your products and business. Tell them why it’s better to wear cotton wigs than synthetic. Tell them the harms in wearing human hair/wig. Tell them how to wear a wig. Tell them how to make their wigs last. Tell them health implications of wearing wigs wrongly. Tell them the side effects of rivalry products to yours. Tell them…..

Leverage on fear as motivation to buy your product…

Sell happiness, promise and benefits not features.

Show that you care…

Have I written anything that warrants being kicked off? No! In fact, you won’t be salesy and spamy at all. You won’t even tell to buy from you. They will be the one to seek you out.

By creating actionable content on your products and services, they will trust you and will be eager to buy from you.

Enrich your content. Use pictures of your product in your content. Especially where your customers are rocking it.  Use your own pictures too because you are building your know like and trust.

Interact well with people who interact with your content. Send friends request. Send them a welcome note on messenger. Over time, your target audience will be many on your friends list. At the end of time, you will have a community of followers who would want to use your product. And that is when you pitch.

What this means is that it would demand you allocate time to create and post content. The time schedule too has to be right. Teenagers are never on Facebook during the start of the week. Most are on towards the weekends, for instance. And that is the most appropriate time to schedule your postings.

fb money

Being rash about posts and posting onto hundreds of walls does not make and ad more effective. It demands strategy and proper planning.

As a by the way, you must have strategically placed your products and services on your wall for it to work well!

Happy selling!

**********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 Coach 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

 

The Power of Success in Failure

One of the most common scenarios I encounter on my day to day life online are queries on how to deal with failure.

Personally, I cannot count the number of times I have failed in life. It is surely normal to fail. It is given. But what happens consequent to failing is what matters. In business and professional life alike, one should expect to miss the mark once in a while.

Thomas Edison, America’s leading inventor, is said to have failed more than 9,999 times in his attempt to invent the light bulb. Any other person out there would have given up altogether in the first or second attempt but he chose to push on until finally he made the land mark discovery on how matter can light up when an electric current is passed through it. When asked how he managed to keep up the faith, he said that each time he failed, rather than he gave up, he appreciated that he had learnt one more way NOT to do it! Awesome, isn’t it?

It may seem easier said than done. But the crux of the matter is in how to deal with instances of failure. When failure occurs, what happens? Most of us focus more on the failure to hit the mark more than what is the converse – the learning point. Failure in itself, is a process of learning. Like for Thomas Edison’s case, it shows you one more way not to do it. It is a learning point of sorts.

Well, let us rewind a little. What do you do immediately you fail? There are two choices – either take it positively or negatively. Optimists do not see the end in failing. To them, they take it as a means of attaining their objective. They go back to the drawing board and re-strategize, reworking their procedure to firm up their points of weakness. This is the time they ask themselves why it did not succeed. They don’t pass the buck. They take responsibility. A person bent on success would try to re-engineer his methods to see where they can improve and make the project a success.  Would the tweaking involve adopting a new methodology? Maybe change the ingredients? Maybe involve a new approach towards solving the problem? All in all, what matters is adopting an optimistic mindset that no matter what, it just has to work! Mindset is the word.

In contrast, for those who are unsuccessful, as said earlier, failure is an end to itself. They resign themselves to fate and most probably, shift the blame elsewhere. They never take responsibility. To them, failure is given and a normal outcome. And this is where most of us lay. It is said that over 92% of people in the world fail to live up to their dreams due to giving up too early. But then, who said that it is going to be easy? Your guess is as good as mine – no one!

But our biggest folly is being mindful of the views and opinions of the external environment. We pay more attention to the world. We have cultured our minds to trends and systems that exist in the world. To us, life has to be in accordance with what is happening around us. And this is where we get it all wrong.

It is therefore not given that since someone else tried and failed, we too would. The world never works that way. We are all different. We are differently abled. And as such, our uniqueness plays out in the way we execute tasks. This therefore means that we cannot be all equal. All of us cannot have a similar outcome when we execute tasks or a project. It therefore calls for a sober approach to every project we undertake to accomplish.

