5 Important Lessons Learned At The AITEC Mobile Money Conference

About a month ago, I discovered a gold mine of information from a business blog; the best thing about this blog was that it was a Kenyan blog. Now it’s not that I didn’t exactly know about this site, I’ve heard of it and seen some links online about it – but I had never really checked it out. I’m always on the look out for information I can always share about business start-ups these days, so I decided to really see what information the site offers. I meant to spend about five minutes on the blog but I ended up reading different blog posts for almost an hour! The content was just amazing and insightful – both the blog posts and the videos. Which site you wonder? Kuza Biashara blog.

Fast forwarding to my main point; I was able to win VIP tickets to the AITEC Mobile Money conference from them and it was a very unbelievable opportunity that I am very grateful to have had thanks to the great team at Kuza Biashara. I met them and they are awesome! (yup – that’s the best word that can describe this team of amazing individuals that work there.) Their founder and chief mentor Mr. Sriram Bharatam is an amazing individual as well as a great speaker and listener. Mr. Karthi Raj, the vice president is easy to talk to and very engaging; it was an honor to meet them.

With the Kuza Biashara team at AITEC

With the Kuza Biashara team at AITEC

The theme of AITEC mobile money conference held at the Kenya School of Monetary Studies in Kenya this year was – ‘Finance SMEs and fire up the economy’. AITEC is the region’s leading banking forum and this is its eighth year in existence. Now you may wonder what a small business owner such as myself would benefit from attending such a conference; however, it was an invaluable experience that led to a lot of great insight on my part. I can honestly say that true to Kuza Biashara’s motto; I learned, connected and will grow after attending the conference. I want to share five very important lessons I learned at the conference and I hope it will give you insight into your business start-up as well.

1. Small businesses should start using mobile money payment platforms for their businesses if they don’t already
A major point of discussion in the conference was the adaptation and success of mobile money in Kenya. Banks in the region have realized the potential of the mobile money platform in the region and have started using the platform to offer more solutions for their customers. They are also continuing to discover ways in which they can start serving SMEs better using the same platforms in the near future. A very interesting way that one particular company, G-analytix based in Zimbabwe, is using mobile money usage & other small business analytics input to benefit small business owners is by creating a ratings programme or if you may – credit history. The point that Mr. Alan Goodrich the company’s MD was making, is to be able to build a credit history that can be used in lending money to small business owners based on their mobile money history and other small business operations inputs.
A perfect example of a company that is putting the mobile money credit history usage to great use is Kopo Kopo Inc who created the ‘Lipa na MPESA’ platform used by businesses in Kenya.

Lipa Na Mpesa by KopoKopo

Lipa Na Mpesa by KopoKopo

It’s a great platform especially for small business owners like myself; I can say that with great confidence since my bakery uses it to receive payments. Kopo Kopo has now introduced Grow, which is an alternative lending option for their already existing customers. They use the mobile money history in the business account to determine the amount of money they can lend to the business. Another great feature of their payment system is that they recently added a feature where an account holder can make payments to other accounts – bank or MPESA lines. This is a great feature because it gives a small business owner the convenience of being able to pay an employee or vendor directly from their Kopo Kopo account. This in time will build a history of business transactions in and out of the business – which is literally a more detailed credit history of the business.

Kopo Kopo is making mobile payment easy for SMEs

Kopo Kopo is making mobile payment easy for SMEs

Bottom line: If your small business does not already have a mobile money payment system; you need to get one right away. Not only is it convenient for your customers; but very useful to your business as well and possibly for future bank lending purposes.
2. You should have a strong and solid social media strategy in place for your business
An interesting point that was made in the conference by Mr. Amarnath Chowdary, CEO of ModeFinServer, India; was that social media banking is the next big thing after mobile money. Most banks have recognized the fact that a very high percentage of their customers are constantly on social media. Banks therefore want to provide even more convenience by tapping into social media just like most businesses have done and start providing banking services to their customers. I believe that this integration of banking into social media will benefit businesses as well; therefore, businesses should ensure they are also on social media. If your business has a strong social media presence; it will make it easy to benefit from the social media banking experience and in turn your customers as well. This may turn out to be another payment platform for businesses to take advantage of.

