Thursday, January 31, 2013

Martha Karua for President

With slightly over a month before the first general elections under a new constitution, I have assessed the candidates for Office of the President of the Republic of Kenya, and I have no doubt in my mind in my selection of Narc Kenya's Martha Karua as my choice.

Martha Karua always had a head start in my mind's eye, as early as February 2011, I registered under her Narc Kenya party because she appealed to my vision of a candidate. I nevertheless withheld making my endorsement for the 10 months following, giving other potential candidates the opportunity to surprise me. And while there were a few surprises along the way: Raila's embrace of Kalonzo, or Mudavadi's surprisingly good interview on BBC's Hard Talk, Peter Kenneth's flawless launch for presidency, and even Johnson Sakaja's brilliant defence of the Jubilee Alliance, none of these were sufficient to sway my vote.

On March 4, 2013, I therefore intend to cast my vote for Ms. Martha Karua and here are my reasons why.

Martha Karua is the candidate who is most likely to solve Kenya's number one problem - impunity. I'm certain that many of you would argue that unemployment, corruption, or even tribalism are more deserving of the number one position. In my opinion these are all symptoms of the root problem of impunity.

Impunity is defined as exemption from punishment or loss, and this is a phenomenon that has become so entrenched in our national culture with the effect of allowing all these other social-economic ills to thrive. We are all perpetrators of impunity despite the majority of us being its direct victims.

Politicians, civil servants, and wheeler dealer businessmen rob the exchequer because of impunity, multinational companies expatriate profits that could have built Kenya because of impunity, 3,000 lives are lost every year due to impunity by road users, pharmacists in rural hospitals stock their private chemists with government drugs denying paid up NHIF contributors medication, pastors cohort with prostitutes and fleece their congregations, men refuse to maintain their children after separating with their wives , electricity companies charge exorbitant rates , real-estate investors build substandard and dangerous abodes , restaurant owners serve up food unfit for human consumption, policemen run bars within their stations and end up drinking all day, house helps are paid Sh.1,500 for 450 hours of work. The list goes on and on.

How does impunity end? Impunity ends when the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) applies the broken window theory in his prosecutions; which means all offences no matter how small and particularly those that affect the standard of living are prosecuted. Yes, many of us will end up with rap sheets longer than our CVs but by doing so we will have saved a nation. With the end of impunity 33% of our budget will stop going into corrupt networks and contribute to economic growth, young people will have a fair chance at making it whether in employment or self-employment, and Kenyan lives will stop being so cheap to be thrown away because of others' greed, incompetence, or indifference.

Of all candidates who have offered themselves only Mama has the prosecutorial zeal and and has unabashedly declared that she will provide the political will and executive power to operationalize what has been a muted DPP in order to stamp out impunity.

Martha Karua is the candidate who has exhibited the most astute fiscal management ability. Now, I'm sure many of you will argue that Peter Kenneth has the best track record in the management of CDF, but I believe that spending is only half the equation in fiscal management, the other half is raising revenue. And when it comes to raising revenue and spending this revenue to achieve maximum effect Martha Karua is miles ahead of her nearest competitors.

She has proven her fiscal management in the very effective and efficient manner that she has been running her Narc Kenya party. In their last financial year, Narc Kenya reported expenditures of approximately Sh. 13m with which they managed to reach over 40 counties! If you compare that with the profligacy of Uhuru's TNA launch that reportedly gobbled up Sh. 160,000,000 in a single day you can judge for yourself who can handle better handle Kenya's meagre revenues.

Martha Karua is the candidate who stands for something - the rule of law. It his her most endearing attribute to her supporters and the one that has her opponents gnashing their teeth in contempt. Since she famously walked out of former president's Moi's function she has shown herself unbowed in her belief in constitutionality.

But it is not only what she stands for, but the fact that she stands for it. Many other presidential candidates have shown themselves to be fickle in their principles and feckless in driving any ideology except for that of "it's our turn to eat". I want a president who will not only paint pretty pictures of unicorns and rainbows for all Kenyans with consultant designed manifestos, but who will stay in the trenches when the implementation going gets tough, and rough it out to make their promises come true.

I would like to stop there, but I'm afraid I will leave some of you skeptical. I am declared partisan so it would be easy to dismiss my opinions as just that. To allay that possibility, I will go ahead and describe why I will not vote for any of the other top 3 candidates.

