When in 2015 Andrew Muriungi quit his job with a leading media house, his family was aghast.
Muriungi was riding high in his career as an advertising manager and earning a salary that only a few could dream of.
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He had risen from a junior business executive and within seven years, had climbed to the pinnacle of the company he worked for – joining other media honchos in managerial positions.
“I remember it was 2017 when I told my wife I was resigning. She didn’t believe it. She was shocked. We had a young family of two boys and we were living quite comfortably,” says 38-year-old Muriungi.
“My father reacted even worse. He wondered why I was leaving a managerial position in a top media house to venture into the unknown world of entrepreneurship.”
Things were so bad that his father sent an entourage of elders to try and talk him out of his ‘mad’ decision. But he would have none of it.
A year earlier, he had been struggling to construct his family house in Kitengela, Kajiado County. It was one of the most hectic things he had ever done. Dealing with crooked suppliers when you are not on the ground to know how the purchases are made can run your costs high, he says.
“I remember suppliers from different hardware stores would inflate the prices so much that before I was done purchasing the materials, my costs had gone up by more than Sh200,000, just from buying roofing sheets alone.”
And that is where Muriungi’s idea to start manufacturing iron sheets and nails sprouted and Rhino Mabati was born. Today the company has a bustling factory at Kitengela.
Rhino Mabati employees 15 people, among them an engineer who runs the manufacturing plant, truck drivers and administration staff, and supplies iron sheets around the country.
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“We have five trucks that supply the roofing sheets countrywide. We have a capacity to produce 500,000 metres of sheets in a month and we only produce after orders are made to avoid wastage,” Muriungi says.
“The iron sheets come in various colours according to a client’s preference.” Besides the iron sheets factory, the University of Nairobi economics graduate runs another company, which has signed a contract with German manufacturer Bosch to distribute its building tools in Kenya.
He says he chose to establish the company in Kitengela because of the town’s strategic position.
The has area has heavy manufacturing industries – cement makers, steel factories and quarries for building stones – among which his iron sheets business can expect to thrive.
But then the question arises: manufacturing being such a capital intensive venture, how did he raise financing?
Muriungi says when he started out, he sought cash from friends and family as well as bank loans. Most turned him down.
But when they saw the company had established itself and was thriving, they started to come back asking for a piece of the venture.
“Most of the capital was raised from me and my wife’s resources. It was really tough and we struggled a lot but it has paid off,” Muriungi says.
The common belief that Kenyans do not like their own locally-produced products is actually not accurate, he says. “Kenyans do really appreciate quality goods even if they are manufactured locally. I was also afraid of that at first but now I know better.”
He says to succeed in any business, you must understand it fully.
This helps in continuity of operations in case someone tasked with a particular responsibility is absent, then you can step in.
Some of the challenges Muriungi has encountered include security of his products during transit.
“A truck was once carjacked by bandits at the border between Merille and Laisamis in Marsabit. I had to go and negotiate with them, no matter how dangerous it was.”
Muriungi advises those who want to start out on a venture not to be afraid of losing that monthly employment cheque.
“Being able to conquer the fear of the unknown is what makes a true entrepreneur,” he adds.