Successful entrepreneurship in Kenya: guides and inspirations

Photo by Clark Tibbs on Unsplash

Founding a company is easy but being successful depends on what you do forthwith. Many startup companies have become successful through years of sheer determination and motivation. Examples of successful business startups in Kenya include Marini Naturals by Michelle Ntalami, Twiga, and many others. Do you want to become a successful business founder in Kenya? Then read on to see whether you have what it takes.

In this article, I present a list of the most successful entrepreneurs in Kenya to inspire you. I then go on to guide you how you too can become one of the most successful entrepreneurs in Kenya.

Other examples of successful entrepreneurs in Kenya include

1. Lorna Rutto

Lorna Rutto is the founder of EcoPost which collects and recycles plastic waste, manufacturing fencing posts from the recycled matter. She is now one of the most successful female entrepreneurs in Kenya.

2. Eric Kinoti

Eric Kinoti is among the top list of business entrepreneurs in Kenya because of his Systems East Africa company. The firm makes more than $1 million in sales revenue yearly. He’s been featured twice in the Kenya’s Top 40 Under 40 and voted the most influential individual at the SOMA Awards as well as being listed in Forbes’ Top 30 Under 30.

3. Catherine Mahugu

Catherine Mahugu is the Soko co-founder, an e-commerce platform that has formulated a great foundation in Kenya. She is one of the few female self-made millionaires in Kenya.

4. Ronak Shah

Ronak Shah is the founder and CEO of Kronex Chemicals Ltd, unlike other successful entrepreneurs in Kenya, Shah keeps  a low profile and he is an Asian-Kenyan. His company low-cost household cleaning products.

5. Mike Muthiga

Mike Muthiga is one of the most successful Kenyan entrepreneurs. He is the CEO and founder of Fatboy Animations which produces 3D and 2D animations for film and commercials. He took online classes and watched tutorials to master his craft. He has worked for Safaricom, Telkom Orange and many more.

6. Danson Muchemi

Danson Muchemi is the founder of one of Kenya’s leading e-payment services, JamboPay, which also has some interests in web application and network securities. The firm received the Google Innovation Awards in Financial Services in 2013.

7. Joel Mwale

Joel Mwale is the founder of Sky Drop Enterprises whose business operations include purifying water for supply to the public. He is among the Kenyan entrepreneurs that started small and became successful. He is started at age 14 by establishing a borehole in his community.

8. Mike Maina

Mike Maina is the owner of Pelican Signs and Marble Arch hotel off Tom Mboya Rd. He also won Ksh.712 million court case against the government awarded by the Environment and Land Court in 2017.

9. Richard Evans

Richard Evans is the owner of various businesses including Hemmingway’s Aaamu, Hemmingway’s Karen, and Ol Seki Mara hotels.

10. Francis Mburu

Francis Mburu is a Kenyan entrepreneur and successful businessman who came to the limelight because of the Ruaraka land saga.

11. Chris Kirubi

CK was a popular business magnate who unfortunately passed on. He was the most popular business magnate in Kenya with investment most sectors in Kenya.

12. Peter Munga

Peter Munga is Equity Bank’s founder Peter Munga, one of Kenya’s largest commercial banks. He is currently the most influential personalities in the Kenyan banking sector.

13. George Wachiuri

Optiven Limited was founded by George Wachiuri. When he was getting started he lost five million Kenya shillings after buying land that turned out to be a scam. Optiven is one of the most popular brands in the real estate in Kenya.

14. Rajiv Mehta

Tangerine Investments was founded by Rajiv Mehta. The company focuses on outdoor advertisements by utilizing public service vehicles (PSVs), street poles and litter bins to advertise.

15. Tabitha Karanja

Tabitha Karanja is the founder of Keroche Breweries. She is currently the woman representative of Nakuru County. She is arguably one of the greatest female entrepreneurs in Kenya.

16. Ruth Mwanzia

Koola Waters founder, Ruth Mwanzia grew up in a semi-arid region in Kitui, which influenced her choice of business venture. She is now one of the wealthiest people in Kenya and part of the successful entrepreneurs in Kenya.

17. S.K Macharia

Media industry mogul and owner of Royal Media Services is S.K Macharia. He has many ventures including Rossy Tissues. He has also invested in agriculture, real estate, banking and many more.

18. Mike Macharia

Mike Macharia founded Seven Seas Technologies at only 25. Currently the company is operating in eight African nations, which makes him one of the most successful Kenyan entrepreneurs.

19. June Syowia

June Syowia is the founder of and CEO of Beiless Group, an advertising and marketing agency focusing on digital storytelling and experiential marketing.

