By Lydia Limbe
It all started as a survival tactic when Anthony Kibagendi plunged into the world of business.
“I lived in a fairly rich neighbourhood where all the children around me had the latest of all things from books to clothes. My two sisters and I were brought up by a single mother and of course I could not get everything I wanted,” Kibagendi begins to narrate his story.
His first business venture was in Standard Six at St Mary’s Mosocho, a primary boarding school where he sold sweets to fellow pupils. He would buy a packet at Sh50, and sell them at Sh1 each. Each packet had 120 pieces. With the more than 100 percent profit he made per packet, he would save the money and supplement his needs.
This was just the beginning of what is now a stable business. While pursuing his secondary education at Maseno School, he would save part of his pocket money to buy trendy clothes and shoes from the market in Kisumu and sell them in Kisii (his home town) during the holidays.
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Business ideas continued to flow even after sitting his Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE). Rather than while away time as is the norm for teenagers during this period of waiting for the exam results and university admissions, Kibagendi decided to cash in on the then new mobile industry.
Business on the side
“I would travel to Nairobi from Kisii to buy mobile phone cases and chargers for sale. It was on a small-scale basis. Even then, I got a job as a clerk with Barclays bank, a job I did for six months before finally joining campus while still doing business on the side. My lucky break then was supplying more than 1,000 wooden key holders to a bookshop that had several verses inscribed on them,” Kibagendi continues.
A consignment of Sh3,000 would make him Sh10,000 profit. In campus, while he had access to Higher Education Loans Board (HELB) assistance, which was enough to get him by, Kibagendi was still motivated to have the finer things in life hence the persistent drive to engage in business.
“In campus, I wanted to look good and to wear the trendiest clothes. I started a photocopying and printing business. Then an idea came to me about making branded university T-shirts. I was lucky to get orders from all the public universities, as well as from Centre of Disease Control (CDC) in Kisumu,” adds Anthony.
While awaiting graduation in 2006, he started a chemist in joint ownership with his mother in Nairobi for two years before it ran down. He brought in the Sh1 million profit he made from selling his KenGen shares while still in campus. Hard lessons about real business began to show up for this young entrepreneur.
For starters, he had to rent a pharmaceutical certificate, a prerequisite requirement for running a chemist business. The owners would increase the fee as and when they deemed fit, making this particular key cost of running this business unpredictable.
In addition to the above-mentioned challenge, he got into elective politics in 2007 in his home county after being persuaded by potential donors to vie. The need to fund his campaign ate into the business’ capital. He failed to get elected. This double loss meant that Kibagendi had to start afresh.
“My mother was obviously concerned about my survival, and tried to help me get a job. Much as I tried to get employed then, employers were a little jittery to hire an ex-politician, so I fell back to what I knew best to survive. I started a car hire business,” Kibagendi says.
This time, he was not only doing the business for survival, but also felt the strong need to build a stable growing business.
The car hire business grew no doubt, and he had a fleet of about 12 vehicles. Most of the cars were owned by other people, who lent to him at an agreed fee.
“While struggling to grow a stable business, I faced numerous hurdles. For starters, banking institutions were unwilling to finance a business they did not understand, despite the ‘good financial cash flow’ that they tend to ask for. We had to use creative problem solving skills to sort ourselves out,” he says the businessman.
One of them was to start an auto care centre in Embakasi to maintain his already increasing fleet of cars. This centre has now grown to stand on its own, being a preferred service centre for many of the taxis plying the airport route. It employs four trained mechanics and is fully equipped.
“Along the way, we specialised in four-wheel-drive cars which we hire to corporate clients and high-profile individuals. We no longer do the usual car hire business. We also got into property; buying, selling and leasing,” says Kibagendi..
The ‘we’ refers to him and his two partners – his wife and one of his sisters.
“I came to realise that for a business partner, you need someone who has your best interest at heart. They will be your sounding board and will point out where you are going wrong. My sister and my wife offer that for me. And since I brought them on board, the business has grown tremendously,’ says Kibagendi.
With a current capital base of Sh30 million and staff totaling to 80, Kibagendi has now ventured into security business.
“I had started this business some time back, but it did not take off due to some challenges. But now, since May 2013, we have 75 guards in different parts of Kenya. We are already offering surveillance cameras, car patrol and security escort for VIPs. I surely see my company being among the top five Kenyan owned security companies in the next five years,” adds Kibagendi.
But what gives this entrepreneur so much confidence? “I have learnt a lot of hard lessons the hard way. Lessons that no book can teach you about building and running a successful business. I had to creatively think of ways to finance my ventures, push myself on even when nobody wanted to mentor me and I have the best partners one could ask for. We are now ready for take-off,” says a smiling Kibagendi.
And this is his advice to budding entrepreneurs.
“Be each other’s billboard. When you hear there is potential for business somewhere and you know someone who supplies the needed service or goods, pitch for them. That is what established business people do in their business clubs. Plus, this can’t be emphasised enough. Start small, and do not quit your job before the business is on its feet,”he advises.