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The year that was and what SMEs can expect in 2018

The year that was

The year 2017 was a year full of anxiety and even turmoil for some Kenyan entrepreneurs and SMEs. Typically , Kenya’s election years are usually characterized by a  “wait and see” atmosphere. This year was no different However, this election was rather special. We ended up having 2 elections, 2 supreme court petitions, 2 nail biting rulings and eventually an inauguration celebrated by the ruling party’s supporters and shunned by the opposition. This scenario prolonged it from a “wait and see” to a “lets talk after all the election madness is over” . The prevailing drought situation affected agricultural output which is a big part of our economy and further dampened the mood in the country.  MPs passed a bill capping interest rates at 14.5% in a move to stem the high interest rate regime. However, as the government borrowed heavily to fund its operations and service its every growing debt, lenders shifted their attention to lending government and not SMEs, pushing SMEs into a corner where funds were not available for their operations. In short it was a tough year and many entrepreneurs felt like they were between a rock and a hard place. Some shut down, some became politicians(temporarily if they lost) and some strengthened their faith in order to keep the doors open. Everyone held on to their money. No new ideas or programs were being funded. Everyone adopted the excuse ” lets talk after elections” . Payments were withheld. If there is a time to begin planning for the next election, its not 4 years from now, its NOW.

The year to come

Despite the bleak 2017, the Future looks a lot brighter. What can we look foreward to in 2018 and beyond?

Despite the continued low key political risk that threatens to blow up into protests at any given time, we are likely to see a number of trends in 2018 and beyond

Interest rate capping reversal.

In 2018, we are likely to see  a Reversal of the 14.5% interest rate capping. The central bank governor has already signaled that they will be pushing for its reversal based on a study of its devastating effects towards SME lending and unsecured lending in general. There is likely to be intense lobbying from lenders as well as other key stakeholders for the reversal. Should the reversal happen, lending towards SMEs will resume against a backdrop of a growing post-election economy.

Foreign Direct Investment

Whilst Kenya saw a dip in foreign direct investments in 2017, it is likely that foreign investors will troop back into the country citing a more stable political environment and clear policy direction from the Kenyan government. Many deals that were in negotiation phase in 2017 were put on hold pending the election outcome and those negotiations are likely to be revived within the first quarter of 2018. There has been increased interest in Kenya by American, Chinese and a few European union countries like France in making investments in Kenya. Sectors of interest have been agriculture, energy and construction. This will present an opportunity for SMEs to position themselves as service providers or partners for the foreign investors. There will also be an increased appetite for mergers and acquisitions as an entry strategy by medium or large multinationals into the East and Central African Market.

The Nairobi Securities Exchange

The stock market is also on the upward trend, something that happens after every election. This usually acts as a signal of the confidence that international investors have in our economy.Since we have continued to experience Economic growth, smart SME owners will invest extra income into strategic companies that are poised to keep generating great returns in the next few years before the next election cycle begins. We are yet to see any major entrants into the GEMS SME segment of the NSE due to the complicated nature of listing and the fear of Kenyan SMEs to open themselves up to public scrutiny.

Government Focus

The president in his inauguration speech made some bold declarations. Like visa on arrival for all Africans. This set the tone for other bold pronouncements and the government has since set out to focus on 4 main areas.We are likely to see growth and opportunities for SMEs in these sectors .The details are still sketchy but here is what we know so far.

  1. Housing – The government plans to build 1 million houses in the next 5 years. Which translates to roughly 200,000 units a year, A feat never seen before in Kenya. Will they uphold the promise despite the demand for housing growing by an estimated 100,000-250,000 units against a supply of 50,000 yearly? We wait to see.
  2. Universal Healthcare – Again the details are still not clear but the government plans to invest in ensuring there is 100% universal health coverage (UHC).
  3. Food Security and Agriculture – The government has set a target of 100% food security. Details yet to be released.
  4. Manufacturing – The government has set a target to have manufacturing account for at least 20% of the GDP. We are currently at an estimated 14% of GDP.

The government has also began a project to set up incubators and hubs in every constituency through the ICT ministry to support entrepreneurs to grow their businesses.

An announcement was made in 2017 that we achieved Category A status for JKIA which should see an introduction of direct flights to North America from Kenya. This should boost trade  and tourism between Kenya and North America and potentially latin america as well.

