At the tender age of 24, Geoffrey Gikandi is an entrepreneur and a fifth year Civil Engineering student at the University of Nairobi. But that’s a small side of a student who founded a company from a scratch through a youthful optimism and sheer determination.
It was a rare dream driven by passion to scale the heights of entrepreneurship in a briefcase business that defied challenges as he started off.
“I had gone to register as a member with the Institution of Engineers of Kenya where a board member asked me whether I had anyone in mind who could develop a website for their company, my answer was affirmative though I had no one in mind,’’ Gikandi told the Business Daily in interview at the Nation Centre in Nairobi last week.
What followed was a journey of hope albeit unsure of what the future held for him as he embarked on a search for friends who had the expertise of what the job entailed.
“I approached a friend who had a registered company dealing with web design and incorporated an additional friend. We later applied for the tender and won,’’ he recalls with a grin. This was back in 2010.
“We were paid Sh120,000, which we shared amongst ourselves . Each of us walked away with Sh40,000.”
Buoyed by the success, he invested his entire share from the project in registration of his firm, Esthete Designs Company, in 2011 and bought a second hand computer to pursue business.
“I had studied diploma in Business and Information Technology at the Strathmore University in 2008,” says Gikandi. “I was very sure I would apply the knowledge and skills gained in class in my company.”
With no permanent office, he embarked on sourcing for the clients using the first job as his referral. After few months of dry business, he landed two projects that pushed him to meteoric success.
“What followed was a Sh140,000 project and another one for Sh230,000. It was exciting seeing patience pay off,” he says. “It was a rare motivation that enabled me to source for more clients and the output was good if not best.’’
Back at home, he could draft computer aided design and website applications using his laptop as demand for his services increased.
This also led to a need to raise the number of employees in his firm. He employed five of his colleagues at the university to speed up both quality and deadlines given by the clients as more projects came knocking. At the end of 2011, they had exceeded set targets, says Gikandi without being specific.
“I have a strong team where we design roles depending on members’ strength. That’s the secret to global successful businesses — they identify employees’ special abilities and execute strategies to expand them,’’ says the soft-spoken tech-geek.
Today, his campus-based company has become household name in website design drawing a wide range of clients among them the Engineers Board of Kenya, Coast Bus, Pwani Training Institute, Syntex Consultancy International, Kilifi District Hospital, Impala Glass Industries Limited, Federation of Engineering Institutions of East Africa, the Institutions of Engineers of Kenya and Plant Makers Limited.
Driven by the fear of failure, Gikandi invests most of his time in researching new trends in the software development in order to stay informed about competition and clients’ needs.
“Engineering is what I wanted to do, technology was out of passion and I am glad it is paying off,’’ he says.
The pricing of their services is based on the specifications given by the client. He says that most of his customers are drawn from Mombasa, Nairobi and Eldoret and that their projects come from tendering, referrals and marketing.
Gikandi says his entry into business is as a result of studying how successful entrepreneurs have made strides in the world of investing despite stiff competition. The University of Nairobi student says his father, a strict disciplinarian, instilled in him a great sense of entrepreneurship and discouraged wishful thinking.
“Had I not taken the first job with Institution of Engineers of Kenya, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” he says. “I saw immense potential in me, motivated myself and worked with people who believed in me and in themselves.”
The young executive, whose role models include Manu Chandaria and Donald Trump, says working with other people is crucial in business.
“Team work is paramount for any success, I have never heard of any successful business that does not embrace collective participation of its members,” says the young entrepreneur.
Initial stages of his venture involved sharing a dream with his close friends and the need to uplift their lives, discover their potential and foot bills.
But despite their success, running the business has not been an easy task. To call him an overnight success undermines one of the most painful paths to stardom.
“When we started off, only few people wanted to enter into business engagement with us, they saw us as students trying out our luck. But any opportunity that presented itself to us, we maximised it to the edge and this made us to believe in ourselves and offered more opportunities,’’ he says.
Other challenges are poor payments by some clients who consider them students instead of professionals. Despite the hurdles the young investor hopes to join top entrepreneurs.
“We are doing great in terms of figures. We can’t complain,” he adds.
But how do you coordinate your strategies given that you don’t operate from an office? I ask him.
“We normally converge at the university hall or on the school compound and sometimes if we are meeting a client for a briefing, we pay for a space near the University of Nairobi.
Planning and timely execution is very important, ’’ he responds with optimism.
He notes the industry is not saturated but clients are looking for more creative people who can add value to their businesses.
“My vision is to create more jobs and networks, work to become a registered engineer and explore self-employment ventures in the same sector,’’ says Gikandi.
He advises budding entrepreneurs not to undermine small beginnings.
“It’s better to start small and as you grow, nurture more people,’’ says Gikandi.