5 Questions about money: an interview with the Daily Nation
I had the pleasure of talking to Abigail Arunga for her column in the Daily Nation: Take 5. Here is a long-form version of my answers to the 5 questions she asked:
1. You've had quite the illustrious career in finance and business. What inspired the foray into your own company? Entrepreneurship has always been an eventuality for me. I've come from 2 generations of entrepreneurs before me and so I've seen first hand the impact a well-run business can have on industries, employees and customers. Funny story, I started my first business at age 10, selling eggs. They were from my mother’s chicken, which I took without asking for permission because I figured that they were simply laying around. I then cheekily figured out what price to sell them at by asking neighbours how much they bought eggs for and taking an average price. And just like that, I was off to the races, on track to build my little egg empire - until, of course, my mother discovered where all her eggs were vanishing to, and I learned for the first time about “supplier risk”! As I reflect on my journey, my grandparents and parents have been able to make a mark in their respective industries here in Kenya, which has gone a long way in opening my eyes to what's possible and "demystifying" entrepreneurship. I want to continue this path and build a global African company, cue Africa's Pocket. I have a number of reasons for choosing this path: a) I think it's important that we position Africa as a place to be proud and excited about.
Part of the reason we loved the Black Panther movie is that it reflects a version of our continent that is vibrant, charting it's own path and is bringing goodness into the world. I'm building a business that reflects this.
b) I don't think we have enough African companies highlighted on a global scale, yet we represent almost 20% of the world's population. This has big implications for brain drain, continued development of our nations and our ability to continue to compete. We need to build companies where the brightest minds on the Continent and beyond can be excited to work with. We need to grow and build real wealth and invest it in the next generation of entrepreneurs, and the one after that with the advantage of local context (like what currently happens in Silicon Valley)
c) I think that there are a number of companies that have lit the path for us as entrepreneurs on what it looks like to drive scale across the continent (e.g., Cellulant). And building on these giants is asking "how do I take this from Africa to the world"? I want to build something that is world-class in it's products, people and processes and improves the lives of several users in Africa and beyond. We leverage technology to equip Africans to manage, grow and use their money. And we have the audacious dream to do this around the world because, having worked and studied in different regions of the world, we realize how similar the money problems people face are - and that they can use our principles and technology regardless of whether they are managing Shillings, Dollars or Naira.
2. It isn't easy for young people to start businesses in Kenya, and yet they continue to do so. What are some of the things you think are important to remember when navigating the entrepreneurial landscape in Kenya?
Entrepreneurship is NOT for everyone. As one makes a decision to venture into entrepreneurship, I'd urge them to be really really clear about their "why". This is helpful in sanity-checking that there are not simpler, more fulfilling and more lucrative ways to achieve their "why". This clarity is very helpful in making the difficult choices, like whether to scrap a profitable product you've invested heavily in because it doesn't align with the overall business direction, whether to pivot business approaches or push further when it's hard to gauge consumer reactions, how to build your team, and the many other "simple but hard" things that keep entrepreneurs up at night. The other thing I'd say is that it typically takes much longer than expected to be 'successful', as they say, an overnight success happens after 10 years of consistency. As simple as it may sound, having a solid financial plan both for your personal and business finances is essential in increasing your chances of success. Lastly, having a solid support system has been especially important for me. This should be a group of people who motivate you, remind you why you are in this journey and most of all, help you solve problems as you build your business. For me, this is a combination of the family, mentors, advisors and employees who are building Africa's Pocket alongside me. 3. When you say the life you want - are you talking about financial security only?
Not necessarily! However, financial security makes it much easier to focus on achieving your dreams and goals, because the next meal isn't constantly on your mind. I believe that the foundation of how to navigate your money is a core life skill (similarly to the usefulness of learning the foundations on how to cook) that we should all take the time to learn. We've found that once you take care of your basic finances, a lot of other problems are solved and you can then focus more on other types of wellness that will improve the overall quality of your life. Our products run the full spectrum - from "oh my, I have no clue what I'm doing!" to "I have a grasp but know that if I optimise it I'll do much better". We're here as partners for you as you build your way towards the life you want, whatever that's driving a Lamborghini or eating fresh food from your garden everyday. 4. Your work has taken you to many places and stages. What occasion, that you have been invited to, was one of the most memorable for you?
