Diaspora Returnee:How three brothers turned Sh5,000 into one million dollars
When three brothers ventured into technology business, their friends and relatives laughed off the idea. But, they also shrugged off the negative voices, convinced it was time to test the waters of the technology world.
They were coming together after taking different careers abroad and the gut-feel attitude that their life was hinged on self-employment. Today, after three short years — a period within which most start-ups die in Kenya, according to many studies — the trio’s idea is looking up.
Olivine Technology is now worth more than Sh83 million (approximately $1 million) and employs 25 people “to fix the unemployment gap no matter how small it is,” says Charles Muigai, one of the three.
“Olivine Technology was started in 2010 with the aim of creating softwares that enable Small and Medium Enterprises (SMES) owners to monitor stock sales both in the office and in the field to prevent stock leakages,’’ said Mark Mwaura, who is the managing director.
But the genesis of their enterprise is a story of three brothers, a computer, Sh5,000 and a million-dollar idea. The group spent a lot of time on trial-and-error software and trying to market these products, a phase that was marked with tribulations and hurdles that threatened to frustrate the dream.
“We started off on a low note. As a beginner, introducing yourself to clients comes with a lot of challenges but we were unbowed,’’ added Mr Muigai.
“After months of no deals and offering complementary services, things started to open up,” he said during the interview.
The complimentaries worked, says the team that adds the first Sh500,000 sales in a month assured them they were not chasing a mirage. Buoyed by the success, they put a spirited fight and started working on a corporate identity that enhanced market penetration.
Their flagship software is ASIM (Automated Sales Inventory Management Solution) that is primarily designed for distributors and dealers in fast-moving goods. The product, which runs on Android phones and computers is networked to points of sale, giving dealers reports and a back-up.
With a fixed price of Sh3,000 per company and additional Sh10,000 for installation and training, one of ASIM’s strength is permanent audit trail. It relays stock transfers through phones, tablets and laptops.
“The number of clients who have come on board shows the strong commitment that people appreciate what we are doing,’’ said Joseph Karanja, a partner in charge of technical operations.
On the list of its clients are firms like Galaxy Mobile Accessories, PCEA Church and Pwani Cellular Services, a Safaricom dealer with businesses in Nairobi, Malindi and Mombasa. Olivine says it has more than 30 clients.
“We are from different professional backgrounds but have tried to blend and use the skills to expand our business,” said Mr Mwaura.
“We have a deep passion for success but many entrepreneurs do not understand that success depends on the quality you offer to the clients. We have keenly studied the market and understood what the market wants.’’
When they finally discuss their universities, the picture of a passion married to good training emerges. Mr Mwaura holds an MBA from Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, a top-rated trainer that features prominently on respected global B-School surveys.
The Financial Times’ Global Rankings show Wharton was leading in 2011; it took position two in 2010 while last year the business school was in third position.
He has a Master’s in Public Affairs degree from Indiana University and previously worked as a senior analyst at the Capital and Debt Units at the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget in Illinois, USA.
Charles Muigai, who heads Research and Development, is a graduate in Computer Science from Amherst College, Massachusetts in the US while Joseph Karanja, holds a Bachelor of Arts from Edith Cowan University.
‘Church Manager,’ one of their softwares “comes in handy in managing membership data, customises social networking platforms and conducts survey on financial transactions,’’ explained Mr Muigai.
Olivine has benefited from word-of-mouth marketing in form of referrals. Time is now ripe for expansion, says the techpreneurs eyeing more deals with financial institutions and adding already they have “numerous” such contracts with local banks on security applications.
Software developers are walking in tandem with the ICT explosion in Kenya where a few stars have been recognised in East Africa and across the globe in competitions run by multinationals.
Nairobi is also fast turning into an indisputable technology factory what with the recent opening of the IBM laboratory. Apps developers are coming up with tools targeting sectors like agriculture, education, and the financial services.
Olivine also mentors young IT enthusiasts and graduates from local universities, joining the established names like iHub in building a community of tech stars and bridge training gaps.
Mr Muigai wraps up the interview, by assuring the trainers, mentors and students that the sector is not saturated yet. “Kenya ICT has come of age, more inventions are coming up.’’