Friday, September 12, 2014

Otieno, the Master Welder

When Mwalimu got his first job, he was living in his ancestral home at the outskirts of the city. You can imagine his shags is just a few minutes from the City. However, where he comes from there are some lazy young men who partake illicit brew and more than willing to harvest where they never planted. It is on this premise that he was invited by his old friend to live with him somewhere in Eastlands. And so he left with a bag of clothes and a big radio to the City in the sun.

While going to his abode in one of those estates with lots of traffic, he could not help but gaze at the amazing works of one particular welder (Otieno). Those Nigerian gates and well-designed windows and doors were a site to behold, amazing work of craftsmanship. In short, Otieno’s artistic work would speak for itself; after all, the compelling products on display were quite appealing to the eye.

Mwalimu eventually got blessed and bought a plot off Thika road before the road was upgraded to a superhighway. He never minded the jam; after all he was used to it. Nothing is as sweet as living in one’s house even if the so called house is a one roomed mabati shelter. You see that landlord I had in Eastlands was just like any other. Every now and then he’d drop that note saying: Due to the current economic situation, we have adjusted upwards our rent…blab la bla…and when I left his house he declined to refund my deposit. In fact he was claiming some cash from me after balancing my account. Funny guy. And he used to come all the way from Muran’ga and camp in Nairobi for two weeks to collect rent. Anyway, let’s leave this landlord alone.

Back to Otieno. When I was doing my residential house, I knew I’d definitely approach Otieno to make my windows and external doors. When I landed at his workshop, it was a beehive of activities and the impression I got is that Otieno was doing quite well. I had a chat with him over a cup of tea (Mwalimu loves tea). The discussion culminated into a quote for the works and I paid the deposit for the works to be done. Otieno went to work and promised to deliver in two weeks. Mwalimu keeps time and he does his best to keep his promises as well. He also expects others to do the same. Two weeks later, I went knocking at Otieno’s door only to be informed that my work is 90% done. I decided to inspect the said works and realized that in all honesty it was 50% done. I felt let down though the fellow promised to deliver in the next 1week. One week later, the work was not complete. The usually quiet and reserved Mwalimu decided to act tough. He really talked tough just to make sure that Otieno does deliver; after all Mwalimu had already given a two months’ notice to his landlord and he expected to finish his house in good time.

To cut the long story short, Otieno delivered the windows and doors to my site 5 weeks later. When the delivery was inspected, it was missing some windows, 1 door and the gate. You can imagine how angry Mwalimu was to the extent to almost slapping Otieno. How was I to move to my new house without doors and windows. How about that perimeter wall and without a gate? That is the day Mwalimu knew that in Jua kali, not all that glitters is gold.

The final delivery was done 15 days before the date I was to move in. And by the way, the gate was still missing. On the eve of my big day (the day when I’d finally kiss the landlord goodbye), I still did not have the gate. I called my good friend and informed him that I was on a small mission to pick a gate along Outering road and requested for his company. When we landed at Otieno’s workshop, I was shown a gate which was halfway done. You can imagine how I felt. Next to my incomplete gate was a very nicely done gate. I actually had assumed that that was my gate. I summoned all courage and informed my friend that we go look for a pick-up and some strong boys. When we came back to the workshop with a pick -up and strong men, Otieno must have sensed danger. We went ahead and loaded the nicely done gate and as we were about to depart, Otieno stood in front of the vehicle and I could see his desperation. You see, that gate I had forcefully picked was for some client from Kitisuru who was to come for it in a few minutes. I could hear none of that and off I went with the gate. That is how Mwalimu got his nice gate. When I look at it, it reminds me of Otieno.

Next, I will analyse Otieno’s biggest weaknesses. Did his business survive???

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Like father like daughter

Guest post by Samuel G. Njenga

It’s been a long break for Mwalimu. Well, he could not help it; he had to deliver this massive project. He only hopes that his students are all well and have indeed practiced a lot of his teachings. That lot must have graduated by now so Mwalimu is hoping to find another set of students and together we shall learn. Going forward, Mwalimu will cover a myriad of topics in no specific order.

During my break, I had so many encounters and will share a few with you. Mwalimu is a proud father of 2 kids, a daughter and a son. One evening after a long and busy day, I happen to find my 5 year old daughter neatly cutting and placing some small pieces of papers in a file. She looked at me and smiled, as if expecting me to reprimand her. When I asked her what she was doing, she quickly answered; “Baba, can’t you see am arranging my plots so that I sell them to my classmates?” Then she continued even before I answered; “Hata mimi niko na ploti zangu kama zile zako” It caught me by surprise but you can imagine how proud I was. This daughter of mine is very observant. She has seen me neatly file documents and she is well aware what daddy does for a living. Soon I will be going with her to the field and hopefully she will understand the ropes of real estate and take care of the small empire am attempting to build.

