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The untold pain of growing a business

Many successful businesses have had humble beginnings. [iStock]

Some of the richest and most successful entrepreneurs in the world started with the flimsiest of ideas and with a few resources.

When Bill Gates and his high school friend Paul Allen started making computer software, they were university students who feared they would not be taken seriously by big tech companies.

Mr Gates reported CNBC, once called Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems’ (MITS) to sell them the idea of building a version of the programming language BASIC for the company’s new Altair computers. He was shocked they returned his call and did not dismiss him. That was in the mid-70s.

Mr Gates would soon co-found Micro-Soft with Mr Allen, which would later become Microsoft, the computer software giant that catapulted him to the echelons of wealth and annals of history.

For well over a decade, Mr Gates was ranked the wealthiest man on earth, stood among the most powerful people on the globe and has been the role model of many techpreneurs.

Kenyan industrialist Manu Chandaria, in an interview with the Harvard Business School in 2014, explained the rigours of growing a business from an idea, or just a small unit to a multi-million-dollar empire.

Industrialist Manu Chandaria.  [Samson Wire, Standard]

For many, small beginnings have brought massive success. Wise investment decisions, opportunism, networking, luck and resilience have been responsible for the growth and development of some of the world’s most trusted and successful businesses.

Such trajectories have brought with them a raft of motivational speakers who, in a bid to encourage people to go for it and to also eliminate any lingering questions on the origins and authenticity of their businesses, tell the stories of grass to grace in a somewhat unusual way.

“I started my poultry business with two feathers and one egg,” wrote a Snowfield on Twitter on May 11.

He was mocking the motivational talk which is popular on social media.   The story of ridiculously successful entrepreneurs who started from the smallest of beginnings now abounds on social media.

An Adeshina, eager to contribute to the debate, quipped: “I started my poultry business with five chicken. Now I've eaten them all and only their eggs remain.”

Kenyans have been quick to shun some of the motivational stories that seem extremely far-fetched, with beginnings too small to believe in an environment that barely favours even bigger beginnings.

It has also been widely alleged that some of those giving such stories are trying to escape the cross-hairs of authorities or citizens, that may be questioning the legality of their wealth and big businesses.

Yet many successful businesses have had humble beginnings.

Some businesses mature in an unusually fast, and questionable, style. [iStock]

Brad Osumo, a fishmonger who owns the fish restaurant chain The Big Fish, started small in 2018, frying just a small number of fish and hoping customers would be attracted by the aroma. It was until he took the business to social media that he went viral and grew it so big that just recently, presidential candidate Raila Odinga and his running mate Martha Karua dined at one of his restaurants. 

Kenya’s largest telco by market share Safaricom started as a department of Kenya Posts and Telecommunications Corporation. It launched operations in 1993 based on an analogue Extended Total Access Communication System (ETACS) network and was upgraded to a second-generation mobile system, 2G (GSM) in 1996. It was nothing close to the company it is today.

For some, the proverbial growth of a mustard seed into a huge tree is an exaggeration. Sometimes, the sceptics are right. There is a bit of information that is missing or untrue.

What is often missing is the process of growing the eggs into a whole chicken farm, including the losses and heartaches that come with it. The sweat, the tears, and the sleepless nights are all often left out when the narration comes.

While many can say they have watched Safaricom grow, falter here, pick themselves, introduce this product and bag in these customers over time, some businesses mature in an unusually fast, and questionable, style.