Category Archives: entrepreneurship

After Office Hours with Kris Senanu at the Nairobi Garage

Last Friday, Nairobi Garage hosted an “After Office Hours ” chat session with Kris Senanu, the Managing Director- Enterprise at Telkom Kenya. He is also a successful venture capitalist with diverse investments and is also a judge on KCB Lion’s Den, a televised local version of the Shark Tank show, in which entrepreneurs pitch for investors to fund their companies.

Excerpts from the Q&A  

Balancing Work and Investments: He has a fun day job at Telkom, but he’s an insomniac and is able to do investing work from 6 PM to midnight. He started investing as a “terrible hobby” when he was 21 and he has a high appetite for risk.

He’s Not Just Invested in Tech: “Investments depends on what is the value to me, the community, country and profitability.” He started his first business Yaka Yeke which was about bringing West African fashion, which he liked, to East Africa. Later he got a partner and started Mama Ashanti restaurant because he wanted to eat West African food and saw there was a demand for that.

He doesn’t own any company. He created Blackrock, with his partners, which he doesn’t manage, to consolidate and oversee his investments. They take a maximum of 33% of equity and let the other shareholders deal with the heavy tasks of managing companies while they provide guidance.  He puts in money based on plans, and milestones and has people who check on those. While he may go serve drinks at one of their bars, he does not dwell on the daily numbers but will read reports late at night.

Funding Decisions: He said a key thing for any entrepreneurs seeking funds from investors was to know what type of money to seek. It was not about “do I need equity or debt?” and what amount to ask for, but also about what you need at any particular time – one is for operational expense, the other is for long-term expense. if you go for equity, there is some money that is good for you, and others to avoid – and some companies get money and right from month one of the new funding, the business or environment changes.

He invests $10,000 to $500,000, and takes on riskier investments – and if it is an area he can add value and scale, it will get investment. He also looks at how passionate an investor is  “are they willing to do this for 10 years or is it just a side-hustle?”. Spreadsheets are powerful tools that guide, but also confuse with numbers that can obscure real basic business. Investment decisions take up to six months as they use evaluate, build relationships with, and get to understand the entrepreneurs.

Scaling Companies:  His main challenge in the last few years has been scalability – as he says there are good businesses around, but they don’t have the ability to scale. While many do okay in a single market or single country, when numbers are good, investors want to see the businesses go multi-market or multi-country.

He said Nairobi has a lot of venture capital, angel funders, and private equity investors – all with money and who are willing to invest in businesses, but that the lot of money is chasing the few businesses that show scalability, and the ability to be sustainable and profitable in the long-term.

Foreigners Getting Start-Up Funding in Nairobi: On this, he said capital will flow to places and spaces where the capital feels comfortable, and entrepreneurs in Nairobi are going to have to make people more comfortable investing big money with us – and to change that narrative about “capital flowing to foreign faces in local spaces.” He said that it could be a case that some local businesses seeking investors were not fully baked and were perhaps at a stage where they were better off going of debt (convertibles/loans) rather than equity funding. He mentioned an episode of the Lion’s Den where someone mentioned Cellulant in a way that offended him. He said that many managers at Cellulant were former colleagues of his and he had watched the company grow for many years, overcoming many tough times as it ventured across Africa. He said entrepreneurs have to, know when to raise capital, know what to ask for, and that Cellulant was now attracting big funding rounds because of their strategic funding decisions and people have to get better at that in Nairobi.

His Work Philosophy: “if you work your whole life for money that is sad; you have to find purpose.” His is to invest in someone else’s visions and help them grow their companies – At Swift, he was employee number 7 and the company grew to 150 staff, while at Access Kenya, he was employee number three, after the founders. He endeavours to grow businesses, create employment, make profits, then exit and move on to the next one.

Night Club IPO? “I have a philosophy is to create one million jobs” but he Knows that is not going to happen through companies, but if he can enable, through his cash, other entrepreneurs to create 10 or 20 or 50 jobs, he will do it. From 2009 he was saving $200 per month, along with some friends who planned to attend the World Cup in South Africa. But he really had no interest in watching soccer and after his wife persuaded him to meet with a young entrepreneur, he ended up giving him the money he had set aside for the World Cup. “I liked the guy, his swag and ideas.” That young man was Amor Thige and the idea was to put money into a nightclub called Skylux Lounge. It later became the top club in Nairobi for several years and changed the nightlife scene.

The Skylux experience led him to invest in another group Tribeka which went on to open five nightclubs – Tribeka, Rafikiz,  Zodiak, Fahrenheit and Natives, and they later added Ebony and Marina Bay at English Point, Mombasa. At its height the group had a turnover of Kshs 87 million a month, rounding out to a billion shillings a year – but what mattered to him more was that the chain was employing 472 people, which was more than the 380 jobs at Access Kenya, a listed company. They also considered doing an IPO for the group, seeing as Kenyans who liked drinking would also like to own a piece of the company, and some of their clubs cost as much as Kshs  60 million to build out. 

