Four habits that built Kaka Empire

King Kaka
Failure is an opportunity to start again – this time, more intelligently. My core business, Kaka Empire, is a living testimony of this.

I have talked about this empire several times in this column, but today I want to put the spotlight on the fail curve. What went wrong and how did I make things better?

I’ve had to learn most things the hard way, including the importance of structures, for instance, which came about because I had weak management.

There was a time my business needed a turnaround strategy – it wasn’t making a reasonable income. I was in that place where an architect realises the foundation needs to change. It’s always best to notice a problem before it becomes a crisis.

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My mentor told me once that when you’re in a leadership position, you have to learn how to be brutal but at the same time communicate.

The business journey we’re on doesn’t have a clear finish line, so the baggage we carry, from attitude to partners, has to be important to the trip.

I had a friend whom I shared the Kaka Empire vision with. I had a childhood history with him, so I figured he’d be vital in my success process.

I sold him on the vision, and he was one person in the team that went out of his way to make sure we succeeded.

As visions advance, so do strategies, which means new roles are put to test. In some of my initial columns, I pointed out that I was a blind businessman and learnt the art of making money as I progressed.

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In this adaptation process, however, money was getting lost, and on digging deeper, I found out that my childhood friend was the problem.

1. Communication

How was I going to confront my long-time friend on the issues of loyalty and finance? Most of the people around me thought he should go, but I still believed in him.

It’s important to be rational, but it’s also important to know the root cause of problems so that they don’t recur.

So I consulted a few of my mentors at the time. At that time, I had a small business that was failing, so I had to consult and communicate.

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I then asked my friend for a sit-down. Top on the agenda was what could be the problem that was causing financial issues.

Back then I was handling almost everything, but since I believed my friend was an asset, I wanted to keep him. Building a strong business mostly depends on the vision and those who believe in it. He was a great pillar – and the problem he exposed led to a new solution.

2. Don’t fear change

After long deliberations, I realised that I needed a system that would create a transparent paper trail. Even though I had completed my CPA and knew about bookkeeping and audits, I reached out to my cousin who had majored in financial planning and accounting.

He was a huge fan of my small brand and believed in me. I met with him and sold him on the vision. Since most of the places he was applying to for work asked for experience, he was willing to jump onto the Kaka Empire train. And that’s how I ended up getting an accountant.

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3. Celebrate success

Motivation is one of the most celebrated catalysts of growth. In the early years of business, I operated out of Nairobi’s Imenti House, and believe me, anyone who visited knew I gave work my undivided attention.

I had taken two shops, and the above-mentioned friend used to man them as I scouted for business. We were three of us, and we used to have meetings every Friday at one of the restaurants in the city.

I remember one of the Fridays, after we’d finished dinner, I gave one of my ‘employees’ a gift. It was a frame with his photo in it, and at the bottom, it read: “Kaka Employee of the Month”.

We formed a habit of displaying that frame in the shop every day, and the photo inside it would rotate based on performance. In as much as I was running a small company, I had learnt to appreciate structure and reward, which in turn uplifted our working spirit.

4. Don’t stretch yourself thin

I eventually got to the point where I wanted to introduce a few products and ventures that would be of use to the company and increase revenue streams.

But one lesson I learnt early on is you only start on a new path when you’ve mastered the old one. The problem with running multiple businesses is that, unless you have proper structures, you’ll stretch yourself thin and end up losing.

Anyway, I have maintained the two employees that I started with and have gone on to employ many more.

Other values that will save your business are a focus on people and their traits.

Always assess the brand, know what the consumer wants and consult for growth.

I have to go, we have that company dinner tonight. I hope they select me as the employee of the month.  

The writer is an award-winning artiste and entrepreneur.

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