Caroline Gikunda is a director and proprietor of Alpha Charlie Solutions, a construction business that supplies building materials such as sand, ballast, bricks, and rough stones within the larger Coastal region and the Mount Kenya region, and runs holiday homes and villas at the coast.
She shares some lessons from her entrepreneurial journey.
I will always vouch for Chamas. I have initiated several such groups and they have built up the members. In table banking you pool resources together, borrow money at an interest and pay at the agreed group terms. The groups are run digitally on social media for optimum convenience. To wake up in the morning and be able to access a half-a-million-shillings loan in a few minutes on your WhatsApp is the best thing that can happen to a business person. The principle of trust and integrity rules here.
The key to your breakthrough is in someone’s hands. You may not know who that someone is. Make it your job to find them. It doesn’t have to be the big boss. It could be the lowest person in the social ladder. It’s always about people. Treat them right.
I have learned when to stop and cut my losses when they’re still manageable. Today, I am aware that if a client is having a difficult time paying for a truck-load of sand, they will certainly not be able to pay for ten lorries. I have also learnt that everyone cannot be my client. This has helped me set my standards, treat my customers equally, and give them the space to make their choice of supplier.
I was barely two-years-old in the transport business when I made my biggest loss. A certain guy approached me one afternoon and claimed that he had won a big tender with China Roads for which he needed to hire trucks. We negotiated and settled for Sh18,000 per day for each of my two trucks. He’d be paying after every 15 days. It was a good deal. We went to his advocate in Mombasa who drew an agreement and the trucks were released to Voi. Come the 15th, he failed to pay. He started spinning lies and switched his phone off. I visited his advocate’s office only to learn that the advocate had moved out of town. We withdrew our trucks which were in very bad shape and lost more than one million shillings. They needed repairs and our banks needed to be paid. Always ask for payments upfront.
I have learnt that in this country there are no shortcuts to making money. Once, someone came to me with a business deal that needed my input. It sounded so good to be real. I got a loan to finance it. It was a pyramid scheme in disguise and I lost money. Don’t just trust anyone because a deal sounds good. If your skills and passion are not in it, don’t engage in it. When you are no longer making money, what will be your driving force?
I value integrity because it has made my journey easier. Pay your debts. In business, you will find yourself with cash flow problems. To be rich is not to always have all the money that you need—it is the ability to access money whenever you need it.
I always tap myself on the shoulder for bringing sanity and order in the transport sector in this region. Often people would lose money to brokers. I was a victim of these shoddy services some years back. I yearned to change this. I got all trucks to bear the owner’s contact number and we registered a Sacco known as Transmasa (Transporters of Malindi Sacco) where I am the Treasurer.