Julian Kyula, a senior preacher at The Purpose Center Church in Nairobi, once accumulated a debt of up to Sh. 100 million. Mr. Kyuna made this revelation during an interview which was published on YouTube by the Cleaning The Airwaves (CTA) platform.
Apart from being a pastor, Kyula is the founder and CEO of Nairobi-based global financial technology company Mobile Decisioning (MODE) that offers a wide array of micro-credit solutions of up to US$100, enabling more than 350 million mobile phone subscribers to access cash and airtime via mobile money. Users can also secure credit to settle utility bills, which MODE directly pays to the utility provider on behalf of the mobile subscriber.
Kyula says that the company today has operations in 26 countries globally and is in the process of launching in eight new markets. He adds that the motivation to start the business was to bring people to financial inclusion. “What I have discovered is the world is ready for innovation. It doesn’t know innovation as being African or European. As you start to have the credibility and [financial] muscle to grow, you really are the one that determines how far you want to go,” he says.
Julian Kyula previously lived and worked in the US for 11 years before relocating to Kenya in 2005. While in the US, he revealed that he tried his hand at business and failed. “I tried a real estate business and it flopped completely.” His first business in Kenya after returning from the US (a financial risk and debt management company) did very badly.
“When I started I realized that starting in the Kenyan market is very difficult, especially when it comes to capital and equity,” he said.
But within a year, Julian had taken his business to Uganda and Tanzania. He had also began to look for partners who could invest in his startup. Towards 2007, he made a major deal with a South African group for a merger. However, two weeks before he signed the deal, Kenya went into elections, which were followed by a period of post-election election violence.
By that time, Julian had taken two floors of space at Chris Kirubi’s International House building. These cost him Sh. 2.5 million per month. Julian had been assured by his prospective South African partners that there would be big business. They’d set up a call centre and bring on board American clients. “Once Kenya went into war, they freaked out and said that they’d hold on for six months for Kenya to cool off,” said Julian.
Worse, the world went into the 2008 recession. “Everything that could go wrong went wrong. The business I had was not sustaining us,” he says. With the recession, the stock price of the prospective South African company tanked badly. They lost their American contracts, call centres, and business. The group chairman at one point became suicidal. Merging with Julian became the last thing on their mind. This was a major blow for Julian who was expecting a very significant amount of money from the merger.
“All hell broke loose. The shareholders I had managed to bring on board started asking how I got to that point. Employees started threatening to take me to court because I wasn’t paying them. It was stressful,” he said.
By that time, Julian owed people Sh. 100 million. Among his creditors was Kirubi who he owed Sh. 40 million. “I went to Kirubi and told him what happened and how my merger deal had flopped. I told him that I couldn’t find money to pay him Sh. 40 million. By God’s grace, I think he looked at me like a son. As if he saw his younger self in me. He cut the debt to Sh. 20 million. I told him I couldn’t afford it. He cut it further to Sh. 10 million and finally to Sh. 1.2 million!” Julian narrated. His debt fell from Sh. 100 million to Sh. 60 million.
To settle this remaining debt, Kyula traded his stake in the company, restructured his business and renegotiated with his employees. “I spoke with my shareholders and said this is where the business is and this is the amount it is making. I offered to trade my shares and convinced my partners to do the same for one dollar per share. At the time, the business was making Sh. 60 million per year and my debt had fallen to about 40 million,” he said. “They agreed to trade in the shares and that’s how I solved the remaining debt,” he said.