What are your gifts, for instance? What can you do best? How else can you utilize these special abilities to accomplish whatever you desire? That is the power of creativity that every person is blessed with. Apply these to such situations.

It is therefore incumbent upon each of us to employ these skills that we are endowed with to accomplish whatever tasks lay before us, dealing with situations of failure included. Trust me, we are all equally ably skilled to sort out any limitation that is before us!

So, does failure in life qualify to be a blessing or a curse? I am an optimist- I take them as opportunities to learn, advance and empower myself. I was once paralyzed two years ago and I could not use half of my body from the chest down for a month and a half. This presented me with the opportunity to re-examine my life and do a self-discovery of my real life purpose. From my sickbed, I vowed that if at all I would survive (from my doctor had told me all patients he had attended to with multiple myeloma had either been terminally paralyzed or passed on before me), I would pursue my life purpose with no abandon. And that gave me renewed emotional energy to heal. Indeed, one and a half months after discharge, I started feeling my legs and my miraculous healing came through.

In business too, I have failed multiple times. But each event of failure has been a learning point of sorts. I have divested from ideas, I have re-strategized and re-set plans. I cannot yet declare am perfect but every time I come out of the experience as a stronger, more refined entrepreneur.

So let us purpose to change our mindsets and take failure positively. In the entire history of the world, there is no single person who made it in life without failing. Failure is given. Your attitude at the end of the day is what will determine whether you would transform the failure to success or terminate as a failure. Use this principle to make success your signature using this mindset.

******* END*******

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
Telegram:       @Mokinda
Telegram Community: https://t.me/joinchat/EkprBT6zCKCRUmQUaDD9cQ
Facebook:                       https://www.facebook.com/maikol.okinda

DOMINANCE BY STANDING OUT: LESSONS FROM KENYA’S CBA BANK

Dominance

Interesting times these are – after the enactment of the Banking (Amendment) Bill 2016 late last year, most of the Kenyan banks’ profits went southwards. Actually, for the financial year closing June this year, a bank known to have zero loans at risk of loss (PAR), Victoria Commercial Bank, recorded a loan on default, to underscore the dire situation facing the industry.

But even more amazing is one bank that went against the tide – Commercial Bank of Africa (CBA) which posted improved profits where even its more heavily capitalized bedfellows failed. Last week the bank reported a net profit of Kes. 2.7 Billion up 14.1% from the previous year.  It would be interesting to study their business model to find out why.

The underlying reason for this resilience is their association with another powerful brand – Safaricom’s Mpesa product. Safaricom is East and Central Africa’s most profitable blue chip entity; with a valuation that ranks it as the fourth most valuable brand in Africa. Mpesa is a mobile phone based wallet that enables the public to do financial transactions at their convenience.

By linking up with Mpesa, CBA developed a mobile based banking service called Mshwari that has become a hit with the unbanked. As such, anyone, as long as they are subscribers of Mpesa, can borrow and repay funds through their mobile phones. Additionally, subscribers are able to save their funds at a fixed rate of return to be withdrawn later with some interest. It is literally a bank without a physical vault. As at the end of last year, Mpesa had on boarded slightly more than half of Kenya’s population – over 47 million customers.

By compensating for the fall on revenues due to regulatory restrictions through enhanced revenues from Mshwari, the bank was cushioned adequately. It is observed that revenues rose by 16.3 percent year to year to close at Kes. 5.5 Billion.

Dominance

The Hint

According to the World Giving Index published this year, it was observed that Kenyans are the third most generous people in the world. It underscores the social cohesion that exists amongst Kenyans and their sharing habit. It is this social value that the developers of Mpesa chose to ride on and develop their product, thereby aligning their product with a truly Kenyan value. This is the main reason why Safaricom and Mpesa to be specific have enjoyed dominance for the last ten years of its existence.

And this brings out two very important lesson most of us entrepreneurs purposely ignore: synergy and values.

