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.


Unknown said...

Yes. What you are doing to help new entrepreneurs on their feet is good because the more you give the more you get applies in this case

lio mungai said...

Now I know why you made 'blog of the week' on Digilife in today's Business Daily. That story is very motivating and I must say "watu hutoka mbali!" This is a post I know I will often refer to especially because I know I will have a similar story to share in the future...interestingly I also read today that "the best thing about the future is that it only comes one day at a time"...I applaud you for Formakenyancompany that enabled me register a business name, and also the Genius Forex handbook that really broadened my opportunities. Cheers man, and true that every entrepreneur, especially Kenyan, should be ready to be the janitor as well as the C.E.O!

Harry Karanja said...

Came across a very similar post (written after mine of course) http://www.zachbruhnke.com/youre-not-the-ceo-youre-the-fucking-janitor

It just goes to show that this is a universal concept.