I don't know if I can pick just one! Through my career in investing and my education, I've been honoured to be in many rooms where I've had to pinch myself.
However, one of my more recent experiences was in 2020 (seems like a decade ago!), when I was invited to a conference hosted by the Milken Institute (an economic think tank with a lean to financial innovation) in Abu Dhabi. It was tremendous! I was among investors, entrepreneurs and business leaders that I've only previously read about - the likes of Ray Dalio and Strive Masiyiwa (one of the world's best hedge fund managers and one of the most successful entrepreneurs on our Continent).
The highlight was when I attended a closed-room session hosted by Dr. Precious Moloi Motsepe on navigating the business landscape as a woman in the Middle East and Africa. I have a deep admiration for Dr. Motsepe because she's held her own despite being married to one of Africa's wealthiest and most popular business magnates, Patrice Motsepe. She hasn't disappeared into his shadow and instead has used her platform to empower women and drive an entrepreneurship agenda forward. She represents what I consider to be the kind of investor and advocate we need to grow large African companies; she's been there for the journey of building and so understands the patience and strategies needed to succeed in Africa. Being able to have meaningful discussions about what it takes to be impactful in business while also being a present wife and mother, especially in the context of African culture with her and other women, was priceless. It gave me something tangible I can model when shaping the role I can play by building our future.
5. Have you read all of those books that everyone reads about money - Think and Grow Rich, Rich Dad Poor Dad, The Richest Man in Babylon? In your honest opinion, do they actually work? Haha, yes I've read them all - it comes with the job! Seriously though, even today, I'm constantly reading and absorbing. At its core, there are 3 things you're trying to do in order to grow your wealth:
Spend less than you earn
Invest the difference, and
Don't lose your capital
It's similar to what you're trying to do in order to get healthier:
Consume fewer calories than you burn
Exercise to stay healthy and increase your metabolism (ability to burn calories)
A lot of books say this in one way or another. However, the nuance comes in on how to actually execute this.
For fitness, do the books advocate for keto vs intermittent fasting? For finance, do the authors see debt as helpful or hurtful? Do they recommend saving like crazy or saving and growing your income? In the end, Africa's Pocket is in the business of helping you make better financial decisions, and to do that, I seek to understand which mindset you are coming from, where you want to go, and the range of ways you can get there. In terms of the books you mentioned, Think and grow rich is excellent for understanding the psychological aspects of wealth building and self improvement in general. I go back to this book often, especially when I want to make a change in my life (I found it especially helpful with fitness). Rich Dad Poor Dad is probably the first interaction many of us have with managing finances. I find it great as a starter book but it's not comprehensive. I also find some of the thinking around employment to be a bit outdated. Generally speaking, you are more likely to be financially stable if you are employed vs if you go the entrepreneurship route (about 90% of businesses fail). I'd recommend reading this as a first step, but complementing it with additional resources and views to support your money journey.
The Richest Man in Babylon is a classic as well, useful for both intermediate and advanced money managers. The book has excellent principles on investing but it can definitely put off someone who is new to investing. For those interested in starting this journey, I'd recommend Money Wise by Rina Hicks and Smart Money Woman by Arese Ugwu - they are both easy to read, very practical and written by powerful black African women. And ofcourse, I'd be remiss if I didn't recommend our own courses - sign up at www.africaspocket.com With that said, I don't believe there's a single book you can read that can completely transform your finances. This isn't one-shot-and-done, it's a journey of many decisions and learning as you go. It's a lot like dancing - no one YouTube video, watched once, can turn you into a great dancer.
So at Africa's Pocket, we break up our insights, principles, and action plans into different courses so they are easier to consume - and action on. We believe in starting slow, taking it a step at a time and building in systems to make your financial and life journey sustainable in the long-run. And remember, the journey is some parts education, some parts environment, psychology and some parts action - keep this in mind as you put in the work and you'll see results. And most of all, enjoy the journey - it's your life, after all!