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Growing my empire

JamboPay CEO, 34-year-old DANSON MUCHEMI, set up the business shortly after graduating from university, when he was just 25. Today it’s one of the leading electronic payment service providers in the region. MILLIAM MURIGI caught up with him

“Don’t fear failure because if you do, you will never succeed. If I had feared to face failure, then I wouldn’t have been where I am now

When you walk into JamboPay headquarters at View Park Towers, you will be excused to assume the occupants are on attachment, owing to the fact that it’s an officeful of youthful employees. The company embraces an upbeat and youthful culture, and has, alongside other benefits, reserved 12 per cent shareholding to the staff members based on performance, as a way of motivating them. Danson Muchemi, the 34-year-old proprietor attributes the organisation’s exponential growth to this culture. “Young people often have an abundance of energy and a natural thirst, which can rub off on colleagues and help invigorate the workplace. They tend to push themselves, wanting to make a lasting impression and prove what they can do. Their sheer determination to complete their work can inspire colleagues around them,” he says. The average employee age is 27 years, and all staff members are entitled to a meal daily, optional gym subscription as well as continuous professional training.

BUSINESS ACUMEN

Muchemi started the business nine years ago, shortly after graduating from university. He had demonstrated business acumen at a tender age. The first-born in a family of three, he was born and bred at Ol Joro Orok, Nyandarua county. While he was in Class Two at Gikeno Primary School, his parents bought him several rabbits to take care of, and also to make him responsible. Within no time, the rabbits started breeding, and he had almost two hundred bunnies. Since he could not keep all of them, he was forced to sell some. Each was going for Sh80. This is when his interest in business was born. After his primary education, he joined Nguviu Boys High School, Embu, then Strathmore University, where he pursued a diploma course in Management Information Systems for one year.

In 2002, he joined Kenyatta University, where he pursued a bachelor’s degree in Telecommunications and Information Technology. While there, he opened a movie library and started digitising lecturers’ content for students who missed class. He would package it in a CD or other soft copy format and sell one CD between Sh250 and Sh1,000, depending on the content. He would then share the proceeds with the lecturers.

After his graduation, Muchemi secured employment with Yilmaz Company Ltd, a Turkish group of firms with interest in IT among other areas, where he worked as a general manager. During his tenure, he made countless trips to Turkey, where he was offered good training opportunities that gave him vital knowledge on e-commerce. The training and experience he acquired while at the company motivated him to venture into the business.

On expiry of his two-year contract at the company, Muchemi quit his job and partnered with two of his colleagues at Yilmaz and came up with a business plan. “When I graduated, I was so eager to start working. I was energetic and I decided to channel all that energy into my company, rather than being employed,” he says. However, one dropped out in the initial stages of implementing the plan. In 2009, when he was 25, the two founded Web Tribe, an integrated firm that offered ICT consultancy, software development, network security, SMS services, banking solutions, and electronic payments.

HUMBLE BEGINNINGS

In the same year, he established JamboPay, a subsidiary of Web Tribe, to facilitate online and mobile payment services. His initial idea of starting an online shop was overtaken by another idea of setting up an online payment gateway. This was after realising a lack in easily accessible systems to process payment for his web shop. The system connects mobile money transfer services to Internet-based transactions, giving them an online presence.

They started at a cyber café, where they rented one computer for Sh4,500, and after three months, they added another one. In total, they worked from the cyber café for six months, and it is while there that they wrote their company mission and vision. Start-up capital was the first hurdle they had to overcome. To get the business off the ground, Muchemi says, they needed Sh1 million. He had Sh500,000 savings in the bank, and friends and family members helped them raise part of the capital when they sought help from them. They also developed a payment solution for Kitui Central Constituency Development Fund Management, and they used that payment to top up.

He had never worked at a company that offered online payments, but took a bold step to launch the product, and had a rosy image of how successful he would become. However, the journey to where he is today was far from rosy. “Don’t fear failure because if you do, you will never succeed. If I had feared to face failure, then I wouldn’t have been where I am now. It’s still my motto to attain greater heights and future success,” adds the entrepreneur.

Since they didn’t have ready customers for the first seven months, the duo used to be ICT trainers for survival, and the first client knocked on their door on the eighth month. From then, the business continued to grow gradually, and currently, it has over 105 employees – 80 of them in Kenya and the rest in other countries the company has expanded to.

BREAKTHROUGH

Today, JamboPay is one of the biggest electronic payment service providers in the region. Though the company was thrust into the limelight about five years later in 2015 when it partnered with Nairobi County Government for automated payment of various taxes and services through their e-wallet service known as eJijiPay, Muchemi says that by that time, they had around 1,500 clients. “As an electronic payment service provider, we help businesses and government organisations collect and disburse money electronically. Our services can be customised to suit clients’ needs, and we present our services across various delivery platforms such as mobile, web and physical agency networks,” he explains. Today, over 3,500 organisations including governments, insurance companies, parastatals, universities and media have entrusted their revenue collection and digital payments to this youthful company, processing billions of shillings monthly in the process. JamboPay processed over Sh48 billion in Kenya last year.

Like with any other business, challenges exist, such as lack of skilled employees and financial setbacks, since it’s a capital-intensive venture. However, they have learnt to deal with them and learn from mistakes. “Nowadays, I am keener on attitude and skills, and less interested in experience, because experience doesn’t mean you are good. I also believe in training my employees, and this has contributed greatly to our success,” says the CEO. He also recalls how they once lost Sh3 million in two weeks as a result of not conducting background check on the procurement items from a foreign company.

Over the years, Muchemi has been acclaimed by various organisations and received several awards such as Forbes top 30 under 30 in Africa (2014), Business Daily Top 40 under 40 Men (2015), Innovator of the Year East Africa by CNBC Africa’s All Africa Business Leaders Awards (2016) and Choiseul 100 Africa: Economic Leaders for Tomorrow.

So, what next for him? “I plan to expand to more than 21 countries by 2021. Also, introduce more services, since I believe I have barely hit 10 per cent of what the company wants to achieve,” he concludes.

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