Thursday, May 30, 2013

Travel enthusiasts build multi-million shilling company from their hobby

By EDITH FORTUNATE Posted Thursday, January 31, 2013 at 02:00

Source: Daily Nation, Money Feature

Six years ago, a couple joined the social media craze, creating a network of friends, poking others, and even sharing pictures of the captivating places they had visited.

Being young, Simon Kabu and his wife Sarah took up sightseeing to quench their desire for adventure.

The couple’s travels got even more exciting in 2008 when they started inviting friends to join them on their excursions.

“Every time we organized something, it would turn out so well that our friends decided to leave the planning to us whenever there was an event or getaway,” Mr Kabu, 37, told Money.

Soon, their fascinating wild tours slated for holidays like Valentine’s Day, Easter, and Christmas attracted many friends.

In 2008, the group started sharing its experiences on the Kazi Afrika blog.

“Our passion for traveling enabled us get a lot of fans, many of whom opted to pay for our services and I remember sitting down with my wife and asking ourselves, why not? This seems to be a good business venture,” says the former marketing executive

They decided to promote domestic tourism through the blog, first because their services were cheap after the 2007/08 post-election violence and also as an effort to boost the country’s tourism industry, which had taken a dip following the troubles.

Their efforts gave birth to Bonfire Adventures and Events Limited, which is run by a team of 15 tourism professionals who are knowledgeable about the Kenyan tour and travel industry.

Mr Kabu says the team is committed to ensuring personalized and impeccable services to customers.

“We used social media to market ourselves and our pages on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+, where we had our first (virtual) office before getting space at a friend’s premises. Our start-up capital was less than Sh20,000,” says Mr Kabu.

The initial capital was used to buy a desk, a chair, and a telephone which was used for marketing on social media platforms.

“The advantage we had was that we went into an untapped market and were dealing with locals. Many people were surprised that they could actually enjoy sceneries in the country at an affordable rate.”

The couple’s aim at the time was to change the perception that only foreign tourists can tour the country and enjoy its beauty.

“But before we set up Bonfire, we had to experience every hotel and all the major tourist attraction sites in Kenya before selling them to our clients. We also visit at least five countries in one year to discover and experience new holiday destinations for our clients.

“Being strong believers of happy marriages, we are passionate about romantic getaways, honeymoon packages, wedding anniversaries, unique engagement proposals, and glamorous wedding destinations. We usually go out of our way to ensure that couples get experiences that are out of this world to spice up their marriages,” he says.

Mr Kabu says marriage packages are the most popular because of their uniqueness.

“What also helped us gain popularity were our clients’ referrals. They would tell their friends about their experiences and people came in droves. It is amazing that we have now grown to become a big corporate.”

He adds that it is rewarding to offer good services, especially when building a new business.

“We like bringing people from different cultures and backgrounds together because travel has the power to unite and improve people’s understanding of each other. It also has great potential to improve the economic welfare of the world’s poorest populations by providing new sources of income.”

The company ensures that Kenyans are on the move touring different areas and during low season, it gets an average of 550 clients a month. During high season, the numbers soar.

Bonfire employs a large staff and its monthly turnover ranges between Sh5 million and Sh10 million, depending on the season.

The company’s short-term goal, Mr Kabu says, is to ensure that it is the most preferred travel company.

“Making Kenyans appreciate Kenya as a tourism destination proved to be a challenge, but we won’t stop until domestic tourism has been appreciated.

“My long-term goal is that Bonfire opens office across the globe. I know my dream will come true because before we set up Bonfire, little was known about domestic tourism apart from the traditional destinations of Mombasa and Malindi,” he says.

The company, he says, strives to create a positive impact through the trips it organizes.

“We try to meet this goal by creating itineraries that allow clients to experience the local culture through sampling their food, festivals, activities, and cultural sites.”

The firm also facilitates tourists who want to help local communities.

Bonfire owns five tour vans and two Land Cruisers.