One compliance  body to watch out for is the Kenya Revenue Authority. Several plans have been put in place to rope in additional taxpayers to fund the governments increasing debt and budget. 2017 was the slowest growth in a decade of tax collection in a year where succession plans are in high gear. Will a new broom sweep clean in KRA and will this sweep more evaders into the tax net? A robust itax system together with a  business intelligence system linked to the banking as well as government procurement systems will definitely nab more tax evaders and so SMEs that are not yet compliant should note that the authority is closing in on them and soon there will be no easy avenues to hide from paying tax on all business income activities.

On a sad note, the government has announced impending layoffs of 18,000 workers to tame the wage bill and concerns continue to mount over our indebtedness particularly to China.

The world bank has pledged support of approximately USD 150 Million through the Kenya Youth Empowerment Project , that will go to supporting employment creation, entrepreneurship and scaling of SMEs. It is likely that other donors will follow suit in funding similar projects especially agricultural and value chain support programs.

We are likely to see increased Mergers and acquisitions as international players from larger markets seek to aggressively enter the east african market. European, South african, asian and American companies are actively seeking to partially or fully acquire local SMEs who have substantial traction and growth.

County opportunities

A few progressive counties are likely to have great opportunities. If the governors keep their promises . Nairobi county is heavily backed by the central government and its initiatives are likely to face less opposition and budgetary challenges in order to prove a point. Lamu with the LAPPSET project plodding along also benefits from a large state project that is attracting development. Other counties to watch are Machakos, Kakamega and Makueni  who have had relatively progressive and development oriented incumbents who will benefit from continuity. Kitui , Kisumu, Kirinyaga and Meru have new governors who have made bold declarations for development and have governors who were previously cabinet ministers who had a track record for development in their respective ministries .

Education

Due to the entrance of the over 1 million kids from the Free Primary Education era into high school a year , there has been an increased demand for private secondary school education. With a transition rate of less than 80% , there is currently a shortage of secondary schools to absorb the primary school graduates. As top schools are forced to introduce day wings, there will be concerns from parents on the quality of education and this is likely to build even higher demand for private secondary schools as happened in the primary school section.

Agriculture 

Should there be no drought in 2018 and beyond, there should be improved agricultural harvests. Government investment in food security as well as the increased investments from  private capital sources into agriculture (chamas, investment companies and middle class from urban areas) is likely to grow the sector and its output.

ICT

Despite the growth of innovations in ICT, a proposed ICT bill is likely to stifle innovation and service provision. We are likely to see a growth of the importance of  DATA collected by organisations which will increase the demand for data scientists or entrepreneurs with data oriented solutions. There will however be increased concerns about data protection and privacy and calls for increased regulation around privacy.

Mobile lending

Mobile lending that has already been on an upward trend will grow and we are likely to see lenders finding ways of approving larger loans than the current micro loans that have proven successful for banks as well as new micro lending entrants into the sector.

Regional Opportunities

As the region invests more in infrastructure you are likely to have companies , government agencies and development bodies from neighbouring countries turning to kenya for certain expertise. Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda, rwanda and Tanzania despite the hostility will seek collaborations in kenya that can complement their growth initiatives. The EAC will likely strengthen its trade ties.

Globally, Agriculture remains a great opportunity for Africa as demand for agricultural products for China , US and European markets particularly for Herbs , spices, condiments , specialty foods and meat products grows. etc Our challenge in meeting this demand is the ability to produce consistent  quality and ability to supply large quantities of products to wholesale buyers in these large markets.

As a region I see the opportunities for SMEs outweighing the risks and opening up a world of so much potential for Kenyan entrepreneurs who have already braved 2 elections with a lot of resilience and innovation to stay afloat.

 

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Help! My spouse’s​ business is killing us!

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Dear Joram,

I got married 6 years ago to an entrepreneur and it all started as a great dream, I supported my spouse and we spent a lot of time talking about the business and its future plans. However, that dream has since turned into a nightmare. As I write this to you, I’ve reached the end of my ability to cope with what is going on. Let me explain.

We started the business modestly where we even converted one room in our house into a home office. We began our operations in a small way and within no time the business picked up quickly and began to make money! It all looked rosy and promising so we invested even more time and money into it. I took loans on the basis of my salary so that we could expand our operations and we even got a nice big office. That’s when things began to go wrong. At some point , the growth of the business went out of control and we began to lose clients. Regulators also stepped in and things quickly went south, and we were left trying to pay up penalties of taxes we were not aware off. Before long the bank had sent auctioneers, and when we began to fall behind on mortgage payments. At this point the bank began to be quite hostile. Our car payments are behind and we have maxed out our  credit cards. One of the cars we are paying for hasnt moved for months due to disrepair.

