In a job-seeking economy like Kenya’s, the plan is often to get a job and retire at 60. But on the altar of employment, ambition is sacrificed.
Peter Macharia recognized this after a few years of employment. “As I worked, the ambitions I had gnawed at me even more,” he says.
He worked in banking for two decades, moving from department to department. All the while, he clung to his dream: to start his own business.
If that dream had a heartbeat, by the time he was 40, the beat had gotten stronger and stronger. “When I turned 44, I opted for voluntary early retirement against the advice of my superiors,” explains Macharia. “Immediately afterwards, I established Jijenge Credit Limited (JCL).”
It’s been five years since Jijenge, a registered microfinance institution that doesn’t take a deposit, grew a hundredfold, “beyond my wildest dreams”, he says.
Macharia shares with us the secrets of his success.
You retired relatively young, why?
Because I still had the energy to work on my long held dreams. I remember having analyzed my performance with my employer: I had reached and exceeded the objectives that had been set for me. I realized that if I wanted my own business to succeed, I had better start when I had the fire to get things done.
You could still have started a business at 60…
At 60, you are more or less tired, your best years are behind you. People over 50 generally become risk averse. You only want to invest in something that you are sure will return. Before joining the business world, you should know that there are ups and downs. You need enough time to manage this risk. When the business flounders, you should be able to pick yourself up and start afresh. This is only possible if you are young.
What did you leave behind when you retired?
I worked with a bank as a relationship manager in charge of corporate banking in the Mount Kenya region – Thika, Murang’a, Embu, Karatina, Nyeri, Nyahururu, Nanyuki and Isiolo. I had a free house, a free company car, and of course a decent salary. But for me, all this could not correspond to the dream that I had been nurturing for all these years.
What prompted you to get started?
As a Merchant Banking Relationship Manager, I was the one who processed loans for start-ups and other companies seeking growth. I saw these businesses grow and prosper and realized that I could be the one to take out a loan to grow my business. Compared to the amount of money I generated for my employer, my salary was like a drop in the ocean. Why not make money for my dream business?
How long after retiring did you start Jijenge?
I retired in March and by April I had started the registration processes and office setup. In May, we deployed our services. But I had “trials” while I was still employed. I lent money to my colleagues and they paid me back with interest. I took inventory in a little booklet: it was so informal and manual. With Jijenge, I was just formalizing the business.
How did you market in the beginning to attract customers?
We have used word of mouth and strived to give customers the best service. Good customer service is the ideal way of marketing because our customers have referred more customers to us. I learned that with Jijenge. Clients come to us with the belief that they will be treated well and will leave if mistreated.
What is your flagship product?
Our main product is the loan against logbook. With the systems we have in place, it is very easy to process this installation – in an hour or less if the client has all the necessary documents. The other product that is doing well is credit to salaried customers.
There were many micro-lenders when you arrived on the scene. How did you manage the competition?
One of the things I did as we grew was to set up a research and development department. Each month, they provide us with the numbers that tell us how the company is performing against the competition, while innovating new ways to stay in touch with our customers and attract new ones.
Where did you get capital to start Jijenge?
Have you forgotten that I took voluntary early retirement? I came home with a good package, a golden handshake. It is indeed the golden egg that hatched in Jijenge Credit limited.
We started with just one client, today we handle around 500 installations every month. We have over 5,000 active customers in our system and since 2014 we have served at least 20,000 customers.