20. Michelle Ntalami

The founder of Marini Naturals.

6 characteristics of successful business founders and entrepreneurs

Starting your own business brings with it a whole range of big and small challenges. Many entrepreneurs are of course aware of this. Nevertheless, it is rarely questioned whether one’s own personality actually suits self-employment .

It can help to look for a successful role model and orient yourself towards it. Or you can choose the path of classic start-up advice – for example through a suitably trained coach . This is sometimes even subsidized by the state.

Although every founder always brings his or her individual personality to his company, there are frequent overlaps in some points – these typical characteristics of successful entrepreneurs in Kenya:

  1. You have resilience.

    Starting a business is not a child’s birthday. A number of obstacles and setbacks await the budding entrepreneurs, both professionally and privately. It throws some people off course. But not others. And these often have a high degree of so-called resilience . Resilient people are resistant, get up purified even after severe blows of fate and do not let themselves be defeated without doubting themselves.

  2. You are willing to take a risk.

    In order to implement your idea, it is necessary to take risks again and again. Of course, that doesn’t mean acting thoughtlessly. But successful entrepreneurs in Kenya can take a risk, to make an investment in order to advance their company in the long term. Anyone who is not willing to take risks will sooner or later stand in their own way.

  3. You have the drive required.

    A company does not become successful by itself. In the first phase in particular, it is therefore up to the founder or entrepreneurs alone to do everything for success. That means hard work, long night shifts and no weekends. Two thirds of the founders start without employees, so every task that comes up gets stuck with them. Anyone who thinks that being self-employed would give them more free time is seriously mistaken. Especially the first time usually involves countless hours of overtime.

  4. You have the necessary trust.

    Trust is essential for successful entrepreneurs in Kenya – and there are several things: You need trust in yourself, in your own idea and also trust in the professional environment. Ultimately, investors have to be found, customer relationships built up and, in the further course of the process, the first employees also have to be found. The core, however, is trust in yourself: those who do not believe in their own success will usually not achieve it.

  5. You are adaptable.

    The advantage of a still small and young company is its adaptability . Many a business plan changes enormously in the first six months. After all, markets also change quickly, especially new ones. In fact, “survival of the fittest” means that not the strongest but the most adaptable companies and entrepreneurs survive. Anyone who appears inflexible right from the start may not only miss great opportunities to further develop their idea, but also block their success.

  6. You bring passion with you.

    In any case, anyone who decides to become a founder needs passion for what they do. This does not mean that you are happy about every task. But it stands for being happy with what you do. If this passion and intrinsic motivation is missing , first your own satisfaction will decrease, then your performance. And at some point such entrepreneurs throw everything away in frustration.

Good reasons for founding a company in Kenya

Whenever the boss is standing in front of his desk yelling, a colleague is constantly annoying and a customer comes around the corner with the seventeenth special request, the desire to turn his back on the shop and start his own business grows. However, these flight motives are rarely good reasons to found a company .

As with job changes, start-up consultants never advise a “away from” motivation, but always a “toward ” one . In other words: It is not frustration that should drive you to found a company, but your vision. Accordingly, there can be good reasons for starting a business…

  • market niche

    You have an idea for a product or service that satisfies a great need of the people. It’s a solution that doesn’t exist yet. But don’t just think of any great technical innovations on the Internet. This can also be an original bar concept at your place of residence.

  • self-realization

    Your previous job isn’t getting you any further: You won’t reach your limits – you will be limited. And therefore stay below your possibilities. Self-employment can therefore help you to use and develop your (many) talents in the best possible way. And last but not least, there is this idea that you have been burning for a long time and that should finally become reality.

  • partner

    Speaking of the idea: You and your friends have been thinking about this special business idea for a long time. The business plan is in place – and together they form the perfect team. In short: you are needed. This is also a good reason to start a business. Provided that you really all agree on the distribution of roles and complement each other.

Founder advice for Kenyans: Start with honest self-reflection

There are people who can work best in an environment with colleagues, clear guidelines and a – good – boss. That’s neither good nor bad, it’s just a type thing . So before you embark on self-employment, you should reflect critically and honestly on your motivation and goals.