As all these troubles keep building up my spouse looks unperturbed by it all. My spouse keeps talking about this dream which I am now tired of. Had all the dreams come true we would be operating in  5 countries by now ! We face so much pressure yet they could easily be employed with a 6 figure salary but they will never consider getting a job.

In the company, my spouse bends backwards to pay rent and employees first saying that the lights must be kept on to ensure clients remain confident in the business before signing the big deals that are coming . One employee even got a bonus and a raise! Yet that month my spouse didn’t bring any money home! Apparently, star employees must be maintained at all cost!

I feel like my spouse is not carrying their weight in the home anymore , it feels like the burden of all responsibilities has now been left with me and I now see us grow old being very  poor at this rate.

They seem to prize meetings at odd times and weekends with name-dropping type of  clients more than actually making money. They are always in committees of all these charity organisations and associations with people who are not even close to us. How can we be helping others when it is us who need the most help?

My spouse can’t even seem to stick to one path of doing things. My advice is not welcome and they have shut me out of the business, not wanting my advanced skills  and corporate experience to improve things in the business.

I’m ready to leave, I’m drowning under the weight of this pipe dream,which has turned into a nightmare ! On the contrary, my spouse seems very calm in this storm. It even looks like we will turn out like our friends who separated because of their business.

I’m accused by my spouse of not being supportive when I raise these issues, is there a way out of this mess?

Sincerely, Drowning Spouse.

Dear Drowning spouse,

Thank you for reaching out for help. Your situation is not very easy to solve because the person you are married to is very differently from you

They see the world from a very different perspective and measure progress in many different ways. Many entrepreneurs tend to be visionaries. They see the world as it should be not necessarily as it is today. They see possibilities and opportunities. And the worst bit is that they may never be able to make you see things as they do until their dreams come to pass. They live in their dream and it’s as real to them today as it will be to you in future, but totally invisible to you right now. It takes them a while to find themselves and sometimes the journey is as important a self-discovery process as the destination. Entrepreneurship is the toughest personal development journey in the world.

Also understand that  businesses can take a very long time to take off and this can create resentment , even hatred  on your part and that of your children. Their risk  perception is different , and believe it or not  they are actually doing all of it for you, they do it for everyone but themselves. Despite looking calm, they are also frustrated that things are not working out as fast , they may also not realise what they are doing to you. It usually takes a while for entrepreneurs to get to a place of prioritizing themselves and their families before their company, landlords, employees and suppliers.

Its easy for them to prioritise their employees , suppliers , clients, regulators and landlord because they feel a huge sense of responsibility or fear of failure. They fear hurting their employees and their families as well as losing  them and their loyalty, they are your spouses daily reality. They possibly imagine that things are not as bad in your house as they are in their employees houses. Plus they imagine they have the power to correct things in your house more than their dependants can sort themselves out. The sad truth is that many times, the reality of your home is somewhat cushioned from them, by you.

Your advice is also not welcome because it doesn’t come from a point of empathy. Another entrepreneur will say the same things that you say and they will act on it quickly. They don’t believe you understand where they are coming from and what they are going through.And in truth, your advice  may at times not be very practical from your big company experience for them to implement with their meagre resources. If they left things to you for a week in their office you may not survive to see the next. The fact that the business takes long to take off also affects their self esteem, getting a beating at home only makes it worse for them.

Those meetings and committees they participate in are relationships they are building and trust that will yield business or a referral sometime in the future,widening their network as  they believe that business comes to them through new networks. you never know what may show up. They also come to learn with time that you can’t handle their erratic problems in the company and that’s why many times they will shield you from the challenges they have and you only learn when problems boil over. Clearly entrepreneurs are far from being perfect people.

Despite all the challenges, running a business makes them come alive , and you were possibly attracted to them because of this passion that you saw in them in the first place. If they change abruptly and become employees without a clear conviction just so that you may all become more comfortable or accepting of them , you might lose your passionate spouse psychologically if they are unable to find something in future that they can channel their world changing energies into. They probably get more satisfaction seeing their dream come to life even on a small scale than they would get from a 7 figure salary and a boss breathing down their neck.

It might help to talk to spouses of older entrepreneurs and they will tell you horror stories but you also get to see the end picture of their struggles. It may help to put some things in perspective.

Above all appreciate their resilience,commitment and persistence and what may seem as irrational investments into the future. Whether they succeed or fail, the experience will develop them in ways that they will handle any future responsibilities using what they learnt. That said , the following tips will help restore some sanity in your house.