Robert Kiyosaki said that networking is the business of the 21st Century. Networking is about leveraging relationships, within and without the firm. Smart firms, like CBA as explained above, chose to take advantage of the readily available market by Mpesa subscribers to offer their services – banking. As an entrepreneur, ensure you create linkages with other players in the sector and related sectors to ride on their associations and operations. Be it supply chain management, production, knowledge exchange, etc. ensure you find a suitable partner to establish a mutually beneficial relationship. For CBA, Safaricom Mpesa provides them with an already established market. In turn, Safricom earns from the lending expertise from the banking partner. The days when a firm would exist on its own are gone and synergistic interactions are the way to go.

Values, I say, are the most important element in a business. I always ask people- what does their business stand for?  I opine that any great business is built on the foundation of their organizational beliefs. Its product offerings are only accepted once their value system is in tandem with the societal belief systems of their target markets. Considering this example, Safaricom realized Kenyans like sharing. Our national philosophy is Harambee, literally meaning to pull together. Whenever someone has an enormous project, people would come together and contribute towards helping in the realization of the project. These gatherings are called Harambees. In the west, it is known as crowd funding. It is an embodiment of our giving spirit.

A Kenyan who lives away from home would always send home some cash to help his kin back at home. Mpesa’s launch, coincidentally, was done at the onset of the infamous 2007/2008 Kenya Post Election Violence (PEV) period when banks and other financial systems ground to a halt. With the service, stranded populations were able to send and receive cash at the convenience of their homes. Additionally, as opposed to banks which had locations majorly in urban centres, Mpesa had a huge network of agents that permeated all the areas of the country. The footprint covers more than 70% of the nation, with a huge concentration in the rural areas. Add that to the convenience of only requiring an ID to be registered, Mpesa became an instant hit with users all over the country.

Much more can be said about this success story of Safaricom but one thing stands out: values. This is what made them to be acceptable and build a loyal client base that has proven hard to break. Airtel Kenya Limited, then known as Zain, launched a competing service nicknamed Zap. It waived its fees altogether but the population could not accept it since it did not resonate with its ideals and values. To many, Zain was for the urban rich and elite. It was also not used by the majority as almost all phone owners had Safaricom lines.  Safaricom hence passed off as an authentic Kenyan brand that was deemed cheap (even when it was not).

Well, there you go: what will you do as an entrepreneur to replicate a success story like CBA’s? It is not too hard to go against the grain and disrupt the ideal and become dominant. It just needs a little tweaking of the obvious to stand out.

And indeed, you can!

The Power of WHY

Airtel posts a Kes. 45B loss for the last financial year. Safaricom, its main competitor in the same market, posts a reverse figure – Kes. 48B profit. Airtel, originally known as Kencell Kenya, was the pioneer mobile telephony operator in the country. Safaricom started later on, and experienced a myriad of customer service issues due to its technological challenges with its infrastructure. Give it to the then association with the then parent company, Kenya Posts and Telecommunication Corporation, a government parastatal.

But then, how comes the originator of the mobile telephony concept was beaten to the game? It behooves us to keenly look at the business models of the two antagonists and you will discover a deeper and much engrained secret: Values.

Safaricom started off as an enabler of communication with its “Get Connected” brand proposition. It enabled even the marginalized then to connect with each other and endeared itself with the rural poor and unreached. The competitor, showed itself to be elitist – marketing itself as an urban brand and only concentrated itself to its urban target market. It was considered expensive. However, the network quality was superior.

Then came the game changer – Mpesa. As we speak, Safaricom has transformed itself from a principally mobile telephony company to a cross sectorial aggregator to currently, a digital enabler incorporating data and other services on its platforms. It’s purely a hegemony! 

Airtel tried to catch up with its Zap service but Kenyans wouldn’t accept the brand. To them, Mpesa, especially after the 2007/2008 PEV crisis, proved to be a much more reliable and homely service than Zap. Mind you Zap even waived off all fees! Airtel, since its inception, has seen changes in its leadership with nine CEOs taking charge. For Safaricom, as a show of its stability, has only had one transition in its top leadership.

