How I bounced back after losing my firm

Richard Kiundi
Few people are forced to restart their lives at the age of 54, but for Richard Kiundi, that’s the curveball life threw him.

He was diagnosed with cancer, which forced him to shut down his business and brought his life to a near standstill. Richard’s company, Roma Media, provided screens in buses and public transport vehicles for the purposes of advertising.

Five years after this life-changing diagnosis, however, Richard, who’s now 59, is rebuilding his career as an entrepreneur and philanthropist.

His main projects revolve around a network marketing insurance product, and an endowment fund that helps young boys from disadvantaged families go to school.

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He takes Hustle through what it takes to start afresh in the later years of one’s life, and why he’s choosing to not just rebuild his career, but also give back to society.  

You suffered a great setback when you were diagnosed with cancer, how did you get through this?

It was extremely difficult, both financially and emotionally. The diagnosis came as a shock because one moment I was okay and the next, I was battling this life-threatening disease.

Coupled with that, my insurance scheme didn’t cover me adequately. My initial bills were coming to more than Sh1.5 million, but my cover only paid out Sh500,000.

How did you survive financially?

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I had a viable company at the time called Roma. I liquidated its assets, as well as some family investments, to meet my bills, which were spiralling beyond the initial Sh1.5 million.

I also relied a lot on my networks, particularly the Alliance High School Old Boys Club. The club been active since 1959 and focuses on projects to help past and present students of Alliance.

Without the help of this network, I don’t think I’d have made it through that tough time. It’s also what inspired me to commit to helping other people in financially strained situations. My focus was to help young gifted boys who’d been called to Alliance High School but couldn’t afford the school fees.

You were barely financially stable yourself at this point, so how did you pull off helping others?

As I was trying to get back on my feet, I came across an insurance aggregator company called BimaNet Kenya, which pools people together so they can get affordable policies from insurance companies through group rates.

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I took interest in one of its products, Linda Fanaka, a life insurance policy offering not just a life cover, but also accident, critical illness and funeral expenses cover, as well as an in-hospital cash-back benefit.

I was drawn to this product because during my battle with cancer, one of the scariest things was imagining that if I didn’t make it, I’d leave my family with debt they couldn’t get out of.

What I like about Linda Fanaka is that it not only provides affordable life cover, but also gives the option for customers to become affiliates paid on commission for every person they refer to the policy.

So it’s essentially a network marketing platform?

Well, BimaNet makes donations for groups that sign up as Juristic members, which allows the firm to market the product to group members via its infrastructure.

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Juristic members will receive donations of between Sh780 and Sh5,016, depending on the policy purchased, as well as the number of members taking up the product.

I’m so confident about the figures we can earn that I introduced this policy to the Old Boys Club, which runs an endowment fund for Alliance students who can’t afford school fees.

Our plan is to introduce old boys to the policy and use the commissions earned to add to our fund, which has been in existence since 2005, though it became active in 2010.

The fund caters for financially underprivileged boys called to Alliance High School. To qualify for the fund, you have to demonstrate need and excellence. Once admitted into high school, your grades have to be maintained at a high level.

How many students are you taking through school using the fund?

This will be the first year we actually start paying school fees for the boys we’re sponsoring. The reason for that was we wanted to build up the fund significantly before we started using it. We have accrued approximately Sh10 million.

In the first year, we’re likely to sponsor 10 students through school.

How much income do you intend to generate through Linda Fanaka?

Our aim is to have sold at least 10,000 policies by the end of 2019, earning Sh50 million for the fund.

How would you benefit from this personally?

Since I’m an affiliate, having bought a life policy, I’d also get commissions from the sales made through the endowment fund. In essence, all old boys who buy the policy and opt to become affiliates would be benefiting both the fund and as individuals.

There are many people who are sceptical about network marketing companies in general. What makes this one different?

Linda Fanaka is an aggregator, which means it pools people for them to get group rates and deals from insurance firms. Its policies are underwritten by UAP-Old Mutual, Sanlam and CIC Insurance Group. Becoming an affiliate is an added benefit.

You mentioned the endowment fund is run by the Alliance High School Old Boys Club. Who’s in this club?

Any former student of Alliance High School qualifies. We have an annual membership fee of Sh1,000, and a life member fee of Sh15,000. Currently, we have approximately 70 life members and fluctuating numbers of annual members, though typically at any one time we would have at least 200 paid-up members. We’re always encouraging more old boys to join the cause.

When we launched the endowment fund, we had former Attorneys General Amos Wako and Charles Njonjo in attendance as old boys. Influential people have passed through the Alliance Schools. Through the fund, we could in essence educate the next president of Kenya.

What are some of the toughest lessons you learned when you had to shut down your company and start afresh?

Keeping the faith and being resilient every single day. There’s nothing that will make you stop and re-examine your life like a critical illness, especially when you’re struggling to meet your financial obligations.

I also learned that people are the greatest asset because it’s people who will show up for you when nothing else is working.

I’m taking this lesson with me in my network marketing journey. If you build the correct networks, you can navigate any storm that life throws your way.

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