Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Speed Networking...is it like speed dating?

Am a great advocate of networking to get new business. Its the best way especially for small and medium sized businesses to meet the people they need to meet to get business in an inexpensive way. The question is however, how do you choose what networking event to attend. Some of them are downright useless and with my goldfish concentration span most tend to be very boring.

The other day though, I went for a speed networking event organised by AFRI Business Development. The first time i heard about it I was a bit skeptic. We all know about speed dating so speed networking sounded a bit off key in relation to business. Questions going through my mind included..."is it like speed dating where you are able to get a date"?...Ok I know that's a bit simplistic thinking but really it was hard for me to conjure up what speed networking would be all about before I attended.

So i went, not with a business objective in mind but if i am to be honest, out of curiosity. I have to say i was pleasantly surprised. Unlike the conferences I had attended in the past with the intention of networking, this event was fun. More than that usually when i go for events to "network", I usually find myself sticking around people i already know. With speed networking I was able to make new contacts over a very short period and even get business out of some of the contacts. I can still call some of them and tell them, "hey you remember we met at the speed networking event". I was really amazed how a simple concept (almost playful concept) can have such a big impact.

I definitely plan to attend the next one on Monday 16th November. I hope this time around I will get to meet even more people. One thing am sure of though is that this time around I will go prepared with my "elevator speech".

If you want more information on the Speed Networking event being held on 16th contacts Julia at j.adhiambo@afribusinessdevelopment.com

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Am Buried in Debts

Sometimes I wake up in the morning and I really don't want to go to work. Not because I don't like what I do because I love it. I simply dont want to go because I am so buried in debt i dont want to answer the calls of my suppliers. Its during these times I ask myself, how did this happen? Ok, I know how debts are accumulated but really, I've been working, been constantly busy and always offering more services. How did I get into debt?

The sad thing is the answer is simply my own debtors are not paying me. Today its frustrated me so much ive resulted to reading a book on chasing debts for answers. For those of you in similar shoes as I find myself, here are a few tips i got from my debt collecting book. Might come in handy to you too.

1. Make sure your credit terms are known to your customers. The best way is to print them clearly on the invoice.
2. As soon as your customer has overstepped the mark and the bill is overdue, ask for the money you are owed. This should be done politely in writing, prefarably by email with a followup on post.
3. Follow-up, follow-up, follow-up. Don't assume they don't have money, there might be queries on the amount or other problems.
4. Still no payment, keep ringing especially 2 or 3 days before their end of month
5. Keep the pressure up. Do not pester then drop for a few weeks, all your previous chasing is undone.
7. If the customer is always out on a meeting try calling different times of the days or calling as someone else to see if they will pick up your calls.
8. If the customer says the cheque is ready it is just posting that its waiting for, go collect the cheque yourself.
9. Check all the details of the cheque: your name, the amount, the date, the signature
10. Bank immediately.

If you are not able to get your cheque by step 8 condider using a debt collection agency of factoring your debt.

Hope the above helps a little. And hang tough, according to statistics even the most successful small business at some stage has to delay payment and will probably use the above delay techniques. So you being buried in debt is experienced by even the best in the game.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Chapos and Chicken

Ok you are probably wondering; WHAT, is this going to be? ramblings on food... or what? Well... yes but not in the way you think. This week I was doing a project for a restaurant. I know, mmmhh restaurant. It was one of those projects consultants like me get once in a while and think, yeah i like - where meetings are done in the main restaurant hall over tea and hors d'oeuvre.

It was also a good opportunity to participate in a non-conventional business. To use innovation in a nondescript script. Some of you might know the restaurant am talking about, KPs located on Utali lane, yes next to Mwenda's. It's been there for some time but received a full face-lift in January with the change of ownership. I'm not being paid to say this but they have the best chips masala and cocktail juice.

....Ok now moving away from my food ramblings and back to the business part. Restaurant as businesses are not an easy thing to work. As an unconventional business, the owners are required to not only meet the technical business aspect but be creative in their service delivery. It's business meets entertainment and the smiles associated with this part.

The point being...well business is not only a suit and paper agenda. There is a whole world out there of business that involves a goofy white hat and aprons that we sideline in the hard core business arena. KPs for me was a opportunity to see someone doing what they like and make a business out of it. From this I came out with this wise advice..."don't let desks and swiveling chairs be the criteria for defining business in your book, go for what you enjoy doing and invite consultants like us to help you put the hard core business structure around your idea".

There will be a networking meeting (speed networking) for professionals at KPs on 19th of this month (yes a monday) from 6pm. Entrance is FREE. Go and check it out. For more information on it contact Julia at j.adhiambo@afribusinessdevelopment.com.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Liverpool Scores

Few things in this world make my heart swell with pride. Call me a cynic but I can actually count them in one hand, they include and are limited to: Liverpool (a.k.a. the Underdogs) scoring, my mother's ugali and nyama stew and last but not least, our new improving roads. This weekend though, I added a new item to this short list, "A Voice for Change".

Its very rare to see a young Kenyan be recognised for promoting positive change especially in the business world in our country. We are recognised for the Jerk dance (is that even ours by the way), for demonstrating against the youth fund ("Kenyan youth demonstrate against unfair distribution of the youth fund") and of course tenacity to follow ("Kenyan youth are driven by western influence"). I'm not hating here but its true, not many have been recognised for being a voice for positive change. That is why the article in the saturday magazine "A voice for Change" was a tear jerker for me.