One things us Africans never do is teach our kids business. Take and keen look at Wahindis and how they are keen to integrate their kids into the running of their businesses. To them succession planning starts in the early developmental years of their kids. We ought to borrow a leaf from them.

This reminds me of a real life story I was given by some broker based in Kiganjo. And by the way they were bringing down buildings in Kiganjo yesterday. Interestingly, those of us who had an interest in Kiganjo were well aware that one side of Kiganjo always had issues; woe unto those who never carry out proper due diligence. Back to the story by the broker. This fellow in his mid-fifties is not that straight, you see he preys on absentee land owners. He even claims to be from the lineage of Cain (remember the fellow who killed his brother in the Bible). On one particular plot in a prime location near Thika he was interested in grabbing, he dropped a twenty feet container on the site and waited for a few days to see if anyone raised an eyebrow. After two months no one did, so he set up a shop inside the container and thereafter embarked on a mission to manufacture documents for the plot. And now he illegally owns the plot. While smiling from ear to ear, he proclaimed that the owner of the said plot is most likely six feet under and his next of kin are not aware that he ever owned the plot. So sad that you may own properties and the people who matter to you are not aware that you even own them. Once you become past tense trust Njuguna to be your heir in waiting.

Next I will tell you about the master welder who could not run a welding workshop.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

More Real estate Opportunities

I told you about so many opportunities in real estate:

1.     Get me a nice plumber and I will show you twenty quacks. This is a field dominated by the latter. I usually wonder whether they train people for this particular specialized field. There is this one I gave some work and he put a normal valve where a non-return one was needed with disastrous results and or consequences. When I called him and asked him why he did so, he said he’ll come back and put the right one. So he knew the right one but decided to test my patience. I almost called him PWD. You see when we were in primary school, there is this deputy headmaster who would call you PWD if you did anything silly. Of course by PWD he did not mean Print Working Directory, Linux gurus know what it means but he actually meant Punda Wengi Duniani.

2.     Of course I like rainwater harvesting and so if you want to know of another opportunity, then please specialize in fitting gutters. The other day I saw some nice ones made of plastic.

3.     How about these bio-digesters that will deal with septic waste and digest it. You may not have known but the technology behind these digesters involves introducing live bacteria in some sealed enclosure. This will need a whole lesson, but if you think you can hack it, bring this technology to us and we will not need those humongous septics that we always construct; after all most councils care less about sewer systems.

4.     While at the above, you may figure out how the so called septics are emptied and if you can withstand the effluent, get a honey sucker (exhauster) and PAP you are in business. But kindly ensure that your honey sucker does not conveniently change to a water bowser during the dry season; otherwise we shall report you to NEMA.

5.     This guy who fixes cabro keeps telling me that he has to consider some levels on the ground and how water will flow naturally and so on. I think he makes some good money; after all he also sells paving slabs, culverts, road kerbs and channels amongst other storm water drainage materials. He also claims to manufacture them and he is filthy rich.

6.     There is this painter who is very good. I know that because he insists that painting is an art. He also insists that before he embarks on the actual work, he must get a theme and some inspiration. Then he knows something about blending colors and mixing them. I saw a house he painted somewhere in Runda and it is inspiring. And he really knows colors, you see I did not know that peach is a color (isn’t it a fruit?). How about claret? I is almost color blind so let him not dwell on them.

I can talk endlessly about real estate opportunities; after all it is my field. In the next post I might tell you something about Guangzhou. After all isn’t it an opportunity? Think about all the above and tell me whether we are not in a land full of opportunities.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Opportunities in Real Estate

Real estate opportunities are visible all over Kenya. Turn around where you are sitting; open you bright eyes and you’ll most likely see one. After all, real estate experts will confirm to you that housing units developed annually in Kenya average approximately 30,000 units and this is way below the demand of around 150,000 units. So, just go ahead and cater for the deficit. The other day we had a chat with a buddy of mine and we concluded that there is so much for all of us; we cannot exhaust opportunities in housing people.

How about speculators? Obviously when you hear rumours about some upcoming road, it is time to move in. But many people wait until there is tarmac for them to buy. That time, investors are busy taking their profits. Just like in the stocks, buy!
Just a few upcoming roads you may have heard about:
1.     Greater Eastern bypass ….it is past design stage so it is just a matter of sourcing funds and starting the project. I have not enquired from that KURA guy on the latest.
2.     LAPPSET corridor. Need I say more…Lamu, Isiolo, Meru and many other areas.
3.     There is this road from Ngong to Mai Mahiu via Suswa. Sometimes back I went to those sides, up to some 50kms inside from Ngong and I can assure, there is cheap land upto 50k per acre those sides. Try that and you will definitely enjoy massive appreciations. By the way, when the bulldozers land there, you will be surprised to find the price of an acre shooting to 500k.
4.     They are also upgrading the Syokimau Katani road…
5.     Meru and Nakuru by-passes. Did u know that Naks is the fastest growing town in Africa?
6.     Around Konza, the ICT city
7.     By the way, Kisumu is another hotspot serious need for houses.

