Power Solution Services: Millicent Maina has not always been an entrepreneur. She had been employed for eight years until 2014. “I was an employee at Broadband Communications Limited and Setright Technologies, which were information technology firms located in Westlands, Nairobi County,” he says.
She loved her job. She believed she was cut out to excel in employment. And when put on a see-saw level, her salary would have toppled many. “By the time I quit employment, my salary was at Sh. 145,000 per month,” says Millicent, who is in her late thirties. From whichever angle Millicent looked at it, she was convinced that she had taken the right career path. “I believed that my career would culminate in a managerial corner office,” she says. But this was never to be. “I realized that my career was not progressing as smoothly as I might have wished. I also encountered too many barriers that derailed support for a signature project that I was running for my last employer,” she says.
The more barriers she encountered, the more she began to think about quitting employment. But she was afraid of making the jump. “I had never run my own business before and was not too sure where a jump would land me,” she says. She confided in her friend and colleague, Elizabeth Gichache, with whom she had worked with for her two employers. “She vindicated my idea for entrepreneurship. And as she helped me explore how to go about it, we both realized that we could form a partnership,” says Millicent. “We had been in the telecom industry long enough and dealt with Safaricom and Airtel Passive Power works which gave us the requisite experience to start a firm that could provide power solution services.”
Millicent embarked on a research to find the needs they could address in the market and found out that there was a huge gap in the delivery of quality services. “Not too many companies were offering the kind of standards that the advancement of technology demanded. From these findings, I felt that we had the potential and know-how to offer something different that would be the epitome of quality and efficiency in the market,” says Millicent. In 2014, Millicent and her partner created and incorporated their own business, Lymies Engineering Limited.
In August 2015, the business became fully operational. “Quitting our jobs for entrepreneurship was a leap of faith,” she says. Apparently, getting started was not easy. For a start, despite her Sh. 145,000 salary, Millicent did not have the adequate capital to cater for operational costs of the business. “We realized that we had ventured into a field where many projects would be capital intensive. This did not deter us, and to keep us going, we borrowed money from friends and family,” she says. There were many times that she doubted her resolution to switch from employment to entrepreneurship. “The first year was very difficult. I did not have the luxury of a monthly salary. I had to work out thoroughly, pitch the business to clients, and be extremely unique and efficient in the services we offered in order to score a high customer retention and referral rate,” she says.
That Lymies Engineering was owned and run by women became a hindrance to getting business. Millicent says that they had ventured into an industry that is dominated by men. Also, their firm had no track record to back up their qualifications, apart from their employment resume. “To overcome this, we made sure that every job we got, little or big, was professionally executed, and exceeded the customer’s expectation,” she said. This meant that some of their working hours were extended round the clock to enable them deliver on time, and build a reputation of reliability. “We kept on ploughing back all the income we got into the business until we broke even,” says Millicent.
The fear that she would return to employment and be confronted by the same issues that pushed her out became her driving force. But it was not enough to keep losses at bay. “We invested in a major project for continental entertainment company, Kwese, and ended up getting zero returns on our investment,” she says. “We also did an installation of a generator and solar water heater systems to a client who refused to pay.” They took these losses in their strides. “We were young in business and these losses were our wakeup call. They taught us a hard lesson on how to deal with both corporate and individual clients.”
Over the past three years that Millicent and her partner have been in entrepreneurship, they have not only managed to break-even but also increased their market share. “The business is now able to meet its costs of operations, and fund project facilitation and running costs,” she says. “We have also managed to enter into partnerships with a few companies who provide us with products on credit when a project is too capital intensive, and a lender who funds our major projects to ensure that our operational capital is not strained.” Within the next five years, Millicent is hoping that her business will be the leading power solutions engineering company in the Eastern Africa region. “The past three years have not been easy. But they have firmed our determination, given us something to smile about, and taught us valuable lessons on business that we could never have learned. There is no looking back now,” she says.
Power Solution Services Tips:
- Develop a tough skin: Resilience and patience are the key to molding a young business into a beacon of success.
- Individual clients are risky: Corporate customers will hardly trouble you with payments as individuals will. Be cautious when doing business with individuals.
- Value each customer: You cannot sustain yourself in business. But your customers will keep you running. Value them, regardless of whether they are big or small.