Where to Find Investment Information and Data? He said there’s so much diversity in Nairobi and cited a few conversations in sports bars about agribusiness that are leading him into investing in macadamia nuts. He is now doing research, scouting for companies and the best places to grow macadamia over the next few years – “it all depends on who you hang with and the conversations you are having”. He said you can get data on private companies from the right people who have no reason to embellish data, and added that even public companies in Kenya and South Africa audited by top firms are later found to have cooked their books.

Why Telkom Kenya?: He said he entered the telecommunications business while there was a giant monopoly, the Kenya Posts & Telecommunications Corporation (KPTC) – that had low-quality, high prices and poor service – and which constricted the growth of communications at the time. So when Access Kenya was sold to Dimension Data he saw working to revamp Telkom Kenya as his next challenge – to grow a viable challenger that disrupts, gives choice and opportunity in the era of another dominant company (read Safaricom). He sees this as his national service to give back to the people of Kenya, through the government, and the ecosystem, and that while people in the room may not appreciate it now, they will in five years.

Decision-Making:
  • Most difficult decision; firing the smartest person at the company, but who had the worst attitude. it was tough but it was for the greater good of the business.
  • Best decision; sticking to technology. Tech brings change and motion process every day, He’s never bored, he wakes up to have fun. It started while he was selling clothes and Wangari Mathai’s niece asked him to join her at Swift Global and use his sales skills to also sell devices and he’s never looked back.
  • Kris Senanu on his worst decision/regret; not having children earlier.

Barclays Kenya expands Enterprise Supply Development (ESD) programme

Barclays Kenya has announced an expansion of the support initiatives and resources available to small and medium enterprises (SME’s) through their Enterprise Supply Development (ESD) programme in Nairobi today.

Karen Kiambi, the Head of ESD Programme, said that while banks in the Barclays Africa group are all rebranding to Absa by 2020, Barclays Kenya was well on that path and it was using the rebrand to launch products like Timiza. She added that it had been the first Absa member, out of South Africa, to launch the ESD programme for SME’s.

She said SME’s were vital to the economic growth of countries and yet they continued to face challenges access financing especially in low-income countries, but that in the early phase of the ESD programme, Barclays had managed to avail unsecured financing to SME’s who supply goods and services to corporates such as Allpack, EABL, Kenya Wine Agencies, Unilever, Nairobi Hospital, and Gertrude’s Hospital. She said they now aimed to add more resources and reduce the processing time for financing requests by having an online web page for loan applications.

James Agin, the Barclays Director for Corporate Banking, said the ESD had three principles of easy access to finance, enterprise development and access to markets. Besides training in the ESD entrepreneurs, can also join the Barclays Business Club and from next year, the SME’s with high scores will have a higher profile to market themselves to other corporations. The event featured Barclays staff and guests including Peter Mungai (Head of Tax at Barclays), David Logongo (Procurement Manager, Kenya Revenue Authority) and Francis Murabula (Head of Supply Chain Management, Safaricom).

A statement released after the event indicated that SME’s seeking LPO financing and invoice-discounting through the programme would only need to have six months of bank account history and a supply contract, and that there would be no requirement to provide audited accounts.

FSD Kenya Insights on Youth and Agri Finance

FSD Kenya, which aims to create value through financial inclusion, have just released their 2017 Annual Report which contains findings from ongoing research projects around Kenya.  

Some excerpts 

  • The unregulated digital credit space in Kenya, mainly phone loans, has overtaken other forms of credit in the country with 19% paying digital loans, much more than 17% repaying family/friends or 14% paying shopkeepers for goods taken on credit. 
  • 45% of borrowers through mobile phones are now female. Usage has shifted from day-to-day to investing in businesses, but 14% are (900,000 individual) are juggling multiple loans, and half have defaulted or delayed loan repayment.
  • Tweaking Agri-Finance: There is lack of access of credit to agriculture which receives just 4% of banking credit. This could be partly due to lack of data so they are partnering with M-Kopa Labs to research other models. Hall of M-Kopa customers make money from agriculture and buy solar products so the research aims to see of if the pay-as-you-go model can be applied to other products like farm inputs, water tanks, fertilizer, animal feed etc.
  • Youth Finance products: 40% of the population is under 15 years but youth are underserved by the banking sector. They see money as a means of survival and savings as being for buying something not long-term or unanticipated needs. There is a lack of appropriate financial products for the youth, and this could be because older adults are the ones developing financial solution for the youth. One outcome of this research, funded by Funded by SIDA and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation could be a new class of lending to the youth, a development by FSD Kenya and the Kenya Bankers Association. 

  • They are also involved in the Kenya Hunger Safety Net program in which the government transfers Kshs 20 billion ($200 million) a year to people over 70 years.
  • Visiting economist John Kay gave a lecture where he advised that Kenya should develop local financial solution and not adopt western financial models.
  • Smartphone uptake still low, but USSD is how Kenyans can access robust banking services with cheap handsets.