Ensure you have a great social media strategy

Ensure you have a great social media strategy

Bottom line: Make sure your small business has an effective social media strategy in place so that when banking hits the social media platform; you’re ready to integrate it into your payment systems efficiently.
3. Market research is very important for your small business
At the conference, Ms. Debbie Watkins – MD Africa and Asia Regions of Fern Software; shared her experience of doing market research in different parts of the world on how small business owners run their daily financial operations. Banks in the past believed that small business payment operations are simple; however, due to the nature of a small business, it has been discovered that their operations are even more complex than believed. As banks research the habits of small business owners even more, they discover that in order to survive; business owners have to apply complex strategies due to their limited financial resources. This kind of discovery through market research should apply to every small business out there. No matter how simple; small businesses should always conduct market research in their specific industries in order to find out what their customers really need and serve them better.
Bottom line: If you’re not constantly researching what your customer needs to better understand them and innovating your products & services to suite them; someone else will start solving their problems and you will lose your customers.
4. Small business start-ups don’t always need funding, they need capacity building.
A point that was made by Mr. Habil Olaka, CEO of the Kenya Bankers’ Association was that start-ups don’t always need debt finance which banks offer. Start-ups may actually be in need of capacity building instead of financing. They may also be in need of a different kind of funding instead of bank loans; funding such as angel or venture capital funding. It is necessary to point out that Kenya does not have a lot of options when it comes to angel or venture capital investors; most of the ones available are not even Kenyan-based but foreign investors.

Kuza Biashara help SMEs be the best they can be

Kuza Biashara help SMEs be the best they can be

Bottom line: If your start-up is constantly having cash flow issues and you keep looking for different ways to get funding; you may not necessarily require debt financing since your small business may not be able to handle it. It may be a lack of information and a need for resources that will help you to run your small business better.
5. Small business owners in Kenya need to use capacity building resources available such as Kuza Biashara in order to learn.
In reference to the point made above; start-ups don’t always require funding, sometimes they need capacity building. This is true of a lot of small business owners in Kenya, including myself. Like the founder of Kuza Biashara, Mr. Sriram Bharatam, says: “A lot of small business owners don’t know what they don’t know.” That was true for me especially last year as my business went through a challenging time. I realized that I required knowledge in order to deal with the challenges the business was facing and not necessarily funding; since that was not really solving my problems. I have been learning since and have gained a lot of insight on how to focus and run my small business better through the methods that I have learned. I am continuously finding more resources that help me learn and grow as a business owner and Kuza Biashara is one of those resources that I believe will help in that journey.
Bottom line: If you are a small business owner in Kenya, you need to make sure you tap into the resources that Kuza Biashara offers and you will learn, connect and grow as an entrepreneur.

It was a privilege to be able to attend the AITEC mobile money conference and it was a great to meet the Kuza Biashara team; they should keep up the great work they are doing.

Keep learning, work hard and most importantly work smart.

3 Helpful Tips on Saving Money as a Start-Up Entrepreneur in Kenya

The first few year as a start-up entrepreneur are the toughest, not only have I heard this advice from many successful entrepreneurs in Kenya and read it from international entrepreneurs; I have experienced it (and continue to ^_^). Most successful entrepreneurs actually state that the first three to six years are the toughest for any new start-up venture and the entrepreneur behind it. I call them the ‘make it or break it’ years, that’s the time when you are constantly under pressure, stress and many other challenges; both financial and personal. These years not only test your true character but your strength and endurance through very tough challenges and failures that you face. One major challenge that most start-up entrepreneurs face is financial; in both aspects of your personal life and your business. For your personal life; it’s very important to find ways of reducing your expenses to a bare minimum because they can interfere with your business cash flow, especially if that is where you get your money from. I have started up a business twice; I failed the first time I tried for one year and personal finances played a major role in that failure. This time around I have been going for two years and I am applying the lessons I learned from the first time around on saving money as much as I can. There are numerous ways of making sure you save money, but I want to share three easy and very helpful tips of doing so that will guarantee the safety of your business cash flow for the first two years.