We have reached a point in our country where we need a few heroes. A few Supermen and Superwomen that are Kenyan. We need more young symbols of positive change where it matters in the country. Right now so many Kenyans are going astray because of lack of jobs, lack of income, lack of direction and, as much as we can blame our government until something changes, all that we will have is our right to blame. Jobs will remain scarce and crime rates high. So every symbol that is a voice for change by our Kenyan youth for our country should be applauded. This is why when I read the article on Annabell and her initiative to help small businesses grow, irrespective of assistance or no assistance, I was filled with pride. We need that ..Annabell, this is me clapping.

For more information on Annabell's company and the affordable services they provide for businesses like yours and mine, visit their site at www.afribusinessdevelopment.com

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Nobody knows the trouble I've been through...Nobody knows my sorrows

An entrepreneurs life is a dog's life ... literally. But that's not even the worst thing about it, the worst thing about it is entrepreneurs love it, they are addicted to it. They love the risks, they love the challenge, they love the total control, they love every damn thing about it and that my friend is the worst thing about it.

I met an entrepreneur the other day - the real thing, not those cowboys who try to pass as one. This entrepreneur was an innovator, a calculative risk taker, a salt of the earth downright talented business mover who knew he was good at what he did because he loved it. I have to admit it was a beautiful thing to see. It inspired me, motivated me, propelled me to try and reach greater heights.

You might ask, why so much philosophy over what i consider a dog's life...literally. Well the thing about entrepreneurship is that its not for everyone. But for those who it is for, for those who answer the driving need in their hearts when they hear the call, it is the best possible thing you will ever see. For those it is for, entrepreneurship is about living life their way, its about making an impact, its about fulfilling dreams, its about living it the way they always wanted to.

If you hear the call within you don't fight it, it's who you are and when you take that plunge there will be no turning back. Because you will be in for the roller-coaster ride of your life and love every moment of it.

If you want to take the plunge but like all responsible business people need more information register for AFRI Business Development Workshop on Starting and Running a Profitable business at the British Council.

For more information on it contact Annabell or Ivy at AFRI Business Development
T: (254) 20 2515001 M: (254) 726 057212 mail@afribusinessdevelopment.com

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The day I became a criminal

Just having arrived back in Nairobi from following up a business deal in a neighbouring country I was feeling pretty good about my business. It was 2004, I was a third-year student student and SoftLaw had just started taking off. We finally had more than just cobwebs in our bank account and were learning how to roll with the big boys.

I guess it was because of this positive vibe that while engaging in conversation with one of my classmates I happened to mention that I was now an "international businessman". My statement was met with a sneer, she looked at me from toe to head lingering on my well-worn leather shoes. "So why do you still have dusty shoes?" she quipped.

The statement, intended to knock me down my perch, was delivered with pin-point accuracy. I did my best to laugh it off, but deep down I knew she was right, I knew I had to get a car to prove myself. As absurd as it may seem to a non-Kenyan, a motor-vehicle regardless of its state, is the ultimate status symbol.

It took almost a year after that dusty shoes quip, but I eventually got my car. And I did so with about three months to spare before the end of my stay in campus. The car was painstakingly chosen and customised with tinted windows and the obligatory 1200 watt sound system to deter anyone from thinking I'd borrowed it from my dad. With my excitement at leaving the dusty shoes club I had no idea that I had just become a member of a much worse club, the criminal's club.

Now before you call the cops on me, allow me to explain. Although most drivers in Kenya would balk at being called a criminal, the reality is that they most likely are. A criminal is someone who has committed a crime and when it comes to traffic offences, I doubt there is a single Kenyan driver who is innocent.

How many times have you gone down a one-way lane, driven through a red light, crossed lanes in the roundabout, failed to carry a fire-extinguisher in your car, driven without insurance? These are the common ones, but some you might not know about: driving a car without a speedometer, or filling petrol while the engine is running, or driving with part of the body protruding from the car.

Here is one traffic rule which I'm sure everyone has broken:
No person shall drive any vehicle into a roundabout unless, at the time of entry of the vehicle into the roundabout, it is reasonable to suppose that the vehicle will not be forced to stop in the roundabout by reason of traffic already therein.
Are you curious to gauge how much of a criminal you are? Take a look at the Traffic Act here

The worst part is that when most of us get caught we go ahead and commit an even bigger offence. However because of the fear of self-incrimination, I'll leave out any personal anecdotes.

Today I'm working hard to turn away from a life of crime. I've gone full circle and my shoes are dusty once more. You should take time today to appreciate all Kenyans who have chosen the dusty shoes way.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Muta Do?

Working as a consultant for Strathmore University's faculty of information technology I was tasked with examining diploma students' programming projects. We had a pretty standard marking scheme; check whether the program can interact with a database - add, update, and delete records from the database; check if the program validates user input - does it allow you to enter text in a field which should only have numbers; etc.

