Diasporans trust me to invest for them back home
By Ishaq Jumbe | February 3rd 2021
Munira Nyadzua was once a high-flying career woman. She was a mortgage officer with a local leading bank. She made good money and was comfortable; until she wasn’t. It was about a decade ago when everyone and everything was going digital. Her institution was embracing the concept too, and every employee was required to reapply for their jobs and positions afresh. If you made the cut, you would get redeployed. Munira was not on board with that. She had made too much investment in her career to start afresh. And again, she had a young family. Redeployment didn’t bode well with her reality. So she took the send-off package on offer and packed up her desk. It was time for her to begin the second act of her career.
What was that like, being out of a job? Diaspora
My greatest fear was what to do if striking out on my own failed. But like everything new, you just have to take it a step at a time. At the time though, my mind was buzzing with business ideas. One, however, stuck out. In my banking career, my interactions with clients highlighted the tribulations of Kenyans in the diaspora who required professional real state consultancy and management for their investments back home. I thought that now I could do something about it. And that is how Kwehu was born.
What does Kwehu do?
Kwehu was a solution; one that over seven years has successfully steered the acquisition, construction and management of homes for Kenyans working abroad. We are basically a diaspora asset management firm. We oversee construction and manage existing projects. We also deal with general construction and real estate. I have been running the business for the last seven years.
We advertise our services through internet channels and depend a lot on referrals from satisfied customers. Besides real estate management and development, we have added pest fumigation and farming to our portfolio.
How did you manage to get your very first clients?
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My first clients were former customers at the bank, who I contacted from my network of people I had done business within the past. Others called me wanting to find out where I was and when they heard I had started a firm of my own, they offered support in the form of business. Of course, as a mortgage officer, I still maintain management of assets seeing that they are paid up and other related requirements.
We have heard stories of Kenyans abroad who got swindled off their investments by relatives. Were you tapping into this market?
I called my company Kwehu, which translates to home. We are their link to the home they left behind and when we are handling their business, they can rest assured their interests are being handled with tender loving care.
We are very meticulous in our dealings and supposing one has a piece of land, we conduct the due diligence to ensure that the papers are properly registered after which we then share with them a bill of quantity. Whenever we get a deal to construct a home for them, we work with the client throughout all the stages. That is from the concept creation in the form of architectural designs, then follows the requisite permits followed by preparing the land in case excavation may be required. We then work on the foundation, raise the walls and roof, what of course follows is the installation of the electrical and plumbing. We then finish with fixtures and finishes before the owner is handed over their investment.
How do you build trust with your customers?
At the bank, I was familiar with tales of woes regarding clients who had been duped by relatives that their monies were being invested in real estate complete with high-resolution photos of developments as proof. Our first client was a Kenyan abroad who wanted to begin investing in the country afresh and we managed the construction for them, and after completion, we are managing the project and depositing money in their account. Our business model, which deals with absentee clients, requires that we furnish the client with regular updates, we also keep in close contact with a local lawyer who represents the interests of the client as well as holding virtual meetings with clients to brainstorm on ways of maximising output, reduce overheads as well as deal with emerging issues in the market. We also handle marketing for the client through social media updating the client on the status of their investment at any given time.
Do you think employment contributed to your success?
Definitely. I am grateful for the opportunity I got at the bank. I achieved a speciality that was career-enhancing and where I was impacting positively on the lives of my clients. But life is dynamic, and after serving, a purpose you keep moving on up.
Do you have any regrets getting into the business?
My only regret is that I took too long to begin. I wish I had started earlier, as working for yourself is much more fulfilling than employment. Of course, naysayers were discouraging me, pointing out that real estate is a male-dominated industry, with no allowance for women whatsoever. That is untrue.
With all that work, how many employees do you have?
We maintain a skeleton staff to run things in the office. We are not very many, but when we have a job at hand that involves all aspects of construction, we hire as required. Sometimes we have more than 100 people working with us. Providing administrative, design, project management and supervision as well as the technical expertise requires that we hire qualified people. We, therefore, at some point engage engineers, construction managers, and builders to get the job done.
What are the challenges you constantly face?
Well, challenges are many but I can tell you for sure, nothing unique. We have had a few issues with clients who want to renegotiate after the work has been done. That has happened a few times in the fumigation department but we have been able to deal with it. Then of course there is ensuring that our brand doesn’t compromise on quality. We have had to delay projects until we could establish the quality of some of the goods we ordered was up to scratch. Then of course we have to deal with competition who want to cut corners offering substandard service
Making the switch from employment to business? Know this
1. Entrepreneurship is easier said than done. Initially I struggled to pay salaries for my staff which nearly bankrupted me even before I established. Then of course, there are the other usual expenses like the rent, taxes, duties and a myriad other charges that you need to pay for your shop to stay open.
2. Resilience and persistence are important to keep you going even when you hit the outer limits of your energy. Therefore, careful planning, lots of guts, enough resources and of course a liberal dose of prayers give you a fair chance to succeed. You also need goodwill from friends and the community to support your project to get off the ground.
3. You need support. I couldn’t have done it alone. I required lots of support from my family and spouse who spurred me on to pursue my dreams. I find the moral support invaluable. I can say with authority that I understand why many startups fail, even the ones that have been planned and laid out perfectly.
4. You can’t be scared of hard work. When you begin, it is imperative that you give your venture your all. Many begin and commit the sin of handing over their nascent to strangers to nurse it to maturity. It simply cannot work. You sacrifice and give your investment your all.
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