1. Reduce all your personal expenses and eliminate all unnecessary ones
If you wish to be successful, you have to be disciplined and start having great control of your spending habits. If you were employed before you became a start-up entrepreneur, such as I was; it can be a great challenge to change your spending habits, however, it is necessary for your success. Reduce any personal expenses such as eating out, going for nights out with your friends, impulsive retail purchases, over-spending on personal items or expenses such as personal phone calls, if you rent your apartment or house – find a more economical, budget-friendly place to stay. You should actually eliminate any expense you feel you can do without or that is a luxury. If you can run your business from home; do that. I moved back home with my mum since there was space to build a bakery workshop in the compound and at the time, the bakery was delivery based, it can run from home to start. Make sure you have very few personal expenses that will need cash; this will stop you from dipping into the business cash flow to fund personal matters.

Reduce your personal costs

Reduce your personal costs

2. Buy in Bulk
This applies to both your personal and business aspects. Most products or services that are offered in bulk are usually at a lower rate than the ones that don’t. Examples are phone credit (distributors of phone credit sell to shops at wholesale prices for larger amounts, you can do the same as well) and internet bundles (or if you can manage the expense and your area permits it – sign up for monthly internet service e.g. from Zuku or Faiba). If your phone usage is quite high per month, you can also sign up for post paid service; all major phone service providers have post paid bundles and plans – you can even try the business bundles if your phone credit and internet usage is very high. Do the same for your business stock; production, print material (e.g. business cards and brochures), packaging materials and any other purchases you make often. This can apply even to your personal purchases such as toothpaste, deodorant, soap, etc. Visit your local wholesale shop and you will be surprised at how you can save bu buying in bulk.

Buy phone credit in bulk (Image: kateskikapu.com)

Buy phone credit in bulk (Image: kateskikapu.com)

3. Negotiate deals and discounts with vendors or suppliers
If you make purchases often from specific vendors e.g. print material, production ingredients, etc; you can negotiate certain discounts or deals with that supplier. If you have built a relationship with the vendor; you can discuss different ways in which he/she can discount your purchases because of your loyal service. If you have a supplier who is also a customer as well; you can also discuss a way to trade between the two businesses. Make sure all the details are discussed and if necessary written down, both businesses can benefit from trading items and saving costs in the respective businesses as well.

Get discounts on purchases (Image: juniorwatch.com)

Get discounts on purchases (Image: juniorwatch.com)

Those are just a few simple and highly effective ways of saving money as a start-up entrepreneur in Kenya. If you are an entrepreneur who would like to suggest any other ways you have found to save money in your life, please feel free to comment below and share.

Remember to work hard, keep the faith, be strong and work smart!

If you found this post helpful, please share below – it will be helpful to someone else. Spread the love ^_^

What it Means to be a Female Entrepreneur in Kenya

An entrepreneur is defined as an individual who organizes or operates a business or businesses. A person who pays a certain price for a product and resells it at an uncertain price: “making decisions about obtaining and using the resources while consequently admitting the risk of enterprise”- that’s Wikipedia’s description.

This is a correct and general description of who an entrepreneur really is, but there is more involved in being an entrepreneur, it’s a tough life.

As much as being an entrepreneur is tough, being a female entrepreneur is a bit more difficult, especially in Kenya.  As much as Kenya’s society is evolving and adopting some western beliefs, it’s still a very conservative society.  Being a woman in Kenya, there are certain expectations people have and most women in Kenya conform to them. I’m not saying that it is a negative thing in any way, it just makes it a bit difficult for those of us who have different expectations.We can do it - black chic

So, when you meet a crowd of people, or relatives at any occasion; and they ask you what you’re doing these days, the last thing they’re expecting to hear is that you’re running a start-up bakery.  As a 28 year old, they’re always surprised to hear that I’m not married (and currently have no plans to soon).  I don’t even have a potential suitor for the grand event. To top it off, I quit a ‘good’ job to pursue a business in the baking industry; so the general response is – “You’re still doing the baking thing?” Yes folks, I’m still doing the ‘baking’ thing!

Dealing with people you know who have a certain expectation of you at a certain stage in your life, that you’re not meeting – is always difficult.  The difficult thing is not really the judgment, but it’s being unable to explain to them why I’m doing it.  It’s not something I can explain to them, I can only show them.  So, they’ll have to wait until they can understand, and they may never understand, therefore it’s something I have to accept in the end.