For a student to pass, technically all they required to do was ensure they met these criteria. Despite this many students were marked down for petty errors which had little to do with the functionality of the program. Some of my fellow examiners took a perverse pleasure in 'crashing' the examinees software and reducing them into tears, even when these examinees were their students who they had been in charge of for over three months. "This is not working, that is not running, it doesn't function". They complained and complained, crashing software, terrifying the student, and as I now realise, releasing the pent up frustrations that being a Kenyan necessarily builds up.

Kenyans are said to love complaining, and perhaps this is what this blog post is going to do - complain. The problem of course is not that we complain, but that just like the examiners marking down their students, our complaining has no positive effect. It's negative and doesn't appreciate the role that we play in the things that we complain about.

I'm going to try today and appreciate the role that I play in those things that make me so angry about my country. Everyday together with millions of other Kenyans we do bad things confident in the fact that we shall suffer no consequences. It is because we have realized after all hakuna kitu muta do!
im·pu·ni·ty \im-ˈpyü-nə-tē\
exemption or freedom from punishment, harm, or loss
I'm approaching the traffic lights at the junction. The light has already turned red but two cars before me have made it through. If I step on the pedal harder, I'll also be able to make it to the intersection before the car with the right of way gets there. I miscalculate and she has to brake hard to avoid hitting the left side of my car. I make a face but avoid eye contact with the irate other driver and squeeze my car through the space, thinking uta do?

It's three o'clock, I'm sitting at the reception desk bored to death; my facebook page hasn't had any new updates for the past fifteen minutes. I take out my mobile phone and start to send text jokes I've copied from the net to my friends. Two visitors walk into the office and approach my desk. I don't look up from my phone as I laugh from one response. Five minutes pass by and the visitors impatiently tap the desk to get my attention. I raise my palm to motion that they should wait, I need to reply to this really funny text, I'm ROFLMAO. 15 minutes gone, and one of the visitors walks out while the other sighs in exasperation. "Arghh, si they relax" I'm thinking, anyway muta do?

I pull up into the driveway of my Westland's apartment, I park the Prado behind my C-Class Mercedes taking a moment to admire its German curves. Whistling, I step down from the SUV Toyota and walk to the house, briefcase in hand, happy that it's Friday. Moses, the day watchman, runs after me "Boss, watu wa stima..." "Whaaat!" I don't let him finish the sentence shouting "I hope hawajakata!" "Boss..." he continues "ile bill nilikupa last week ilionesha kuna deni ya miezi saba, walisema kuna pressure huko ofisi, walikataa kuchukua kitu kidogo kama last time". Without hesitation I tell him to fix a wire where the fuse has been removed, after all they don't expect me to spend the weekend in darkness, wata do?

Alex steps in my office for the fourth time this afternoon, "can I see you sir". "Not now Alex", I stop him without looking up from the magazine I'm going through, "I told you I'm busy". "Sorry sir" he apologizes "but you promise you'll see me today" "Yes, yes, yes" I dismiss him with a wave of my hand. I really need to find some nice gold earrings to buy for Irene from this jewelry magazine. It's our second date and I want to impress her. I hope Alex is still not planning to bug me about his salary, he knows very well the business is not doing well, and if he's survived for three months, a few more days shouldn't hurt him ata do?

I'm awake by 10:00 am but I feel like breakfast in bed today. I press the intercom and Jane, the head housekeeper is instantly on the other line "Mtukufu, habari ya asubuhi" she's saying "Mzuri, mzuri Jane, leta chai kama kawaida". In less time than it takes for me to reach over and start reading the Dailies placed on the cabinet next to my bed, five caterers wheel in my breakfast. Together with a steaming pot of tea, there are two slices of buttered toast, freshly baked sweet potatoes with Parmesan cheese, two bananas imported from Florida, finely sliced mutura and a flask of goat head soup. One of the Dailies is talking about how some advisory board is going to tell me who I need to pick. Upumbafu! No one is going to tell me how to do my job. I reach over to the intercom again and shout some instructions. It takes some time because of the half chewed sweet-potato and mutura in my mouth but the message goes through. The reaction is swift after the media learn my decision. Watching the tumundus on TV trying to analyse how 'wrong' my decision is I laugh into the TV, muta do?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Do or Die

When you start a business and its a Do or Die agenda the possibility of you succeeding is much higher than when its done as a side hobby. For instance, if payment for where you stay and what you eat is dependent on the business you are doing, trust me the chances of you failing are reduced substantially.

However, even if Do or Die, I came to discover there are many other additional things that will affect the success of your business. According to the Ministry of Trade (Kenya), those additional things include "being able to craft good strategies that can exploit the opportunities in the environment". These strategies don't just come by you, they are based on theories made practical.

How are we expected to get these theories made practical?

Well its simple ...training! A number of us (small business owners) don't look at training as an asset. Training well done can substantially increase your profitability. And am not talking about an MBA or an MSc...am talking about very practical workshops that increases your knowledge of the day to day challenges of doing business.

4th September 2009 is therefore an important date to note for SMEs. This is the date when the British High Commission together with AFRI Business Development will kick off a series of trainings that provide practical advice to SMEs. These trainings will include courses in areas such as Starting and Running a Profitable Business, Selling Your Product Successfully, Running a Business from Home and many others. All of the workshops are open to ANYBODY thinking of starting or already running their own business and are suitable to ALL types of business idea.