Starting with Raila Odinga of the Cord Coalition.

Mr. Odinga is a force to reckon with in Kenyan politics, that is  not debatable  but I will surmise that his many political talents would be best utilized as the leader of the opposition. This is the one skill in which Mr. Odinga has no equal - keeping the government on its toes. And it is this skill that historians will take note of when recalling the legacy of Mr. Odinga. It is his opposition to Mwai Kibaki's gross executive over-reach that delivered and helped implement our current constitution. The sweetest manifestation of this implementation being a reformed Judiciary with Willy Mutunga at its head.

Despite the above, Mr. Odinga is most unqualified to become Kenya's 4th president. He has unproven managerial capacity as is evidenced by the Kazi kwa Vijana scandal among others during his Prime Ministry, he is a demagogue of the first class - he will say and do anything to attain power - most critically associating with Maina Njenga in the false believe that this would win him central Kenya votes, and he is crippled by his lack of forthrightness in his source and magnitude of his wealth. His running mate Kalonzo Musyoka despite being an articulate speaker is also a colourless and opportunistic individual whose legacy in his 30 years in politics will be that he embarrassed Kenya internationally with a failed shuttle diplomacy, perpetuated the political crisis following the December 2007 elections with his canvassing for a VP position, and failed to conclusively resolve the perennial water crisis in his native Ukambani.

Next I will move on to Jubilee Coalition's Uhuru Kenyatta. Mr. Kenyatta has matured tremendously in politics since the last decade when Moi attempted to have Kenyatta succeed him. He has also shown grace in loss in 2002 and cunning strategy in stepping aside in 2007 for Kibaki. Mr. Kenyatta has also built a formidable political party in barely half a year full of young people with vim, verve and vigour. He might have been an attractive candidate but for the following irredeemable shortcomings.y

The ICC. His supporters will wish it away, but all the arguments that have been made against Mr. Kenyatta on this matter - whether or not they actualize - are serious enough to disqualify him without further consideration. Whether it is the threat of sanctions, the integrity issues, or the incapacity to govern - as a candidate for Kenya's most powerful job - by picking Mr. Kenyatta will not get value for our vote. My biggest concern however is the shroud of impunity that will suffocate our entire country from the very top echelons if Mr. Kenyatta ascends to office. After all, if my president is accused of rape, murder, and forceful eviction and yet still occupies the highest job - what stops everyone else down rung from going about their lives with the same haughty disregard for morality and ethics? Secondary but equally damaging to his candidacy is his outsized land holdings, which were mainly gained by his father through an inequitable process. If he had stayed away from politics, then I would buy the argument that he is just taking care of what was bequeathed to him through no fault of his own. But because he chooses to become a public servant, then his continued ownership of the land is irreconcilable with his stated desire to lead a just and fair Kenya. Last and equally bad is his unimpressive running of the Ministry of Finance. It was during his tenure that we saw gaping holes in the budget which point at gross incompetency in fiscal management or something more sinister. His running mate, William Ruto in contrast is undoubtedly a performer - but that alone does not make a good leader, for a good leader must always put his best effort in the service of those he leads. Mr. Ruto however has been associated with allegations of gross self-enrichment ranging from grabbing of a post-election violence victim's land to being the main driver of YK92 which severely damaged our economy and resulted in stratospheric inflation. Mr. Ruto also bears the ICC baggage and cannot be trusted to implement a constitution which he so vigorously opposed.

Thirdly I will examine the candidacy of Eagle Coalition's Peter Kenneth. Mr. Kenneth remains middle class Kenya's favoured candidate for his astute management of the CDF in Gatanga, his relatively unblemished public record, and his telegenic personal attributes. I nevertheless find him unsuitable to hold this office, basing my reasons in the realm of verifiable fact only and not other rumours regarding his impressive rags to riches story. Chief among these facts, is his apparent conflict of interest in the acquisition of public property owned by Kenya National Assurance Company while he oversaw its liquidation at Prudential Bank. In addition the fact that alleged drug lord Harun Mwau and former president Moi who oversaw a kleptocratic  regime are some of his biggest clients for his Mayfair insurance company means that his entire wealth portfolio is likely tainted with drug money, or corruption money.

