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Business nomads run riot

By | January 26th 2012

By Anthony Ngatia

They are suave, fast and unpretentious. They are known by their mutating loyalties from product to product - depending what sells at a particular time.

By the strength of their word, they are known to have in ‘stock’ all manner of merchandise. Their product offerings change faster than even a customer can learn to pronounce the first item in the catalogue. These are today’s business nomads.

A look at their business cards leaves one even more confused. Beneath the fancy business name, the entrepreneurs’s name sticks out with an equally high-sounding title — ranging from Chief Executive, President, Director to Operations Manager.

By the nature of their designs, some of these business cards are catalogues of sorts. Under ‘what we deal in’ is a heady list quite hilarious to fathom for one firm. They range from ‘general suppliers, stationery, tents, chairs, tables, real estate, building and construction, and import and export services’.

Call them brief case chief executives, hustlers, brokers, or anything else, this growing breed of entrepreneurs will not stop at anything to mint that dime. In most cases, they do not even have a big office to match the ‘bigness’ of the things they purport to do. And their profile can just be as intriguing.

Jacob Rukwaro, a Nakuru-based entrepreneur paints the typical portrait of the new breed of entrepreneurs about town.

The story of his journey to the ‘big league’ in business has been nothing but tumultuous. In his own words, it has been one long struggle.

"I was a fresh tertiary college graduate when I plunged head-first into the world of business," he says of his big decision some seven years ago.

"I first began as a printer, then a graphic designer, a computer supplier, and now, I preach and dabble in real estate besides selling herbal products in my shop," he says of his many business hats.

Anything and everything

At this rate, only God knows what he might be up to come tomorrow, one would say.

In the jungles, the Englishmen would say that a rolling stone gathers no mass. But not our jerk of all trades, who as they roll onto other types of businesses, they are making money befitting their efforts.

"I have earned my keep vending everything and anything and so far, the fruits have been sweet," Mr Rukwaro says.

"Thanks to these businesses, I built a decent family house besides owning two vehicles," he says of his skill to combine diverse business concepts and posture as a dealer in everything.

"As an entrepreneur, you must keep your ears to the ground to know which business is a hot sell at a particular time," he says, adding that most business concepts thrive for a time before giving way to other more lucrative ventures.

"There was a time ‘mitumba’ clothes was a deal but that doesn’t mean it will remain so forever," he says.

"If you are serious about making money, then you have to follow money wherever it is. This often involves shelving the old business."

Over the years, Rukwaro has learnt not to totally abandon an old business venture. "It is business sacrilege to abandon an old venture completely because a related deal might come your way long after you have moved," he says.

"In such circumstance, I am not going to my customer that ‘excuse me, but I no longer deal with that," he says.

Herd mentality

This in part explains a string of businesses attached to one person.

The masters of the game have since learnt to make double-faced business cards with laughable descriptions on each side of the card suggesting they deal with everything under the sun.

Business consultant Edward Kaminja says in the world of increased competition with a shrinking consumer base, the herd mentality rules the game.

Thus, it is only natural that most entrepreneurs tend to adopt ‘me too’ business models, instead of coming up with original business concepts.

"In the circumstances, entrepreneurs are likely to start a business that is known to rake millions rather than experiment with an untested business idea.

In this case, the loser is the customer as it were as entrepreneurs who are generalists and jerks of all trades hardly care to offer the customers quality service or product as their main aim is to get money.

"Such entrepreneurs lack relevant experience for any particular business, which can be parlayed for nurturing of successful ventures," he says.

Applied to a specialised line of business, Kaminja says the versatility and go-getter attitude of the jerks-of-all-trades can make a difference in growing private enterprise.

"The problem with dabbling in everything eventually wears the entrepreneur’s energy and wastes valuable time for experience in running a certain business venture," he says.

Apparently, while some customers express loathing for these types of entrepreneurs, others admire them for their being ‘one-stop-shop.’

George Alwondo, a Nairobi-based businessman says he dreads dealing with suppliers who are ‘dealers of everything’ because one such dealer disappointed him by supplying his firm with low quality fire extinguishers, that had to be replaced after a short period of time," he says.


"We later learnt he was a broker who had no experience in the products he supplied," Alwondo says.

But for Musa Mjomba, a spare parts dealer, there is nothing like a dealer in everything.

"Whenever I want anything, I don’t have to move around knocking on every businessman’s door as these entrepreneurs can supply you with anything you want," he says.

And, "even if a certain entrepreneur cannot supply whatever you want at short notice, they will always know another one who will supply whatever you want," he says.

Entrepreneurship experts vote with the ‘jerk-of-all-trades’ entrepreneurs. They say that in the murky world of entrepreneurship, the so-called generalists hog more success than those who stick to a single type of business.

Research further suggests that those entrepreneurs who come into juggle between trades tend to become successful generalist entrepreneurs.

Laban Msee, a businessman who plies between Nairobi and his native Siaya says by engaging in a variety of business ventures, he has bettered his lot unlike when he used dealt in fish.

"After selling fish for long, I started diversifying into other areas including buying and selling an assortment of goods such as gunny bags, clothes materials, and shoes back to Siaya," Msee says.

While fish is mainstay in business, his card says he supplies shoes accessories and bicycle spare parts. It is a make-believe new world of business as the likes of Msee now argue.

"You should never tell a customer you can’t supply anything."

Is it unethical? Or isn’t it preying on gullible customers? Rukwaro says none of these is the case.

"We are in a free market and business is open to all. So long as an entrepreneur can deliver on anything to the customer, there is no problem," he says.

"In fact, customers should be happy that with anybody being anything, they are not exploited as competition ensures low prices," he says.

Certainly, this phenomenon of dabbling in everything is on the rise. What is for sure is that since the protagonists are relying on the street instincts to know when to onto the next business venture.

Perhaps the inspiration from some of the greatest business moguls in the world indicates the future of this business phenomenon. Richard Branson, the fifth richest person in the UK and founder of Virgin Group is a notorious jerk-of-all-trades.

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