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What I learnt from my wins and losses

By Peter Theuri | May 5th 2021
James Mwangi is the founder of Kurrent Technologies.

Kurrent Technologies is a consulting firm currently undertaking large projects in the energy and petroleum sector including pipelines, exploration and production of oil, and power generation plants. Mwangi was employed for 16 years before venturing into entrepreneurship 20 years ago, gaining immense experience and work ethics that he shares with aspiring entrepreneurs.

Have the facts before going in

Many people desire to go into business, and that is a good thing. However, it is good to have clear business goals if you hope to survive in entrepreneurship. In Kenya, medium and small enterprises account for 90 per cent of all businesses in Kenya and employ about 84 per cent of the workforce.

However, they contribute only 28 per cent of the GDP while in Germany, such businesses contribute 75 per cent of the GDP. In Kenya, 46 per cent of startups die within a year while 80 per cent will die within five years. Such statistics show that a business needs to be well thought out beforehand.

Ask yourself if you have the ambition to see it through. It is easy to give up when the going gets tough, but the most successful entrepreneurs persist because of their ambitious nature. It took me seven years to think through the decision to quit employment and go into business. Always begin with the end in mind.

Business mentorship is crucial

Most of the businesses die due to lack of funding and founder experience. Sadly, they die with the ambitions of our young people. Older ones in business need to mentor the younger generation and help them incubate their business.

For example, those in employment and in their early or mid-forties would be better off mentored on business setup during their employment period, take up some severance pay and start out with the skills acquired in the workplace rather than get into business when older.

Their places in employment would then be taken up by younger ones who would go through a similar business mentorship programme. It is like a business incubation conveyor belt where young people come in and leave when they still have the energy for business. Financiers can look at their records and decide to fund them since they are less risky than an inexperienced starter.

Never lower your standards to fit in

Having worked in America, a country with high business ethics, I expected the business environment in Kenya to have similar ethos. But I was surprised by the low levels of compliance with set standards back home. However, I have aspired to keep my high business standards . Never be afraid of losing clients who cannot comply.

Beware, it is much easier to drop your standards than bring everyone up to your level, but the latter is what will make you remain a credible businessperson. As an entrepreneur, remember that industry standards are for the safety of both you and your clients. Protect your reputation and never regret dropping anyone who does not conform to your high standards.

Not everyone will believe in your idea and that is OK

Anyone starting out in business will meet with one or two people who may not see the value of your idea. When I was transitioning from employment to entrepreneurship, naysayers had a field day giving me all types of advice. They could not understand why I was leaving what they felt was a well-paying job for something I was not sure off.

I almost had some self-doubts about the whole thing. In fact, I quit employment when my child was six-days-old. However, there were certain things such well-meaning friends did not know about me. For example, they did not know about my competencies.

They also did not know how much financial capital I had or the reasons that made me go into business. Likewise, think of what being an entrepreneur means—a person willing to take calculated financial risks for some expected profits. That should be your guiding principle.

Poor time management, poor returns

The only thing that God gave all humans in equal measure is time. We all have 24 hours in a day but some are better at managing the resource than others. Personally, I must keep a diary of all items I need to do in a day. In fact, none of my staff can get into my office without a diary or a notebook. This shows you are prepared and organized. Personally, I had to undergo a two-day training on the use of the diary in the United States. That is how serious time management matters should be taken.

To keep clients happy, put things in writing

Many entrepreneurs in Kenya do business in an informal way. That is playing on the edge. You come across as a person who has no systems. On the other hand, putting things in writing binds you and the client and emphasizes the need to keep your promises. It shows you are reliable and value the customer. You also take any pressure off the customer who expects you to give him the heads up throughout a business process. After all, business is about relationships.

Always hold the hands of your employees

One of the best gifts you can give your employees is by being a role model. Allow them to be and treat them with respect. Remember that this is the family that you spend a good part of your day with. Let them take credit for a good job. In fact, if some of your workers are poached by rival businesses, it means that you offered good training in your company.

There is great power in networking

Business is about expanding your networks. Be a member of business associations, join a club or focus groups. Unleash the power of advocacy in you. Personally, I belong to a number of such groups including being a board member in energy and petroleum bodies, Kenya Private Sector Alliance, Kepsa. With such bodies, I can make my voice heard which in turn improves the business environment for many other entrepreneurs. Don’t be afraid to blow your trumpet.


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