Brian Munene got his first job in the construction industry while a first-year architecture student at the University of Nairobi.
The lessons he learned in the years that followed from the professionals he encountered helped him start a real estate development consultancy – Marcus Miles. He shares the leverage he’s found by working with partners who share his vision.
What was your start in the construction industry like?
My first job was doing interior design and landscaping for a client.
I was paid almost nothing, but going into my second and third years of school, there was an increase in the number of clients I had. This was mainly because at the end of the semester, the university would hold a public exhibition for the best works, and I would leave my number there and whoever found my work interesting would call me to do a project for them.
After this, most of my clients came by way of referral. During this period, I interned for different firms and I would report to the registered architects, who would give me a lot of assistance.
After I was done with school in 2013, I continued to work for clients who were referred my way. I lost quite a number of clients back then, however, as I was still learning the ropes. But with time, I sharpened my methods and became more professional, and eventually the time came for me to decide what kind of clientele I wanted to work with.
Is this when you decided to start Marcus Miles?
Yes, it was. That was in 2014 and the decision was mainly driven by frustration.
It was difficult working for clients whom I didn’t have signed agreements with as some of them would default on payments. I decided that it was time to get more professional.
By this time, I had grown to a point where I was sure of my capabilities and was confident that on signing a contract, I could deliver what I had promised.
What were you looking to accomplish by setting up your own construction firm?
We saw a gap in the market that we could fill. Marcus Miles has three directors. Two of us are in our late 20s, while the other director is in her early 40s.
We have all grown up as entrepreneurs. We have sold chicken and done a lot of other hustles here and there, so it was easy for us to see and identify a need in the market.
When I would work for clients, I would give them the architectural drawings and then they would ask me where they could get an engineer or a contractor.
They would have to go looking for all these people and that’s when we realised there was an opportunity to create a one-stop shop for all things construction.
It’s so much easier for the client to deal with only one person instead of a large number of different professionals. It’s such a mess when you go for a site meeting and find the architect and engineer arguing in front of the client. These are the types of situations we are looking to avoid – as well as to increase the efficiency of construction projects.
The second reason we thought it prudent to open Marcus Miles was because in the construction industry, a well-seasoned architect is aged about 45 to 60. That is a long time to wait for the money to start coming in.
If you’re employed as an architect or an engineer, it’ll take you a very long time to get up the career ladder. By coming together, we not only solve clients’ problems, but we get to achieve our career objectives earlier than we ordinarily would working for a firm.
What were the challenges you faced in your new venture?
When we started Marcus Miles, it was like starting afresh. We had to build a whole new base of clients. Those who knew me from before knew me for doing jobs with small budgets, but now I wanted to work on the other end of the scale. We had to build client trust from scratch.
How did you choose the consultants that you work with?
I found the partners I was looking for at a weekly forum called Business Networking International (BNI), where professionals meet to network.
To join the group, one has to undergo a rigorous vetting process to ensure that all the companies represented are legit and above board. Within that group, there are those who were focused only on construction. I got talking to them and together we formed The Dynamites Group.
In this consortium, we have consultants, contractors, material suppliers, plumbers, hygiene service suppliers, environmental impact assessment professionals and all that. The Dynamites Group now has a sufficient group of people who can carry out a large project from start to finish.
Does this mean you needed to close Marcus Miles?
No, because what we had created could comfortably fit in The Dynamites Group. As Marcus Miles, our contribution to the larger group is in the provision of professional consultants. We provide the architects, engineers, environmental consultants, specialists, and so on.
What’s the appeal of the consortium you have created?
When a client comes to us, we can offer them a turnkey, or complete, solution; from researching the viability of a project to doing architectural drawings and managing all aspects of the construction process.
The client only has to deal with one person as opposed to numerous contractors and engineers who will be working on the same project. It takes away the headache of them having to figure out the different aspects of construction for themselves.
How do you structure the partnership you have with the other members of the consortium?
When we are working with consultants, we sign a contract with them beforehand stipulating their responsibilities and the profit-sharing agreements.
For big projects, we charge 5 per cent to 15 per cent of the total project cost, while for smaller projects (Sh20 million and below), the client pays a deposit and the rest of the fee on completion. This is the money that we split with the consultants who work with us on various assignments. Our supply partners don’t take a share of this cash, but instead make their money from the mark-up they place on the products they provide.
What’s your plan for Marcus Miles?
We’re hoping to grow the business to the point where we are setting up our own development schemes: providing decent homes, schools and hospitals in the communities we live in.