Do you mark personal milestones? For example, how did you make your first million and what did you spend it on?
If you had told me back then (when Ken moved into my apartment) that we were just about to make our first clean million, I’d have probably advised you to have your head checked out by a professional.
Just in case you’re wondering who on earth Ken is, kindly catch up by going through part one of my story here.
So, back to Ken moving in and my girlfriend making it clear that we needed to get our act together, quickly.
I totally get where she was coming from.
Two men heading into their 30s crammed into a trapezium-shaped apartment in Paipu (Pipeline) wasn’t the dream I had sold her.
As fate would have it, one of our gazillion business plans was about to turn us into overnight sensations.
Which reminds me. Anytime you have a light bulb moment, a business idea that you think is actually worth trying out...write it down.
You may not have the capital then, nor the slightest clue as to where to get the money but just write it down. The more detailed your business plan is, the better. From start up cost estimates, to potential sources/suppliers, to revenue projections….write it all down.
That’s what me and Ken used to do.
One of those business plans involved a briefcase company that would deal in branding projects. Right now that particular market is arguably saturated but back then, the possibilities were limitless.
After moving around the city for a while, we noticed a small gap that could potentially lead to a small fortune.
The fortune 500 companies were all single-sourcing their branding projects from one of, if not the biggest firm, in the country.
This meant that companies that fell just below the fortune 500 ones (I’m talking mid-sized companies with substantial budgets) were all left scrambling in search of a capable branding firm.
Single-sourcing also meant that that particular firm was stretched to capacity with projects stretched out for years in advance.
We knew the potential was there. We also knew that buying large format printers, heat presses and any other equipment needed in this particular line of work was out of the question….I mean, we were boarding in Paipu on a shoestring budget.
This is why we decided to take a different approach.
Having already tested out the potential business opportunity by taking up a few odd projects here and there (such as supplying branded t-shirts for several churches), we already forged ironclad relationships with the most cost effective print shops in Nairobi (along Kirinyaga Road).
These small small projects soon brought in enough money to start saving up in a joint account, which we would later turn into our business account.
More importantly, the small small projects helped us build a portfolio that could rival the best in the city. Then there was the ever-growing network.
Whoever said ‘your network is your net worth’ was right.
This was how we landed our ‘big gig’. Kevin (a member of one of the churches we had supplied) was impressed enough with the quality of our work that he recommended us to his bosses.
It just so happens that Kevin was a senior official at one of the biggest health clinics in the country.
This was it.
Our stars aligned.
Having saved up for the better part of a year, we had enough in our account to register our small company chap chap, buy an ETR machine, and the whole shabang.
We already had a detailed budget in the plan I mentioned earlier. The one that we drew up when we could barely afford chipo mwitu.
When it comes to these big corporations, briefcase inc just wouldn’t cut it.
Kev’s firm needed outdoor signages for all their branches (32) as well as wall branding across these clinics as well.
You should have seen us that evening in Pipeline, strutting around with imaginary springs in our soles.
Some quick math told us all we needed to know. A net profit of Ksh 1.9 million was what awaited us at the end of this project.
Never spend money you haven’t earned...pesa ni yako when it’s in your pocket. I don’t know which ‘mhenga’ said this, but he was spot on.
It was hard to contain the excitement once we had the L.P.O. in our hands. To be honest I almost quit my 9-5 job (In retrospect I’m really glad I didn’t). I spent the entire weekend window-shopping with my better half. I even went as far as buying her a bag she had been craving for months on end now.
It set me back a cool 10k from my savings...but I was just about to make 950k...what is 10 thousand shuwali….
I didn’t know the benefits of having a constantly funded bank account until this point. Now I do.
Constantly channeling money through your bank comes in handy when you need some funding, which was what we needed at the time.
We secured all the funding we needed without a hiccup.
However, my job commitments meant Ken would have to shoulder the burden of all out-of-Nairobi projects. This is why I found no issue when he asked if we could convert our business account withdrawal instructions from ‘both to sign’ to ‘either to sign’. It looked more efficient.
The projects went on smoothly. Yes, there were little issues here and there, but they mostly involved money, and I had access to funds. Remember my 50/30/20 budgeting rule? I had enough cash in reserve to ensure the project never stalled because of funds.
Once all the work was done, Ken made his way back to the city and took it upon himself to push Kevin to fast track the payment process.
I had my entire holiday planned out. I was just about to start my leave days which I had intentionally lined up to coincide not only with the projected payment timeline but mid year as well.
It's always cheaper to go on holidays during the off season. You’d be surprised by just how much you could save. I booked a 2 bedroom villa in Watamu (complete with a swimming pool)) for Ksh 2,500 per night.
On his part, Ken was house hunting, finally settling for a 3-bedroom stand alone house in South-C. I tried talking him out of it because the rental rate was enough to cause a seizure but he was having none of it.
“I deserve it. Lazima nijirudishie mkono,” he said.
I tried fighting him on it just before leaving for my holiday but my words went through one ear and out the other.
By the time I left, the payment was yet to hit our business account, but Kevin had assured me that everything would be sorted in the next 48 hours. Kev was a church guy, I trusted him. My girlfriend and I left on a Thursday.
Yep. We went by air. There’s something about knowing a million is just about to come in and getting onto a crowded bus that just didn’t make sense to me.
True to his word, the funds hit our business account a day into my holiday in Watamu. Ken called to confirm this the moment it hit.
I said a short (speechless) prayer of thanksgiving, and dived into the plate of roasted red snapper bae and I had just ordered at a high-end beachfront restaurant….soft life was well and truly activated.
I was in such a good mood that when I called Ken the next day and found him ‘mteja’ I didn’t think anything of it. He was probably soft-lyfing somewhere else. I’d try him again after the weekend...still unavailable.
I was worried. Maybe he had gone too far in some sherehe with his new found wealth.
The memorable holiday came to an end 5 days later. It was time to head back to the concrete jungle.
I had it all planned out. Commute to Mombasa, buy a Suzuki Swift I had been eyeing for a while now. A friend who works at the port was selling it at throw-away price in order to get the money he needed to upgrade to a bigger car.
Little did I know that Mombasa would be the town where I’d come face to face with death. This was where I’d taste the cold and empty nothingness of losing it all.
Ken was still missing. But I still couldn’t bring myself to imagine the worst. That was until I went to the bank to process the payment for my new whip which was parked right outside.
Remember the whole switch from ‘both to sign’ to ‘either to sign’? That’s how he did it.
I was inconsolable, almost stripping naked in the banking hall. It took the efforts of my screaming girlfriend and three security guards built like brick walls to hold me down.
I tried Ken’s line again...Samahani, mteja wa nambari… I sent my phone flying across the banking hall...splinters of plastic and gorilla glass flying all over the place.
Flash forward to 2022. Were it not for the 50/30/20 rule, I’d probably be selling charcoal upcountry. It always pays to have some money stashed away for a rainy day.
I simply went back to work as if nothing ever happened.
I have never spoken of it again until now. I’m guessing it’s because Ken finally surfaced after his disappearing act.
He called to explain himself and to apologise...I’m really sorry bro, nilipatikana…. I hung up. I’m not ready for that yet.
I haven’t read that many testimonials of friends who went into businesses together and thrived. Now I know why.
Don’t get me wrong, it can work but you need to go about it as business partners, not friends. Set clear rules, parameters and safeguards to protect not only yourselves, but the company as well…
Don’t be naive, I know I was.