“When demand is high, we hire more vehicles, especially during the August and December holidays and also when people are getting married and the number of couples seeking honeymoon services is high.”

All the Bonfire Adventures employees are experienced travel professionals and ensure that customers get the best travel package at competitive rates.

“We check on our clients even when they are on holiday to ensure that everything is working out fine. This way, we are able to offer them a splendid service,” he says.

“Social media has helped a lot since most clients come back and upload photos of their adventure, share their experiences, and talk about our services. We want to retain this culture and improve to offer the best service,” says Mr Kabu.

Hope this Couple’s story challenges you to stir your entrepreneurial spirit. Some of the most successful businesses were started on simple ideas, led by passion and interest. Read more on start-ups in the next post.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Capital, the biggest handicap?

Allow me to remind you of Alex, my bosom buddy back in our village. He is the dude I once wrote about who never finished his primary school, got involved in petty crimes and abuse of hard drugs, survived attempted suicides, got jailed only to later reform and become a pastor.

Alex always had brilliant ideas. He is a man you could sit down with and he’d tell you so many stories non-stop about how guys who have come across money and wasted it as opposed to seriously investing the cash. In fact I had started entertaining thoughts of getting into some joint venture where I could finance him. But my sixth sense always tells me to be wary of fellow who talk a lot…..most of the time they are clanging cymbals. In fact when I hear someone claim that his biggest challenge is capital, I trend carefully.

The last time I met Alex was early this year. I have been trying all along to reach him to no avail until he called me the other day and we talked for like 30 minutes. What he told me during the 30 minutes is what shocked me. I however like his honesty coz he never hides anything from me. Early in the year he received some 1M from his sister in Canada to finally start his dream business. He did not tell me why he was so lost but of course the cash he received in a way explained why he was not reachable.

I was very keen to understand what he did with the cash. He explained how he bought an old taxi and got into that business but somehow it did not work out well. When I inquired what happened, he claimed that he decided to employ a driver as he concentrated on church activities. The driver misused the vehicle and he was fleecing him of the proceeds of business till he finally dismissed him but the then the car was on its knees. In fact as we talked he claimed it was now an immobile junk parked outside his house. So the reason he was calling me was to request for my assistance so that he can revive it.

I realized that despite his talk and brilliant ideas, his biggest problem was never capital. In jest, I told him that his life story was like of that man who waded his way past a pack of dogs only to bitten by a goat. Or he was bewitched and the ‘bewitcher’ died. Seriously speaking, I expected him to do better with the 1M coz he always cried about capital and when he landed some he seemed not to have utilized it well.
Many times I meet guys who are convinced that capital is their biggest impediment towards starting a good business. Sometimes it could be, but in most cases it is never the biggest issue.

Most successful businesses were built on smallest of capital and in any case if you have a brilliant idea which may need substantial capital, my take is that the idea can be bought by a partner and you do a joint venture. You can even approach financiers though this is never the easiest route to take.

It is therefore extremely important to have a solid idea which you need to have a grip on before you invest your money. Worst case is where you get the money and you are wondering what to do with it. It is always better when good investment ideas precede the capital. Before you convince yourself that you need capital….think again…the capital might arrive and you start running around like a headless chicken.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Know what you know, what you don't know and who knows what you don't

Njoki has a very sweet tongue and someone once said this: “By a sweet tongue and kindness, you can drag an elephant with a hair” She is the one who convinced my partner and I to buy our very first plots actually adjacent to each other. Those plots were in the bush somewhere because I remember when we went to view them, we even saw some zebras and antelopes; trust Njoki to sell you anything. Roll over the year and her sweet story about how the place was to be in 5 years ringed true. Nowadays the place is quite prime.

