John Chomba quit his job at a government’s department in 1985 where he had been working for five years to venture into the business of selling motor vehicle spare parts and tires.
Mr Chomba’s dream was always to start a business and be an employer rather than an employee. He started entertaining the spare parts business idea two years into employment.
With Sh30,000 he had saved from his salary, he translated his dream into a reality. He, however, had to contend with the fact that he had little knowledge about the venture in addition to the financial constraints.
“We had problems with financial institutions which were reluctant to finance a new business. To get a loan, one was required to have collateral which was either land or some other property. I did not have any,” says the proprietor of Fontana Enterprises.
Mr Chomba, a mechanical engineer and a graduate of Nairobi’s Kenya Polytechnic (now Kenya Polytechnic University), was however confident he would learn along the way about the business and ultimately master the game. However, learning the ropes was by no means easy. Three months down the road, the challenges came in droves, pushing him to the edge.
“Three months after starting, I almost closed down the business. I was not making any profit yet I had to pay my three members of staff. This made me to go back to the drawing board to conduct more research about the business,” says Mr Chomba.
“It was not an easy ride but through resilience and determination I learnt more about the business as the time went by.”
Luckily, after doing the research and setting off again in the business journey, things began to look up. Going back to the drawing board he says “was the ultimate turning point of my business as five months later I made my first profit.”
“I remember very well the first time I made a profit of Sh15,000 five months into the business. At least for once, I did not struggle to look for salaries from other sources as I had done few months before,” he says.
The entrepreneur now advises that market research is indispensable for anyone who wants to start any successful business.
“Conducting research is crucial. Starting a business requires that you obtain critical information about the business. It helps a lot,” says Mr Chomba, adding that the environment for starting a business has changed tremendously and budding entrepreneurs have a number of options for funding.
“With an LPO (Local Purchase Order) today, one can access loans from banks. Rules for acquiring loans have been relaxed as well. You can also find relevant information online, something that we never experienced back then,” he says.
Looking back, Mr Chomba says, he has ridden the storm of challenges and come on top. He now has 15 employees and about 20 reliable customers whom he supplies with spares and tires. His spends about Sh350,000 on salaries, in addition to what he pays temporary staff.
Having realising how difficult it can get for those starting out, the entrepreneur now uses his long experience to help young people to get their footing in the world of business.
Under the initiative known as Entrepreneurship Training Programme which he started in 2010, about 700 youths from 17 sub counties in Nairobi have received free business-related courses. Trainees are taught how to apply for loans, prepare business documents and book keeping.
Mr Chomba says that although the government has set aside 30 percent of public tenders for young people, the disabled and women, they lack the requisite information and skills to successfully apply for them and generally navigate the ups and downs of the business world.
“The government has allocated 30 percent to youths, women and people with disabilities. However, rarely do the young people access the tenders simply because they have no information. We need to empower youths to take up opportunities that belong to them,” says Mr Chomba.
Echoing sentiments made by venerated former US president John F. Kennedy, Mr Chomba says successful entrepreneurs, or indeed any other citizen, should ask themselves what they have done for the country instead of always waiting on the government to do everything.
The entrepreneur desires to expand his programme to benefit more youth but says he lacks the resources to do so.
“Many youths should be incorporated because we have seen success stories out of this but I have limited resources to expand the initiative,” he says.
“I wish both government and private partners would come on board to help us empower more youths to become employees who will spur our tomorrow’s economy.”