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George Wachiuri – A Story of True Resilience

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He is the founder of a top-notch real estate firm that has been scooping awards, right left and center. He is also the founder and trustee of a charitable foundation that is quietly transforming numerous lives, especially the young ones, across the country. He is an astute entrepreneur, a motivational speaker, a lecturer and a family man all wrapped in the soul of one very energetic man.

Meet George Wachiuri, one of the most charismatic yet compassionate and down-to-earth Chief Executive Officers of our times. This father of three is also a renowned published author of two bestselling books: ‘Soaring like an Eagle’ and ‘Unleash your full Potential’, both of these books are available on Amazon with all their proceeds going to Optiven Foundation, a soft arm of Optiven Group, which is a company that is living up to its tag-line, making its customers and all its other stakeholders experience real, positive difference in their lives.

“Before establishing Optiven, I had 15 other successive businesses that I started but unfortunately they all ended up folding. The epitome of these sequential failures was when I lost a solid Kshs5 million to some crooks who had passed for genuine salesmen, only for me to realize later that I had been conned,” says Wachiuri.

These racketeers had offered to sell him a piece of land. But after making the requisite payments, he went back to their office only to find that they had since vacated – into thin air. “I have never heard from them since then!” he narrates.

He points out that this was the turning point in his life. He recounts: “After this incident, I was financially down. I would walk to town and after my morning engagements; I would retreat to Uhuru Park, a public park in Nairobi’s central business district, which had become my default ‘office’. Every time that I was at this park, I would always make sure that I had a bible where I would draw divine inspiration plus a notebook and a pen which I would use to map out the ideas that I had.”

Wachiuri says that during this very tough time, there were only two pillars that kept holding him up – his wife, Mary Wacuka and God. “These were the only two beings that kept me moving. Were it not for them, I could have probably sunk into an awful depression,” he reveals.

Wachiuri, who now sits as a board member at the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA) and who is also part of the board directors at the Kenya Private Developers Association (KPDA), where he serves as an advisor at the land sector board, says that he has always looked back at those low moments of his life to fire him up to become an even more successful person.

“I always believe that we are shaped by the experiences that we go through in life. It is therefore prudent to make sure that whatever you go through, you learn the lessons so that you do not go back there,” he says. The experience of being conned, for example, later gave me the kick that I needed, to establish a property selling company that is genuine and that can be trusted by Kenyans.

He notes that having been born in a family that experienced abject poverty, he just had this inner drive in him ever since he was a young boy that one day; he would make it big and help uplift his family’s standards of living, especially his mother. He also believes that it is this paucity-soaked background that always nudges him to assist the less fortunate in the society, hence the birth of Optiven Foundation.

“My father passed away when I was still a small boy and soon after, we had to seek manual labour in our village in order to survive. We would wake up very early in the morning, accompany our mother to till our rich neighbours’ land for a small pay, then dash to school,” he says.

Perhaps these early experiences are the ones that also taught this Certified Public Accountant – CPA (K) holder, to be both resilient and be a go-getter, especially on matters entrepreneurship.

“Even when I went to the University of Nairobi, where I was pursuing an undergraduate degree in commerce – marketing option – I had to provide my own school fees. This means that I didn’t enjoy the life pleasures that were common with my university colleagues. I had to come up with a way of earning as much money as possible, while at the same time, creating time to study so that I am able to balance both ends,” he says.

As a result, Wachiuri would do laundry work for his comrades at a fee. He also acquired a Yashica camera, which he would use to take photos of fellow students at a fee in order to make an extra coin.

“On top of this, I also converted my cubicle into a little library where I would stock many old but relevant magazines and books and lend them out to fellow students for a small charge,” he says.

And with all these entrepreneurial engagements, the University of Nairobi noted this young man’s efforts, and bestowed him an award: The 1997 Entrepreneur of the Year, University of Nairobi (UoN). This award was to later become the magnet that starting attracting numerous other awards, towards the way of this man who was born and brought up in Labura, one of the driest places in Nyeri County.

