Lifestyle business are described thus: a business a husband and wife start from their home hoping to supplement their income with a list of unique characteristics. They are hard to scale. Except Mr and Mrs Aunally Maloo did. Their business now sprawls Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Middle East (UAE & Kuwait), run from Kenya because “it is home.” As CEO of Mart Networks Group, he has been in the IT industry for the last four decades in senior management and as entrepreneur. He founded Computer Learning Centre training in ATC for Cisco, Microsoft, Oracle, Fortinet, DCT, ETA, PECB, PMP, Prince2, ITIL and a host of others. He is a fount of golden knowledge with a rich history of the IT landscape in Kenya dating back to a mainframe. His talk at the.Legends at The Promenade, Nairobi Garage, was enough to write a book. I chose to do snippets instead.
- Build bridges and relationships, not contacts
Networking events are notorious for stuffing our cardholders with a stash we never really get to use. As a result, we have no idea who could be our next door or even window into an opportunity. One of the hardest relationships to nurture and sustain is with an employer, both during and after working with them. It requires emotional maturity and social awareness. Maloo, however, cracked it brilliantly. His last cheque and his first LPO came from his previous employer. “When I left my job at ICL and started my business, ICL was my first client. Work is part of our life and when you leave, it needs to be in a good way. We parted on very good terms.” It bears saying that Maloo’s leadership style is not driven by the chest-thumping alpha male the world has come to associate with manly success. His is a stealthily muted presence. There is a reason this is a famous quote. “People do business with people they like.”
2. Have one stable thing in your life.
In his book, Originals, How Non-Conformists Move The World Adam Grant did a survey on founders of some of the world’s most successful start ups. His findings were startling. Especially once he discovered that they had one thing in common: one aspect of their life stable. Maloo’s was his wife. “When I started this business I did it from home with my wife. We didn’t have enough capital to rent a space. Luckily we had a garage and we turned it into an office. Without Mrs Maloo I wouldn’t have been able to go full out on the business. I was at home for a year and a half before we moved. She really really helped.”
3. Have a succession plan.
Unlike a number of Kenyan and African entrepreneurs, Maloo actually involved his children in his businesses from a very early age. They even studied keeping in mind their father’s empire and they now carry on his legacy with Maloo having retired. “So far it is still a family business and I have no problem with that. We haven’t brought in any investors. They can make mistakes and call Mzee when they have a problem. It terms of mentorship, you need to make sure you give them power to take over. I am always there, but they can run the business which is why I am running the training centre. It keeps me busy and gives me a reason to get up in the morning.” When clients go around the children he handles it. “People still call me, but there are standard procedures in place. With fresh blood, fresh ideas. The way they do business is different from how we used to run it.”
4. Don’t keep your knowledge to yourself
Maloo has run about 100 classes and his school grew very fast on infrastructure because they offered training with certification. An act that has in and of itself elevated the industry. This was just around the knowledge anyone who wanted to get certified had to fly to Dubai for classes. He also considered prior certificates as valid instead of recertifying. “We looked at it as more of a transition. You already have knowledge of the basics. Doing it means you are helping people help themselves. We started offering free classes because there was a need and we needed to reach the market. We were also still young.”
5. Money is the least important thing
Have you heard of the 3Ms? Let me educate you. Mentorship, Mention – someone who knows somebody you need right now, and Money, in that particular order of importance. Before you think of looking for an approaching a VC or an Angel Investor, ask yourself if money is what your business actually needs. You might be in need of a brainstorm, a sounding board, a strategy, access – something intangible, to rev up your business. Sometimes money is not the problem. 30 minutes with Maloo are far more invaluable that $10,000 funding. “Microsoft have an academy, Amazon have free programmes online. there are many7 ways to get technology. opening an office with nice furniture isn’t important. you need to focus on something that counts.”
6. Have your reason for starting a business
For years when Maloo was employed he says “We were looked after. When I came back from the UK, and worked for a couple of years in Mombasa is when something shifted. I got that urge to start a business but it took me another 10 to 15 years saving. ICL really mentored me, helped me to be ready to go into the market. It was the itch that was there. Experience is very important. You can’t go into something in which you are inexperienced in. The only difference now is that it takes a shorter time to learn with technology, and to be confident enough.”
7. Don’t let yourself be surprised
What was the last time something in your industry challenged your thinking and you found yourself flummoxed. Don’t be that guy. “The industry changes so fast that when you want to do something you need t6o start learning. I keep on finding out what is next even at my age. Which is why I can be confident with what I say. It is very important to stay in touch with new tech. But there are instances I have done a lot of things, brought in products that ended up being deadstock.”
8. 10,000 hours is a real thing
Before he started his own business, Maloo spent 15 years working as an employee. The 10,000 hours theory has been misunderstood to merely mean the passing of time aka 10 years. But it meant this period of time was spent doing the thing well and doing it constructively. In that decade and a half Maloo he saved his capital, instilled discipline and developed a strong work ethic. He acquired invaluable skills necessary for running a business, something that straight-out-of-school entrepreneurs never get to benefit from. “When I was young, I worked 18 hours a day.”
9. Hold someone else’s hand
In the beginning, before our columnist Bobby Yawe became what he is now, he would get his cables on credit from Maloo. At one point he ran out of credit, and money, and disappeared himself from Maloo’s radar until they bumped into each other one day. “I felt ashamed to come back, and I had two projects which I couldn’t do without cables. He gave me more credit and told me to go and make money. I did, and I realised the one thing I did not want most, was credit.” Maloo adds , “If you are honest and hardworking, people will be ready to help because they can see that you are getting somewhere.”
10. Word gets out about how you run your business
Your reputation will always precede you no matter how much you think you can run away from it. “Many young businesses are on credit. That results from a very short term vision. The worst part is it harms you because you lose trust. When you misuse the credit, word gets around fast. Your clients, people in the industry, everyone eventually gets to know. and the interesting thing is, those who didn’t pay me, did not become successful,” breaks down Maloo. Enough said.
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