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Tommaso Menini: Only trust yourself when it comes to your money

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Tommaso Menini is the co-founder and managing director of African Agency for Arid Resources (AGAR), which deals with natural resources in arid and semi-arid lands in East Africa.

Biggest loss: Last year, I went into a business in the arid and semi-arid lands (ASAL) sector. Within two months of operation, my Kenyan business partner started misappropriating funds. It nearly cost me all the capital we had injected. But we rolled our sleeves, found new ways to handle our operating capital and survived the fall. This taught me that despite the referrals and assurances of trust, when it comes to money, you can only trust yourself. In my current firm, I have now put in place procedures and controlling tools where funds are always in control and accounted for, and under my direct supervision.

Secret to success: Success has its ingredients. Preparation, integrity, honesty, a healthy drive for competition, and building and leading your team from the front. I also believe that in order to win big, you must be ready to risk big. Unfortunately, my previous business partner embodied what I believe some Kenyans get wrong: a short-cut culture, preferring to focus on quick gains through questionable practices instead of working hard and following business principles for longer run.

Building a successful career: Passion is the backbone of my life and my work and if you don’t have passion in what you do, which leads into determination, sheer will, focus and vision, then you are doing the wrong thing. For example, my area of work revolves around areas where security can be volatile, infrastructures non-existent and within a sector which is completely unregulated. If you come in without a strong drive to carry on, succeed and translate your success into the benefits of the most vulnerable and remote communities, well, you won’t get anywhere. I got where I am because of my determination but that has also led to a lot more grey hair over the last few years!

My saving method: I follow monthly budgets. Every month, nearly a quarter of my earnings is put away for saving. Thanks to a strict budget and saving discipline, I have not had problems with lackluster saving habits.

My biggest milestone: My milestones are continuous. I believe that every time my business meets a need in the community is a milestone. On a personal level, though, I oversaw the implementation of a development initiative in the gum and resin sector in 2015 that provided income to communities in the ASAL regions for the first time through collection, grading, and selling of resources they never imagined could generate money for them.

If I could go back in time: I would launch my company alone from the word go. Perhaps picking a better partner would have saved me money in my previous business. But in retrospect, I should have started alone from the beginning. I have experienced better traction with AGAR in contrast to my previous partnership business. I would also focus more on exporting rather than concentrate on domestic buyers.

Entrepreneurship vs employment: Business schools might teach us to create rather than seek employment, but not everyone wants, or can be an entrepreneur. Nonetheless, I would advocate for entrepreneurship. This is the first time since I left employment and a partnership that I am fully dependent on my own company. I have had to put in more work than I previously did because my personal and employees’ survival is dependent on its success. It is not easy, but when you’re fully prepared for it, entrepreneurship is more fulfilling.

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