For me, that is the most difficult thing about being a female entrepreneur in Kenya.  As an entrepreneur, it helps to have the people close to you supporting your career or business.  When the opposite happens, it can be quite difficult; not only dealing with the ups and downs of being an entrepreneur but also dealing with the disappointment and judgment of those close to you.  The worst part being that it is because you are a woman. When a man starts a business venture, he will get the claps on the back, people tell him that he is brave and people encourage him to keep going.

When a young woman starts a business in Kenya, some people do congratulate her and tell her she is courageous – and I will admit that these days people do support female entrepreneurs more than they did before.  However the majority will look at you in different ways; some in pity – “Wow, do you think you can handle it?”  Others in confusion – “What now? Shouldn’t you be planning on how to get married soon?  You’re not getting any younger you know!”  You might also get the patronizing comments – “Awww, how nice, I suppose it’s something to do for now.” (As I wait for what – I ask, to get married?).

To be a female entrepreneur in Kenya, especially if you’re a youth and unmarried to boot, you have to be tougher.  You have to work twice as hard and push yourself ten times more.  This is not because there is something wrong with you.  It’s just a more difficult business world for you.  It’s harder to get investors for your business, they cannot help but judge or stereotype.  You just have to prove that you’re worth the investment.  It’s harder to network with other entrepreneurs such as businessmen or older, maybe married, business women.  You just need to present yourself as an authority in your industry and show you have and will continue to prove your metal as an entrepreneur.  I believe it is necessary to work harder because in the long run it is good for you.  You build clout, you’re stronger, mentally and spiritually; you gain a thick skin and you can stay strong through any judgment or criticism.

Maureen at Bakers Forum May 2016

I’m going to keep grinding til I make it. You should too!

This should not discourage any ladies who are thinking of being entrepreneurs in Kenya, especially single young ladies.  I just believe in being fully aware and prepared before starting business.  Examine yourself, be honest with yourself and make sure you can withstand social pressures.  This is because part of being a female entrepreneur in Kenya is being able to withstand other people’s doubt in you, disappointment and judgment; without trying to explain yourself to them.  Knowing that there is a vision you have, a goal you are working towards and you can see it clear as day; but they cannot see it no matter how much you explain it to them.

It is keeping the belief strong in you even when everyone around you, even your family or friends, has lost their faith in you.  If you are that kind of person, and very many women are, then you are ready to be an entrepreneur.  In the words of Maya Angelou;

“Go out there, grab the world by the lapels, and kick some ass girl!”

Who run the world - girls - Cosmo pic

Yes we do!           (Image: Cosmopolitan)

This post appeared originally on the Storymoja Hay Festival Blog.

5 Kenyan Female Entrepreneurs Youth Can Look Up To

While starting a business in Kenya, especially as a female entrepreneur, sometimes there are periods of doubt, great trials among many other challenges. I have found that when I’m going through such problems, I like to find inspiration from people who have passed through challenges like mine and have triumphed. I can relate very personally, especially when a certain business or aspect of your business fails. It is very important for start-up entrepreneurs in Kenya to find inspiration in other successful entrepreneurs near them. I’ve been reading about female entrepreneurs in Kenya who have been successful and followed their respective journeys in business. These women have inspired me, especially because they are Kenyan. There are many women who are working very hard and doing well in business in Kenya; however, I have chosen these top five for any youth in Kenya to look up to because they have suffered through many challenges in their journeys and have still been highly successful. They are also still working hard to be better everyday and youth in Kenya can look up to them for inspiration.

1. Tabitha Karanja

Tabitha Karanja is the chief executive of Keroche Breweries, she has paved the way for many other female entrepreneurs in Kenya where women are traditionally scarce in the boardrooms, and even rarer in large successful start-ups. She is a mother of four who turned the first Kenyan owned brewery business, Keroche Breweries, into a success. She started in 1997 with fortified wines aimed at the low end market but the company wasn’t able to maintain the low prices in 2007 due to taxes aimed at alcohol.