Fast-forward a few decades later. Under his stewardship, Optiven Group has won many coveted awards amongst them: Winner, best in use of Digital Solutions by Land Agents – 2ND Annual Digital Inclusion Awards (2018), The Most Outstanding Innovation in Top 100 Mid-Sized Companies (2017/2018), Exceptional Human Resource (HR) Practices in Top 100 Mid-Sized Companies (2017/2018), Number One Real Estate Firm in Land Selling- SuperBrands (2017/2018).

Other awards include: The Fourth Best Real Estate Company in East Africa, SuperBrands East Africa (2017/2018); Number 68 out of the top 1000 Leading Super Brands across all industries in East Africa, SuperBrands East Africa (2017/2018); and Number One in Top 100 Mid-Sized Companies Survey (2014/2015).

As a Person, Wachiuri has over the years, scooped many awards and appreciations include: 1st Runners Up – National Diversity & Inclusion Awards (DIAR Awards) (2014/2015); Best Entrepreneur – Africa – Diaspora Entertainment Awards & Recognition (D.E.A.R) awards (2017); Executive Leadership Network Appreciation – Business Leaders Forum (2016); Mashujaa Awards (USA) – Best & Most Innovative Entrepreneur, Business & Entrepreneurship (2015); and KEPSA & Ministry of Devolution and Planning honorary recognition for invaluable contribution as a mentor to Kenya Youth Empowerment Project (KYEP) Training and internship Program (2014).

In order to steer his Optiven ship towards the safe routes of the deep blue ocean, Wachiuri understands the need for a Chief Executive Officer who is well versed with matters business, and it is in this vain that he had to make sure that he has pursued a Masters of Business Administration from University of Nairobi. He is currently Pursuing PhD Degree at Jomo Kenyatta University of Technology (JKUAT).

Send your feedback to this writer: muchiriwamuchoki@gmail.com

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  • George K. Wachiuri, Founder and CEO for Optiven Group

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Entrepreneurs

Githurai Maize Roaster Is Now Set to Buy A Posho Mill

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“Never give up, sit down and grieve so long as you are breathing.” These are the most intriguing words for Mr. Nakpil Suleiman, commonly known as “Mei” by his customers. He dropped out of high school for lack of school fees.

He has however risen above this fact and began a maize-vending business to sustain himself. He deals with roasted maize, a business which commenced early this year in Mwihoko-Githurai area of Kiambu County.

Nakpil explained to Inversk about his “maize-dent” journey as he commonly calls it. He says it began after sleeping on an empty stomach for a couple of days and when he could no longer take it, he began thinking of a business that would put food on his table.

He wanted a business that required minimal capital. That was when he settled on maize roasting. His starting capital was less than Ksh 2,000 because all he needed was maize, charcoal and a stand. He did not need to stress himself over renting a place monthly. He therefore found a strategic place near an M-Pesa shop close to the bus terminus

Nakpil buys one stalk of maize for Ksh.12.50 which he sells at Ksh 25 making a 100% profit. It is even more profitable when he sells his the maize into portions with the cheapest going for Ksh 10. This translates to Ksh 30 per stalk of maize.

It is a business that Nakpil does in the evening from 4:00pm. This is favorable for the business since most people are leaving work and often times need to grab a bite, the roasted maize comes in handy!

Maize roasting is easily manageable for him, because it only requires good communication skills, to get to prospective customers. Favorable weather condition is a must, because it is in the open. It gives him more than just a meal at the end of the day

Hurdles are however not an exception for this type of business. The recent maize crisis in Kenya, greatly affected Nakpil’s business. High cost of production is another issue that trickled down on his business. When farm products like fertilizers are expensive, maize prices become unstable and greatly affects the pricing reducing Nakpil’s profit.

Climatic hazards like prolonged drought or unfavorable weather conditions lead to destruction of the crop leading to low yields and of course this means a season of little or no maize for the Nakpil.