Finally let me address the issue of wasting my vote. Too many times, I have heard people say that voting for Martha Karua would be wasting a vote because she has appeared to have slim chances of winning according to opinion polls. I would counter that the real wasting of a vote is when you vote for someone you do not believe in - you would do better to abstain. My vote for Martha Karua is not a wasted vote, because through my constitutionally granted suffrage I will make a difference. I will vote for the end to impunity, good governance, and for the rule of law. I will vote for Martha Karua.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

My Chris Rock Moment (sort of)

Is humour important in business?

Oh yes certainly! Humour is a great way to break the ice, get people to relax, and build rapport. These are very relevant to salespeople as well are always meeting new people during sales pitches, conferences, cocktails or other events.

This week I made an attempt to see how funny I was in front of an audience... luckily it was the very empathetic group of fellow toastmasters and not the Apollo theater. However there were a number of CEOs, senior executives, and businessmen/women there so the jokes could not be that pedestrian.

This was my first time to try the jokesmaster role, and I intend to keep taking it up more to polish up on my punchline delivery and deadpan face (Martin Freeman from office UK is my role model and suits my geeky self).

If you would like to know more about toastmastsers and how it can help improve on your communication and leadership skills visit the website or attend a meeting

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Competing against Established Businesses

Most of us who were boarders in Kenyan high schools would brave the early morning chill to attend prep; a rigorous educational exercise that was mandatory in some institutions. As sleep starved teenagers, this was a herculean effort requiring an almost superhuman discipline. However when one zeroed in on their objective, the task would seem relatively easy. Over a few weeks while I was in form three, I had an objective of which I devoted my entire capacity to achieve, and woke before the crack of dawn on many mornings to bring it to fruition. Sadly it was not an A in mathematics, chemistry or physics. Rather I would wake up every morning, before all my classmates, to sneak to the nearby shopping centre to buy two crates of the freshly baked bread.

You see, then just like now I was a businessman. Even in those formative years of my entrepreneurship I understood the basic concepts of demand and supply. Bread in high school is one commodity that has unusually high demand. Apart from the need for sleep, the need for food (high energy carbs being a favourite) is synonymous with adolescence. I tend to believe it has to do with the rapid physical changes that are taking place in the teen's body. This need was acutely self-evident in our school which had no canteen to sell this precious commodity. Instead, various entrepreneurial students would sneak in a couple of loaves through their day-scholar colleagues bought at 20/= (USD 0.25) and sell them in quarter pieces at 7/= (USD 0.08) or 28/= (USD 0.33) for a full loaf - a 40% profit! At a couple of loaves this would mean a student would make 16/= a day, a high margin but in my opinion not worth the risk - which included suspension from school.

But the entrepreneur bug had bit, and I undertook to see if I could exploit the opportunity while minimizing (or justifying) the risk. Surveying the marketplace, I concluded that the main problem was that despite the high demand there were too many vendors. In addition, each vendor's supply was inconsistent - there was no guarantee of supply on any particular day. Like I lightning bolt, the solution hit me. One Sunday - this was the day with the highest demand - and flush with capital (how I got it is a story for another day, but it involves using cash meant for my medicine) I proceeded to each vendor with blitzkrieg efficiency and bought all the bread in the school. The twenty odd loaves would become Harry bread shop's first stock. As word got round that I could be the only person in the school with bread, my first hungry customers started streaming in. By ensuring I steadily replenished my stock with my early morning forays (which also improved my margins as I bought a loaf at whole-sale prices of 18.50/-), I established my dominance as the school's foremost bread retailer in a couple of days netting a tidy sum of 380/= (USD 4.5) per day.

It's a great story that I like to retell, and it is always sure to delight my audience. However within the story is a darker element, which is the topic for today. Although I was successful, in my pursuit of success I decimated the competition using highly anti-competitive behaviour. Suffice to say, that once the customers came to me and saw the quantity and quality of my stock, they never returned to their former vendors.

If you are a startup business trying to break it into the big league, you are bound to find yourself in similar situations. Competitors can use price wars, lock in wholesalers, or bully you through their trade associations to make sure your business remains small. Facing a competitor with a huge marketing war chest and no scruples to match might seem daunting, but thankfully now it doesn't have to be.

The Competition Act 12 of 2010 makes it illegal for businesses to engage in anti-competitive behaviour in Kenya. This is intended to level the playing field for businesses and improve the welfare of consumers. Anti-competitive behaviour such as: abuse of dominant positions, using trade associations to restrict trade, using contracts to restrain trade, having unwarranted concentration of economic power, collusion or concerted practices among organisations, and price fixing have all been outlawed.