  1. Be deliberate about putting  a support structure around you – Get a mentor who was in a similar position and other spouses of entrepreneurs as your support group to advise you, exchange ideas and share experiences
  2. Have a win/win discussion – Discuss how you can create short-term wins and goals for both of you which includes getting out of debt and increasing incomes.
  3. Get help together from either a counsellor or a business/life coach
  4. Create a ringfence around your personal lives and business and not just in terms of money but time as well. Let the business try and get its own finances to grow and not siphon your family savings and investments.
  5. Look for short-term alternatives to supplement incomes, there could be other ways your spouse can make money with their skills as the business picks up, but keeping on towards their vision.
  6. Encourage your spouse to read my next article. 🙂

Finally, many visionaries sacrifice a lot for a better world and even future for themselves. If many in the past gave up, we may never have seen some of the progress we see right now, some paid a heavy price particularly on the family front but hopefully you will not have to go down the same path. Your spouse might just be one of those to make the world a little better if its done in a balanced manner.

Sincerely yours

Joram

Do you have any tips for spouses in this position? Please share below!

Joram is a leading strategy and entrepreneurship consultant and founder of http://www.wyldeinternational.com . Read other captivating articles on entrepreneurship from joram on inspiringgreatness001.wordpress.com You can reach him on joram@wyldeinternational.com and follow him on twitter @jorammwinamo

10 mistakes former blue chip employees make as entrepreneurs

10 mistakesThis one might ruffle a few feathers.

Entrepreneurship is all the rage nowadays. I meet many employed executives, some who are very highly placed in C-Suite positions and they begin to tell me, excitedly, how they plan to start a business, jump out of corporate slavery and shake up a certain industry that they have their eyes on. I have become more and more cautious on the advice I give to such friends or acquaintances because after being an entrepreneur for close to 9 years full time after a brief employment stint, I’ve observed some mistakes and hard lessons that former corporate employees and particularly C-Suite executives make when they jump ship and begin to row their canoes. Here are the top 10:

  1. Expensive lifestyle

They maintain an expensive mortgage, going out to expensive restaurants, maintain the same expensive school for their kids that the corporate employer paid for ,big cars that are fuel guzzlers , club memberships…..until they begin to wipe out their account balances and savings and that is when reality hits home and they begin to reconsider some of the choices they make with their new circumstances.

2. Expensive office kick-off

They get an expensive office in an expensive address, with hardwood furniture and with the underlying belief that this will impress clients.They top it off by hiring  expensive employees because they came from an office which drummed in the mantra “always hire the best talent, even if it means paying a premium”. With time they realise a loyal hard worker with unimpressive qualifications and experience could be the best asset an entrepreneur has when starting out.

3. Wrong Investments

They invest in a business , a tool , a software or a type of  infrastructure that they don’t know how to use . Some do this with their generous payout from their retirement and instantly go into a cash crunch. They go into a business they don’t understand. After all , after managing billions of shillings in a corporate organisation and a team of 100, what can be so hard about running a cake business, wedding planning, construction or growing tomatoes? Well, it turns out everything can get quite complicated . Each business has its rules, gatekeepers and cycles and figuring it all out can take a lifetime.

4. Wrong expectations

They expect that their big company friends and colleagues whom they bid goodbye as they pursued their dream will give them business easily. Only to realise that their friends will have to justify to their CEO why they gave business to a “no-recognizable-name”company rather than a well-established brand. Sometimes they find the tendering hoops and due diligence processes that they set up before they left automatically disqualifies them from supplying their former employer despite an impeccable track record.

5. Unrealistic expectations

They expect business to take off quickly since they are used to things moving at lightning speed in their former employer’s empire. They soon realise that the army of analysts , researchers,HR team,Accountants and worker bees that their former employer attached to them, were the reason why they could do in 1 day what they now take 2 weeks to pull off. They also realise that their former employer’s name is the reason why people never let the phone ring twice, but now, they don’t even call back after sending the message that says “I’m in a meeting, I’ll call back”

6. Misplaced Confidence

They take for granted that a lot of their previous results had a lot to do with the brand they worked for and that they have to rebuild their personal credibility from scratch.

7.Idealistic approach

They create idealistic products based on their experience and proceed to do an expensive idealistic launch with confetti, pyrotechnics and fireworks in an upmarket hotel. They go back to the office and wait for phone calls and after a few days realise that they have to knock doors and possibly even beg for deals.

