Pancras Karema is the chief executive officer and co-founder of Expeditions Maasai Safaris Ltd, a tours and travel firm based in Nairobi.
Why a tours and travel business? What inspired you to start it?
This business was birthed from the childhood experiences that my childhood friend Lawrence Ndegea and I had while growing up in Nanyuki. I remember that as students at Ontilili Boys High School that is located inside Mt. Kenya Forest, we used to sneak into the forest to meet up and admire tourists visiting the forest.
We found their vehicle entourages incredible and dreamt of one day starting a company that would have just as many vehicles ferrying tourists in and out of Mt. Kenya. This passion for tourism inspired me to pursue a degree in tourism at the University of Nairobi.
I was firmly behind the wheel to my dream of joining the tourism sector. At the university, Lawrence and I started organizing free trips to various tourist sites for our fellow students. After graduating, we decided to formalize our operations and start this tours and travel business.
Was it had to get started?
As shocking as it might sound, we did not have money to start Expeditions Maasai Safaris. We could plan an adventure, receive advance payments, and use the money to hire transport and pay for other services.
Since we had established a good name from our campus days and aggressively marketed through our Facebook page, we had returning customers who kept bringing their friends and colleagues for more adventure.
We have since grown into a respected travel company with a team of young professionals, 3 branches and a fleet of executive tour buses that we also hire out to fellow tour operators at discounted rates.
How did you make it as a young Kenyan?
I believe I was fortunate enough to discover what I wanted to do at a very early age. This does not mean that knowing what you want to do is all there is to making it.
I am a believer in being consistent, focusing on the main dream, and giving it my all. It has taken dedication and patience to be where we are today and we still have a long way to go.
What challenges have you faced in your journey?
Starting out, we relied heavily on third party suppliers for transport services and this sometimes proved very unreliable. They could go mute on the day of departure scattering our plans and soiling our business name. Now that we have our own fleet of buses, we have been careful not to payback for what we went through.
Do you have any regrets up your sleeve?
I will not call them regrets but I wish we had formalized our business earlier; probably as early as when we were joining campus.
We have discovered that every experience really counts and refines your outlook and tactics in entrepreneurship. The earlier you try something, the earlier you fail, and the earlier you learn about better and cheaper ways of getting positive results.
What advice would you give to Kenyan youth dreaming of starting businesses?
Identify the gap in the market, and get better at solving the problems while remaining consistent. You cannot be a master of all. Constantly re-evaluate what your skills are best optimized for, and put in the work to get the results you want.
Secondly, if you fail to innovate constantly, your competition will have you for lunch. My latest innovation involves holidays on installments, a program that is allowing Kenyans looking to go on holiday to book and pay on installments.
Is success the overnight affair it is made out to be among the youth?
Rome was never built overnight. It takes determination, undying passion and resilience for entrepreneurship to pay off before success trickles in.
Budding entrepreneurs should network widely and take cue from those who have done it before. Importantly, they should learn to serve with their all because revenue will only come in when customers are satisfied with their services and goods.
Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
I want to steer this business into our next growth and expansion stage, which involves opening branches in almost every major town in the country.
My target is to enable and facilitate every household to enjoy affordable holiday travels no matter their level of income.
What makes a good business idea?
A business idea is only as good as the market it hopes to target. Aside from looking at the world from a different set of eyes, you also need to establish a solution that draws in your target audience. Many people have exceptional business ideas, but forget to come up with a bulletproof execution plan.
To run a successful business is to encounter challenges ranging from finding suitable employees to accepting rejections from clients with grace. Without a plan, it’s impossible to survive in a turbulent marketplace.
Tell us about financial management in business
I have had to master the skill of budgeting to properly manage capital allocation. Adhering to a strict budget allowed me to stay in control of the business’ finances in 2020. I had to make it a habit to project the company’s monthly spending to avoid a total shutdown of the business because of insufficient funds.
Most entrepreneurs struggle with discipline, and what has worked for me is to focus only on the business’ core expenses and to press pause on expenditures that don’t fit the budget.