The opportunities are rather too many. By the way, if you have any interest in these infrastructural developments, visit
And by the way in real estate we got so many other businesses that one can get into:
1.     You know sometimes am shocked at the kind of bills I receive from the Hardware guy every week. Massive opportunities here especially in places where developments are upcoming.
2.     Transport of Ndarugu stones, foundation stones, ballast, sand and what have you. By the way, did u know that for a single lorry of Ndarugu stones, the transport takes more than 50% of the entire cost?
3.     Contractor business?? Most large scale developers engage contractors
4.     Metal fabricators are also in huge demand…

I cannot exhaust the available opportunities in real estate, not in a single posting. If you are business minded, surely you can fit somewhere. More in the next post.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Waigwa, you are fired!

I hate to deliver this message but you have been a complete let down. When I recruited you I was convinced that you are the type of guy I needed. After the rigorous interviews, I settled on you because you seemed to know what you wanted in life. You clearly communicated in a clear and concise manner the role you were to play in my company. Look at you now, two years down the line and you look like a shadow of the exuberant young man I hired. Take this letter, hand over all company’s assets, records and files in your possession. Just hit the road and don’t you come back no more.

I hired Waigwa and spent a lot of time inducting him. Heck, I even took him to Naivasha in some posh hotel together with a few others as I attempted to sell them my vision. I took them through the history of my firm, how it grew from scratch with lots of hard work, strategy and serious money invested in it. He seemed to be very keen to perform his role and I grew some liking for him. I could count on him to deal with keeping labour records and paying casuals, procuring materials from hardware and dealing with my clients to an extent; after all delegation is a good option to take for any good manager.

That trust made me drop my guards off. This guy from some remote village from Nyeri was my right hand man and in all honesty I thought he was assisting me get closer to my vision. Crafty Waigwa must have realized that his master had gone to sleep. He could add a few names in the labour schedule (ghost workers) and his master would just pay without verifying. He could collude with the hardware guy and receive part deliveries while his master paid for the full amounts on the invoices.

One day, the master’s sixth sense was aroused. He planted some moles on the site and to his shock he was losing quite some money on labour alone. The clever master once demanded to verify some deliveries and of course there was a big difference between delivery notes and invoices. In other words Waigwa had been busted!

Then the master was called by one of his clients and to his utter shock he realized that the client had some critical information given to him by none other than Waigwa. Information the client clearly used to his advantage to corner the master. That was the stroke that broke the camel’s back. Waigwa had to be fired. He has a family to take care of but his dishonesty and lack of integrity ensured the master no option but to send him back to the hole he came from.

I am one of the most patient fellows around but business has taught me that some ruthlessness is necessary. I sometimes exercise the powers to fire.

These employees who do not buy into your dream are a representation of little foxes that destroy the vines in the vineyard. No wonder the wise man in the Bible taught us in Songs of Songs 2:15: "Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom".

Do you know what are the little foxes chewing into your dream? Better find out.

In the upcoming posts, we shall talk about some interesting business opportunities I have been seeing around. Kenya has serious opportunities.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Don't fall victim to your own Bullcrap

I am sure you have met those people who are all talk and no action. People with big plans but that always amount to building castles in the air. Dreaming grandiose dreams with no further actions.

Impress with actions not conversations. Endorse your business enthusiastically, yet tastefully. Avoid exaggerating truths and touting far reaching goals as certainties. In short, put up or shut up.

Felix Dennis once said “Once you believe that you are infallible, that success will automatically lead to more success, and that you have "got it made," reality will be sure to give you a rude wake-up call. Believing your own bullshit is always a perilous activity, but never more fatal than for the owner of a start-up venture.”

Quality, the guiding principle.

I respect Steve Jobs (RIP) for one major reason. He was so focused on product excellence as opposed to making money. He obviously made huge bucks in the end. It is extremely important in business to jealously protect the quality of your product or service and to always strive to improve it. What will you ever be known for if not for your quality product or service? Sunny Bindra once said and I totally concur with him that refined buyers spend a fortune looking for specialty coffees, rare wines, and advisers who offer a very personalized service. I know like men will stick to a specific Kinyozi for ages due to quality. I used to have one when I was staying in shags and you can imagine I only used to shave on those weekends that I found myself in shags till I identified one in town.

Know when to call it quits.

Contrary to popular belief, a smart captain does not go down with the ship. Don't go on a fool's errand for the sake of ego. Know when it's time to walk away. If your idea doesn't pan out, reflect on what went wrong and the mistakes that were made. Assess what you would have done differently. Determine how you will utilize these hard-learned lessons to better yourself and your future entrepreneurial endeavors. Failure is inevitable, but a true entrepreneur will prevail over adversity

This brings us to end of the lessons for start-ups. I hope somebody somewhere learnt something. More financial education on the way.