8. Undervaluing clients

Having come from companies with established brands where clients flocked to them, some carry this mentality to their hustles and end up taking customers for granted instead of killing themselves to deliver superior value to their clients. Clients do not care about who you worked with before, all they want is value for what they pay otherwise they vote with their feet (and refuse to sign your cheques)

9.Expect compliance from clients and suppliers

They expect people to pay or supply on time, and get really baffled when it doesn’t happen. They also expect people to adhere to their strict contracts but only realise later that it happened in their blue chip company because they had attack dogs for lawyers on the company’s payroll and cannot afford those lawyers now. It’s only until they begin to default on their own bills,that they realise it’s a vicious cycle they have gotten into and they are now a vital part of the default chain. At this point the harsh judgement they previously had towards those that  looked seemingly disorganised entrepreneur friends, mellows.

10. Impatience

The reality of running a business will hit hard and what I’ve seen is that they end up giving up too early, possibly just before their business idea takes off. Granted, there are bills to pay and families to take care off, but seasoned entrepreneurs also go through the same challenges but find creative ways of surviving, overcoming the challenges and eventually thriving. Hanging in there a bit longer might make the difference between success and going back to your former boss. Knowing when to quit is a topic for another blog post.

I have to admit that its not always doom and gloom and people’s experiences will vary. I’ve watched a few people get lucky and their businesses take off quickly.However, these tend to be outliers. Entrepreneurship has a way of humbling people.

So what can you do to increase chances of success? Conserve cash religiously,  take advantage of your networks, build a good product and brand, go into a business you understand and have expertise in and  don’t despise small moneys  or beginnings.Finally, be patient and surround yourself with veteran entrepreneurs and proven advisors who will keep encouraging you and helping you see that your problems are nothing compared to the nightmares they endured earlier. It helps.

Are you interested in a solution that can help your business grow? Contact me at joram@wyldeinternational.com or visit http://www.wyldeinternational.com

Is Kenya Experiencing an entrepreneurship Bubble?(Part 2)

soap-bubbles-107004_1280Last week we looked at all the hype that has been created around entrepreneurship in Kenya, with cheerleaders ranging from banks and oil companies to president Barrack Obama himself. This article may be considered pouring water on the fire and spoiling the party. Is the opportunity as huge as it is being touted or is it a mirage? Let us analyse the opportunities.

There are many opportunities forKenyan entrepreneurs right now. More than ever. These  range from  the 30% government procurement scheme for youth and women which will be made more transparent through the e-procurement portal .We have  47 county governments carrying out projects that present opportunities of all kinds of entrepreneurs locally. Our extractives sector is beginning to yield fruit in oil and gas as well as coal mining and other precious stones . Tourism is rebounding thanks to the Popes and Obamas visits and the lifting of travel bans. Kenya is increasingly seen as the new financial hub for the continent with a growing middle class, good internet connectivity. There is  what many consider marginally improved governance  and security as well as new laws perceived as being business friendly. It now takes 3 steps to register a business in kenya part of it can be done online. As South Africa self-destructs under the effects of populist leadership , many investors are seeing Kenya as the next destination to put up their africa headquarters. Our investment in agriculture is looking up and infrastructure development is on steroids-we are building roads,a new railway ,new ports in Lamu and Mombasa. We have the massive but faltering Ksh 900 billion Lappset project which should connect the coast to South Sudan . We have  international airports built in remote places like Isiolo as well as resort cities planned in places like Kilifi and Turkana. We will also have computers in every school for education purposes. MPESA keeps us in the global spotlight as the darling in mobile money innovation and related applications are also drawing in investors as well as inventors. We have the Uwezo fund , youth fund , womens fund and many donor funds focused on all types of entrepreneurship programs whose impact we can only question. Kenya is a basketful of opportunities.  And dont forget the world is still saying (in husher tones nowadays) that Africa is still the next frontier.

But the big question remains, are our entrepreneurs really creating sustainable economic value?

What everyone is not talking about , is the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, we have made entrepreneurship look like the most exciting thing for everyone to do.The truth is ,it takes years for a sustainable company to take off, and failure rate is also high. It takes resilience, patience, consistency and a lot of sacrifice in the initial years of building a business to succeed. Entrepreneurship can leave behind a trail of destruction. From broken families, aggressive compliance officers (KRA ,NSSF, NHIF always want a piece of your action),  lost family assets, family feuds,  tainted reputations , depression, no personal time and other dark sides. No one is telling people that this dark side is what they would be exposing themselves to. A few that survive this journey, quietly reinvest and enjoy their spoils in silence away from public attention. Those that try celebrating their wealth publicly are raided by compliance officers and those they purpotedly owed money as they built their wealth. Entrepreneurship is not as rosy as we make it look in the media.

