Julius Wababu could still be in classroom teaching. But he accidentally discovered a business that has reshaped his life.
A 1987 Bachelor of Education graduate from Kenyatta University, Mr Wababu went straight into teaching for about 10 years but his entrepreneurial mind led him into business.
He decided to take a gamble. He quit teaching to try his hands on the business of importing photocopying machines and accessories from Dubai and selling them locally.
“I also operated a photocopying service shop. But after some years, I lost first mover advantage as many people entered the business and revenues started falling sharply,” said Mr Wababu.
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From this unattractive situation, he picked up and stumbled on a venture that has helped him clinch 10 awards in 10 years, reshaped his financial freedom story and gave him a cut above his peers.
In October 2007, hardly eight months after mobile money transfer service M-Pesa was launched, he went to his photocopying shop.
A lady he only remembers as Nancy had come for photocopy services but Wababu was attracted to her T-shirt which was written on ‘M-Pesa.’
“I engaged Nancy in a conversation to know the requirements of opening an M-Pesa shop and she told me that all I needed was Sh30,000,” Wababu told Financial Standard.
Using the money from the photocopying business, he decided to try the idea. Within two weeks, he became a sub-agent or an aggregator of another dealer that had started earlier in the year. “I created a small table and got one of the staff to do the M-Pesa. It was an accidental business. It was not something I had well thought of,” he says. From that one outlet, the business started to grow at a pace he had not anticipated.
The unfortunate events of 2007 election aftermath that saw tension, displacements, injuries and death dominate the country, came as a blessing in disguise.
“Many people wanted to send money to their relatives and friends and the only convenient way was through M-pesa. Many came to register and within a short time, transaction volumes grew,” said Wababu.
The momentum was never to die down. When he approached Safaricom, he was informed that by just opening three outlets, he could own his own company instead of being a sub-agent.
He settled on three shops-one in Nakuru where he was based and others in Meru and Embu.
With just a few people owning money transfer outlets and banks’ branch network still low, the volumes, he says, kept growing.
Between October 2007 and February of 2008, he moved “huge volumes” prompting him to pull out of the photocopy business. At that time, he had no information about book keeping and even filing tax returns.
For a structured business, he decided to form a company, Wabcom Technologies, with the wife who at that time was working at National Social Security Fund.
“We realised that we could earn more commission when we have our own company. The person we were working under was getting 20 per cent. We founded,” said Wababu.
He decided to commit all the cash he had in the business and also approached Equity Bank and Kenya Commercial Bank in 2008 for short term loans to manage float.
As the network expanded, he landed on a contract that took the business to the next level.
In 2010, Wababu who is in his 40s, approached Tuskys Supermarket, one of leading retail stores in Kenya, and got the chance to run M-Pesa shops in all its premises.
That was a win-win partnership. It meant secure place to do money transfer business while Tuskys benefited from increased traffic and customer convenience.
Currently, he serves 48 Tuskys outlets. Overall, his outlets have grown from just three in 2008 to more than 200 and employs about 300 people.
He also uses aggregator module, where about 100 small operators give him commission to run under his name.
To ensure employee growth, he started Wabcom Sacco where employees can guarantee each other for loans.
His business, he says, is almost in all counties except in North Eastern region where float management and security has been a challenge.
The business relies on banks to ensure proper float management. “The business is valuable. We do about 5,000 transactions every day. As of December 2016, we do a minimum of Sh400 million every month,” Mr Wababu told Financial Standard.
He has spread into selling airtime, modems, mobile operator lines and data.
In 2011 and 2012, his business was ranked the best performing M-Pesa agent in the country. His firm has consistently bagged awards since 2010, including this year where he was ranked second runners up in selling of airtime.
But all has not been rosy. Fraud in the business has been a threat but this, Wababu told Financial Standard, he has mitigated though training employees, installing CCTVs in most of his outlets and also insuring the float.
“We have lost money severally through fraud but none has been fatal. Two years after we started, we lost Sh500,000 in Thika,” said Wababu.
In 2011, his wife, Beatrice Wababu, started Webcom Ventures, a training and business consultancy firm, which helps in recruiting the right staff for the M-Pesa business as well as help other startups shape their ideas.
The year 2014 saw him put up another business, Ahadi Ascent, an insurance franchisee of Liberty Insurance which offers insurance products against fraud.
In addition, he has put up Hallo Events, an events planning and ticketing company. The two firms are run by her two daughters.
“We had no mentors or coaches. The only thing we had was vision and passion. Shortcut does not last. If you build foundation so that business has systems and processes, it will last,” he advices.