Five years ago Martin Kibote walked from shop to shop soliciting for sign branding jobs in Nairobi’s Industrial Area and in his first month managed two jobs that earned him a Sh2,000 commission.
Then working as a Celtel branding agent, the 22-year-old Kibote hardly imagined that this ‘tarmacking’ would later transform his fortune into a multi-million shilling outfit employing eight permanent staff , a fully equipped office and a state-of-the-art modern printing press.
“I moved from shop to shop but quit to join a branding company that offered me higher perks. I realised I was making more money for them but earned very little and when I asked for a pay rise, they instead raised the target and added that I would stand fired if I failed to meet them,” he says.
By the third month, Mr Kibote knew his days were numbered since he had failed to meet the new targets in two consecutive months. He quickly planned his exit, sought a new job and tendered his resignation to avert his inescapable.
“My new employer appointed me as a branch representative; offered me a salary and a commission but on the day I was to report, I was asked to return home and wait. Four years later, the call to my new appointment is yet to come,” says Mr Kibote a father of two.
After completing his Form Four education at Gituro Secondary School, Murang’a County, Mr Kibote spent time reading old newspaper cuttings that he got from unwrapping items, which he was sent to buy from shops.
It is this habit that saw him come across an ad in one of the dailies. He saw a Celtel (now Airtel) advertisement seeking salesmen with Form Four qualification and he applied resulting in an invitation to attend an interview.
“I was told to choose whether I wanted to work under a postpaid or prepaid agency status. I chose postpaid, which ensured I would get a Sh1,000 commission for every job done. He set out moving from shop to shop seeking requests to pin the Celtel logo and managed to get two contracts worth Sh2,000 commission.
He later moved to a printing and branding agency, which allowed him to keep doing what he knew best soliciting for jobs on a shop-to-shop basis, office to office. It also involved profiling and updating of a website and by January 2009, he was earning a Sh10,000 salary.
He clinched a business deal worth Sh170,000 but that saw his target upped with no commission offered. It was then that he made a commission request but saw his target upped to Sh300,000 a month which he was unable to make.
“At another occasion I clinched a ceramic mugs labelling contract that earned my firm Sh360,000 but I still failed to hit the target to earn a commission and I knew I would be fired as I was still under probation,” he recalls.
He opted to resign after receiving an employment letter from another firm that offered him a retainer of Sh20,000 and a commission for every job done. This was never to be.
“After a week, I paid a second visit to my new employer’s office and was told to wait at home since the boss was away on business,” he says, adding that he sensed danger as his savings were fast getting depleted.
While at home several former clients called him seeking his services. This saw him move around shops in Industrial Area armed with a folder seeking one off contracts leading to the name ‘Media Box’.
While his clientele grew, his profits were meagre since he had to outsource jobs where he relied mainly on trust.
At one point he landed a Sh360,000 contract which he gave out to a close friend. This forced him to start a company that would directly conduct his business.
“I started Media Box Advertising with no solid capital. I bought several files, branded receipts, delivery books and other accessories that I used to fit in my backpack together with my mini laptop,” says Mr Kibote.
He then had his new outfit registered and got a PIN certificate from the Kenya Revenue Authority.
“I operated from a friend’s premises at an office building on River Road but ended up in my one roomed house after the two partners parted ways. I moved to Westlands where a friend accommodated me on a small 150 square feet space,” he says.
He hired a graphics designer cum creative artist, which helped him reduce outsourcing costs earning him handsome profits. He moved office and acquired some printers to prepare handbills, posters and formal reports in booklets.
“I major in outdoor advertising, corporate branding, printing, signage writings, creative designs and supply promotional materials such as flyers, pamphlets and handouts. We have experienced a growth in turnover from the first year when we realised Sh3.6 million in 2012 to over Sh50 million in the last financial year 2015,” says the 27 year old entrepreneur.
Mr Kibote advises startups to concentrate on what they know best instead of investing money in businesses they have no clue in.
“Without seed capital, you rely on trust of your customers and business partners who provide you with materials on credit. No bank would listen to you without a six months cashflow record but now they even call me offering loans,” he says.
To enhance his reach in the extremely competitive field, Mr Kibote attended digital marketing and advertising courses, which enabled him to clinch more business from fast-moving commodities manufactured locally from beauty and beverages as well as business from the service industries in IT, events, hospitality and banking.
“Start small and grow as your business grows and avoid big clients who would request for goods on credit and take long before paying for the same. Remain focused on your core activity until it pays off before moving to another thing or risk being a jack of all trade and a master of none,” he advises.