Many donors , private equity investors and social funds have witnessed this destructive force of entrepreneurship firsthand as they watched many of  their initial investments go up in flames either due to the lack of ethics of their investees or outright failures of their investments. Some of them privately admit to having invested more in hyped up companies than substance.What is the actual success rate of entrepreneurial initiatives such as the ones mentioned above? No one really knows, and no one is really willing to measure it either. Many funds have closed down and left a pile of disillusioned and bitter foreign investors , some of whom have had their funds stollen by fraudsters to the tune of millions of dollars. The few that remain committed to funding Kenyan companies have learnt bitter lessons and now scrutinise investment opportunities with a microscope. In the absence of concrete data measuring the success of entrepreneurship programs , hype may continue to win the day until the world decides to find another interesting cause to fund.

Bubbles always burst, eventually and when the entrepreneuship one does , only the well meaning,visionary ,  passionate and dedicated entrepreneurs who are serving real needs in the market with profitable business models will be left standing and will go on to succeed. Sometimes the ones who succeed are the ones who simply held on long enough until everyone else gave up.

Before you jump out of employment to cash in on all the opportunities being flashed in your face,  think twice, entrepreneurship is brutal the world over and it can take you and your family down, nomatter where you are on this planet.

 

Is Kenya experiencing an Entrepreneurship Bubble?(part 1)

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Kenyans have a  tendency to attack new opportunities in droves. First, it was the stock market IPOs. Then came pyramid schemes, then various multi-level marketing schemes, then came greenhouse farming (remember the tomatoes in your friends’ car boot? or your boot?) , then the infamous and magical QUAILS . And now we have the unending land and property buying sprees, despite the fact that some of the property prices make no business or investment sense whatsoever. Some houses have their return on investment pegged on being enjoyed by grandchildren! But that is a story for another day.

We are always looking for what’s hot or for the “next big thing”, trying to catch it before everyone rushes in. We don’t keenly analyze the business opportunity and  many times we will end up being conned or losing money in large quantities and then we begin to petition the government to step in and help us recover what was lost, while forgetting that our investment was  based on decisions made out of poor judgement and a lack of background checks. As a rule of thumb, don’t invest in something you don’t understand or make sure you are advised by an expert with a track record and good reputation, but that is also another topic for another day.

So today, the buzzword is entrepreneurship. Everyone is talking about entrepreneurship, and  everyone is now investing in entrepreneurs or becoming one. I might even say Kenya could be competing with a few countries in the world to become the WORLDs ENTREPRENEURSHIP HEADQUARTERS (whoever sets this up can appoint me CEO). And why not? The worlds’ most celebrated serial entrepreneur, Richard Branson,  loves Kenya and is now doing a few side hustles here (google a place called Mahali Mzuri).

However, the truth is , according to this global entrepreneurship index,  we have a long way to go to have conditions that favour entrepreneurship or providing cushions that encourage people to risk and venture into business more. We currently rank 86th overall. So much for our bravado as a nation.

Lets begin by listing those supporting entrepreneurs today.

First we have the Tech hubs, incubators, accelerators and venture capital funds , or combinations of all of them seeking to produce the next big innovators. Many hold competitions to attract those with great ideas in technology innovations, social enterprise, financial inclusion, agriculture and the best possible local and international ideas. This support sector has also seen the rise of  compepreneurs!  (entrepreneurs who jump from one competition to another and the prize money is enough to live off even without a viable business model ). The dust is beginning to settle with easy funding for such initiatives running out and people have begun asking hard questions as to which model of  building entrepreneurs truly develops great entreprises. Oh, we even have an oil company and a beverage company  running entrepreneurship competitions. It has become that popular.It’s getting harder and harder to find a corporate company that does not have a program targeted at supporting entrepreneurs . Even if it is just to fit in with the corporate crowd.

The rich have also thrown their weight behind entrepreneurs with noble intentions of recreating themselves, or at least making it easier for those coming after them not to suffer like they did. The Chandaria centres in the United States International University(USIU) and Kenyatta University hope to spur entrepreneurs to success largely through education and incubation. The Tony Elumely foundation is also running an Africa-wide competition to support small enterprises.