These trainings should provide you as a business owner the essentials of doing business. Remember when starting and running a business it’s important that one gets the essentials right.

For more information on them contact the trainers at T: (254) 20 2515001, M: (254) 726 057212 or email mail@afribusinessdevelopment.com.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The CEO Janitor

I’m a self confessed holiday hater, but today as I still wait to be counted I am grateful for this holiday. Besides dreaming up some crazy ‘tribe’ which I’ll tell the enumerators I belong to (I’m leaning towards Kryptonian) I get a chance to take a breather.

You see the last two years have been a non-stop 24/7 marathon to keep ahead of an economy battered by the combined effects of post-election violence and a global economic recession. Although 2009 has had its upsides compared to last year, the scarcity of food, electricity, and water continue to take their toll on business. One can even say that it’s been stressful. Stress however is not necessarily a bad thing, like Jon Voight acting as a bad guy in 24 says “stress is the fertilizer of creativity”.

Indeed I have had to be extremely creative in 2009 to ensure that my business continues to be relevant in the face of a depressed economy and with all this rationing. By forging strong partnerships with other entrepreneurs I launched Incorporator the online business registration service and AFRI Business Development Consulting, the UK firm that specializes in supporting SMEs. The idea behind these two businesses, together with Genius Executive Centre is to provide an end-to-end business solution for SMEs. An entrepreneur who wants to start a business needs to get it registered and comply with tax obligations, formAKenyanCompany.com takes care of that. He will need a place to operate from, meet clients, browse his email, and generally call his workplace – Genius Executive Centre can do all that. His business will need support in planning, securing financial assistance, netting clients, retaining clients, promoting its products, recruiting staff and other activities necessary to ensure the business becomes successful, AFRI handles that.

The businesses are converging nicely and the synergy is great but the toll on Harry has been extreme. It’s hard enough starting up and running one business, but to do this for three has required some super-human effort (maybe that’s why I’m thinking of calling myself Kryptonian). In addition I’ve had to ensure that SoftLaw my legal publishing company; Genius Forex, the currency trading advisory firm; and BetonStocks, the online betting/trading service don’t wither away and die from neglect. I’ve had to do all this while I nurture ShenZen Cars my low-cost internet motor-vehicle sales company and keep experimenting with other businesses.

All this takes me back to 2004, before SoftLaw took off. My partner and I were negotiating with Kenya’s then biggest company, East African Breweries Ltd to take up our SoftLaw Citator, Laws of Kenya software. EABL being an international company had a raft of procedures and one of them was that the procurement manager required to visit our premises before any purchase could be made. We knew that clinching EABL as a client would pay dividends with future prospects and we were determined to make a good impression.

At that time our ‘office’ was located at a friend’s rarely used cyber café which also served as a store for his structured cabling and network administration business. This meant that it was choked full of cables, boxes of cables, networking equipment and a whole lot of other of computer equipment. A healthy layer of dust covered most of these items, and only because we had no walk in clients were we comfortable enough to put up with this.

With the impending visit of our VIP prospect, we knew that this had to change. We hired one of the building’s cleaners to pass his broom over the place after his normal work hours. As CEOs, naturally we could not remain in the office with all the sweeping and the dust, and strolled to the nearest café to enjoy a cup of coffee. At around 7:00 pm we returned to the office expecting to find it sparkling clean. We were instead shocked to find that the cleaner had decided the 200 bob we had promised him did not justify the work and was AWOL.

Knowing that the future of this deal and our business was in our hands we put those hands to work. It was slightly past midnight when after plenty of sweeping, heavy moving, mopping, window cleaning and arranging that the place finally looked like an office. The next day the procurement manager came and despite having had our power disconnected early that morning for non-payment (story for another day), he was satisfied enough to give us business.

It is a fact that when starting your business you must be ready to take up several roles to ensure that you get the job done and the business makes that sale. While I would not recommend running several simultaneous businesses to anyone as a business strategy, it is what I love doing and I wouldn’t change it for the world. There are disadvantages to this besides the obvious fatigue and none is more readily manifest than having to do several jobs simultaneously. But if you do decide to start and run your own business even if its only one be ready to be the janitor as well as the CEO.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Laws and Ambition

This year I celebrate my 10th anniversary since finishing high-school. Yes, for those who want to count, it was 1999, when I finally lifted the yoke that is high school off my shoulders. It's also been ten years where I've been able to forget most of the millions of pieces of data I stored in my brain for examination on topics as varied as photostatic conductors, wheat farming in Siberian tundra, morphological features of fish, and calculus.

That last one though (calculus) I continued to study even in the real world (apparently anything you experience while in school, under 18, and on your parent's allowance is not the real world, but a fictional world created to get you employable skills). Well, maybe not the actual formulae, but calculus dealt with curves. One curve I became familiar while studying law was the curve of diminishing ambition.

You see when you join law school, you feel like you are on top of the world. Heck, you must be one of the brightest minds in the land to get admitted, and law is usually chosen by pretty ambitious students. It is not uncommon to find 99% of the 1st year law school class with dreams of grandeur. Speaker of the National Assembly, Special-Rapporteur at the UN, President of the Republic, Chief Justice, Attorney General, Celebrated Trial Lawyer. The list is endless and only limited by the effort taken to actually establish the seniority of the position. As the semester progresses and you ferociously consume case law, volumes of law books, and professors' lectures, your ambitions are even more amplified. You gauge your progress by the number of questions you ask, and how many cases you can remember, sometimes how many House of Lords quotes you can recite verbatim.

