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From selling millions to going broke and living in a hostel

By Jacqueline Mahugu | March 25th 2020
Jerry Jariwalla,CEO MOO Digital Marketing. [Elvis Ogina,Standard]

Jerry Jariwalla is the epitome of the popular saying that entrepreneurs should not pause in times of difficulty, but instead pivot.

His entrepreneurship journey has had some tough breaks, including his being forced to walk away from businesses he painstakingly set up, and having to relearn speech and regain motor function after suffering two strokes.  

Today, he runs Moo Marketing, a marketing agency that helps medium-sized businesses go up against bigger corporations, without spending millions of shillings in the process.

He shares his lessons with Hustle.

Your first job was at Ernst & Young (EY) when you were 23. Why did you quit three months down the line?

It wasn’t about the job really. It was a personal decision I made when my father, a locksmith, fell asleep at the wheel and drove off the road. This was due to fatigue.

I was born in London to a Tanzanian father and Ugandan mother. My mother was a refugee and my father a student who moved to England from Arusha in the 70s.

My father would work from 6 in the morning to 3 at night because the longer he worked, the more jobs he could do. The more jobs he did, the more money he made.

When I heard about the accident, I decided that was my last day at EY and I joined my father’s business to give him support. The prestige of working at a big firm did not matter. It was more important to keep my father alive.

Did the business succeed?

When my brother and I joined, it became a three-man business. We joined dad between 2003 and 2004. By the end of 2009, in five years, the business had grown to 100 employees, gone nationwide and was getting revenues of more than a million dollars (Sh106 million at current rates).

How did that happen?

At that point, I didn’t think of myself as a businessman. I regarded myself a hustler – someone who knew how to attract the ideal audience and then convert that phone call into a customer because I knew they had a need.

That is how we grew the business and we just continued advertising in different territories. So, for example if that had been Nairobi, we would start here, and then Nakuru, then Nanyuki, then Mombasa, then Malindi and slowly make our way throughout the country. Within five years we were everywhere.

However, as much as we were making huge revenues, the business made its first loss at the end of that year.

An internal investigation revealed massive theft within the company. At least 50 per cent of the staff was stealing money.

And that’s when the troubles began?

Yes. As we were sorting out the stealing issue out, my dad asked me to take a short break from work. I did. On New Year’s Eve 2009 while in Mombasa, I suffered two strokes three hours apart. I was only 29.

I lost my right arm function and my speech. I could walk though. Ten years later, through sheer willpower and practice, I am back to full function.

Did you go back to the business?

After 10 months of running the business with my limitations, I decided to start a new business building bespoke bulletproof doors that cost more than Sh2 million each. We sold bulletproof doors that looked like pieces of art to the 1 per cent of the world. We built them for princes, kings, queens, pop stars, celebrities and politicians.  

You later quit that business, too. Why?

It got to 2012 and I realised that I was going down the same path as I was with the first business – rapid growth and high stress. Instead of dealing with lots of customers for lower amounts of money, now I was dealing with fewer customers and higher amounts of money. Either way, the stress was still there.

The whole point of changing my business had been to reduce stress. But now the stress was coming from a prince demanding I turn up at his house at 2am. Or a pop star saying she couldn’t operate something when I was a three-hour drive away.

And we were building a business, so the team was very small. In the first business I had 100 people. In the second business, we were operating with less than six people. So I took another break and went to Tanzania.

Was that how you got your ‘aha’ moment?

 I made the trip to Tanzania because I realised the stress was getting to me.  I had children and responsibilities and I didn’t want to take the risk with my life. So I went to Tanzania looking for opportunities.

It was while there that I witnessed someone fall off a building because they didn’t have the correct safety equipment at a construction site in Dar es Salaam. That’s when it hit me that I could combine my experience in security products with safety products in Tanzania using certified equipment that was coming from manufacturers with tested equipment. So we started a business in 2013 in Tanzania. I consequently moved my family there.

Was this business another hit?

Yes, it was. It hit revenues of Sh100 million in 13 months. Unfortunately, in 2017, I experienced some personal problems and left the business once again. And because I believe in observing the environment for ideas, I went to China to get ideas for a fourth business, but this time I had no idea what I would possibly find. 

I was overwhelmed by the options. I was in the largest exhibition in the world. I left that exhibition after five days, having walked more than 100 kilometres at the fair. I was exhausted. I had also spent money I didn’t really have. I felt like I had failed too.

 Failed how?

I was embarrassed to go back home with nothing concrete. So I decided to travel some more. I ended up in Malaysia. But I was broke.

How could you have been broke after running successful businesses?

The thing is, I had left the businesses to my family to begin afresh. And I had spent quite a lot of my savings in China and on my travels.

I was now 37, in Malaysia and sleeping in a hostel. It was tough. I felt very alone. I didn’t know what to do. An old friend called Mike from London who was a start-up entrepreneur called to find out how I was doing, and promised to be there by the end of that month to help me figure things out.

As I waited, I learned how to become a professional diver because I had to figure out what I was going to do for a month. I knew I had an overthinking problem because of my past. I went to the East Coast of Malaysia and I learned how to dive.

Did that pay the bills?

Not much, but in water I found peace, quiet and clarity. I found myself again. I hardly made any money but I waited tables and did odd jobs to pay the bills.  

Did your friend Mike come over?

Four hours after meeting Mike, we reverse-engineered all my successes from the past, looking at all the things I had done. We basically became pattern spotters. If you study successful people in any industry, you can spot the patterns of actions they all take. Mike told me, ‘Jerry, you are the funnel guy. You have been doing this subconsciously’.

 A ‘funnel guy’?

 Yeah. A funnel is a set of processes that starts with a customer not knowing who you are to getting to know, like and trust you through a series of interactions and touch points until they are ready to buy.

Mike suggested that I should sell that as a service because I apparently figured it out, had the proof and could show I had done it. I just had to figure out how much I was going to charge for it and how to sell it. Within three days, I had my first client in Bali. As soon as I had the clarity that this is what I was good at, I went all in.

Now you’re based in Kenya?

Yes. In February 2019, I moved to Kenya and set up Moo Marketing. It is a business that helps companies grow through increasing the number of people who are aware of your business, and then creating systems and processes to make sure that the business does not forget about those people who showed interest in the first place.

Moo Marketing helps medium-sized businesses achieve the same things as corporate businesses, and makes sure that they can win the fight against the bigger companies without spending millions of shillings in the process.  

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