What an excellent presentation we had, last evening!.
Yesterday we hosted one of the most successful Kenyan entrepreneurs, Mr Alex Nyaga, Chief Executive Officer of Parapet Cleaning Services who gave us a talk on 10 Things I’ve learned as an Entrepreneur. Before I devolve into the 10 lessons he gave us, below find a brief biography.
Alex is a 38 year old gentleman who attained his Degree in Hotel Management from EcoleLes Roches, in Switzerland and also an Associate of Science Degree holder in Food and Beverage management from the New England Association of Hotel Management Schools, U.S.A.
It was during his stay and working abroad that his passion for the hospitality industry grew deeper and got to appreciate the effort and skill that goes into the business. It is with this knowledge that Alex returned home after his studies to venture into the hospitality business in Kenya seeing the birth of the Parapet Group. Parapet Cleaning Services was established 16 years ago with a vision to provide not only professional cleaning services but to be the benchmark in proving over the top cleaning and allied service to the corporate and domestic East African market. Parapet is one of the leading professional cleaning and allied service company in the East African region with an impressive portfolio of major premium clients and also boasts of being in the elitist group of the Top 100 mid-sized companies in Kenya. Through his stewardship and rigorous streamlining of all procedures, systems and processes, Parapet Cleaning Services at the end of 2013 became ISO 9001:2008 certified.
He is currently the Group Chief Executive Officer and a shareholder of the Parapet Group and spearheads the Parapet Cleaning Services division and Parapet hospitality and business institute division of the holding company.
He sits in various boards of companies such as Parapet Limited, Hygiene & Safety Systems Limited(HSS), Excloosive Limited, Investment Cell Limited, Rosehill Limited to mention but a few.
With a philanthropic personality, he is in the district leadership of organizations such as Rotary International with the local chapter representing Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea and South Sudan. As a Rotarian, he is dedicated to service in my community. He has beena Rotarian since 2002 and the founder and charter president of the Rotary club of Nairobi- Langata.
10 Things He Learned As An Entrepreneur
- Lesson 1: You got to love what you do.
Alex admits that running a business is hard, and bootstrapping one from the ground up is much harder and requires a lot of perseverance. You will not have the energy to jump the inevitable hurdles and challenges unless your business is something that you are truly obsessed with. It got to be work that you can do without pay because you are passionate about it, something you love to do so much you can’t wait for the sun to rise to do it all over again! He loves cleaning, and does it quite a lot in his own house.
- Find Your Niche.
Alex reminded us that no business – particularly a small one — can be all things to all people. The more narrowly you can define your target market, the better. Rather than creating a niche, many entrepreneurs make the mistake of falling into the “all over the map” trap, claiming they can do many things and be good at all of them. These people quickly learn a tough lesson, Alex warns: “Smaller is bigger in business, and smaller is not all over the map; it’s highly focused.” Find a market niche — which you must defend by operating superbly and providing customer service without peer. His niche when he started as Commercial Cleaning Services.
- Create a brand that will outlive you.
Aim to create a brand that will outlive you. Aim to create an enduring great company that consistently delivers great result. His first clients were Kenya Airports and US Embassy in Nairobi. These are big clients with high expectations. He says you must aim to be a big recognizable brand if want to do big business. With a market overcrowded by competitions and players offering the same servises, you firm should also be the top of people minds.
- Respect your competition
Alex challenged us to stop viewing our competition as the enemy and instead use it as the catalyst to brilliance. He advises instead of investing your precious energy into hating or envying your competitors, use it to become the very best entrepreneur you can possibly be. He says your competitor’s help you find your place in the market and differentiate your offering. When looked at closely, competition, as a whole, does a lot more good than it does damage. The beauty is that, since monopolies are technically illegal, you can’t really avoid competition. So, you may as well accept it for what it is — inevitable — and learn to use it to your advantage. Keep your competitors close to you, collaborate where necessary, get to learn from them and know what to do better than them.
- Build structures and Systems
One thing a lot of entrepreneurs avoid doing in their business is implementing systems and structure. You are the business CEO, accountant, procurement officer, marketer etc. Alex says if you want to scale, you must have structures and systems. He constituted a board of directors early enough, and they brought a lot of experience and discipline to the company. He says it’s important to ensure your business can run for months in your absence, and that it’s not a one man show i.e. when you are sick, the business get sick etc. Systems will give you freedom to go for a holiday or give you more time think about new ideas, new ways of doing business etc.
- Surround yourself with mentors and peers and mentee.
As an entrepreneur there’s no boss any more to turn to for advice or direction—maybe not even any employees yet. You’re flying solo. But you don’t have to. You need mentors, they’ve “been there, done that”. You will learn from their mistakes and successes. They don’t have to have experience in your particular industry. They don’t have to be up on the latest trends or technology—you’ve got other sources for that. Their role is to share with you lessons from their experience in the hopes that you can learn them a bit more quickly and easily. A good mentor helps you think through a business idea, suggests ways to generate that startup capital and provides the experience and savvy you’re missing. Other than mentor Alex empathizes on the need to regularly converse with your peers, fellow entrepreneur, policy makers to get to understand what is going on. He says the worst sin of an entrepreneur is not understanding where the industry is heading, new policies that may affect your business or not understanding new trends etc… Attend business forums, expos join business groups etc.
- Be a good listener
Alex says a good entrepreneur must be a good listener. Get feedback from your staff and customers on a regular basis. He attributes the exponential growth of Equity bank to being a caring & listening partner that responds to customer needs. Ensure you have mechanism to get customer feedback. Have open and honest communication with your employees. Don’t the attitude of “I know what I am doing, what are you telling me” Most of the successful people are the ones who do more listening than talking.
- Grow With Strategy And Planning In Mind
It’s no secret that employees are more engaged when they know their work is meaningful. While providing clarity around organizational purpose doesn’t necessarily create grand meaning in life, it sure does give individual employees context for how their work fits into the big picture. As the CEO of parapet, he can not be everywhere at the same time, and his employees are the ambassadors and representatives of the company. For them to project the culture and the brand of the company they need to understand the company vision, mission and values. One way to provide such clarity is by involving them a them in the strategic planning process, and engaging them continuously. He summarized this point using Liverpool slogan. “Never walk alone”. Have a team that shares a common vision, and lives works towards it day in day out.
- Be Creative And Innovative
Alex says if as a business you don’t innovate, you will die. Innovation is what will give your business an edge, it what will help you outline the competition. As a entrepreneur he says it’s important you invest in market research, invest in research and development. You either innovate or die. ground beneath us is shifting at an accelerating rate.
Alex says as your company grows it’s good to diversify, which means giving new offerings that provides more value to your customers. Clients want a one stop shop for all their needs in a particular area, a whole package. But he cautions that it’s important to ensure that providing that new product or service falls within your realm of experience and expertise, and if you don’t have the expertise, acquire it. Your first product or service will not sweet spot forever. He started off as a commercial property cleaning company but they have now diversified to include offering such as Training in hospitality, Gardening and landscaping Gardening and landscaping, Fumigation and pest control, Garbage collection, Laundry services. New business should build on your strengths as a company.