However by the time your first year results are in, and for the first time in your life you get a C or worse, you realize that your goals might be a tad bit ambitious. Instead of the best lawyer in the world, you mentally settle for best lawyer in Kenya. A few more grades and your expectations of achievement drop to best lawyer in your firm. The curve which had only been going up now starts leveling off. By mid of second year after a string of horrifyingly bad grades you are looking at being best lawyer in your office... an especially steep drop if you are the only lawyer in your office. The only solace is that grades pick up towards the end but not after a battering of your ambitions (leads me to suspect these seesawing grades are engineered by the law professors to ensure our heads remain small enough to pass through the lecture hall doors)

In the end I skipped the whole lawyer thing and decided to be an 'entrepreneur' (in quotes because I'm not really sure if it that is a profession). I have discovered however that as an entrepreneur, ambition and a healthy dose at that, is an absolute necessity. Ok, by now I've stopped imagining that I will become the richest man in the world (advancing years and my geographical place of birth being my largest obstacles) unless I discover an unlimited energy source (actually, why not?) but I do not stop yearning to grow my businesses to be bigger and better.

In the 'real world' I have had to go back to the drawing board more than once on several businesses, I have seen projects with significant investments of time, money and effort crumble into nothingness, had 'surefire-guaranteed-clients-with-only-one-signatory-remaining-to-sign-the-cheque vanish in an instant and stop responding to calls or emails. I have had a much rougher time than I ever did in law school. But if there is one thing I learnt in law school about ambition, is that it should only go one way - up.

Ambition should not be determined by external factors like grades which can be engineered, but must always race ahead of your achievements. Ambition is the anti-depressant that combats the cynicism, failures, economic recessions, family problems, and fatigue that accompany all entrepreneurs in their path to build a successful business. Ambition is what gives us the spirit to have a victorious minute in the morning, every morning. Ambition keeps us reflective of the past, eager for the now, and focused on the future. To be ambitious is not to reach for the stars, to be ambitious is to ask "why stop there?"

I salute all ambitious entrepreneurs today with special mention to Annabell Wanjiku the founder of AFRI Business Development Consultancy

Friday, April 17, 2009


I now twitter & to prove my new brevity. I'm going to keep this less than 144 characters. Check me out at http://twitter.com/startupkenya

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Cloning Myself - A job for kenyans

Calling on all Kenyans who might want to become my clone. I've recently embarked on a campaign to re-brand and consolidate all my companies under Genius Centre. If you think you might be up to the challenge of being the new manager, please do apply. The vacancy can be seen below. And please please please, do not apply other than through the provided email address and do not apply on a date later than 15th April 2009.

Genius Centre (“the Centre”) is the home for entrepreneurs in Kenya, where innovative ideas are born, nurtured and developed to be profitable, high growth, and sustainable businesses. Set up by entrepreneurs, this centre has over five years been the base of pioneering and innovative companies that have redefined the business landscape in Kenya. SoftLaw, LawsofKenya.com, Genius Forex, BetOnStocks and FormAKenyanCompany.com among many others have their beginnings at Genius Centre. At the Centre we have provided a wide range of business support services to over 500 businesses: including electronic legal libraries, e-learning, serviced offices, forex trading training, business registration services and many more. Our efforts have been recognized by international bodies: such as the World Bank and IFC; international and local media: including BBC and Nation Media Group; our government and foreign governments.

The Centre is continuously innovating and reinventing itself. Our goal is to strengthen our base and export the concept of Genius Centre locally and abroad. To meet this goal we are looking for a Centre Manager who will take on this challenge. If you believe you meet the strict criteria of this vacancy advertisement please send an application letter and your resume to geniuscentrejob@yahoo.com with the subject heading “GENIUS CENTRE MANAGER”

Genius Centre is an equal opportunity employer.

Title of Role: Centre Manager

Purpose and Scope: The centre manager is responsible for managing the operations and business of the Centre including its subsidiary companies (SoftLaw, Genius Forex etc.) on a day-to-day basis. The Centre Manager will be well versed in business management, information systems management, and cost and financial accounting.

Outputs Expected From the Centre Manager
1. Business operation management, plans and reports
2. Information systems support and reports
3. Financial statements, plans and reports
4. Internal and external communications
5. Efficient utilisation of assets and resources

Skills Required

1. Business Management and Financial Expertise: a degree or diploma from a reputable university in business management; and knowledge of cost and financial accounting is required.
2. Marketing, Public Relations and Sales: the candidate must have at least one year experience and demonstrate ability to market and sell unconventional products.
3. Information Systems Management: at least one year hands-on experience managing a Microsoft Windows XP network with at least twenty network points is required. The candidate must have working knowledge of Microsoft Office computer applications, internet browsers and other common software. Although the candidate is not required to have technical training in network administration; he or she must demonstrate innate understanding of information systems and posses natural troubleshooting skills.
4. Communication Skills: the centre manager must have excellent written and spoken English. He or she must have experience in the preparation of business communication material and should be able to originate and express ideas in a clear and concise manner.
5. Other skills that are not mandatory but will be an advantage are:
a. Strong web programming, graphic design and software engineering skills
b. Demonstrable skills in website SEO and internet marketing.
c. Procurement skills

