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What Sh80 taught me about building a multi-million firm


 

Young, confident, wealthy, charismatic and humble. If you had to describe Danson Muchemi in five words upon meeting him, that is what would come to mind.

Danson is the co-founder and chief executive officer of the multi-million-shilling company, Jambopay.

Fast becoming a household name in East Africa, Jambopay is an electronic payment service provider that gives businesses, governments and personal users a platform to conveniently make payments or collect revenue online, on mobile devices and across a network of agents and banks.

Danson started his company when he was fresh out of college. But Jambopay was not his first business.

One of his most memorable figures is the number 80.

“Eighty shillings. That’s how much money I made from my very first transaction.”

He was selling rabbits that his parents had bought him to teach him responsibility. As a child, that Sh80 made him realise that if you take a job seriously, no matter how small, there will be a reward.

Electronic Pay

Danson took this entrepreneurial drive with him to campus where he started a digital media rental store that recorded lessons from lecturers that he would then sell to students, he also rented out movies.

“I didn’t make much profit, but I learned skills, such as working with my peers, navigating business politics, identifying needs that many others miss and providing solutions. I still use the lessons I learned there to date.”

Except now he is dealing with billions of shillings and has a client base that includes government agencies, counties, banks and credit card companies. Jambopay currently has 1.2 million users and more than 3,000 merchants. The company impacts approximately eight million to 10 million Kenyans every month.

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“I don’t think we have even begun to scratch the surface, to be honest. I think we are at 6 per cent of the potential of Jambopay.”

This comes from a man who started his business in a cybercafé eight years ago.

Danson was very clear he wanted to start an electronic payment system company. He had no capital and no experience, but he knew what he needed: a computer, Internet connection and a desk. He convinced a cybercafé manager to rent out one desk and computer to him at a monthly fee of Sh4,500. A few months later, he expanded to two computers at the rate of Sh7,000.

Danson says the first time it really hit him that he was going to make it was when he secured a meeting with the Central Bank of Kenya to discuss his vision and get accreditation.

“I walked out of a cybercafé and walked into Central Bank dressed in a suit and carrying a briefcase with a detailed proposal, like a real businessman. That was the moment I knew.”

Daily Dedication

Jambopay now occupies the same space that that cybercafé once sat on, except the firm has expanded to the entire wing of the 12th floor at Viewpark Towers in Nairobi, and is in other countries, including Uganda, Tanzania and Senegal.

Danson’s journey to this point, however, has not been easy and has required daily dedication.

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One of his biggest fights has revolved around Nairobi County’s eJijipay platform, which Jambopay supports. The county collects parking fees, land rates, business permit fees and other levies through this platform, with Jambopay taking between a 1.5 and 4.5 percentage of the cash transacted. Danson has had to fight off claims that his company unscrupulously won the bid to provide the service.

“There were more than 65 firms that responded to the tender. The evaluation process was overseen by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the World Bank. It entailed technical and financial evaluations. Only three firms made it to the fourth round, which was the financial evaluation. One of the firms was disqualified on a technicality, while the other company had a lower technical score than we did and a high implementation fee. It was a very competitive tender,” Danson says.

He adds that JamboPay provides similar services to 3,000 other organisations in the countries it operates in, and is not worried that the issue has become politicised with this one client.

“Bold entrepreneurs walk through such tough storms again and again. I want to be a good example to other young entrepreneurs by not giving up.”

Danson says one thing that has helped Jambopay stand out is a philosophy by which he lives: innovation and progression. Indeed, walking through Jambopay offices is like walking through a supercharged football field. There are young and energetic people everywhere. The typical age range is between 24 and 37.

“It’s all about the attitude. How willing are you to transform who you are and become more? I am not interested in people who think they know it all. I am interested in people who want to learn.”

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Danson admits that it is not always easy to transform minds when creating something new. However, that is the only way to progress.

“There is no need to provide a service that already exists if you can’t improve on it. Every six months, you need to overhaul your systems and realign your life and your goals. Because if you don’t, something or someone will come along and blow you out of the water.”

Over the years, Jambopay has won several national and global awards, including the Google Innovation Award. Danson attributes this success to a central belief in God and in the power of listening to his inner voice.

“Business is not just about numbers. Business is about conviction. Anything I do comes from my heart. I make a very clear decision. I refine this decision in my mind. And only then do I act.”

Danson stresses over and over about the power of clarity. He says many business or ventures fail because people are not clear about what they want or what they stand for.

Jambopay has a detailed strategic five-year plan. The ultimate goal is that by 2022, it will be a listed company at the NSE.

Danson aspires to build it in a fashion that will complement the needs of the everyday African user because, in his words, “We are first and foremost sons and daughters of Africa.”

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