Therefore, we have 15 questions for you that can support you in your reflection and preparation:

  1. Why do you want to start your own business?
    One of the most important questions of all. We’ve already mentioned it: frustration is clearly the wrong motivation. However, if you follow your passion and want to make a long-held dream come true, this can be the right drive.
  2. Are you willing to work more than 40 hours a week?
    Self-employment means – especially in the first few months and years – a significantly higher amount of work than in a salaried job. You work yourself and constantly , as the saying goes. This is not necessarily a negative, you just need to be aware of it.
  3. Do you know your worth?
    As a self-employed person, you must be able to convincingly answer the question about the price of your work. This is only possible if you are aware of your worth.
  4. Do you make new contacts easily?
    Of course, in order to attract new customers, you need to make the appropriate contacts. You should find it easy to approach people and build relationships.
  5. Do you have a stable network?
    One of the basic requirements for acquiring customers is your network. It is not about the sheer number of your contacts, rather the quality and influence of the individual contacts play an important role.
  6. Are you good with bookkeeping?
    Even if one or the other hears it reluctantly: As a self-employed person, you have to do your bookkeeping yourself. You don’t have to love it, but you should have the basic knowledge.
  7. Can you meet deadlines?
    In self-employment there is no boss who stands behind you and points out approaching deadlines . You have to ensure compliance yourself.
  8. Do you have your finances under control?
    This question is less about accounting and more about the way of life: Can you cut back and stay afloat for months with little order intake? Do you find it difficult to save and scrimp or are you willing to accept it for your self-employment?
  9. Do you have equity?
    This not only means the start-up capital for founding your company, but also a financial buffer for bad times. You should be able to get by with little or no income for two to three months. Some customers will also take their time paying the bill.
  10. Do you set limits?
    Admittedly, this question is formulated in a somewhat general way, but setting limits is extremely important for the self-employed in many areas. This starts with payment deadlines and ends with the agreed services within the framework of a project.
  11. Are you 110 percent convinced of your work?
    That may sound like an exaggeration, but if you have even the slightest doubt about your services, your customer will notice and either lower your price – or go straight to the competition.
  12. Do you have your time management under control?
    Especially if you enjoy your work, there is a great danger of getting lost in too many hours of work and of exploiting and overburdening yourself. Even the self-employed should treat themselves to a day off and defend it consistently against inquiries and appointments.
  13. Do you have the support of those around you?
    Without the support of your friends and family, self-employment becomes an enormously difficult project. Not only do you lose important network partners and multipliers as a result, but you also lack the necessary understanding of long working days and unusual working hours.
  14. Do you have a vision?
    Concrete plans for the development of your independent work and your offers are necessary. At least as important is a vision that you are working towards as a long-term goal.
  15. Are you willing to learn and flexible?
    You know the saying “No plan survives the first contact with reality” ? It also applies to self-employment: You can only be successful in the long term if you learn to further develop your skills and react flexibly to changes.

The 3 biggest mental hurdles for Kenyan entrepreneurs

If you want to become self-employed, you have to overcome a whole range of difficulties and various hurdles : develop business models, clarify financing, acquire customers, hire employees, set up offices, generate income… Lots to do.

However, less attention is paid to the mental hurdles in advance , although many entrepreneurs usually struggle with them. That’s why we’ll finally show you the biggest mental hurdles you have to deal with as a founder and show you how you can overcome them…

  1. The feeling of insecurity

    Just the thought of self-employment is enough for some to evoke a strong sense of insecurity . The bad news: There are several reasons to be unsure. The positive side: Uncertainty is not inherently bad and can also be managed.

    will i succeed Does the work pay off? Am I financially okay? How do I manage to win customers? There are many points that can cause uncertainty among entrepreneurs in Kenya, but at the same time they also draw attention. Possible risks are recognized early and errors are corrected before they can develop worse effects. Perceive uncertainty as an early warning system without letting it weigh you down.

    If the feeling shows up in advance and becomes too strong, good preparation will help above all . Research what market you will be in, what the competition looks like and where you can position yourself most promisingly.

  2. The balance to private life

    Once in founder mode, everything else quickly becomes irrelevant . You are fully committed to your goal, you are focused on it from morning to night and ignore everything else.

    Although such an attitude shows your motivation and passion , problems are usually not long in coming. Anyone who wants too much at once, works endless overtime and only knows the word break from the dictionary is damaging to their health and social contacts .

    Even if you are successful right from the start and want to prove to all doubters that you can do it, you should still take time to balance and relax. You may not be aware of it, but your family and friends will quickly notice when you are out of balance. Despite a lot of tasks, stick to the end of the day and think of yourself.

  3. The responsibility for everything

    Founder or not – everyone bears responsibility in certain areas. Self-employment, however, takes this to another level. Every decision contributes to the success or failure of your own business and the more you progress, the greater the responsibility.

    In the beginning you are responsible for yourself and your family, but at some point there will be employees whose salary you want to pay on time or business partners with whom you work.

    The fear of so much responsibility can downright paralyze you, so always be aware: mistakes can happen, but there is always a way back .