Saturday, July 2, 2022

Joram Mwinamo: How I have managed to build two multi-million businesses in Kenya

Joram Mwinamo is the co-founder and chief executive officer of SNDBX (pronounced Sandbox, spelled without the vowels).

My business is a one stop shop that brings together all the professional services an entrepreneur needs into one location. The business currently has 33 different professional services. These include services in areas such as legal, accounting, HR, governance, tax.

When we were starting, we wanted to implement a unique idea that had not been done elsewhere. Our survey shows that there is no other enterprise doing the type of business we offer in the region, and probably in the continent.

We started this business in 2019. It was an offshoot of another strategy and entrepreneurship consulting business that has been in existence since 2004 known as WYLDE International. SNDBX is now the second business I’m building after exiting Wylde. I left Wylde in the hands of my co-director Chris Odongo and remain a shareholder and board member. SNDBX evolved out of the need to offer more than just strategy consulting.

I realized that our clients always needed more services than what we offered, and they had to travel to other offices or look for other consultants for these services. We managed to get a funder who invested USD 500,000.

As we scale up, we shall now be looking to rope in other financiers. Access to funding and strategic partners has helped SNDBX grow faster than the first business Wylde did.

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We are 2 years into the new business. We are yet to break-even, but we are firmly on that path. We set up just before the Covid pandemic began. A lot of our activities at the beginning were remote and it’s only now that people are beginning to come back to the office. Our business being a new idea, potential clients also take time to understand the concept and how it can help them, particularly large corporates.

So far, we have been fortunate to carry out a number of activities like the ongoing innovation challenge for Kenya Airways, the Big Baraza SME conference, and SME and startup linkage programs for both private and public sector organizations.

I was employed years ago when we started Wylde. In fact, for the first 3 years, Wylde was a side hustle. During that time, I was employed in Uganda and Norway. I went on 2 exchange programs courtesy of AIESEC before I came back and settled into running Wylde.

In my time as an entrepreneur, I have come to appreciate that entrepreneurship is not a joke. People shouldn’t jump into it lightly. You can generate a lot of resources if successful, but you can also fail just as easily.

Be very careful when signing contracts. I once entered into a long term contract with a supplier. The contract obliged us to carry on for 3 years. Down the line, it became problematic when our business realities changed and we could not keep up with what we had signed to. We ended up involving lawyers to renegotiate a way out of the contract and to have our new business needs reflected upon. This was very tedious.

Since then, I always take time to reflect on the potential effects of a contract and if I can keep the terms even if things don’t work out. There’s a time we also opened an office in Uganda prematurely. Trying to support it proved expensive on our time, money and energy. We eventually had to shut it down.

I would focus earlier on one line of business if I could start all over again. Before settling on strategy and entrepreneurship development, we had tried different types of services from corporate training, team building, consulting and even youth development. Whilst we had varied levels of success with each of them, it’s the focus on entrepreneurship that catapulted us to a new level and at the beginning, an uncontested space. This focus happened around 2010 and intensified by 2014. We spent a lot of resources trying to set up business divisions that just didn’t work out.

I have been saving and investing in stocks, land and T-bills. These have worked to different proportions, but I consider my businesses my primary investments. I am keen to invest in other innovative businesses with time.

There are a lot of opportunities in Kenya today despite the narrative that there are no jobs. You won’t sleep hungry if you seek to solve a problem people are willing to pay for. If you also focus on building unique solutions, then you are likely to build a company that can grow and scale. It takes time, it’s not an overnight thing, but for those who are passionate about what they do, it’s quite rewarding.

This profile feature on Joram Mwinamo was first published in the Saturday Magazine. The Saturday Magazine is a publication of the Nation Media Group.

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