What caught my eye about Njoki is her grasp for issues plots and the larger vision she seemed to clearly understand about their company. Talk about an ideal employee. When we bought those plots, we never had any idea that we will ever get involved in a real estate business. You see that time I was a member of a certain Sacco that was brought to its knees by some unscrupulous officials and I terminated my membership. My biggest problem that time was what I was to do with the cash in my budget which was earmarked for the Sacco’s monthly contribution. I convinced my partner we view the plots, by the way that time we were living together somewhere in Eastlands as young employees. I was very happy now that Njoki accepted our proposal to pay a deposit of 40k for the plots and the balance in 22 installments of 5k per month, a similar amount to the Sacco contribution. That time our core business was farming…which we did for 3 seasons to some disastrous results. It is at the end of the 3rd Season while licking our wounds that we decided to check out our plots in the woods only to be shocked by developments around there and the appreciation from 140k to around 600k, all in about 3 years. That very day, a business idea which is destined to culminate into a massive empire was born. After all, why bother thinking so much when an opportunity was right there before our very eyes.

That very day, I remembered Njoki and thanked God for having met her; I actually convinced myself she held my good omens. I called her and she confirmed that she quit the company she used to work for and set up a selling agency for properties. We set up a meeting with her coz I knew she held some keys to our new thoughts and line of business. She never disappoints. By the end of that meeting, we were very knowledgeable and wise fellows regarding matters real estate; information for free. I knew that she had to be part of our team; after all she knew what we did not know. If there is anyone who taught us the ropes of real estate, it is her…..wait…if there is anyone who has sold about half of all our properties, it is her….wait again…if there is anyone who has seen us grow from business toddlers to a teenager, it is her. Of course we are hoping to grow old in business.

For first timers, please note the following in relation to the above real life story:
1.     No one knows everything, so never come off as a know-it-all. Surround yourself with advisors and mentors who will nurture you to become a better businessman.
2.     Find successful, knowledgeable individuals with whom you share common interests and mutual business goals that see value in working with you for the long-term.
3.     Search for knowledge; be it from professionals within your line of business or those who have been there and done it.
4.     Get some serious mentor….we all need this irrespective of the stage you are in..

More for start-ups in the next post.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Know what you do. Do what you know

Back then when I was doing my residential house, a gentleman approached me while I was animatedly talking to the foreman about some work which was not satisfactory. He introduced himself as Oduor, the landscaper. I requested him to wait till I was done with the foreman.

Oduor is a soft spoken fellow, almost swallowing his words. He tried to explain to me how good a landscaper he is and he has done the work for years. He wanted me to give him that job because I had a spacious compound. I did not want to dismiss him because over the years I have learnt that the very best don’t look like it. We agreed that at a later date, he’d take me to sites that he had already done and was maintaining so that I could appreciate his work.

Two weeks later, Oduor showed up and with him an album containing pictures of sites he had landscaped. Very organized fellow, I later found out. So we went round the estate knocking of people’s doors and almost everyone we found was all smiles on seeing Oduor. Many instructions came his way regarding maintenance of those gardens. What I noted about Oduor’s work, it was not only marvelous but eye catching. A very meticulous hand like that of my Kinyozi. Cutting hedges to right angles, mixing flowers with a lot of thoughts. I could see that he was a man with a lot of passion for his job, after all the fruits were all there for me to see.

And so I asked him how he ended up in that business. It was a long story but its long and short was that he did a diploma but failed to acquire a job. He however used to work in their garden as a hobby. One day some neighbor visited their home and he was amazed when he saw the work Oduor had done. He ended up insisting that Oduor had to replicate the same at his home at a small fee. And as they say, the rest is history. The good word spread across the estate of a young man who does some extra ordinary landscaping. He never even bothered looking for any other job despite his diploma. The other day I met him he told me that he will not manage to maintain my garden any longer because he has so many homes in Karen and its environs. He however had trained some guy who inherited his interest in our estate. He is doing quite well I must say.

What lessons can we learn from Oduor?

1. He ended up doing what he loves and had lots of passion for….and he succeeded big time.
2. He discovered his real talent albeit under unexpected circumstances. As proverbs 18:16 says, "a man's gift maketh room for him, and bringeth him before great men."

What is clear is that it is easier to succeed in a business that is in line with what one enjoys doing or has talent for.

More on start-ups in the next post.