Nakpil is not exempted from competition just like every other business. Besides him are three other maize vendors but he says what keeps him on track is the good communication skills he possesses and the clean environment he works under.

Even if he is only beginning, Nakpil says he has ambitions in life and will not allow his humble beginning become a hindrance for him. “I love farming and want to start my own maize-plantation where I can harvest my own maize instead of buying, which is cheaper because it cuts down on transportation expenses for getting maize from Githurai market.” He says amidst smiles.

Nakpil is currently saving up to own a posho-mill in future where he can grind maize for flour and this will give him increased profits. He is also very eager to go back to school and says he must get knowledge by all means and complete his high education and there-after enroll for a business course.

His closing remarks were directed to the young people and he had this to say, “As long as you have life, and you are in good health, do what you’ve got to do to make a living. Do it honestly and be hard-working. Give your best to what you do and watch yourself dine with kings. Pray and put God above all, this is key.”

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Cynthia Mumbo on #WhatItTakes: Giving Up Is Not Negotiable, That is failure

Kimani Patrick

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With the self-made narrative and multiple stories in the internet, it is normal for one to overestimate the work needed to build a startup or even scale a business. First-timers and novice entrepreneurs often find themselves in a dilemma when things fail to work out as they supposed.

Today on #WhatItTakes, I was able to catch up with Cynthia Mumbo on a few things in building a business. Cynthia is the founder and CEO of sports Connect Africa, a sports consultancy that focuses on connecting and empowering ports stakeholders and managers on the continent through sports consultancy and development programs.

Kim: When did you start out as an entrepreneur? And what drove you to considering entrepreneurship?

Cynthia: Started out in 2012 and was in and out. I decided to go full time in 2016. My drive comes from the idea that sports can change lives and not just socially but commercially too. I also value my independence and being able to chart my own path.

Kim: One aspect of entrepreneurship is sacrifice, what are some of the notable sacrifices you’ve made or you still do for the sake of your business.

Cynthia: The struggle is real. I have sacrificed meals, definitely my social life has been hit hard because I have to choose between hanging out and putting the money in the business. I have sacrificed comfort of having a monthly salary to uncertainty. I use nduthis often these days… I think the sacrifices are worth it.

Kim: What are some of your most difficult moments in business?

Cynthia: When payments don’t come as you planned. I think for me this has been the toughest lesson. Cash is King in business. Having trusted people with your business and they do not reciprocate is hard to handle. The other thing is having people around me who don’t see my vision. I cut those out, very fast…  My lessons have been to stay focused and try not to repeat the same mistakes.

Kim: Why can’t you give up?
Cynthia:
Giving up is not negotiable. That is failure, I don’t believe in starting something I can’t finish. I also believe that there is a solution to all problems. I focus on the outcome and if it that outcome will empower others, I have no reason to give up.

Kim: Greatest lessons so far?
Cynthia:
Stay focused, keep working, nothing good comes easy. And enjoy what you’re doing…

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Entrepreneurs

Complete Guide On How to Build a Tech Startup on a Budget of Zero

Jordan Stephanou

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You may have a terrific idea for a tech startup (an app, website etc), but you don’t have funding and you definitely don’t have hundreds of thousands of spare cash lying around to invest in a project that may or may not bear fruit down the line. What do you do? Most people will let the dream die there and then.

If it’s an app and you’re not technical, many would seek out a technical co-founder that they barely know, pitch this flaky idea with the promise of equity down the line – if, and only if, they commit hundreds of hours to turning the idea into reality now, and if the product becomes a resounding success. That’s not the most appealing pitch for the software engineer, right? I mean, this person could be spending those hours building any product for themselves, or earning good money at a corporate. Also, if they’re good, they probably have 5 phone calls a week from people requesting similar miracles. They’re just not going to be interested.

In my experience, the answer is a simple one:

Get a client.