And then we have Banks! Can you believe it ? Banks love entrepreneurs! KCB has set aside a Ksh 50 billion 2jiajiri fund ,its small brother Chase bank Kenya before the grand scandal had announced a Ksh 60 Billion fund for SMEs (enough  money to fund 12 counties )  ,Equity bank  was given even more , USD 450 Million by OPIC   . All these were announced during the global entrepreneurship summit held in Kenya in 2015. Barclays Bank followed suit with a Ksh 30 billion fund for SMEs. K – Rep rebranded to Sidian Bank  and positioned themselves to serve entrepreneurs.  No bank is being left out of the wave and each has a product now targeted at SMEs and an SME division. However, many are struggling to structure effective programs that will help them deal successfully with entrepreneurs. And that’s because entrepreneurs are not an easy group to understand.They are visionary, but they can also be very erratic.  Value adds to entrepreneurs from the banks are questionable and that’s because its easy after all for banks to make money from entrepreneurs through loan defaults and late penalties  or unfavourably high-interestt rates. Entrepreneurs are always desperately looking for money and will take it , however expensive it is without looking at the fine print, after all they have an empire to build!Why sweat a few percentage points on your loan? Other financial players like the Mastercard foundation are also funding a program for entrepreneurs .

Even Universities have joined the fray and now everyone is teaching entrepreneurship(Is entrepreneurship inborn or are entrepreneurs made? I can hear a professor say) . Some are doing it well, others simply have it in their curriculum because there is demand for the course. Programs like the Goldman Sachs 10,000 women at USIU stand out. Research shows that funding women entrepreneurs creates better outcomes for economies than funding men .

And To crown it all , Uncle Sam came to put the cherry on the cake, and he came with a big cheque, and friends with equally big cheques (after all who goes to shags and doesnt carry lots of gifts from the city when he comes with his friends?) . The US president  Barrack Obama launched a USD 1 Billion fund targeted at entrepreneurs globally. Thats a lot of money, I wonder how its being spent.  He also stressed that  AGOA is still ongoing and he opened a centre to train young leaders and entrepreneurs.

So is the opportunity for entrepreneurship as big as its being presented to be? We analyse this in the next post next week, stay tuned!

 

Entrepreneurs:Be Brave and let go of that BIG UNPROFITABLE CLIENT!

work-management-907669I have worked with many entrepreneurs for over 10 years now. And I have come to see a trend that many of us seem to believe grows our businesses while in actual fact, it may cause a lot more harm than good to our growing enterprises. I have occasionally fallen prey to this trend myself. That trend is that for some reason, many entrepreneurs   strongly believe that killing yourself to have that big brand company as a client is good for growing a small business.

Naive entrepreneurs believe that having that big brand company, that posts billions in profits yet pays you 120 days later, will add untold value to their growing companies even if the relationship with that big brand company or organisation is loss making. We believe that this abusive relationship we give into will attract all those another big brand clients (possibly future unprofitable clients as well) and make them come to us because we already have that one signature name client on our company profiles under the “Our happy clients” page or tab on our websites. It’s a hard belief to shake off that can cause a vicious cycle in your business and the pain and cost of maintaining such clients as you grow only becomes worse. It takes a long time to learn this hard lesson, that such clients are really not worth the effort we put in to maintain them.

I have also come to believe that there are some senior  executives in big brand companies who know this little fact about entrepreneurs and milk our efforts for as long as they can. They know that you can’t take them to court because you don’t have the money to hire lawyers and yet they have an entire contingent of legal officers hired to deal with the likes of you, should you dare to take them to court. They know they can bully you, they can call the shots, they can milk every drop of energy from you, they can make you bend backwards and make you pull stunts that no big company would dare do for them.They can keep dangling a fictitious carrot that they will give you bigger business in future, or if necessary, they can bring out a big stick with threats of taking away the business from you if you don’t play ball.  They can make you go the extra mile,usuall 1000 miles. And then when you have learnt your lesson and they are done with you, they move to the next naive entrepreneur and begin the cycle again.

The bitter truth is, they create an illusion of success for you. The brand building value they give your company is way less than the headaches they cause you in making you  chase for payments that come very late. They make you incur financing costs from overdrafts, penalties and loans. They have no idea the trouble you go through to manage very many unhappy employees that you have hired to deliver on the project that you are working on to keep that big brand bully client happy, and you are unable to pay them on time because of the late payments you are receiving. And finally, the health challenges related to the constant stress you face because  of solving the above problems drive your productivity downwards.

It is not worth it. It’s even worse when that client posts their profits publicly at the end of the financial  year and you see your unpaid invoices, constituting a tiny proportion of their profits,  contributing to the billions that they brag about,  with that bully executive taking home huge bonuses as you go back to negotiate with your bank manager not to repossess your car or house. You know that you are the reason they post such a hefty profit. You and another 1000 naive entrepreneurs. We need a law to protect SMEs in this country from these big bullies.

You are better off working with that unknown client who values the work that you do, pays you on time and refers you to other similarly small but valuable clients who are willing to grow with you as you work your way up the food chain. When you build a steady stream of small but respectable clients, your business undergoes an organic growth that enables you to make wise decisions at each growth stage, helping you to conserve the little money that you are  making and enabling you to only invest in something that is extremely necessary for your growth.

