Most entrepreneurs will tell you that at some point they had to stop and rethink their decision. But how then as an entrepreneur are you able to stay afloat at trying and low business moments? We sat down with the Managing Director of NAYA Solutions, Paul Mbua, who walked us through his journey into entrepreneurship.
With only two years in business the company has secured big names in its client portfolio and continues to be an ICT enabler for many organizations. However, they have also had a fair share of challenges.
NG: Hi Paul – thanks for taking the time to tell us your story. To start – Walk us through your career journey to what led you to founding NAYA Solutions?
PM: My journey in ICT started off, way back before the buyout of Kenya Data Networks (KDN) by Liquid Telecom. I started my career as a Network Engineer majorly focusing on Network Installation. When KDN was bought out and became Altech, I was still with the company and grew to hold different position in the ICT department. I left when the company before the Liquid Telecom buy-out. By then, I had grown from a Network Engineer to join the integrations team then later the core networks team. I left the company at the highest position in the ICT Department. At that point, I knew I needed to grow and find a new venture, and this is when I decided to move into entrepreneurship.
NG: Ok – so you started off working in industry before taking the leap into entrepreneurship. How did your previous life in employment help with Naya Solutions?
PM: During my employment tenure I realized there was a gap in the ICT Industry that needed to be filled. The gap was that most small institutions were opting to outsource IT professionals as opposed to employing them permanently as a way of cutting cost since maintaining skill set was too expensive. However, the companies offering the outsourced services were few and mostly expensive.
Just like any other profession, there are so many aspects tied to IT: Programming, networking and systems. Acquiring all these aspects and maintaining these skillsets is not easy for any SME, but if we could find a way of providing these skills at an affordable price when needed by our customer, then this could be a revenue stream for us. When we identified this niche, we knew we could satisfy the need since we had the skill set to do it.
NG: Ok so you saw a gap and knew you could fill it with your expertise and by essentially pooling resources and offering to growing businesses. Help our readers understand your offering and what makes you unique?
PM: NAYA Solutions is a family owned business and the core of our business is based on our skillsets, where I have skills in Networks and my brother on Software. We have however brought in other employees and people who help us broaden our skillset. Two years down the line our business is still afloat.
As NAYA, we are an IT Solutions provider that offering Managed Services that are cost-effective and technological solutions for small, medium-sized and large institutions. We provide innovative solutions to our clients by analyzing their challenges, determining their needs, helping them navigate through the various options and providing products and services that effectively meet their needs.
Our team comprises of deeply committed and knowledgeable professionals who successfully provide world-class service and support to all our clients. Let’s just says we are an IT Department of Organisations that do not have or do not need internal IT Departments to run their day to day services.
NG: A lot of people are currently in employment with a huge amount of expertise, which they feel they could utilise in building something of their own. At what point for you did you come to realise it was time to go on your own?
PM: I think two words come to play: Combination and Realization. Combination in terms of knowing that we had the skills sets and realization of having a gap in the market. We had realized a gap, and this was propelled by the fact that we knew that we had skillset we had would help us with the progression of our company for a couple of years. I had a background in networks and my brother had a background in Systems. Majority of ICT implementations need a mix of the two. The only thing that had been left was finding a programmer, a niche not quite common for SMEs. We knew we had what it takes, from formal education to work expertise.
NG: Right so essentially you realised you had the capacity and just thought, why not?
PM: Basically, yes. It was kind of that simple.
NG: And now you’ve been in business 2 years. What do you do on a day-to-day as the MD?
PM: My role majorly looks at sourcing new customers and formulating and ensuring that we adhere to our strategy as Naya. I am also tasked – or rather task myself with – managing clients, especially in levels where my team cannot handle. At times I am also involved in the hiring process and spend more time in the field with the clients, to just understand their needs and how we can really meet them.
Each new day varies from the previous one. I can have a day running from 9am to 3pm and have some that go past midnight. On a good day I am out of office by 3pm and try to be home by 4.30pm to make time for family.
We start off our Mondays with compulsory Monday meetings with the team, which are held on a rotational basis between the management and our staff. After that we normally have a team breakfast. On Fridays I initiated what we call the “Swahili Friday”, here we have the whole communication within and with our clients in Kiswahili. But other than that, my days rarely look the same
NG: What do you really enjoy as being your own boss?
PM: The fact that we are still running as a company is a major milestone for me. The second milestone is that through the years, we have managed to sign up amazing clients who have given us great business – and really is the reason we started this whole venture. Top on the list Africa Telerad, CocaCola, Nairobi Garage (big up!), Uhuru Flowers, Mojo Productions and many others.
We also recently opened our second offices in Nanyuki and are signing up more customers in Nanyuki like Equinox flowers. We plan to open our third office in Nyandarua County as well before end of Q2.
NG: Interesting Paul and perhaps on the less glamourous side that people person hear less about – what have been the hardest lessons learnt so far?
PM: When running a business is actually hard, what is really hard is when you are not in sync with your team. What happens is that you are building an awesome product, with huge potential, but then you still have people from within pulling you down. That is hugely frustrating and really requires so much experience and leadership from you as the founder.
Another challenge: here is a famous Kenyan Phrase, “ Hatuwezi kosana” this phrase has made us as a company hit some rock bottoms. This is where you have a client, you agree on a few terms get to deliver on them and boom! when it comes to payment, there are some delays and normally get a back and forth with them. Mostly you end up not getting the payment and this affects your revenue. We actually had to sit and review our terms and conditions and made quite strict.
NG: Who influences you most in your career and life generally and why?
PM: There several people who influence me in different ways, I get so much inspiration from, my dad. He; brought us up in a very good way and some of the things he did have really shaped who I am. He is the centre of our extended family and his kind of leadership is something that I would really look up to.
NG: What is your advice to entrepreneurs that are starting off.
PM: Get formal experience in employment under your belt first. Many times people make a mistake of diving into entrepreneurship but there are fundamentals about running a business and understanding how companies operate, that these old organizations know how to do like clockwork. Learn as much as you can during that time and then setup your organisation and implement and improve on what you have learnt.
NG: Great advice. As an MD what tell the younger version of you let’s say you at 230 years?
PM: Document! document! document! Ensure that everything is documented so that when the time comes with all the paperwork in place. Then work and life becomes easier. If you do not document, it is like it never happened.
NG: Dinner with one person…
PM: One person I would like to sit down and pick his brain is the Central Bank of Kenya Governor, Patrick Njoroge.
NG: Why is that?
PM: I think he is one of the humblest people, yet he went to the most prestigious schools.
My sit down with him will be on talks around his outlook on the economy and the areas he has gone wrong enabling him institute so many things. I also admire his integrity a rare value in most leaders today.
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