Personality Attributes
The Centre Manager must posses all the personality attributes below if they are to succeed in their mandate:
1. An IQ of 125 or higher;
2. Very hardworking. The Centre manager should be ready to work in the evenings, weekends, Sundays and public holidays to get the job done;
3. A creative and inquisitive mind and a strong desire to increase their knowledge;
4. An in-depth understanding and very high interest in entrepreneurship and technology;
5. Widely read in diverse and current topics and a habitual reader;
6. Extremely ambitious;
7. Socially active and friendly.
8. Tactful and persuasive;
9. Strong ethics;
10. Well groomed and very well organized;
11. 27 years old or younger;
12. Excellent sense of humour;
13. Physically fit and actively plays one sport.

The successful candidate will be offered a competitive compensation package.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Working towards a smaller Nairobi

Going to primary school in the boondocks after living in the States for years I was ridiculed heavily for my American accent, pudgy frame, 'Boyz n the Hood' hairstyle, and feather-soft palms. Not wanting to fall into that stereotype I worked hard at fitting in with the crowd. I swam in the river, played football barefoot, shed the weight, and did most of what was expected of a 12 year old boy in rural Kenya (Ok, Egerton University is not that rural anymore, but it was still mashambani in the early 90s). With time my peers accepted me and I no longer stood out like a sore thumb.

Sad thing is once I joined a rural high-school, the cycle began all over again. Now, I know most of us have war stories on just how tough high-school life was and what we had to go through; but I'm pretty sure there are few who can top my experience. I did not go to high-school, I went to work in a hard-labour concentration camp where in exchange for labour in the farms and buildings we were given food, housing and education. Unfortunately I did not know this on my first day at school, and so in my struggle to fit in, I volunteered for the piggery assignment.

The horrors of the piggery are best left to another post, but because of it and other similarly involving farm assignments in form one and two I became highly proficient in running and managing a small-scale farm. It is amazing how with good agricultural techniques, proper irrigation, and a disciplined labour force, a 20-acre piece of land could self-sufficiently feed 400 people all year round. And I'm not just talking beans and maize, but also chicken, milk, pork, turkey, mutton, fish, sausages, and a full vegetable menu.

I eventually came to Nairobi, and my palms and fingers have lost their calluses and I can no longer wield a jembe like a Samurai's katana. Business integrated with technology is now what puts bread on the table, and I get my veggies from the supermarket. Nonetheless I'm still nostalgic of those days when I was part of a community that was able to feed itself very well even with limited resources.

Anyone who has come to Nairobi after growing up into adult hood in rural areas knows the one great attraction Nairobi has over their home area: "opportunity". Some will call it money, but I think it's more than that. In Nairobi, there is a sense of hope that even if you did not meet your goals today, tomorrow has good prospects. That might explain why Nairobi is always on the move with choking vehicular and pedestrian traffic from 6 am to 9pm; as its residents follow up on their prospects. In rural areas the situation is markedly different, and residents will display a much more subdued ambulation, with early retirement at the setting of the sun.

"Oh, if only rural areas could offer more opportunity, I would be the first to move back."

All right, enough day dreaming, if something is going to change, it won't happen because some supernatural force wills it so. It can only happen if working together, Kenyans create opportunities in rural areas.

Today I share with you the opportunity I hope to create, and it deals with the most basic and most crucial of economic activities; farming for food security. Through a close friend I am now in possession of a very high quality cultivar of sweet potatoes. Now for those who don't know ngwacis (sweet potatoes) and their leaves, when compared to other food crops are a super food crop; rich in nutrients, easy to cultivate, hardy enough to survive with limited rainfall, and surprise surprise, having several culinary preparations.

I am currently piloting the cultivar on a one acre piece of land near Tala and have entered into talks with 15 farmers in Kiambu to set aside some land for more trials. A bigger challenge will be to educate the maize-obsessed public on the superiority of the alternative ngwacis. A manifestable success of this campaign will be to see Kenchic serving quarter na chips za ngwaci; or Uchumi stocking processed ngwaci flour.

Of course growing ngwacis will not automatically reverse rural-urban migration but I'm hoping that it will at least show people that even rural, drought-prone, economically stagnant areas can have opportunity.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Selling Income

One of the greatest challenges I have faced in my time as an entrepreneur is what to do after a large paycheck. Surprised? I was too at first , and it's even worse if you have been waiting for that payment for some time. With money in the bank, you rationalise with yourself of the 1001 things that need to be purchased, and they all demand high priority allocation.

Of course, this is a psychological condition that can easily be averted by careful planning beforehand. When it happened to me I tried to avoid the extravagance that accompanies large income inflows by investing the money as quickly as I could.

When SoftLaw sold the laws of Kenya to the judiciary I discovered why having the government as a customer can be very rewarding. Relatively prompt payment, many zeroes in the payment, and a very appreciative customer.