SheTrades Commonwealth Launches

The International Trade Center (ITC) has launched a women-economic empowerment program for female entrepreneurs to be able to trade across borders.

“SheTrades” aims to grow one million female entrepreneurs, and is starting with Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria and Bangladesh, in export-ready fields of apparel (textiles), agriculture (tea, coffee, avocado) and services (ICT, tourism). The program will offer training, capacity building and support to enable women, entrepreneurs to be more competitive, and prepare their companies for export markets such as through obtaining certifications, connecting to buyers and being able to talk they way into deals.

The SheTrades program is based on seven principle of quality data, fair policies, public procurement, striking business deals, enabling market access, unlocking financial services, and securing ownership rights. Kenya is acknowledging for having female supportive laws such as setting aside 30% of government procurement for women, youth and persons with disabilities, though the uptake of this has lagged. It also has some women-focused funding initiatives while Barclays Kenya has a program with ITC  to increase women’s access to international trade opportunities.

SheTrades is funded by the UK’S DFID and the SheTrades Commonwealth Kenya initiative is open to companies that are at least 30% female-owned and female-managed are eligible for sign up on the SheTrades website.

Digital App Loans: Understanding Borrower Behavior

An Interesting conversation was started by a tweet by Francis Waithaka on the true borrowing of costs of app loans that hundreds of Kenyans take every day by making a few clicks on their phones.

It elicited a lot of comments on the cost of finance offers to Kenyans, since an interest capping law passed in 2016 that restrict banks to lend at a maximum of 14%, the lack of regulation of app loans who may be taking advance of Kenyans by charging usurious rates etc. It also led to a mention of a research report from Micro Save about the digital credit landscape in Kenya that was shared by one of the authors.

The Microsave Report (PDF) titled “Where Credit Is Due: Customer Experience of Digital Credit In Kenya”  had lots of insights. It was drawn from feedback from 1,009 farmers located in 50 villages, equally split between Central Kenya and Western Kenya, and also with an equal number of men and women in the study.

At the end of it, the report makes some recommendations to the Communications Authority of Kenya and the Central Bank of Kenya – such as to control the type of messaging sent by text to consumers, and to require app loan companies to share information and to list all defaulters, respectively.

Habits of Borrowers 

  • There is a preference for Chama’ s, SACCO’s and M-Shwari as a source of funding. App loan amounts are too small for significant investments.
  • Majority of the customers took up loans to smooth consumption, emergencies or to boost business.
  • They don’t understand terms and conditions of app loans and they don’t understand credit reference.
  • There are three types of borrowers: repayers (who pay loans on time), defaulters  (who don’t understand the consequences of being listed), and jugglers who take both traditional and app loans – but if they are financially stretched, they are more likely to repay the traditional loans.
  • Customers have learned to game the system through timely repayment of loans and juggling multiple borrowers.
  • There is no extra “PIN” required to request and withdraw an app loan and some family members have done this in secret leading the phone owner to default on a loan.
  • Digital credit usage doubled in Kenya between 2015 and 2016, with awareness and usage of digital credit by far lower in rural Kenya.
  • Digital credit, which offers privacy, is replacing shop credit and family/ friends as financiers.
  • The simplicity of the loan application procedures matters;  too much information requested or if there are too many variables that make it confusing, makes potential borrowers drop off.

Phone Types 

Download a loan app or use USSd

  • App usage is rather low – and this probably related to lower usage of smartphones as their batteries rarely last a full day as compared to cheaper feature phones that retain battery charge for several days of use.
  • Phones are mainly used for money transfer,  deposits, and withdrawals. There is little usage to get information or to browse the internet
  • 64% of respondents in the survey had a basic phone (57% in 2015). Smartphones were 14%, growing slightly and off-setting feature phones which declined slightly to 26%.
  • Loss of a phone may result in a  borrower defaulting on repayment.

Credit Reference Bureaus

  • Formal lenders require clearance from a credit reference bureau (CRB) which costs $22 (i.e Kshs 2,200) and that may exclude borrowers from formal finance. App loans don’t require this, e except that borrowers have not been black-listed.
  • One concern is there is little understanding of credit reference bureaus, and of channels for redress of any disputes.
  • Not all fintech’s report loans to credit reference bureaus.

App loan costs

  • High loan/interest charges are not a concern as they are comparable to other informal money lenders

At the time of the survey, M-Shwari issued 62 million loans (worth Kshs 1.3 trillion), while Equitel and KCB about 4 million each. In comments to accompany the release of their 2017 bank results last month, KCB had 13 million mobile customers, Equity Bank has 12.1 million, while a  CBA statement noted that the bank also serves 33 million mobile savings & loans customers, in East Africa, in partnership with mobile money operators.