Innovation stems from having an open mindset, and while it doesn’t come easy for many, Kenyan entrepreneur Evans “Vance” Muriu has managed to merge altruism with business to achieve a rounded whole.
Muriu is CEO of Vance Consult and Vance Motors in Nairobi. He also quadruples as a mentor, motivational speaker, artist manager and founder of a Nairobi-based nongovernmental organization, Kuna Vijana, which means “There is young talent” in Swahili.
For Muriu, multitasking is simply a matter of planning.
Muriu spoke to AFK Insider on the technical hitch that got him started in business, and the progress he made from looking for money to building relationships with clients, as well as a vibrant online presence that transcends geographical borders.
1. What was your first job?
When I was about 10 years old, my entrepreneurial skills began to bud in selling popsicles to my friends. I lived in a neighborhood where the nearest popsicle shop was about a mile away. So instead of sharing my popsicles with them, I would get on my bike, ride to the shop, buy some and sell them to my friends at the same price. When I realized my monopoly, I went ahead and started charging five times the price. Since my friends had no way of knowing where I got them from, they bought them gladly. It all ended when one of my neighbors realized the potential in that demand, and started making and selling popsicles at half the retail price.
Much later, when I was 16, I ran a DVD sales and rental business in high school, and unwittingly ran away from formal employment when I started a video library after school. And over the years, I had tried different things, including music recording, but finally settled on the video library. That was my first serious business.
2. How did Vance Consult and Vance Motors begin?
Chance meets everyone at some point in life, as it did with me. I got a misdirected text message from someone who was looking to buy a car. Since my neighbor’s father had a car yard, I asked him if he had that specific one available. He confirmed that he in fact had the exact specifications that my “client” was looking for.
I went ahead and planned my client’s visit to view the car. Unfortunately, it turned out that the car was not in the color he had requested. He was so infuriated at my wasting his time that I offered to foot the expenses he had incurred in making his way to the yard. In addition, I went ahead and found him yet another, to his exact specifications, took photos, emailed them to him and we met the next day to close the deal.
Although that ended well, I didn’t get the (commission) I wanted. However, I got points of reference from the car yard owner, who was impressed by the fact that I could sell cars fast without charging a hefty commission. The buyer also went ahead and sold my ability to close deals.
After my first sale, I got calls from prospective car buyers, and started selling on behalf of others for a while.
Later, I ventured into selling my own cars. The business was great for a while, until the market froze and people stopped buying cars. I had bills to pay, and though it was tough I tweaked my business model fast, introducing car hire services.
Unknown to many, I hired out the cars that were on sale. The problem came, however, with some drivers’ recklessness, which depreciated car value. To avert this, I stopped doing self-drive car hire, instead getting drivers and offering transport services. Today I have a range of cars to offer – from small sedans to buses.
With Vance Consult, I realized while running Vance Motors that I had an uncanny way of doing things. My approach is simple, realistic and timely. I have a 360-degree perspective that gives me the luxury of exploring, and choosing by trial, error and refinement of processes from all the available options. I now help my business clients ensure that their targets can be met with minimum effort, and that any growth projections will not be more than the capacity of a venture.
Clients come to me with their problems, I troubleshoot, offer a solution and within a set timeline, their venture efficiency works out. I started out dong this for friends and family, then realized that I could also cash in, and thus was born Vance Consult. I help brands get to where they want to be, within the limits of their budget.
3. Tell us about your current engagements. How do you manage multitasking?
Multitasking all comes down to planning.
In addition to my car and consulting companies, I run an NGO – Kuna Vijana – that empowers the youth on how to use available resources to maximum capacity. Under the NGO, we have successful projects such as Wanadamu – Swahili for “human beings” – an initiative that has saved lives by maintaining a database of willing blood donors, who are called upon in the event someone is in need of blood. Last year we received a grant from Safaricom (Kenya’s telecommunications giant) after people voted for us online, in appreciation of our cause and the positive impact it has had in society.
I am also an artist manager, currently managing Wini Nkinda, a renowned Kenyan dancer formerly of an all-girl dance group called Boomba Girls. She is now a performing and recording artist. I also manage another artist, Roba, aka Oteraw, one-third of a Kenyan rap group called Kalamashaka.
I also co-run Roadtrip Kenya – popularly referred to by its social media hashtag, #RoadripKE. We plan night-out events where people who have never met meet, have fun, tour the country, make new friends, have fun, let loose and the lucky ones get paired up. The pairing up was not part of the business plan, but it happens!
I am the executive director of Africa Gathering Kenya, where we have conversations geared towards transforming Africa as a whole. I also run Kenya Road Safety, through which we undertake projects with the aim of making the Kenyan roads safer. I occasionally write and mentor younger generations on different forums, and am now the Nairobi chairperson for this year’s Twitter Festival – dubbed Twestival – through which we will be doing an event to raise money for a deserving charity.
I manage to run all these engagements by continually learning to maximize on my 24 hour-day. At present, I work for 21 hours, sleep for three, and while I know it is not good for my health, I work with dedicated, like-minded people who make it happen. My system has structures and strategies that enable success.
4. Who is your role model in business and why?
Richard Branson. It’s all in the way he does everything he puts his mind to, and his humility.
5. What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
If everyone would sweep their own doorstep, the whole world will be clean.
6. What are some of your greatest achievements?
There have so far been a couple of milestones in my career. Among the most remarkable so far, has been our effort to put a smile on the residents of an internally displaced persons’ camp called Jikaze, since 2009.
I also won an innovation award for Wanadamu, barley 10 weeks after its conception. I have been invited to speak at high profile events, but my main satisfaction comes from taking nothing and turning it into something.
7. What do you love most about Kenya today?
Kenya is ripe. There is no better place to put your ideas out to play, utilize your skills and resources, than Kenya. If you get the mindset right, Kenya is the best place to be.
8. What is your message to Africa’s young, aspiring business people and entrepreneurs?
It is never about the money. Noble causes go downhill because of the money factor. There are other things which are more important, like relationships. Tough talk will never get you your desired results. Avoid hiding behind technology when the personal touch is called for.
9. Do you see Africa as the next frontier? How so, in terms of investment opportunities and Kenyans in entrepreneurship?
Already, Kenya is becoming known for its vast and fast growth in technology. With projects like Konza City materializing, the youth taking their place in leadership and governance, many young people are looking to start businesses.
This, coupled with a new and energetic government in play with a strong opposition keeping a keen eye on said government, there is only one direction the Kenyan economy is going and that is up. Our collective voice is beginning to carry on social media and the Internet. Former president Mwai Kibaki set a precedent, showing Kenyans that we can do anything we set our minds to; so watch out world, Kenya, and Africa, are coming.
10. If you were stuck anywhere in the world and could choose the place and one thing to be with you, what would you choose?
I would go to south coast, in Mombasa. I would also need a tablet.