With our newly expanded bank account, we knew that we had to quickly invest the funds or we would be sucked into a vicious and wasteful consumption given our still University of Nairobi residential address and crushing social expectation to bling. Genius Executive Centre (www.geniuscentre.com) helped to mop up these excess funds and assured that in future we would have a relatively stable and recurrent income.

My only regret is that in our rush to dispose ourselves of excess funds we also made several investing faux pas: like putting up several quarter page ads in the media when classifieds would have done the trick; importing sophisticated PABX machinery from Europe when locally available equipment was sufficient and leasing furniture instead of buying. Fortunately we were able to correct most of these as we went on.

One thing we have not yet done but have always wanted to do is expand to other locations. Setting up a business centre however is a costly affair, and to finance our expansion we have decided to sell the future rights of income for two-thirds of Genius Executive Centre.

Here is the ad as it appears in today's Daily Nation back page

By leveraging the future income of the offices at GEC we intend to expand to Nakuru by mid this year and Eldoret before the end of the year. Admittedly this is a new concept in Kenya but that is what SoftLaw is all about, pioneering.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

More goof-ups from Safaricom and the Great Zap Mystery

You'd be very surprised if you walked into a management meeting at Safaricom. The meeting's agenda on how management is devoting or planning to devote considerable resources in customer satisfaction would bewilder you. My overworked flys on the wall tell me that this is currenlty Safaricom's primary focus, customer satisfaction.

Did I hear a gasp, or was that you masking "bull****" under your cough?

Here in the real world, we still are trying to figure out how customer satisfaction by Safaricom is measured: is it getting a dial signal on the customer care number 100? Or perhaps it's finishing a conversation without spending thirty seconds saying "Hallo....hallo...can you hear me...hallo"? Maybe its spending less than 30 minutes queuing at a customer care centre?

While we ponder on this, I'm afraid I have to bash Great Green once more on another major goof. This time the culprit is M-PESA agent application on service so bad it almost equals their Safaricom Broadband scam mentioned elsewhere in this blog.

Last November, I applied for M-PESA super-dealership, hoping to join the gravy train of the new age banking heralded by this product. Things seemed to be moving on relatively well and after 2 weeks I got a call from SC telling me that my application had been received. Then, darkness set in.

Its February now, more than three and a half-months since I applied and I am still to receive confirmation on whether my application was successful. I have them called countless times, written several emails and even visited their HQ twice. Their responses have been either inadequate, incomplete, deceitful, or just plain ignorant. I've been promised to be called back but had no one call back, my emails have gone unanswered and I was quickly brushed off from their office with claims of "we'll call you this week". One lady even had the audacity to tell me that I shouldn't bother calling her direct line, because she doesn't pick it.

Yaaani! Have Safaricom grown too big, they don't need my business or what?

In the spirit of equality, I also have some barbs to throw at the counterparts on MSA road, Zain. Zain launched their Zap service (an allegedly superior alternative to M-PESA) recently, and I am dying to start using it, but I have no clue where to start. Someone help me out here, how does this Zap thing work and where can one apply?

18/02/09 UPDATE - Zain has just sent me the following message:

Send money from Zain with ZAP for 10/- only. To activate your SIM card send an SMS ZAP to 455. Zain a wonderful world
I've sent the SMS but I'm yet to get any kind of response (14 minutes later)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Great Safaricom Bambanet Rip-off

I'm going to stop reading newspapers.

If you live in Kenya, and see the daily headlines you'll understand why. It seems like day after day I am assaulted with ever more dire headlines. Either the editors of these newspapers have suddenly turned into sadists intent on breaking this country's spirit, or our spirit is already broken and we are living in a very sick, sick Kenya.

Over the past weeks I have read about greedy retailers who crammed their tiny stores with goods but couldn't provide decent exits or fire prevention equipment; policemen who demanded bribes to allow highly dangerous petrol looting, arsonists-looters who decided 'if I can't have it, no one can', ministers of government who dished out food reserves and threatened the lives of millions through starvation, custodians of investors funds who used these funds as their personal piggy banks, examiners who put in doubt the academic qualifications of a generation of students, and the list goes on and on.

I'm not the only one to have noticed this slide into the abyss and analyst, commentator, and columnist over the past month have all voiced their opinion. One opinion which I find repeated among most is how greedy and selfish we have become as a society. We have become vicious plunderers of our common resources, pillaging and ravaging so completely anything we can lay our hands on, scorching the earth as we trample along that we put in doubt the possibility of a future generation to renew and rebuild. Clearly greed is a factor but what is worse is that we are blinded as to the ogre we have become. We justify and rationalise our greed, and where that is insufficient we are comforted by our ability to buy opinion and justice and emboldened by the example set forth by those who purport to lead us.

Regardless of who we are in society, beggar or millionaire, hawker or banker, student or professor we share equally in the blame. However this past week I was confronted with the most odious example of greed. The offender: the Great Safaricom; the offense: charging for Bambanet services not provided.

It seems that Safaricom, facing an energized competition, slowing growth, saddled with massive debt, and nearing its first AGM as a public company has decided to make the numbers whatever the cost. In a manner extremely disappointing for a company of its stature, Safaricom is demanding I pay 10 months subscription for a post-paid bambanet line they disconnected 10 months ago. Their argument is that I signed a contract, so whether I used the service or not I have to pay. That, as I told their representatives, is a load of bull.

