Joanne Mwangi, the newest investor on the TV show KCB Lions’ Den, started her company when she was 26, a few years after employment.
She’s the CEO of Professional Marketing Services Group, an agency that started 14 years ago and has grown to have a strong presence in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania.
She talks to Hustle about finding her way into Kenya’s list of successful entrepreneurs and why she’s decided to use her own money to help young people live out their business dreams.
What made you decide to be a part of KCB Lions’ Den?
I wanted to meet young entrepreneurs and to share my own experience with them, hoping they’ll learn a thing or two. I want to share with them that time is more important than money.
What are you expecting from season three of the show?
I expect to see a lot of women entrepreneurs sign up for the Den. This isn’t because I’m discriminatory, but studies conducted by TIFA (Trends and Insights for Africa) show that women do a lot of research and they’re more thorough than men. This is a key trait for success in business that, unfortunately, isn’t being utilised. Instead, women fear taking risks. If they’d be as big risk-takers as men, they would really succeed in business.
What’s one consistent trait you’ve observed in the entrepreneurs you have watched in past seasons?
Bravery. Trusting your business idea to the extent of exposing it before millions of viewers is not easy. All the entrepreneurs who showed up are winners.
As an investor, what do you look for in a presentation?
I basically enjoy smart presentations where one has the facts at their fingertips. They must also understand the financials of their business.
But most importantly, I look for an idea that seeks to solve an obvious problem. I’m looking for a Mama Oliech who can deliver fish to my doorstep. That’s what entrepreneurs who bank on technology are doing. Like Amazon. I don’t see why I should still be walking around with a shopping list tucked somewhere in my handbag. I want someone to develop a smart way to do my shopping.
I’m looking for some bold entrepreneur to address the work-life balance challenge that women are grappling with.
There are so many problems for entrepreneurs to solve. And the idea must have the potential to create jobs because that’s the challenge most people are facing these days. Presenters who are keen on creating a job only for themselves don’t appeal to me.
What automatically puts you off in a presentation?
I can’t stand someone who isn’t trustworthy. These are presenters who consistently give contradictory statements.
Why do you think start-ups struggle with valuing their businesses?
This is one aspect of entrepreneurship that is, perhaps, not taught in Kenya. Entrepreneurs, therefore, only value their businesses the way they value themselves and their level of self-esteem.
It’s important for an entrepreneur to understand the magnitude of the problem they’re solving to be able to value their business.
They also miss the point when they assume that they’re getting a loan. Entrepreneurs should understand that an investor is out to take a stake in their business.
What are the non-financial considerations to have in mind when valuing a business?
An entrepreneur should give the amount of research they’ve done a value. Their uniqueness also deserves valuation. If they have a combination of a certain set of outstanding skills, they should value that. An investor would be more inclined to come on board a business where a neurosurgeon, for instance, is also good at marketing. This way, they know they won’t have to hire a marketer and incur extra costs.
What challenges did you face when starting your own business 14 years ago?
I’ll talk about the mistakes I made. I was very ignorant and closed-minded; I never bothered to ask for guidance even when it was obvious I was sinking. I did everything wrong, over and over again.
But slowly, I started learning that asking is the shortcut to learning. You get free education. And today, I’ll gladly ask even my juniors when I need guidance.
Having been employed before you started a business of your own, what benefits does an entrepreneur get from being employed?
There’s no day I have regretted the years I was employed at Colgate and the East African Standard. Working at established organisations helps an entrepreneur nurture professionalism and even develop the skills required to start a business of their own.
If you work at an established organisation that has structures in place, you learn the complexity involved in running your own business. Therefore, by the time you strike out on your own, you’ll be able to know how to handle your staff and have the necessary managerial skills.
From your experience as the chair of the Federation of Women Entrepreneurs Association, what would you say is the biggest challenge for women in entrepreneurship?
The challenges women face aren’t much different from those faced by men – well, apart from the socio-cultural ones.
The only difference is how they address them owing to their differences in mindset. Women tend to take issues more personally. Disagreements in boardrooms, for instance, ought to remain in boardrooms. Outside, women should embrace each other and help one another grow. A woman can’t afford to harbour emotions at the workplace. They should also be confident and value themselves.
What kind of mentorship do you plan to give entrepreneurs who get into the Den?
I’ll offer myself when needed to give entrepreneurs a chance to watch me handle situations at my job or in social places. I hope this will be a learning experience in itself.
Besides, the Den provides entrepreneurs with the chance to ask the lions the questions they’ve always harboured. And when a lion rejects a business idea, it actually is a pointer to the things one can change to make their product better.