You may be thinking I’ve lost my head and ask “yes, but, how am I supposed to get a client if I don’t have my product on the market?” I’m glad you asked. I propose the following steps:

Step 1: Ask your Market’s Opinion

In a B2B, this should be at least 10 of your highest value clients. In a B2C, we’re talking hundreds of users. What do they think of the problem? What do they think of the solution you’re proposing? What holes do they see in it? What would they do differently if they were you? What fatal flaws do they see that will prevent your idea from succeeding? What would your product have to be for them to guarantee being your customer?

Important: Do. Not. Sell.

Explore… Learn… Test your hypothesis… Gather info. This is not the time to acquire your first client. Yet. But it is a critical first step.

Step 2: Develop a Prototype

Yeah that sounds terrifying for someone who’s not technical. How am I supposed to do that without any programming knowledge, you might ask. Fear not, the 21st century has gifted us with an amplitude of free online drag-and-drop tools that even your grandmother could use to build your prototype (see Just in Mind and Proto.io as two examples). Still terrified? Have you ever used Paint? What about Microsoft Word? What about a notebook? Your prototype, in its simplest form, is supposed to show off your idea in a way that people can visually understand.

It most definitely does not have to be anything resembling the working version, and it definitely does not have to show off all the features you want in your dream product. This prototype (or wireframes, in its simplest form), is a series of screens that can help get further buy-in and feedback on your idea. They should show a “user journey”, or what would happen if a user clicks this, or what new screen would open if a user clicks that. This is essential for talking to potential clients, and for talking to potential software engineers.

After all, no backend developer could even think of building anything for you if you don’t have a visual representation or process flow of what you want from them. This is the point where most non-technical founders give up. Because the idea of developing a process flow, user journey and wireframe (screens) and prototype for their idea sounds daunting, the dream reaches its premature death. Don’t be that person. It’s quicker and easier than it sounds, and it’s a fundamental step in the process.

Step 3: Take the Prototype Back to your Market

Remember those people you spoke to in step 1? They respect you. They love someone coming to them with innovative ideas asking for their advice for their egos. Because you weren’t looking to sell to them, you made them feel like a thought leader in the space, that you were relying on their wisdom, and they will be happy to be on this journey with you. They say “ask for funding, you’ll get advice. Ask for advice and you’ll get funding”. Well, I believe the same applies for winning clients. Ask advice to build the ideal product for your market, you’ll eventually capture that market because you’re solving the real problem they have.

I digress.

Now that you’ve taken their feedback, comments, criticism and pleasantries on board since Step 1, and you’ve shown that you’re serious about this idea by designing a prototype (no matter how amateur it looks), they respect you infinitely more than any of the hundreds of other people trying to sell them useless things. By taking it beyond an idea to prototype, you are already in the top 1%. Now with this prototype, you repeat Step 1. Once again, no selling. Based on what you’re showing them, have you truly understood their problem? Are they confused by your prototype? Do they understand that they are your target market? Do they understand the user journey? Do they agree?

Once again, pursue fatal flaws in your thinking. Pursue cold hard rejection. Pursue them telling you “it’s not going to work because…” . I need to emphasize this point. Some people call it a pre-mortem. Ie. Before you even have a business, you want to note down all the reasons why your business will fail. This so important, because if you can make it your mission to understand why it will fail, then you can make it your mission to see if it’s possible to remove those failure points. If you can, you may just have a massive business in the making. If not, you may have saved yourself years of psychological trauma.

Step 4: Make Adjustments and Do Pre-sales

Now that you’re armed with knowledge from your market based on something more concrete in the form of your first prototype, you’re ready to iterate on your first prototype. Take every comment that you’ve heard on board, along with your own personal convictions, and refine, improve and deal with all the possible failure points they mentioned. If after that you’re still confident this business is solving a real problem and worth pursuing; then proceed.