Tabitha's take on women in Kenyan society

Tabitha’s take on women in Kenyan society

She then came up with a new beer brand, Summit, in 2008 which has done well over the last few years. Tabitha has weathered the challenges of being a pioneer in an industry which is dominated by international brands and hasn’t given up even when her situation seemed hopeless. She inspires me to keep going even when it feels like I’m the under-dog in my industry. When I seem to hit a wall on my business, I’m inspired to come up with another solution instead of just giving up.

Tabitha Karanja

Tabitha Karanja

2. Julie Gichuru

We all know Julie as a TV host with broadcaster Citizen TV. She has been in the media for the past 12 years. The reason she is an inspiration to me is due to her entrepreneurial activities. She has two known business ventures; an online fashion retail outlet called Mimi and a media production company – Arimus Media Ltd. She has worked hard over the years to produce influential programs that have helped with reconciliation as well as start up dialogues on problems facing Kenyans and finding ways to resolve them. She has also started a business venture that failed, but that did not deter her from starting other businesses. She is a female entrepreneur who has set out to create companies that make a positive impact to Kenyans and I admire her for that. She inspires me because she does not give up even when she fails in a venture. Julie is also an inspiration to female entrepreneurs in Kenya because she does not only set out to make money, but also to change people’s life for the better. Youth should be inspired by her and should work hard to build companies that inspire and help people.

Julie Gichuru

Julie Gichuru

3. Gina Din Kariuki

Gina Din is a pan-African public relations practitioner. She is the founder and chair of Gina Din, which is a leading independent and indigenous strategic communications agency in East Africa. She has over 30 years of experience giving state of the art media and communication strategy to corporate companies, as well as crisis management and event planning. She started her company in 1997 with just her savings and struggled through many months where she sometimes had zero to 5 clients. She says she has learned a lot in the industry through experience and has kept going strong all through the years. She inspires me because she left a great job with Barclays Bank to start her own business, taking such a risk is very courageous and scary as well. She also shares that she doubted herself back then and even had second thoughts about starting a business. However she continued on her entrepreneurial journey and has built an amazing and successful company.

Gina Din Kariuki

Gina Din Kariuki

4. Eva Muraya

Eva Muraya is the CEO and founder of Brand Strategy and Design Limited. She also co-founded Color Creations Group Ltd, the first advertising and branding business to gain the global quality management systems standards ISO 9001:2001 Certification in East and Central Africa. Eva quit a great corporate job as Regional Sales and Marketing Manager for FedX (East African Courier Ltd) to co-found her first business.

Eva Muraya

Eva Muraya

The reason she motivates me is because she is always challenging herself. She could have decided to get comfortable and just move up the corporate ladder. However she wanted to challenge herself further by building an amazing company. Eva is also the Chairman of the Kenya Association of Women Business Owners. She is passionate about women’s economic empowerment, mentorship of youth, and also advocating and fund raising initiatives for children with special needs.(whoswho.co.ke). I’m inspired by a Kenyan female entrepreneur who inspires women to be empowered and mentors the youth. Eva is definitely a woman to look up to.

Eva's slogan

Eva’s slogan

5. Lorna Rutto

Lorna is one of Africa’s greatest young entrepreneurs; having carved a niche for herself in a male dominated business environment. She resigned a good bank job in 2009 to start her company Ecopost Ltd which is a small plastic recycling business that uses plastic waste collected from dump sites and garbage cans across Nairobi to manufacture fencing posts. Lorna inspires me because where people see plastic garbage, she saw an opportunity and a way to save our environment. She started a business that not only uses plastic waste to convert to posts, but saves thousands of trees from being cut down. Ecopost also provides income for individuals who collect plastic and take it to their factory, where they get paid for the plastic waste. She’s an inspiration because she has achieved so much at such a young age and she’s still going strong. She resigned a job because she felt she was not making a difference in the way that she wanted and started a company that is helping Kenyans earn money as well as saving our environment. If that isn’t inspirational I don’t know what is!

Lorna Rutto

Lorna Rutto

If you are a young female entrepreneur in Kenya having doubts or going through some major challenges in your journey, this should inspire you thoroughly ^_^. Believe in yourself, stay strong through any challenges and always think positive. Be innovative and always think of a better way of solving your problems. Most importantly; work hard, work smart, never give up on your self and keep the faith.

Now go out there and build your dream ^_^!