How we built our multi-million business empires

Deborah Mbula.

What you need to know:

  • The millionaire status is one that oftentimes proves too elusive to many.
  • Today, Money looks at a few millionaire entrepreneurs.

Every entrepreneur aspires to see his enterprise break even and turn him or her into a millionaire. However, the millionaire status is one that oftentimes proves too elusive to many.

In any case, aspersions are cast on those who attain the millionaire status, such that if it’s not through corruption then it is theft.

Yet, in the world of business, it is possible for an entrepreneur to invest, trade smart, and turn his business into a money mill.

Today, Money looks at a few of the many millionaire entrepreneurs who have ventured into the world business, made some losses on some bad days, but emerged as millionaires in the long run.

PAUL KINUTHIA, founder Interconsumer Products

Mr Kinuthia is the brains behind popular consumer products such as Nice & Lovely, All Time Sanitary Pads, Bouncy Baby Diapers, and Golden Shine shoe polish.

However, it was not until April 2013 when London listed cosmetics giant L’Oreal fully acquired Mr Kinuthia’s Nice & Lovely brand in a multi-billion shilling transaction that his footprints became noticeable.

The deal with L’Oreal, makers of SoftSheen-Carson, Dark and Lovely and Blue Ice Deodorant, was estimated to have been at over Sh1.5 billion.

Mr Kinuthia started his journey in 1995, making shampoos and conditioners from his makeshift apartment in Nairobi using a startup capital of Sh3,000.

Although local banks initially refused to fund his enterprise, Mr Kinuthia did not give up.

He ploughed back the little profit he made into the business.

Towards the early 2000, demand for his products began to rise, prompting him to move to a bigger room in downtown Nairobi where he grew his product range to include hair gels and pomades.

According to Forbes magazine, Mr Kinuthia’s products were largely shunned by local supermarkets and uptown cosmetics outlets.

Apparently, they were considered too native.

However, they were growing in popularity in the streets and the countryside due to their low pricing and effectiveness.

By early 2000s, Mr Kinuthia’s products were flying off the shelves in nearly all wholesale and retail shops in the country, fuelled by their street popularity.

DEBORAH MBULA, owner, Liberty Group

Ms Mbula began her journey to success in 1996 when she got a job with a Sh16,000 monthly salary.

For 12 years, she saved Sh2,000 every month. In 2008, she quit her job. 

“I used my savings to buy a Toyota 100 and started a taxi business. The business did not disappoint. I would take home between Sh60,000 and Sh90,000 net income per month.”

Her big break came after she won a Sh2.5 million monthly turnover tender from Chase Bank.

Two years into the business, she invited her friends. “I thought that entering into a partnership with my friends would speed the growth of the taxi business.”

Although her fleet grew to 30 cars, she opted to walk out of the partnership two years later.

By then, business had slowed down. In 2013, she took Sh3 million loan and started her current company, Liberty Group, which deals with civil engineering corporate events, tours and travel, and government supplies.

Last year, her company was the logistics partner for the CECAFA 2013 tournament.

HESHAN DE SILVA, 25-year-old founder of Vencap Kenya

Heshan De Silva is the founder of DSGVencap, a firm that invests in business ideas across 15 different sectors in East Africa.

These range from robotics, agribusiness to startups in the hospitality sector.

By end of 2013, his company had invested in 24,000 businesses with investments ranging between Sh900,000 and Sh1.8 million.

Mr De Silva began his journey eight years ago using Sh10,000 allowance from his parents to start a small insurance company.

He would then go on to make his first million after convincing a leading insurer to allow him to sell cover through travel tickets.

By the end of the year, the insurance business earned him Sh90 million.

Although Mr De Silva’s business may be valued at over Sh1 billion, he has been on both sides of the profit and loss coin.  

The biggest loss he suffered was Sh10 million, all in one day.

Interestingly, each of the three companies he has invested in has crossed Sh900 million valuation mark.

Mr De Silva’s stake in the firms he invests in is usually between 25 to 35 per cent, with a maximum shareholding of 40 per cent.

NDINDI NYORO, founder Afrisec Telecoms and Investax Capital Limited

Mr Nyoro started his journey in business in 1997 as a Standard Six pupil when he build a kiosk outside their home.

In high school, he would use his Sh200 pocket money to buy sweets and biscuits, which he would sell at a higher price. He would then lend the money to fellow students at a 50 per cent interest rate.

As an economics student in 2005 at Kenyatta University, Mr Nyoro opened a restaurant.

“The restaurant didn’t pick up. Business went from bad to worse and I closed down,” he says.

He was later employed as a stock broker, a job that set him on path to being a millionaire.

“I saw unexploited opportunities in stockbroking. Competition was not high and I decided to launch my own firm, StockBridge Securities.”

Operating from Thika, his startup faced challenges; it lacked reliable internet connection.

“It affected my business since transactions could not be carried on time.”

Interestingly, the challenge provided a new business opportunity.

“I decided to start an internet services provider company,” he says.

And in 2010, he founded Afrisec Telecoms. Within a few months, the firm earned him his first million.

Today, Mr Nyoro has pumped in over Sh4 million into the company that according to global ISPs valuing formula is worth over Sh50 million.

DANSON MUCHEMI, CEO Jambopay

This year alone, Mr Muchemi has signed deals worth Sh3 billion.

His IT firm is currently behind the Nairobi City County automated revenue collection system.

This is after the 31-year-old beat corporate giants such as Safaricom, Oracle, Equity Bank, Commercial Bank of Africa, Silicon Craft and IBM to clinch the contract.

When started his enterprise six years ago, Mr Muchemi rented a computer at Sh4,500 per month at a cyber café. Today, he has over 1,500 clients.

ERIC KINOTI, founder Shade Systems East Africa

Mr Kinoti’s entrepreneurial skills have seen him appear in the Business Daily’s Top 40 Under 40 twice.

His firm, Shade Systems East Africa makes luxury tents, bouncing castles, car park shades, branded gazebos, garden umbrellas, and marquees.

He started with Sh60,000 capital, which he’d raised from selling eggs, and a Sh2 million loan from a shylock.

He made his first millions after getting a Sh15 million military tender. By last year, his company was worth over Sh150 million, with Toyota Kenya, East Africa Breweries, Department of Defence and Bata Shoes Company among his top clients.

Although he was able to repay his shylock loan, he considers it as his biggest mistake since he paid Sh1 million interest.

He advises startups to always observe what successful entrepreneurs are doing and innovate.

“Observe and create unique structures that will not ape or limit you.”

Early this year, Mr Kinoti, 29, was named in the Forbes list of 30 Most Promising Young Entrepreneurs in Africa.

MICHAEL MACHARIA, founder Seven Seas Technologies

In 2012, Mr Macharia was featured in the Forbes Magazine list of Ten Young African Millionaires to Watch.

This followed his success at Seven Seas Technologies, one of the largest IT firms in East Africa.

According to Forbes, his company was estimated to be raking in Sh4.5 billion in annual sales.

Interestingly, Mr Macharia, 39, established the IT firm aged only 25 years.

So huge was the success of the firm that a majority stake buyout interest from Safaricom had been successfully pitched  in late 2011, only for the board of Safaricom to later opt for a two-year partnership.

The IT firm specializes in integrated business technology in the financial, telcom, real estate, and service industry.

Seven Seas Technology is currently planning to debut at the Nairobi Securities Exchange through an IPO in 2017.

His firm has over 130 employees and is currently working in partnership with Safaricom to angle for a bigger slice of the sprouting ICT projects in the county governments.

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