“Worlds apart” is the best short phrase that differentiates Esther Kagiri the employee, from Esther the entrepreneur.
Ten years ago, Esther was an intern with Gina Din Corporate Communications. Her first assignment then was to carry out media monitoring for the firm.
Today, she is the force behind Globetrack International Limited, a 24 hour real-time media monitoring firm whose solutions help inform PR and media strategy for organisations.
As I spoke to Esther, the list was endless of the sacrifices she has made in life to build Globetrack, top of them all being resigning from her stable job to nurture what had been only an idea for a very long time.
As she narrates her first hardship days that yielded into the now multi-million business, she sounds happy, blaming no one for the difficulties she faced, but appreciating each process as a means to achieving great goals. She simply dared to dream and dream big.
Born in Nyeri, Esther, 32, grew up in a family of four siblings-three girls and one boy. Her upbringing, as she puts it, was pretty much a regular average one.
“I am the daughter of a matatu driver and a teacher. My mum has always been a teacher till her retirement while my dad also taught for some time before he ventured into matatu business. They are now into real estate,” says Esther.
As her parents struggled to bring them up, they strived to ensure they had the best despite the close age gap.
“I know for sure that my parents didn’t have it easy providing for us, yet we never lacked. As siblings, we had an age difference of one year apart. But they still managed and took us to the best schools,” she says.
Esther was enrolled at Moi Nyeri Complex Primary School in Nyeri, which she describes as the ‘It School’ and compares it to the likes of Braeburn. Basically, it was a school out of reach for the ordinary during its heyday.
After her primary school, in 1996, Esther joined Maryhill Girls High School in Thika, which in turn, exposed her to a lot of things.
“I loved high school. I have fond memories of it. Being a national school, I met people from all walks of life and we had to learn to live together, “she reminisces.
However, Esther was a ‘naughty’ girl in high school, something that is hard to comprehend as she now appears different, and nothing close to that cheeky girl.
“I played basketball and was in the cheering squad for every event in school. I was always in the list of noise makers and late comers. It was then that a decision was reached by the Principal to appoint me the dining hall captain, perhaps to tame me,” she recalls.
That marked her first step into leadership. According to her, it not only sobered her up but also reminded her to put her act together.
After high school, her parents made her work at a shop they owned in Nanyuki as she waited for her results. They had relocated from Nyeri to Nanyuki by then.
“I literally worked hard at it and there was no joke about it. I would get there by 7am, clean up and arrange the place before my mum arrived at 9am,”she recalls.
When she received her results, the first question she got from her parents was ‘what do you want to do?’ Esther had set her mind on pursuing a degree in Communication at Daystar University.
She offers: “On the reporting day, we went to the accounts office with my mum and she had a cheque of only Sh22,000. They thought it was a joke. That amount was nothing close to what I was supposed to pay for my first semester’s fees.”
With the help of two amazing people, Dr Samson Obwa and Rosemary Kibuthu, Esther secured a full scholarship for her studies in the work-study programme at the university.
After graduating from Daystar, she began the difficult journey of searching for a job. Thankfully, she landed her first job as a communications officer with the National Muslim Council of Kenya in 2003.
In 2004, she went back to Daystar where she worked with the Daystar University Placement Programme before moving to the Corporate Affairs department.
In 2005, Esther joined Gina Din rising through the ranks from an intern, Assistant Account Executive, Account Executive to Director, Client Service in a span of six years.
Due to the nature of her job, she was always on the move to ensure that their clientèle were not disappointed, despite media monitoring reports coming in at late hours.
Esther had always harboured the dream of becoming self-employed; hence she embarked on a research to find out more efficient media monitoring platforms that were in the market which also included real-time social media monitoring platforms.
The desire to go into self-employment led her to quit her job at Gina Din in May 2010.
According to Esther, it was a step of faith since she had no capital to set off her dream.
“I always knew that I needed an angel investor to start my business and I started calling people the day after I left Gina Din. I moved in and out of the offices of some well-established personalities I knew of in search of help,” she says.
“At some point, I almost gave up. I faltered over my idea and whether people were going to reciprocate. All I needed was somebody to believe in me and help me realise my dream,” she says.
They say miracles do happen. And indeed, on her brink of giving up, she found someone who was ready to help her kick-start her idea.
“He was God’s gift to me. In His true patient style, He carefully listened to me and simply said...Let’s do this.”
That same year, Globetrack International opened its doors. Talk of ambition.“It had to happen and that was the moment. When something must be done, the feeling is unmistakable,” she says.
Globetrack employs 34 people whom she describes as the most amazing team.
They have also formed partnerships with other countries including Canada, the US, Italy, Tanzania and Uganda.
Esther says: “We are slowly but steadily growing. We will be marking five years of business in June.”
Besides media monitoring, she says they started to identify other gaps that they could fill.
“In 2013, there were a lot of questions and requests for us to offer PR services. That is something we rolled out, last year,” she says.
Despite their achievements, she is quick to note that there have been challenges that have perhaps kept them on their toes.
She offers: “I started the company at a period when the budget had already been read for that financial year. That meant we could not access government projects as they are mostly given out in June/July. We had to work extremely hard and source for clients from the private sector. It was hard to pay salaries and the bills. Our first cheque was only Sh7,400, which was not even enough to pay one staff.”
There was also the issue of getting support from friends and family to rally behind her as she struggled to set up her business.
“When I started out, some said they would be there and assist me in any way they could while others said ‘don’t call me when it doesn’t work’. I learnt that you need to share your vision with people who believe in you. Those that believe in you keep them close, and those that don’t, do not judge them,” she says.
James Chege, the Finance Manager at Samsung Kenya, is one of Esther’s friends and when she sought reassurance from him during the initial years of her business, he simply asked “why her?” While she had the choice to throw a tantrum in anger, she chose to carefully listen to what he was asking which was, “What was she going to offer the market?” That informed her response, “Because I am really good at what I do.”
“He simply smiled and said, ‘What do you need reassurance from me for? Go on be great at it’.”
She attributes her optimistic nature and family background as major motivating factors for her success.
“Coming from a business-minded family, my mum is my silent business advisor while my dad is my critic. My younger sister is also into business, hence, we keep each other on check,” she says.
“I also have friends who have been in business for many years and the hard work I have watched them put into their businesses makes me admire them.”
Esther says that looking back, she does not have any regrets of quitting employment to become an entrepreneur.
“I have seen faith at work. Moving from earning a salary of only Sh6,000 to owning and running a successful business may seem like a pipe dream.
But rest assured that if you know that God has your back, when it gets difficult, you will have the strength to ask yourself, ‘what is this here to teach me?’ ” says Esther.
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