Now it’s the fun part. Now you’ll have a prototype version 2 (which can still be amateur-ish as long as it communicates your idea effectively) and you’ll be an expert on your problem and solution. Now you organize a third meeting with all those potentially high value clients and your close advisors. You show them that you’ve taken everything on board and you try get a commitment out of them. Hear me out, if you have truly listened to the needs of your ideal client, and your solution is genuinely going to solve the problem that they have, they will be ready to commit. They won’t be able to pay you anything at the moment because you still don’t have a tangible product, but they will be able to commit in writing. This is the beauty of a pre-sale.

At this moment, you will clearly communicate with them what your Minimum Viable Product will include (version 1), and what could come in iterations thereafter. Make sure that the MVP is the leanest, quickest, simplest, least features version solving only 1 problem that you can think of. This is important in the following 400 ways (well, I’ll only list a few here but you get the point): an MVP is easier to explain what your solution is to your client. An MVP is easier to explain to a software engineer. An MVP is cheaper to build. An MVP is quicker to build. An MVP gives you the opportunity of getting lessons from your market in real time. An MVP gives you the opportunity to excite your clients with a list of other features that will come at a later stage. I could go on and on. The point: Start with an MVP, and not the “Rolls Royce” version despite the temptation.

So now your potential client loves the idea of your MVP. They sign your pre-contract stating the following: If X (insert business/product name here) is built according to the following requirements (all of the requirements of your MVP, along with any service related elements you may include), then the purchase will be completed at a discounted pre-sale price of Y (insert pricing model here).

Of course, there should be an incentive for your client to want to commit to the possibility of the product now, and an attractive pre-sale discount is usually the best way to go. Bear in mind, this is under the assumption that this is a B2B tech startup. In the case of B2C where there is no sign up cost, I recommend getting proof of interest from as many users as possible. Something like a Google Form could work for this, but in a B2C market, you might need thousands of people to complete the form saying that they would use your app in order for it to be of value. Don’t let that put you off, using social media, and getting the right shares from people in your network who believe in your idea can easily lead to getting the volume of completed forms you need. The point of this is to get some of proof of pre-commitment and proof of more than a just mildly interested market. You need to have a compelling case that you have a captive market who are obsessed with your idea and can’t wait for it to be released.

Step 5: Pursue your Technical Co-founder / Development Agency

You’ve made it this far, and now this is the final and one of the most important parts of the jigsaw to take the product to market. If you approached someone to build the app / website when you just had an idea, you would have no leverage and definitely no reason to get anyone excited. However, now, you have options. To have options is to have power. You would much rather any negotiation with power rather than no power, right? Now that you’ve done your research, you’re absolutely confident in the vision of your business, and you have tangible proof from your market that when the product is ready, you will capture that market – you’re in a great position. If you have a B2B, you’re in an even better position, because you’ve got the pre-contract, and proof that once the product is built, you have direct cash-flow coming in.

Now it’s time for you to choose your development option based on your network and preferences. If you know someone who is the right fit, with incredible technical skills (ideally well versed in the full tech stack, a self-teacher, and up to date with the latest technologies) and infallible integrity, pursue that person as a co-founder and use your newly powerful sales pitch and proof to win them over. Offer them equity of a business that you already have some level of proof will get off the ground. Sell them on your vision; sell them on the possibility of being part of something great. If they don’t believe like you do, they’re the wrong person. Keep looking.

In an ideal world you would find the right person as your technical co-founder and you are in it together through it all. This is undeniably your first choice.

If you aren’t able to find a co-founder at this point, that’s no problem. Next best thing is to use an external contractor to do the development work of your MVP. That would probably be a software development company; the top ones in your area can be found through a quick Google search, and by browsing their websites to assess credibility. Find a contractor that is reasonably priced and who agrees with your payment terms – ie. payment on delivery of the MVP, which will then be funded by your first client that signed the pre-contract (you see how that pre-sale becomes a trump card?).

