Meet IT guru who built Sh14m enterprise after two false starts

John Mativo
He could be still in employment today and earning good pay.

But Jonathan Mativo, a computer science graduate, overgrew office work faster than he thought.

Growing up in the village and attending school in an institution his father had no faith in, he had to navigate through tough terrains to overcome a tough life.

Today, Mativo is the founder and CEO of ICT Development for Kenya.

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As per last financial statements, his firm closed at Sh14 million and retained earnings were Sh11 million.

It also runs as a social enterprise and so it redeploys part of the earnings back into the organisation to scale up activities. “I wanted to be a teacher and after form four, I started tuition groups. Instead of bringing students together, I chose a door-to-door approach. I never knew it would be the beginning of a big idea,” he told Financial Standard.

But the walk to the top was that of mistakes, failures and going back to the drawing board. Having enrolled for a degree in IT, he later secured jobs in public and private sectors.

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Field work

He worked at National Hospital Insurance Fund as a programmer for six months before moving to Tana River Development Authority where he became IT Manager after two years.

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Within three years, he moved to Mombasa at Plan International, a children-centred NGO, as ICT coordinator. Here, he developed love for field work as opposed to sitting in office. “This was a game changer for me. I started going to the field to have a feel of what was really happening,” says Mativo.

His colleague invited him to the field where he was meeting youth in a discussion. Mativo carried a laptop and basic digital camera to capture the event. To his surprise, the two gadgets aroused the attention of young people attending the meeting.

“I was touched by their tenacity to learn. That is how I made the decision to reach out to the young people through technology,” he says.

Working in such big organisation and getting a new idea approved was not going to be easy. He made the decision to quit his job, making his four-year stay at Plan International. “I felt burning from inside and that is when I left the organisation to start ICT for Development Kenya,” explains Mativo.

At the time of quitting, he only wanted to teach IT skills to the youth in the villages. He started it as a business in Kilifi town.

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After running the venture for nine months, he realised that rent and salaries to trainers were draining his savings and the idea was not paying off.

“I closed shop and carried my computers to the Ganze village in Kilifi,” he said adding that several job offers came calling but he declined.

In 2009, Ganze Constituency had been ranked as the poorest in Kenya. This is where he made his next stop. Again, he got off on the wrong footing. “I thought that since it was a village, I needed a well painted room to give my business a corporate brand. I spent a lot of money painting and buying quality furniture,” he observed

This took a significant portion of his savings. About 60 per cent of operational costs went into branding yet he had not established what nature of training would excite the youth.

He says 80 youth came for the IT lessons at a cost of Sh3,000. This was just entry level course lasting three months. Initially, 80 youth, each paying Sh3,000 enrolled for the three month training.

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Within the first month, about 60 students had paid at least half of the fees. While it was encouraging, many of the students would later drop out in the second month. When after three months, he called for the second entry, it was a bombshell. He struggled to get even 15 students. “I was discouraged. I had to close shop again and re-strategise. This is when a better idea came in,” Mativo told Financial Standard.

Wounded twice in a “strange land,” he retreated to his home area in Makueni. In 2010, his savings had reduced significantly. He only had four computers and two humbling mistakes to show since quitting employment.

He started by explaining to the youth why he wanted to set up the ICT centre. He slashed the price to Sh1,000 and slashed training to one month.

He relooked into the content and started off in July 2010. “I was amazed. I got 176 students who paid up in full by the second day,” he said.

By the second day, he had collected Sh176,000 to buy more computers. He increased the number of computers to 10, bought a projector and several tablets and smartphones.

Return on investment

After training, he identified two young men and polished their skills on how to teach others. With this positive return on investment, he set up another centre at Kiu, located at the boarder of Kajiado and Makueni counties.

Here, 180 youth showed up yet there was no electricity. But riding on the model that worked in his village, he got them to pay up within three days and acquired a generator.

He got about Sh300,000 from this centre, added 10 computers and hired two new trainers. “Succeeding in this whole new area made me believe that youth were beginning to trust the idea and not just myself,” he explained.

In 2013, he landed the business plan competition that was being funded by Safaricom Foundation and bagged a seed capital of Sh500,000 for emerging top in IT category. “I had to look for experienced people to help me register this organisation. All along, I was just running it without structures,” he admitted. The seed funding helped him set up multiple centres and took the business to another level.

In 2014, he landed East Africa acumen fellowship where he refined his leadership skills. More success would follow when American outfit, Ashoka, recognised his idea and nominated him into fellowship that has been running since 2014.

For the last five years, his organisation has trained over 40,000 young people across 100 villages in Kilifi, Kwale, Machakos and Makueni counties. Last year, the Kwale County government contracted his firm to train 1,750 youth.

The enterprise currently has Sh6 million partnership programme with Makueni County government to train 3,000 students but so far surpassed that to 4,000 students at just 40 per cent implementation.

He previously worked with Kilifi County at a deal of Sh3.7 million.

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Kilifi CountyICT for Development Kenya