That is the power of a brand. If you really want to make it in business, learn your target market. Aligning your value system to the target market’s ethos and you will be good to go! Apple is the way it is not because it is cheaper, but because its users find it easy and amiable. Safaricom too, is running on this same platform of values. It all boils down to your WHY.

                   ****END****

The writer is an acclaimed business author of Passionpreneurship Demystified and Business Networking: How to maximize on your contacts for Business and Professional GrowthBoth 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

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

Telegram:                       @Mokinda

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

Does Past Accomplishments Guarantee Future Success?

vision

The past two months have been a depressing time for me, being a celebrator of local ingenuity in business. Indeed, nothing is as depressing as seeing a business entity, you have literally grown with it since childhood and now, when you are almost in your midlife, you see it gradually go down.

Nakumatt is one instance. I first encountered Nakumatt, then known as Nakuru Mattresses as a small store in Thika in Pilot Estate while still a pupil at Thika’s Kiboko Primary School.  Then, we would sneak from school during lunch hours to go and wander in between the shelves just to awe at the marvelous displays of commodities. It even made Pilot based pupils to puff up their pride since there was no other supermarket nearby that equaled Nakuru Mattresses.

As we aged further, the outfit grew in leaps and bounds to be East Africa’s biggest retail outlet by branch footprint. It opened over sixty outlets in number across virtually all of East Africa’s countries with a workforce of over five thousand employees with most of their branch outlets operating 24 hours daily.

success

Indeed, the conglomerate that grew from a tiny shop in Nakuru with a few sales calls, had gross revenues of almost US D 500 Million. Conservative estimates put their market share five years ago at 20% in Kenya with their Brand Equity Index hitting a high of 55%. With it came many accolades and awards. These include the Price WaterhouseCoopers East Africa Most Respected Service provider for the year 2006 and 2007, Planet Retail ranking as top retailer outside of South Africa for 2008, Planet Retail Award as Second Most Innovative Retailer in the World for 2009, East African Super Brand for 2007 and 2010, recognition by the East African Community as a pioneer East Africa Investor in 2011 and its CEO recognized in the Financial Times Top 50 Emerging Market Business Leaders for 2010.

With all these accolades lining their cabinets, it was expected that the enterprise would be much more stable and vibrant. However, beginning over two or three years ago, cracks started to emerge. Suppliers were paid late, eroding the creditor confidence of the firm. In a flash, stores in the home country and away started closing up as most stores within the domestic market and beyond, further eroding the public confidence that was celebrated before.

But then when did the rain start beating Nakumatt? Many theories have been put through and deliberated. From their strategy to compete their suppliers through their ‘Blue Label’ strategy to their ambitious expansion plans which choked their working capital outlays.

But I beg to differ. I guess the management realized like the iconic Titanic, the firm was too big to sink. And they became lax with time. Internal weaknesses in controls went haywire and losses started building up. Corruption, inefficiency and lack of corporate governance ideals took over. In a way, it is not external factors that brought down this beloved retail giant – internal ones did.

Which brings me to what I needed to communicate – we most of the times take pride in our past achievements to the detriment of forging ahead and firming up our strengths.  Do past milestones surmounted give us a guarantee that our future would be rosy and good? Not at all. The past belongs to where it should be – the past.

Past vs future

This is the main problem most of us have – looking back and taking pride in past achievements and forgetting that we have a life to live ahead. We most of the times blame the external environment – the economic situation, the government, etc. for our own-caused failures.

To avert this, we need to always focus ahead and be mindful of the red flags raised as we trudge along this journey of living. And as I said, ignore what is past. Let it remain where it should be – in the past. Future success is only guaranteed when there are solid plans and commitment to realize the future vision. For whatever achievements you made back then is not significant in the present times. It is history! So do not make the mistake, either as an organization or at the individual level, to glory in past achievements.

 

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

Telegram:                       @Mokinda

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

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