What you need to know:
- A short while after launching his company, Fred Kithinzi was forced to fire hi only two employees.
- The company, Belva Digital, now on its eight year, is currently worth over Sh100 million and has a workforce of 32 employees.
After working for tech giants Google and IBM for a number of years after graduating from university, Fred Kithinzi, 33, was ready to branch out on his own.
The exposure provided by the two firms opened up his eyes to the existing gap in digital marketing in the Kenyan market, which he then set out to fill, founding Belva Digital, a marketing technology company that saw him named one of the Top 25 Men in Digital by SOMA Awards in 2020 and by Business Daily’s Top 40 under 40 Men in Kenya in 2019. Before this, the company was listed by KPMG in its Top 100 leading SMEs.
Belva Digital’s previous and current client-base includes established brands such as the Co-operative Bank of Kenya, Microsoft, L’oreal, Ecobank, UAP-Old Mutual, Jubilee Insurance and Ketepa.
“My middle name is Kimanthi, which means hunter, where I come from, someone who pursues opportunities relentlessly. That is what I think of myself. I started Belva Digital with about Sh100,000 - we have bootstrapped our way up,” he told Powering SMEs.
His business is currently worth over Sh100 million.
“I play a critical role in defining and driving strategic, operational and organisational improvements across the company. I lead a high-profile, high-impact team working on a range of critical projects - from growth strategies to execution, measurement and product development - for our clients in Kenya and beyond,” he says of what his day-today job entails.
Kithinzi is a degree holder in BSc Computer Science, but attending lectures was not the only thing he was doing.
Important entrepreneurial lesson
“I started dabbling with business while still at university, from trading stocks in the NSE with my university fees, I started with the Safaricom IPO, to opening a small printing shop on campus in 2008,” he says, adding that he grew up wanting to achieve more, watching his mother, a teacher, struggle to pay school fees motivated him to want to succeed.
Being the firstborn in a family of three, Kithinzi joined Mang’u High School with a dream of becoming a pilot, but he quickly found his passion in computers, and after completing high school, he joined Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology to study Computer Science. The rest, as they say, is history.
His foray into the world of business was not without challenges. He recounts how he was forced to lay off his only two employees when he made the mistake of pegging his company’s future on a single client account, which he lost.
He learned an important entrepreneurial lesson then that helped him stay the course as he grew business. His patience and willingness to adapt helped him land a major client, which he says was the breakthrough his business needed.
“I received a call from Microsoft, who needed a digital campaign targeting SMEs in East Africa. I had no contact at Microsoft, so that phone call stood as vindication of the work we had done for the two years since I began to run the business,” Kithinzi says.
The company has continued to experience growth since, and for its excellence, has bagged awards such as the Digital Media Awards and the Digital Tech Excellence Awards. Belva Digital, now on its eighth year of operation, has a workforce of 32 employees, with consultants in markets such as Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, Liberia, DRC, and Zambia.
“Some of the key highlights so far is Belva Digital making it into the prestigious KPMG Top 100 mid-size company list in our fifth year of operation, and keeping our lights on and doors open despite the Covid-19 pandemic,” he says.
Kithinzi is motivated by the endless possibilities that come with the internet economy, estimated to contribute Sh18 trillion to Africa’s economy by 2025.
“I envision the immense value we can create through innovation, the expansive jobs we can open up and the significance in changing Africa’s narrative from emerging to competing economies,” he says.
“The decisions I make at this point determine if we hit or miss our growth goals. We are now more conscious and intentional about the people we hire, the work culture and the work environment. I am in the middle of structuring a Board of Advisors. We are also lucky to be in the right industry (internet) and the pandemic is going to create greater good in the long term for our growth,” he adds.
Whereas the government is the largest spender economic wise, Kithinzi says that it still is hard to trade with it due to unfavourable conditions such as payment terms and corruption. This is an area he hopes they can tap into in the coming years.
“Recently, I have been spending some time engaging young and promising entrepreneurs through different forums such as Young Kenyans in Technology and the Rotaract Club, mostly offering titbits on business survival and growth,” he says.
Kithinzi’s aspiration is to build a pan-African business entity that will impact the community, a company that will outlive him, meanwhile, his goal is to have his company listed in the NSE by 2030.