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Youthful entrepreneur reaps millions from hard work

By David Odongo | September 18th 2013
Eric Kinoti. [Photo: Standard]

By David Odongo

At 29 years, Eric Kinoti has appeared twice in the top forty under forty list of Kenyan entrepreneurs. He runs Shades Systems, a firm that manufactures and supplies luxury tents in East Africa with an annual turnover that runs into tens of millions.

How did you get into business?

In 2004, I was working as a cashier at a hotel in Malindi. Since my work hours were mostly at night, I had a lot of free time during the day, so I started buying eggs and supplying it to hotels in the coast. I quit the hotel cashier job in 2007 with a little capital of Sh 20,000 I had saved and started distributing milk to city hotels.

How then did you set up Shade Systems?

I had expanded my business to supplies of foodstuff like rice, milk, beans and maize and one day I met a client who not only wanted foodstuff, but also wanted a tent since he had a function. I immediately sourced for one tent and I made quite a tidy sum. I then went into my saving account, withdrew the entire Sh 57,000 that I had saved and set up Shade Systems. Shade Systems employs twenty-five permanent staff and eight casuals. We manufacture and supply tents, be it relief tents, military tents, gazebo tents, canopies for pubs and restaurants, luxury tents for homes or weddings, bouncing castle, canvas seats and car parking shades.We have a presence in Sudan, Rwanda, and Somalia. My clients include JCC Church, Bank of Africa, East Africa Breweries, Toyota Kenya, the Department of Defense and Bata Company, among other companies.

When was your big break?

My big break came two years after I had started the company and had not yet broken even. My first big job was military tender, which put about Sh 15 million into the company. I eventually had the necessary capital to chase all the big jobs. I also paid all my debts. Amongst the challenges I have faced is very few people give big tenders to the youth; they feel you don’t have what it takes, be it the experience or the financial backing to do a good job. Our business also needs a lot of capital since nobody will pay you until you have delivered.

What can you tell a budding entrepreneur?

Most of the times when successful people are profiled in the media, they only give stories of the glamourous lifestyle they lead and how much money they make. They never give stories on how hard it is to actually earn one million shillings. They never give stories on how painful it is to lose three million in a deal gone sour. In the end many young people think making money and building a successful company is something that can be done overnight. Some people say I am lucky, it is true, I was prepared when lady luck smiled on me. If I hadn’t been prepared, no matter how lucky I am, I wouldn’t have succeeded in running my company. My plan is within three years, we will have surpassed a very modest annual turnover of Sh350 million.

Tell us about your family?

I am married with a six months old daughter. I got married last year. She is the most wonderful woman God placed on earth and I am so lucky to have her by my side, praying for me every day and supporting me through in all my struggle sin business.


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