Kyesubire Greigg is the lead storyteller at Akiko Stories, a young boutique communications firm.
What is your business all about?
We are a young boutique communications firm that helps people understand tell their story in a way that will be authentic and interesting to their public by understanding who they are, why they exist and what problem they answer for the community.
We are focused on telling the Afrikan story and documenting Afrika’s richness because no one else will and the rest of the world have a very warped perspective of who we are.
How did you start your business?
I have always been interested in business and started in the events industry as a casual for a friend. I started and built two event firms then moved to pursue my personal interest in communications.
As is my habit, I found a place to work part time and gain experience that helped to understand the industry and find my place. Many years ago I was a member of the Enablis Entrepreneurial network and one of the coaches said that if you cannot start your business with nothing it just might not be worth starting especially for service businesses.
I had worked from home since 2010 so I knew that I could build from scratch. So I stared with no money to my name but at least I had a desk and chair from the last business I did and I had a head full of ideas and a phone full of contacts.
The challenge however was clearly defining what we did so I took on different elements of work from different clients with different price ranges and used the return to figure out what worked and what didn’t. I am still refining everyday
How long did it take you to break even?
My story is different. This is not my first business and I learnt early that I must carry on the lessons from the previous ones. When I started this business last year, I was part of the SME Founders Association, where I had learnt the Profit First Methodology.
It simply means that you make profit with every sale, you must understand your profit margin and take it out first. It is very similar to Robert Kiyosaki’s idea of pay yourself first. So when we price, we have a small profit margin that is taken out of the account as soon as we are paid and before we pay bills and then allocated.
Even as the profit is usually a small amount, as ensure that we take it out, we are able to build in a buffer for when funds are low or there is limited work. This means that we have working capital accessible most of the time.
That has been a game changer. We are still in the start-up stage so break even is still a way away but we are not stuck completely unless there are long periods without payments.
Were you employed and, or in another line of work before you got into your current business?
I have spent my whole career in the SME space. I worked for a dentist, two small PR firms, a digital marketing agency, two event management firms and run four small businesses.
I learnt that working in different organizations gives you a different skill set that is needed to build a business. I learnt from working for others about planning, timelines, assignments, and the value of networks.
One thing that stood out for me is that I must learn from my failures and use them as stepping stones for the next season. This means that I must candidly question every action and response then use that as the fuel to rise and grow every day.
One of the greatest lessons I learnt was when to walk away. One of my biggest fears was failing or the business stagnating but in time I have realized that failure is a good thing.
It tells me what is working and what is not. It tells me what I am good at and where I need help. It teaches me to trust my choices and gives me the stepping stones for the next level.
What has been your biggest money mistake?
Wow!!! This is one hits hard. In the early days, I assumed that whatever money I had in the account was mind to spend. So for instance, an event is Kshs 1 million and client pays 60% deposit, we initially forgot that it wasn’t all our money.
We would pay ourselves, cover utilities and other needs and forget that most of the deposit was supplier money. Seeing that our management fee was usually sixteen percent, we should have only spent that amount but we did not calculate that.
One time we had several concurrent project going on and there were delays in the payments so we dipped into money for other projects to pay the daily running costs and the other payments were delayed. When time to pay suppliers deposits came, we had less than half of what was needed and as the contact person, I had to talk down angry suppliers.
I remember one particular guy who called me every name in the book and even threatened to pull his gear off site unless he had his cash in full within a certain time frame. In the end, one of my suppliers, called me out and reminded me that she knew I was a person of integrity and faith and this behaviour was unbecoming for me.
She said to me, “You will pay me every cent you owe me. Every Friday you will call me and tell me how much you have deposited into my account and then send me the deposit slip. If you don’t have money to pay me, you will still call me and tell me you don’t have. The bottom line is that you will…pay me not matter what.” We paid every supplier we owed money by paying as little as five hundred shillings every week and it gained their trust and favour for future work
I learnt several things from this season:
- When you are in trouble admit you are in trouble
- Create a plan to repay what you owe and commit to it
- Be accountable to someone you trust and keep your word
- Always know what money is coming in, what is yours, what is going out
- There is no shame in saying you don’t have money
- Always speak to your creditors honestly and most of them will understand.
Business is not for the faint hearted but I have learnt as a member of the SME Founders Association that business fail because of the inability of the founder to grow beyond themselves and increase their ability to access money, markets and mentorship. Find a place of accountability and support and watch how far you will go.
What has been your greatest business moment so far?
My greatest business moment was finding my current business. I was part of the Biblical Entrepreneurship training program with the Nehemiah Project Kenya and our class assignment to find a sector we would like to part of and write a business plan. The preparation for the final and presentation of the same showed me just how well I was prepared for this move.
If you were to start all over again, what are some of the things you’d do differently?
I would join a business support organization and be fully involved from the start. I would build reciprocal relationships with other businesses who do things I don’t enjoy.
Understand my financials in terms of what is mine, what is for government, what is for suppliers. I would find mentors and coaches from the start
Which method do you use to save money?
In the beginning, I used to use the envelop system our grandmothers used and then I graduated to collecting it in an account and then deciding what to do about it. After many failed attempts to save often I sought counsel.
A friend introduced me to the money market fund and I have found it most effective. I can make my payments from my phone and it takes time to access the funds so it makes me think twice before I draw.
It also helps that I know I am saving for working capital and so I think twice from taking out for personal use.
What has been your biggest lesson in business?
Time is your greatest currency. My biggest lesson in this space has been to help others and open doors for them because it comes back later. Some of the greatest opportunities I have had have been because a few years ago someone met me and we worked together well so when we meet again it is quite easy for them to help.
Do you know a young person who needs work but is unskilled? Can you help them? it takes simple things like conversations to help them shift their mindset from finding a job to finding work for their hand to do.
Understand that what you do today is the foundation of tomorrow and the bedrock for a decade from now so put in the work now and you will reap the benefits in TIME. Be patient because at the appointed time…it will ALL work out.
A smaller version of this feature on Kyesubire Greigg appeared in the Saturday Magazine. The Saturday Magazine is a publication of the Nation Media Group.