Robert Kamaru is the founder and chief executive officer at Escrow Kenya, a firm that provides e-commerce buyer-seller escrow services in Kenya.
Biggest milestone: This is getting a deal in the KCB Lions’ Den Season 4. I stepped into the den with hardly any numbers, as the business was still very young. I knew the ‘Lions’ would see potential in the idea but feared it would be a tough sell, given that the numbers were still very low. So, the offer by Kris Senanu came as a pleasant surprise. In a business that solves the problem of trust, it is ultimately important that the business itself is trustworthy.
My success recipe: Focusing on solving problems first before making money. Some businesses will start making you money immediately while others will take months to years before the money starts trickling in.
But customers and clients always want to know, “What’s in it for me?” If your sole reason to be in business is to make money, you’ll have a hard time selling value to prospective customers. You may also lack the patience that’s needed to build a successful business, when the money takes too long to start trickling in.
Biggest money mistake: Investing through emotions without undertaking proper due diligence. I can count at least 4 times I invested blindly in projects that seemed lucrative, simply because a friend or relative gave a great emotional pitch. I remember partnering with a friend to import unique items from China through Alibaba. I was to finance the procurement and marketing, while he would put his digital marketing skills to use and take care of order fulfillment.
Three months in, we had blown up the marketing budget with meager sales. It was then that we concluded that the product was never viable in the Kenyan market. I still have the dead stock to date, zero return on my investment, and hardly any loss on my friend’s end. Why? Because I invested blindly, without doing proper due diligence.
If I could start all over again: I’d do business formally and automate right from the onset. I had a very successful business spanning more than 5 years but a major competitor ventured into the industry and nearly kicked us out of business in a day. Why? Throughout the entire 5 years, I had been doing things informally—no business registration, no proper records, mixing personal finances with business money and having everything being run manually. This competitor came in with a system that runs things with hardly any human intervention and because they are a well-muscled corporate, they were able to capture the market in a flash.
My saving method: I break my saving strategies into three portions depending on the goal. For short-term goals expected to run within months to 2 years, I save in a fixed deposit account. For medium term goals expected to run for 2-5 years, I save in a SACCO. For long term goals expected to run for more than 5 years, I store value in assets such as land. I previously used to save in mobile money wallets and my regular bank account but found these methods to be highly ineffective. As long as the money was just a 4-digit pin away, I would always find myself taking care of “emergencies”.
Entrepreneurship versus employment: I would be tempted to say entrepreneurship because I have never been employed. However, I appreciate the fact that not everyone is cut for entrepreneurship, as equally, not everyone is cut for employment. Building a successful business is just as tough as building a successful career. It takes time, patience and determination. Whichever works for you, give it your all, and learn the ropes from peers and mentors.
Escrow Kenya: This feature on Robert Kamaru was first published in the Saturday Magazine.