Success lessons from conversations with 5 Kenyan Billionaires

July 10, 2020

Here at Un.thinkable, we get to meet with some of the most amazing people this country has to offer, in business, society and government. This is possible through Un.thinkable roast and Un.thinkable Masterclass, where we organise meet-ups for business leaders looking to solve 10X growth challenges for impact and profit.

A disclaimer; the people below have succeeded in building multi-billion shilling businesses, and our estimation of their net worth is based on publicly available information of their shareholding in these businesses. That notwithstanding, there is no question of their success, and their insights have been quite invaluable to our members. I hope they are to you too. Here goes.

Peter Nduati: Do not place your life Value on material things

Peter was one of the earliest guests at Un.thinkable, back when I used to organise our meet ups at a smoky bar and grill somewhere on Ngong road. He was also the richest guest at the time. So you can imagine how nervous I was hosting him, and my biggest fear (I had never met him before) was that he would show up, scoff at the venue, and turn around and leave. Not only did he not leave, he was so excited by the place he thanked me for introducing him to a new hang-out joint! In his affable, down-to-earth and vulnerable style, he gave us the story of his rise, and fall, and rise again in business. How he had to sell off his house when things got really thick, among other stories. He concluded his narrative saying that with all the success he has enjoyed, his biggest life achievement is how his children turn out, a topic he spoke of with great passion. He emphasised the importance of placing your live value on meaningful things that last, as opposed to material things that could come and go in a whiff. We weren’t recording our sessions at the time, but I think you should watch this Video of his talk at Centonomy.

Ken Njoroge: Know your worth, and be unapologetic about it

Ken was a guest at Un.thinkable just after his company had raised Kshs 4.75 Billion in a round of capital investment, the largest in Africa by a Fintech at the time. As a tech person myself, Ken had just become a god in my eyes. I couldn’t wait to hear all about the big bucks he had just made. But his back story was even more interesting. When he started his first business, 3Mice over 20 years back, they would go into client Pitches and tell the clients unequivocally, that they were the most expensive web development firm out there. They were kicked out of many a boardroom. Eventually, companies that were looking for the best started streaming in, and he and his Co-founders ended up building the most successful web company at the time. I remember back in Campus, the dream for my and my Classmates was to get an internship at 3Mice. I applied and failed to get in. I have had the pleasure of interacting with Ken several times, both personally and in business, and I can attest that he still sticks to this philosophy to date.

Check out this story and more of Ken Njoroge on the Un.thinkable blog.

Lee Karuri: Start local, but think global

Meeting Lee was humbling to say the least. A soft spoken man with a seemingly permanent smile, when Lee tells the story of his multi-billion real estate empire, starting with doing architectural models for a pittance in his campus room, you can’t help but imagine yourself next to a fire on a fine evening, just listening to his stories. What impressed upon me with Lee was the sheer basics of his life lessons, which we have tried to do justice on the Un.thinkable blog. Very early on, when he was still working on building his Architectural firm, his partners and him already had their sights on regional business, and started taking bus rides to Uganda for business meetings and driving back the same night because they couldn’t afford hotel stays. But that early regional mindset eventually made them the largest Architectural firm in East Africa.

Julian Kyula: Chase your dreams, but stay grounded

I had wanted to host Julian for quite a while as I had been an admirer of his for years and had followed the story of MODE, his entrepreneurial venture that held patents in tens of countries and is probably Africa’s real Unicorn if it was given its true value. But I might be biased. When Julian came to Un.thinkable, he introduced himself as a Pastor, and gave a disclaimer that as he talks about his entrepreneurship journey we shouldn’t be surprised if he starts preaching. After the laughter died down, he settled into his story, one that I beat myself everyday for not recording. Julian credits his Christian background for how far he has come, and says that combining his virtues with his business acumen could be one of, if not the main reason for his entrepreneurial success. It’s very easy to lose yourself when the money starts trickling in, and being very clear on what your centre is from the beginning is critical as your pursue success.

Kamal Budhabatti: Follow your heart, it will rarely deceive you

Did you know that Craft Silicon is the second largest money transfer provider in Kenya after Safaricom? No? Well, that’s because Kamal doesn’t brag about it. He is quite happy being the backbone of most of the money moving between different bank accounts in the country. Something else you might not know is that Kamal started his company after being let go from his employment when they found out he was building this little piece of software on the side. He believed in it so much that he spent a year in near starvation trying to sell it to different micro-finance institutions. All he needed was one chance, and when he finally got it, he never looked back. His parting shot, when you are confused about whether to go with your heart, or your head, go with your heart.

We continue to host amazing conversations every month at Un.thinkable meet-ups. Are you a visionary leader navigating with a 10X growth challenge? Then you should join us. You can register here.

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