Entrepreneurs, be brave and cut off that big unprofitable client.

A county governors guide to creating jobs through entrepreneurship

So we now have county governments in Kenya. Most governors  state that youth employment, entrepreneurship and women empowerment are their top priorities.However, it seems that many counties do not have good  ideas on what to do with the groups mentioned above. Some are still struggling to figure out what do to with the county itself, so they do not have  time to think about entrepreneurship. Many have not been entrepreneurs.

I am here to help . Here is what they should task their county ministers who either handle the ministries of  industry, economic planning, youth matters or  the docket that has been tasked to develop a strategy for entrepreneurship. Here are some tips towards developing a county entrepreneurship strategy.

1. Analyse the county

Start by analysing what  assets, economic activities or  high potential sectors exist  that could present an opportunity to develop entrepreneurs . It could be agriculture, light manufacturing, mining or even services like tourism, financial services , hospitality etc. It could also be support services to your main activities which are lacking. for example, construction will always require food services close by . It could be unique products or services that your county can focus on due to its  geography,mining potential or cultural make up. Be sure to analyse the county’s history to pick out what the unique DNA of the county is. You will be surprised how something that has been a big weakness amongst your people could be turned into a globally attractive phenomenon. Oh , and crunch the economic numbers as you analyse your county.

2. Analyse the gaps

Clearly identify the gaps that are present and what the economic potential of closing those gaps could be . Also analyse the gaps present in skills , education or infrastructure for the industries identified . Those gaps in themselves could be opportunities. I hope that someone in Turkana is setting up an oil institute with practical intern-ships.

3. Define your county strategy

Once you are clear on where you are and what you have, you can now project into the future a strategy of how do develop the areas where gaps exist. You can develop a set of programs that address fundamental issues that will build up towards other higher level needs in future. Also be sure to build in some quick wins that will inspire and energize the county towards your plan.

4. Categorize

Make sure you categorise the entrepreneurs. Everyone seems to think that entrepreneurs are a homogeneous group and therefore they come up with a blanket plan towards all of them. I don’t understand this craze that governments have of  funding groups. I am yet to see an example of a great company in the world that was started by a group of 15 people. The norm is that  1 or 2 visionary individuals go ahead to build a team that helps them build a company. Fund individuals , not groups.

5. Develop programs

You can develop programs in line with your strategy like Small Business Development Centers,markets creation programs , capacity building programs, affirmative action procurement programs,subsidies , equity or debt funding, international linkages, investor matching or attraction, venture capital or angel investor programs, the list of potential programs is endless . You could also target partnerships abroad with other counties or regions that could be consumers of your products or services , or those that share similar goals with that of your county and hence they can help you build your entrepreneurs capacity. This is the point at which those  “benchmarking trips” can be converted into value adding trips,where you actually go to sign agreements rather than do a “shopping study tour”.

6. Track results (or  in government language , monitoring and evaluation)

Ensure you have a clear mechanism for tracking the success of your programs . Kindly note that how much money you have lent or given out is not a good measure of success. But focus more on how many jobs you have created, how much growth and wealth has been created as well as the return on the investment that the county has made . You can also start a program in a small way, which allows you to learn and grow it in future , becoming more and more effective with every step you take.

At the county government level, once your strategy is in place, you can focus on removing or lowering barriers  for your entrepreneurs. This is where you can develop policies that can help them address issues like  security,internet connectivity,   infrastructure, energy costs ,capital requirements ,red tape in your county ,market research amongst others that are beyond their individual reach but once done ,will benefit everyone. The list of barriers entrepreneurs encounter in a place like Kenya is long.

You can also set aside funds to set up Research and development  centers and  academic linkages   in institutions of learning. I still cant understand how Kenya has one of the best agricultural universities yet we still practice sub-optimal agriculture. There is a gap between our research, academicians and the market.

A final word to Governors and their teams , dream on behalf of your constituents.Move away from tokenism and focus on value addition and higher level opportunities  . Dont just be comfortable creating micro enterprises, dream of getting companies from your county listed on the NSE or even better NYSE! Dream of them going regional and global! Dream of your people not just setting up kiosks but growing them to be supermarkets and malls. Dream of your farmers selling branded products directly to markets abroad. Dream of setting up industries that are world re-known. Our soapstone carvings should be expensive monuments abroad, our bead work should be a globally competitive industry, our tourism can be more differentiated. And then don’t just dream, but execute.