Mutie Mule is the co-founder of Solutech Limited, a field sales automation company with operations in Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, DRC Congo, Ethiopia and Zambia. He is the business Chief Operations Officer.
Solutech was started 7 years ago on 14th September 2014 by the four of us, Jinal Savla, Alexander Odhiambo, Rayyidh Arif Bayusuf and me. Alexander and Rayyidh were my classmates from the University of Nairobi, then we met Jinal in the business circles after graduating in 2013. We only raised Sh. 10,000 each, totalling Sh. 40,000 for registration of the company and lawyer fees.
Since Jinal was already an established entrepreneur, he accorded us an office space on debt and as such, we did not have upfront costs, other than salaries, which were infrequent in the first year of operations due to the few clients we had then.
We have since grown to work with renowned companies like Crown Paints PLC Kenya, KETEPA, Pwani Oil Products, Kenafric Industries, Capwell Industries, Trufoods Limited, Grain Industries Limited, Hasbah Kenya Limited, Pembe Zambia, Pepsico Ethiopia among others.
Solutech broke even in the third year. We were able to pay all the debt we had accrued in terms of office rent and accrued salaries. The venture had become self-sustainable by then, which necessitated bringing in more human resources to serve the growing client base.
Like most young bootstrapped businesses, Solutech faced its own share of challenges in the early days like inability to attract good talent because tech talent is expensive and without raising external funding, this can be a huge bottleneck on the onset.
As well, income flow was quite low because we had just a few clients, and could not grow the team as quickly as we would have wanted to.
We also encountered situations where foreign companies offering the same service would be more trusted and even paid extra more as potential clients could not believe that there is good talent in Kenya to deliver such services. Today, the business provides sales automation services to manufacturers, distributors and merchandising agencies.
Solutech SAT (Sales Automation Tool) automates van selling, merchandising and order processing from order generation to direct integration with ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) systems to delivery to retailers.
After graduating in August 2013, I was employed as a Software Engineer in a tech company. Unfortunately, the company ran out of funds and my role was terminated at the end of that year. My time at this company taught me two important lessons: prioritize sales and marketing from the onset, and not wait until your product is market fit to take it to the market.
If a tree falls in the forest and there was no one to see it fall, then probably it did not fall and this is the same when you are developing a product.
You might be developing a great product but if you do not take it to the market early on, no one will ever know what type of product you have and how good or bad it is.
I once took a loan to lend a friend who did not even bother to repay me. I am quite generous and the drawback with being a good person is not knowing when and where to draw the line with friends and money.
This taught me that you should not really be afraid to lose a friend if not lending money to them is the deal breaker. On the contrary, you are more likely to lose a friend if you lend them money than if you do not.
If I could start all over again, I would change only two things. Take extra consideration in hiring and price the product right from the onset. We brought in people whom we thought would be of great help to the company, but led us into wasting very crucial months circling over basic things which stagnated our growth.
Unfortunately, too, we did not have a good pricing strategy in the early days and we often found ourselves in situations where we had to pay extra for server resources with a limited retainer from clients. We made the switch to monthly licensing based on the number of users, just at the right time.
I have always stuck to saving before spending. Every month, I set aside what I need to save, then from what is left, I budget it on various expenses. I have found diversification to be key by keeping some savings for emergencies in a money market fund, buying bonds and accumulating stocks every other month.
In comparison to having a fixed deposit account in a bank as I did before, saving in a Sacco has been more beneficial due to the ability of getting affordable loans without having any collateral and receiving dividends on share capital at the end of the year.
I have also invested in long term assets like land, which is quite effective because land, especially if bought in a strategic place, can hardly depreciate.
I have learnt so much about life and money. But if I were to put it into one sentence it would be Albert Einstein’s words, “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.”
In as much as you use your talents here on earth to make money, use them to benefit others as well. Volunteer your time to a charity organisation like Rotary and give back to the community.
A version of this profile feature on Mutie Mule was also published in the Saturday Magazine. The Saturday Magazine is a publication of the Nation Media Group.