Remember, they’re only building the MVP, so it shouldn’t take more than 3 months. Be sure to find a team that is competent and has a body of work that you can trust, so that the MVP doesn’t have to be rebuilt afterwards. Speak to a few different companies to get the right feel. It’s not worth rushing.

Step 6: Implement at your First Client

This will take on the form of a pilot and proof of concept. Things will go wrong. There will be lessons. Parts of the app will need to be updated and improved based on user feedback. Great, that’s exactly what you want.

Usage. Learning. Improving. Re-releasing. The art of a tech startup. Lean methodology.

At this point when you have one real client with real users, you have a real business. Now you can build a team much easier than with an idea. At this point, if you want to hire an in-house developer (to replace an external software development team), or if you want to take some work of the hands of your technical co-founder, I have a suggestion. I introduce to you, Linkedin.

Search for Computer Sciences students at nearby universities. Scour pages and pages and reach out to people who may appreciate being part of something to supplement their university lessons in the real world. Your goal here is to then meet with as many of them as possible. Try get someone who has technical knowledge to join you for the interviews, so that they can assess the technical side while you assess the human side. Find the right person and sell them on the opportunity to build something that real clients will use. Appeal to the intrinsic motivation of lessons rather than the financial side. What student passionate about tech wouldn’t want to work for an exciting tech startup that has users and a bold vision? At this point you can probably pay them within your means too, based on the revenue from your first client.

Step 7: Duplicate

Now it’s the fun part. At this point it’s all about leveraging your previous success to get more success. You’ve got 1 client? Phenomenal. Do you know how much easier it is to go from 1 to 2, than it was from 0 to 1? Much easier. Then going from 2 to 10. Even easier. Once again, this all relies heavily on how well you implemented Step 1 and Step 3 (the feedback stages) to ensure that your business is solving a real problem. If it is, the sales process will be relatively smooth and painless. Disclaimer: It will always take much longer than expected, so if you’re expecting to get your 10th client by the end of year 1, remember that it’s absolutely okay if you don’t. Build strong foundations. Take your time with development. Listen really really well to your users and clients. Don’t build a house on a broken foundation.

Step 8: Further Leverage your Successes

Form partnerships. It’s crazy how even just one client can open up new partnership opportunities. 100 users, 1000 users and you’ll have many options that could increase your credibility, and give you excellent PR exposure and help you scale faster. Choose your partnerships wisely in correspondence with the brand you’re trying to build, and where the benefit is mutual.

The right partnerships at the right time can be the key to success. Similar to what you did with clients in Step 1 and Step 3, there’s nothing wrong with building relationships with potential partners first to find out what sort of business they would partner with, and if they would see value in partnering with you. But first make sure you have clearly thought through your value proposition and why you’re even talking to them in the first place. Do they need you? Would partnering with your business help them in a significant and obvious way? Remember that partnerships generally lead to brands being interlinked, so a major company has a lot more to lose in this sense than a startup – therefore the partnership sell from the startup has to be compelling.

Step 9: When to Get Funding

You don’t. Well, that’s not entirely true. If you need funding to get your first client then you’ve got problems. If you need funding to go from one client to two clients, you’ve got problems. Not only is it not ideal from an operational perspective, but investors are just very unlikely to invest if there’s not a compelling proof of concept first.

Pursuing funding at the wrong time can distract you from what is most important – building a better product and serving your clients better. If you’re consumed by the idea of receiving investment, take a deep breath, and remember: A good business is run off paying clients that create a sustainable revenue stream, not through external investments that paper over the cracks. No clients equals no business.

However (and this is very important), if you need funding to go from 10 clients to 1000 clients, then get funding. Pursuing investment makes sense when scaling at a rate that you can’t do within your means, or if there is an incredible opportunity to capture a massive market based on the foundation you’ve built. Funding cannot replace a good foundation.

There you have it. You have a product. You have customers. You have a team. You have the ability to build and scale. You had zero budget but through the right steps, you can build lean and grow a successful business. Entrepreneurship is fun, right?

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