6 lessons you can learn from big businesses in Kenya


So many big businesses in Kenya have cropped up since the early 2000’s. Their success has motivated many people to start their own enterprises, and why not?

The advantage of living in a shithole country, like Kenya, is that there is social mobility. Many industries are far from maturity and that means winnings are there for the taking if you’re ambitious enough.

It’s not surprising then that Kenya has one of the strongest private sectors in Africa. The Africa Development Bank (AfDB), in a 2013 study, credits this to Kenya’s fairly diversified economy and a well educated population. A country like Ethiopia may be getting plaudits but they are not ready to play at this level.

There remains a lot of ‘best-practices’ that big businesses in Kenya need to incorporate in their operations. But any woman entrepreneur in the country should feel confident picking notes on how the best of the bunch got to that position.

1. Keroche Breweries

Lack of role models is one of the reasons many women in Kenya shy away from running businesses. There are not too many of them at the top but one stands out – Tabitha Karanja. For one, she doesn’t have a history of running down a parastatal as far as I know. She went up against one of the biggest businesses in Kenya, a male-dominated sector, Government frustration and came through. She also is a family woman.

Her words, “People thought it was not possible to break the monopoly of the existing company…because it has been there for 80 years. I was too determined and said no.”

2. Safaricom

Many people complain that Safaricom is too successful. Have they never heard of the proverb, ‘hating me won’t make you pretty’? On a serious note, the only way Kenya can compete in a globalized world is by having massive companies of its own. This worked for South Korea.

The reason for Safaricom’s success can be simplified to superior quality, compared to their competitors, across board. This is in line with the idea that small businesses should compete on quality to retain customers. Focus on quality leads to improved standards of products, better employees and new opportunities for yourself.

3. Equity Bank

Everybody knows how Equity Bank became the poster child of banking the unbanked in Kenya. The mainly did it through offering micro-loans. It’s one of the supporting arguments you can have that the low-end market in Kenya is as viable as any – many assume not-for-profit social enterprise is the only way to go.

This is especially important for women entrepreneur in retail. Most women entrepreneurs in Kenya are in retail, check the statistics. For this low profit margin industry, one can focus on sales volume (check our list of retail business ideas in Kenya). Walmart is as big as anyone can get in retail and their profit margin is 3%

4. Mobius Motors

By revenue, Mobius Motors is ranked among the big businesses in Kenya so don’t discredit this article. It’s founder saw a problem in 2009 and rolled out a vehicle in 2014. It was without non-essential parts, like windows, for its target market. Many criticized what they produced; baseless if you ask me.

A few weeks back we were wondering whether an entrepreneur should place emphasis on product or market. Mobius, here, looks like they focused on the product. Anyone starting a business can see that you can work from an acceptable minimum.

5. Nakumatt

Not all lessons are about winning. Some are about pitfalls you should avoid. Nakumatt went from 60 stores and close to sh.1 billion in profit to being assisted by its competitor. It would not be surprising if the honchos there believed in ‘Africa Rising‘ and that a consumer-class was emerging in the region (check the statistics guys, most of the income goes to food).

The lesson here is for entrepreneurs that survive the high mortality rate, of such businesses in Kenya, not to be blinded by their success. Small business owners can get, a little, passionate. Managing growth is necessary since it comes with need for greater competence. For instance, you’ll may end up managing more people and making more stressful decisions.

6. Nation Media Group

I haven’t bought a newspaper in half a decade, haha! The troubles of the traditional media industry are well publicized. They’ve had to reconfigure in response to citizen journalism, declining print sales, many more media outlets, etc.

What any smart woman entrepreneur can learn from their experience is that innovation is not a choice. Innovation doesn’t necessarily mean working on the product, there’s also the way work is done and how your team is organized. What I’m trying to say is let us get rid of the commute, if possible. Please.

Don’t leave without checking out our opportunity page for women and young people in Kenya. 2018 could actually be your year!


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Web Content and stuff. You can reach me you know: editor@herbusiness.co.ke, malitrobert@gmail.com

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