What it takes to build a billion-dollar business

Here's what it takes to start a billion-dollar business. [Istockphoto]

What does it take to build a billion-dollar business? There are many ingredients, however, one can start with the right mindset, conviction and passion.

A local techie who built a billion-dollar business and some start-up support experts have some ideas.

Going first is venture coach Ken Njoroge, a former chief executive at payments solutions provider Cellulant and a self-confessed lover of only three things in life: his family, Africa and entrepreneurship.

Grow or die

"I have had a lot of exposure in different kinds of businesses including Cellulant which is now a 40 billion dollar business. And what I have come to believe that is now a philosophy for life is that a business that is not growing is a dying business."

Then he proceeds to pose the following challenge: "What happens when businesses don't grow? They break families, they destroy spirits and become very expensive work."

Then another challenge going into the need for a winning mindset: "The only way to survive for an entrepreneur is to grow. That's one thing to keep in mind," Njoroge continues before an audience of eager listeners recently gathered in Nairobi for a Standard Chartered Women in Tech (WIT) mentorship event.

The audience, mostly women were also treated to a dialogue on how they can scale their businesses facilitated by seasoned industry experts.


Meanwhile, the WIT featured speaker further points out that conviction for any successful entrepreneur would look like anyone who consciously and constantly makes the growth choice no matter what kind of weather or season, or climate.

"The second thing is that growth for an entrepreneur is a choice they have to make. I fundamentally believe that the reason businesses don't grow is that they choose to be small for whatever reason. Sometimes it is conscious, sometimes it is unconscious," Njoroge continues.

He adds that conviction and a sense of purpose both allow an entrepreneur to dream beyond their current reality. "When Cellulant started back in 2003, my wife and I decided that we wanted to build a billion dollar business ... and it was not about my reality, it was a choice I made."

He firmly believes a 40 billion dollar business or anything like it also comes about when an entrepreneur has settled it down that their calling is not just a regular job but also being on a mission.

"You almost have no plan B normally when you choose the route to become an entrepreneur. So your first plan must work," Njoroge adds.

The tech mogul also believes that other dividends that can accrue from a stern conviction and growth mindset include the potential to attract the best talent in town.

"When you have conviction, great customers join you. The circumstances you are in today matter not. It is your conviction for growth," he says.

"So the warehouse cannot be an excuse. It cannot. That one room you are in cannot be an excuse. The kitchen you are making your products cannot be the excuse for not growing. It is a mindset and it is that simple really."

Business negotiation

Njoroge adds that stern conviction and a growth mindset also looks like an entrepreneur who seeks to do business, not with people who want what they have, but believe what risk taker believes themselves.

"(Business) negotiation is never about leverage. Even when you are large, it can never be. It is about connecting. Combined with persistence, something always breaks."

But is that all? There is more to say by way of a parting shot: "When those opportunities come, respond with a bit of discipline. And when tough times come, seek to remain resilient because tough times also don't last, they go away," Njoroge says.

Standard Chartered Bank Regional Head for Community Impact and Engagement Regina Mukiri reckons that the recent Town Hall for Women in Tech Incubator Programme co-offered with Strathmore University has the same aspirations given the seasonal forum focuses on fostering dialogue on how they can overcome obstacles in their various business journeys.

Learning from the best

"On the question of mindset, they come to a town hall like this one and they get to know more from entrepreneurs who have succeeded. So that is not about a case study from the books, but it is somebody who has succeeded in exactly the same thing these women are interested in," says Mukiri.

"In fact, since we are committed to lifting participation of women in business, then the onus is on us to offer opportunities for changing their mindsets to the best of our ability."

Strathmore University's Ibiz Africa Assistant Incubation Manager Evelyn Chaki says that their role in facilitating constant interaction with industry experts also helps in moulding a free-spirited mindset in their women in tech mentees.

"We use our strength as a university to do that through incubation. Then when it comes to conviction, it comes down to that which keeps one centred and helps to propel them forward in whatever endeavour they happen to undertake," says Ms Chaki.

Besides, another industry voice has figured out that focusing on opportunities, not problems will go a long way in transforming the journey of any beginning entrepreneur.

Problems as opportunities

Marianna Ondeng of Liz Consulting says: "Problems are seen as opportunities to be solved, not insurmountable roadblocks or something to simply complain about. If the problems you find are big enough and affect many people, this is a good opportunity for you to build a business around this problem.

"A great example is to look at all that changed as a result of the pandemic. When lockdowns happened, many smart people found a way to 'pivot' their work or business to meet the new reality."

Her online article titled "12 Wealth Habits That Cost Nothing" has further shown the value of being a lifelong learner with these words: "When you continuously expand your skills, talents, and knowledge, it gives you the confidence to succeed. Learning also keeps your mind youthful and elastic. If your brain is not learning it's dying. Overcome the limitation that you may be too young or old to do or learn something new and difficult."