Kenya’s dollar millionaire speaks of his success

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Society Stores Founder Trushar Khetia during an interview with The Standard (PHOTO DAVD NJAAGA/STANDARD}

Forbes Africa has ranked Trushar Khetia, 30, one of Kenya’s few dollar millionaires. Many of us would be happy enough with this distinction, but Trushar doesn’t quite believe he’s at the height of success yet.

He has a favourite quote: “Entrepreneurship is like living a few years of your life like most people won’t so that you can spend the rest of your life like most people can’t”.

He says he is currently between the first and last part of that quote.

Trushar has an easy smile for whoever he is talking to and a manner about him that would make you forget how successful he has been as an entrepreneur. At 29, he was named by Forbes Africa as one of 2016’s top 30 under 30 most promising entrepreneurs in Africa, despite his having launched his first business just three years earlier.

Trushar is the founder and chief executive of Tria Group and Tria Transit Media, which deals with out-of-home advertising. He also runs a chain of supermarkets as the founder and CEO of Society Stores, which has six outlets countrywide

From scratch

Aside from retail and advertising, he is passionate about music and hopes he can go back to regular dee-jaying like he did when he was younger. Still, he tries to find ways to do it in the midst of his busy schedule.

“I have been able to play for artistes like Jua Kali, Kleptomaniacs, Wyre and Bahati,” says Trushar.

“Every time I’m opening one of my retail outlets, I have one of these artists perform. Bahati performed recently for my Limuru store, which opened in December.”

Trushar comes from an enterprising family, but that mattered little when he decided to go into business.

“I chose to leave our family business (Khetia Supermarkets) in Kitale and came to Nairobi to start from scratch. I started Tria with my savings from the places I had worked before, including Procter & Gamble in the UK, plus clients that I had already closed. I was able to sell my idea to people who got on board and became my clients before I started,” he says.

“I attribute what I learnt about retail to having come from a family that was in the business, but when it comes to starting up these companies, getting them to where they are, I have done that by myself, independently.”

Trushar founded Tria Group in 2012 with Sh5 million, and it launched Tria Transit Media as its first venture. The business focuses on advertising via public transport.

“I believe the best form of outdoor media should be on-the-move media. In transit, you get a captive audience. These are guys who are stuck in buses and at bus stops. Our tagline is: We don’t wait for people to come to our message; we take our message to people,” he says.

The media company became a runaway success in just one year, but its advertising model was soon encroached upon by copycats.

“They were doing the same thing but in a shoddy and haphazard way and this started devaluing the market. They were undercutting, and sometimes it was because they were briefcase companies – an individual with no overheads, just a contract.”

Tria decided to diversify while staying true to the idea of captive audiences and started turning informal bus stages, where people had no shelter, into formal shelters with adverts on them. The company added advertising in malls, supermarkets and experiential media, where consumers experience the brand.

And last week, Tria unveiled a partnership with Jambojet, expanding advertising to planes. The exclusive deal will allow Tria to advertise its clients’ brands on all in-plane options, including beverage cups, napkins, luggage compartments, menu cards, table trays and headrest covers.

“We are proud to say that together with Jambojet, we are the first in Kenya to do something like in-plane ads. It has been a journey, and we consider this as Tria’s biggest achievement so far,” Trushar says.

Dealing with failure

Tria funded the launch of Society Stores at a cost of Sh20 million.

“Instead of the money coming back to me, which is what we call short-term gratification, I used the funds to buy a supermarket. I bought out an existing business in Thika in November 2014,” says Trushar.

Forbes records the store as having had a turnover of Sh1.4 billion in 2015. But Trushar still thinks he has more ground to cover.

“For me, success is a journey rather than a destination. It never comes to an end. The pursuit of success is continuous. The fact that you keep at it is what makes you successful.

“Maybe the day I choose to retire is the day I’ll say I have made it. I wouldn’t say I would ever completely not be in business, but making it would probably mean my business can run without my presence. Right now, if I am not there for two or three days, things start going wrong because we are still very young.”

And though all seems to be going well, Trushar says he is familiar with failure, and has embraced it.

“I fail every day at least in one thing – maybe I overlook or ignore something. But that is OK because that is how I learn. That makes me better, stronger and faster for the next thing. Failure goes hand in hand with success.

“The difference between those who make it and those who don’t is whether one decides to quit or not. Plus, I am willing to admit my mistakes and change very quickly.”

Indulge a little

As for how far he has come, Trushar says it is all about his passion, drive and dedication to what he does.

“I am very consistent. As much as I have been knocked down, I never give up. A lot of times I feel like giving up and feel like it is getting too tough, but the fact that I do not is what I attribute to where I am. I tell myself, ‘don’t forget where you started and where you want to go’. I remind myself why I got into this in the first place.”

Despite having had to sacrifice at first to build Tria and then Society Stores with Tria’s profits, Trushar can now afford to live a little and indulge his love for cars. His two main cars are a red BMW Z4, a convertible two-seater, and a Jaguar XF.

“I use the Z4 for the weekends because it is a really low car and there can only be two people in it. During weekdays, I use the Jaguar. I love my cars and, hopefully, I will grow that collection,” says Trushar.

He is, however, determined to not get too attached to things.

“Sometimes I joke around with my dad and when I am taking very big risks he says I am really pushing it. But I tell him that it is ok, because even if I lose it all, I will not lose myself and I can rebuild. As long as you do not lose yourself, then you have lost nothing. Everything else is materialistic.”

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