Here's an analogy. Say in January you sign a one year lease with me for an apartment. If by March 5th you have not paid the March rent, and I kick you out and get another tenant, should I still demand that you pay rent between March and December? What a scam from Safaricom!

And if you still side with them, compare the very different reaction from their competition Zain.

As mentioned elsewehere in this blog I have oscillated between Zain's and Safaricom's GPRS services for some time. Since I ditched Safaricom back in 08 I got a Zain postpaid Uhurunet contract for Internet access. Early this year I had the same issue (being billed for services not provided) with them after they barred my line for two months, and then asked me to pay for those two months for service I did not use. Thinking that greed had also gotten the better of them, I verbally lashed at them. However, unlike their counterparts, and I must add much to my pleasant surprise, I received a phone call from their very courteous staff who said they had noted my complaints and decided to waive the 2 months charge. In exchange they asked that I extend my contract for the 2 months. Now that's true service.

So finally after three years of comparison, the winner of the GPRS internet service goes to Zain (formerly Celtel). Enough said.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Give us a break Media Owners, Mudavadi!

Some will call me a hater, but I am not, and I can no longer keep quiet about this.

As a compulsory requirement to completing a law degree at the University of Nairobi one must attend an 8-week clinicals programme during the second year of study. At these clinicals you intern under a civil law and criminal law magistrate for a month a piece. If you get a good magistrate you will get to write judgments for the cases you sit through (not that they will be implemented) and have plenty of Q&A time with your magistrate.

I was fortunate enough to be assigned to one of the two Senior Principal Magistrates at Nairobi Law Courts where I sat through several high profile cases. I also got to write judgments on two accused persons (which were totally opposite to what the magistrate delivered), and saw the justice system in action first-hand.

I learned many things during these clinicals but I remember two clearly. First of all: DO NOT commit a crime, or even be caught in circumstances where there is reasonable suspicion of committing a crime. The criminal justice system is painfully slow and you can take even two years before your case is heard, meanwhile you are languishing in a god-forsaken remand system. Secondly is that court reporters are hopelessly incompetent in reporting on legal matters. I learned this second lesson after reading the next day's newspaper's reporting of cases I had sat through. In all instances the reporters (or their editors) had twisted the actual situation to create an impression of something that was not. For instance in one case where the chief magistrate was taking a plea, the accused person seemed confused on the charges, and in such instances the chief magistrate enters a plea of not-guilty. The reporter at hand chose to leave the confusion part out and indicate that the accused had simply entered a not-guilty plea. While this may appear a small editorial choice, in terms of law it is not.

It is with this prejudice that I started reading the media's opposition to what they wrongly dubbed the Media bill, actually called The Kenya Communications (Amendment) Bill 2008. Cognizant of my prejudice I made sure to read on my own the entire bill before taking a position. In fact I went as far as amending The Kenya Communications Act 1998, with this Amendment Bill in order to comprehensively understand the proposed new law.

At the end I was justified in my prejudice; not only has the media completely misinterpreted the new law, it seems they have deliberately (and maliciously) created an impression that the law if passed will give the Minister 'godly' and 'draconian' powers in 'suppressing media freedom' and 'controlling the media'. This simply put is a bunch of BS. Here's the reality:

1. On the issue of the Minister seizing communication apparatus in the case of a public emergency... that law already exists, it has been there since 1998. In fact whether this new Act was passed or not, that law would remain in force.

2. On the issue of the 'government' controlling program content; this is not true. Yes, the CCK can force a broadcasting station to implement a programme code BUT ONLY if that station does not already adhere to a programme code set by an organization it belongs to i.e. the Media Owners Association. It is a fail-safe law, one that applies only where there is failure to self-regulate.

Plus some obvious omissions on broadcasting should give heart to media owners, for instance SMS broadcasting does not seem to fall under this new law; and any decent analyst of the industry should know, that there lies the future of the industry.

OK, let me not be a law professor, I challenge you to read the law yourself. You can get a free copy of the bill online here and the Kenya Communications Act 1998 from here.

If you do make it to read the law, you will discover though that it creates great opportunities for netpreneurs, vigourously protects computer data and makes hacking illegal, improves greatly standards and processes for e-commerce by legalizing electronic signatures and certificates, and generally promotes the environment for people who are in the business of doing business online.

As an addendum I read with disgust this morning, Musalia Mudavadi's comments yesterday during a press conference with the Media Owner Association. His political posturing is sickening, making statements like "The Government has a responsibility to amend the Act", "focus should not be on who was or who was not in the House when the bill saild through but on the nature and motive". Come on... for Chrissake, you're a member of parliament and a freaking Deputy Prime Minister! The Cabinet is collectively responsible to the National Assembly for all things done by or under the authority of the President or the Vice-President or any other Minister in the execution of his office. Please people, read the Constitution (available for free here) and see how a law is passed. These fellas are pretending as if they were not party to passing this law. Even if the law was bad (which IMHO it is not), these statements from the DPM are highly offensive and disgusting.

The truth is that opposition to this law is about MONEY. The media owners are terrified of the restrictions on cross-media ownership, particularly Nation with their recent expansion of their broadcasting division. Watch those shares free fall.