Two institutions have been set up to enforce the competition law, these are: the competition authority and the competition tribunal. They are now the big fish in the pond. Now, it might take some time for entrenched anti-competitive business practices to be fully rooted out in a our business culture (some could have started as long ago as when the business owners were in high school!) but with this law, and the consumers right enshrined in the constitution, it is only a matter of time.

My small contribution to leveling the play field has been in the online company registration domain. With our new platform Incorporator, we give business owners the ability to choose from a wide array of lawyers to register their company. Lawyers will bid for your work, and you get to choose who will do the work at your discretion based on who has the best price and best ratings as rated by their other customers.

Competition is great for innovation which can ensure great success for a business and many satisfied customers. However you no longer have to deal with behaviour from your competitors that is anti-competitive. Try out your luck today by competing against the big boys, the law is on your side.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Best New Years Resolution Ever

Welcome to the New Year. It’s the second day of the year and if I was you I wouldn’t be too hard on myself if I had already broken some of my New Year’s resolutions. Keeping resolutions is hard, but when it comes to your business there is one resolution you should make, and you cannot afford to break...

If your business is like most businesses in Kenya – bar education or retail – at this time you are facing serious cash flow crisis. Consumer spending is at its lowest after an indulgent December and will only start recovering from mid-February. If your customer base comprises of individuals or small businesses, they are prioritizing their personal expenses over business expenses, meaning your invoices get paid last if at all.

Facing a similar January a few years back at our co-working space Genius Executive Centre I began January with a number of offices to fill from tenants who’d left the month before. I had read somewhere that when things are at the worst is when you advertise the most. I reasoned that the bigger the advertisement, the bigger the rewards would be and published a quarter page ad in the Daily Nation. The ad set me back around KES.85,000 ($1,000) but I calculated I would get at least 5 new customers from it worth KES.600,000 ($7,059) a year – a worthy investment I concluded.

With bated breath I waited by the phone on the day the ad ran (it was to run for only one day). At the end of the day I received only 7 prospects calls, two who misunderstood the ad completely and none who ended up as a customer.  Not only had I not gotten any new customers, I had made my cash position even worse. It was a classic case of a failed Get Rich Quick ad campaign which took me time to recover.

With only pennies to spare for advertising, I turned to classifieds at KES.350 ($4.11) per day, with low expectations but resolved that I had to keep on advertising. What happened next completely blew me away. Every day I would get 5 to 10 calls inquiring on the ad. In less than three weeks I had gotten my 5 customers at a cost of less than KES. 7,500 ($88)! An absolutely incredible value for money.
Now before you cancel your print ads, keep in mind that having tested the same technique on other products, I’ve discovered that classifieds work best for properties, cars, and jobs.
So I managed to hobble through that January, but I also learned one important lesson, and I share this today as your New Year’s resolution.
Never Stop Marketing
What brought me success was not the placement of the classifieds vis-à-vis the back page ad, but rather its consistency. A consistent, oft repeated message will always work better than a large one off message. And when it comes to marketing this is by no means restricted to advertising.
There are many definitions for marketing but the one I find best is from the book Marketing for Dummies.“Marketing is finding out what people need and giving it to them

This means that any activity you do to determine customer needs and to place a solution in front of them is considered marketing. If you adopt this resolution, as your New Year resolution for your business what are some of the non-advertising things you can do to make sure you never stop marketing?
  •  Use social media. The nature of social media allows you to undertake marketing to a captive audience. Tweet, Facebook, Instagram, Blog, Tumblr, Foursquare it – whatever you feel comfortable with – and don’t feel the need to do all of them. And when it comes to your message, remember givers get. Provide useful, relevant information and your audience will reward you by asking you to provide them a solution in your field of expertise.
  • Join a Group or a Club. When I joined Nairobi Toastmasters to improve my communication and leadership skills I never intended for it to be a platform to sell my products. But that’s exactly what I got: new friendships, and new customers. If you join a club with people of similar interests, it’s inevitable that other club members will become your friends.  These friends, who’ve gotten to know you, like you, and trust you can become some of your best customers and referrers.
Of course the number one way of marketing is good customer care. If you take good care of your customers, they will come back and bring their friends along with them.

363 days remain in 2013. Make the best of them by marketing every single day.