Sylvanus Osoro: from hawker to CEO

At 28, you run a company with 14 branches in the country and a presence in Kigali and Kampala. How did Pitface Marketing Division (PMD) start?

PMD started in a simple way with few employees. We train Form Four leavers on sales and marketing skills and supply them to different companies in the country.

Did starting and running a company come easy for you?

(Long pause) No. I was born and raised in Kisii, rphaned at the age of 10 and that is when my woes started. My five siblings and I grew up in separate homes, being taken care of by different family members and so we did not have a chance to bond. I lived on the streets after I was kicked out by family members. Going through school was difficult due to lack of school fees and at some point I dropped out of school.

In my life, I have worked as a casual labourer — cutting and crushing sugar cane for a paltry pay of Sh50 a day. With the savings I made, I put up a small tea and mandazi kiosk in Kisii town. I often played hide and seek with the municipal council askaris since I operated the business without a license. I made good savings, but not enough to take me back to school and none of my relatives was in a position to support me.

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Determined to be back in school, I convinced the headmaster of Nyambigena Secondary School in Kisii to allow me join his school, as I struggled to raise the fees. I was enrolled in Form Two. Unfortunately, the money I had was enough for one term and I was again sent away, despite the school bursar, who was my relative, trying to help me.

That must have been tough…

Yes, but I continued to put up a spirited fight. I went to my aunt’s home in Kisii town where I started hawking sweets, groundnuts and other wares on the streets. On a good day, I would take home Sh50. To add to my skills, I trained in and perfected the art of welding. Just as I was thinking of looking for a job as a welder, the proprietor of Hill Secondary School in Kisii, Onchweri Mwenga, who had taught with my mother at some point, offered me full sponsorship to his school. I grabbed the opportunity and enrolled in Form Three in 2003. I became top in my class. When I sat for my Kenya Certificate of Secondary Examinations in 2004, I emerged the best student from the school. Though I qualified to join university, I could not secure a sponsor.

I hawked stuff then later got a job as an untrained teacher, earning a Sh2,500 a month. I focused on saving some of the money to enroll for a professional course to help uplift my life. In 2006, I left the teaching job and relocated to Nairobi and enrolled for Certified Public Accountant (CPA) classes at the Strathmore College. My uncle offered me free accommodation in his rental rooms at Mukuru Kwa Reuben slums in Nairobi for three months, with an ultimatum to pay rent of Sh800 after this grace period. He threw me out when I could not pay the rent and I moved to a cheaper carton structure in the same slum. I became a newspaper vendor and with the money I got, I was able to complete my course. For lack of a formal job, I used my experience as a hawker and newspaper vendor to venture into sales. I hawked hand clothes door-to-door in residential estates. This proved rewarding as I made a profit of Sh15,000 in the first month. In 2008 I got lucky and secured a sales job with Places and Faces (PF), which dealt with fast moving consumer goods mainly from Europe.

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After training, I was sent out to sell the products from door to door or on the streets. I would leave my house at 3am to walk to Westlands to pick the goods and one day I was accosted by thieves who hurt me badly and took away all the money I had. Another unfortunate incident happened when I was arrested by City Council askaris and charged with illegal hawking. I spent two weeks in jail. Despite the challenges, I loved the job and there was potential to make good money. My efforts paid off when in 2009 I was promoted to the position of manager in charge of the Nyeri branch. Unfortunately, the company faced problems and was closed down. Having gained valuable experience from PF, I registered my company which continues to positively impact many young people.

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You have accomplished your dream of not being poor, what next?

(Laughs) As a lawyer, motivational speaker and CEO of Pitface Marketing Division, I want to change this country. However, the fight should not end with me. It should spread like bushfire to over 20 million young and jobless people all over the country. I want to be one of the people who bring light to this country. God willing, in 2017, I will be in parliament. In 2022 I would as well run for the Governor seat and later in 2032 the Presidency. My dreams are valid.

 

TheFounder Magazine

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TheFounder Magazine is an online business magazine that focuses on starting, running and growing a business in Kenya today

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