Sunday, December 4, 2022

Young Kenyan who rejected Harvard chance to become US tech millionaire

Yahoo Finance: The star-studded list of tech executives who dropped out of college on their way to the top features Facebook (FB) CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the late Apple (AAPL) CEO Steve Jobs, and former Microsoft (MSFT) CEO Bill Gates.

Drawing on these examples, advocates in Silicon Valley have questioned whether a college education makes sense for aspiring entrepreneurs. Even Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-ABRK-B) CEO Warren Buffett told Yahoo Finance two years ago that the expense and time that higher education demands may not be worth it “for everybody.”

A young Kenyan tech entrepreneur named Mubarak Muyika heeded their advice even with a scholarship in hand to Harvard University — and he doesn’t regret it.

Muyika, who launched an enterprise software startup at age 16 that served small businesses in East Africa, said he turned down Harvard because he thought the years in school would cause his company to fall behind competitors. Instead, he focused on raising capital and growing his business.

Applying to Harvard, Muyika received help from multimillionaire Kenyan business mogul Chris Kirubi, who suggested Muyika pursue the scholarship, he said.

Kenyan billionaire who owns only one pair of shoes

“It was something that I felt like was the best thing for me at the time,” Muyika says. “I was supported through the whole application process, and it was really an amazing experience.”

But meanwhile Muyika was building the startup HypeCentury, which provided affordable web design and digital capacity for small businesses. While the company enjoyed early success over his high school years, Muyika realized he would need to work full-time to keep pace with competitors looking to take advantage of the wave of East Africans expanding their use of the internet.

“I felt like some of my peers already had raised funds, already had employees, and they were already competing,” Muyika says. “And that it would take me five years to actually catch up with them.”

“I decided, ‘No, scrap this, I have to remain ahead,’” he says. “What I decided at the time is that I’m not going to think about this Harvard thing anymore. I just want to win fast.”

In 2013, Muyika launched a similar company called Zagace, which offers a suite of app-based products for business owners who want to take their operations online. Today, the venture counts customers in more than 60 countries and boasts $2 million in annual revenue, Muyika said.

Muyika, who grew up in the suburbs of Nairobi, spoke to Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer in an episode of “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” a weekly interview series with leaders in business, politics, and entertainment.

Speaking with Yahoo Finance, Mubarak Muyika, now 26, says he doesn’t regret the decision to forego a college education. The early years of growth will help him achieve his goal of providing access to enterprise software not just in Africa but around the world, he said.

“I actually never thought about it like that, because my thing about it was winning,” he says. “I wanted to win at all costs.”

“What we’ve been able to do is make enterprise software standard, which was something that was really not possible in the past.”

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