Q&A Monday: Muthuri Kinyamu

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Muthuri Kinyamu is a marketer by training who now works for entrepreneurs. His typical day revolves around innovation, stories and people. He landed into a PR class by mistake (and loved it) and from then he has immersed myself into building sustainable brands and telling stories. Thereafter he drowned himself in all things social and digital which lead me to the chaotic world of startups. He is currently perched at Nest, at the intersection of venture capital, media and entrepreneurship looking after PR and Partnerships for Nest in Africa.

We had a few questions for him and this is what he had to say.

1. Your first phone?

A Motorola C168. I got a sim card first which I’d insert in my mum’s Sagem whenever I was sent to drop off or pick it from the charging kiosk in the village. Life was good then, before Facebook was a thing, or Twitter came to be in Kenya, we’d switch off phones before going to bed. Now as I type this, I have to resist the urge to check WhatsApp notifications because there’s a deadline to submit this – already past OMG. It’s just easy to get distracted nowadays.

2. Between Facebook and Twitter, which one do you prefer? Why?

I love Twitter. It’s the place we all run to share our two cents and five bob opinions freely. I’ve met so many amazing people and I believe you can find your true voice there. Oh Twitter ruined blogging careers, now folks just tweet (or drop a Tweetstorm).

3. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Depends on who’s asking (and who reads Hapa Kenya) and only politicians and corporate executives set five year strategic blueprints.

I just want to do certain things, on a global scale – play in the major leagues someday – for this country, and the continent. Retrospectively, a lot has happened in the last five and I am still in that 20s discovery phase experimenting with lots of different things – learning what works and how to do things better. That’s what people call experience, right?

Five years on from now? Loud sigh; no alarm clock? Wherever I will be, I am pretty damn sure I will still be working for or with entrepreneurs, accelerating innovation and contributing to the startup ecosystem/s. I love my life behind the scenes, on a keyboard firing away and connecting people – would love to keep it that way.

I have no masterplan, I also don’t set resolutions, and I consistently knock on doors that lead to interesting problems and present opportunities to do some meaningful work. That said, if all turns out well, I’d love to team up to build something cool in the middle of nowhere – think of it as what a Retreat Centre is to prayerful Christians or Camp David. It’s going to be a safe house for crazy people and misfits to unplug, think through serious stuff and leave with a firm playbook. I’d love to spend some weekends there with people, maybe do off sites and see guys through tough and good times, transformative moments and have deep conversations late into the night.

Wish me luck.

4. Any question for us? We’ll publish our answer as well

From your lens, what does the future of tech hubs in Africa look like? And why?

I see hubs pivoting to a commercial model in three ways.

  • Charging startups to use their space.
  • Pursuing commercial interests and/or partnerships to keep the lights on while offering the space for free to startups.
  • Offering space to key startups in exchange for equity.

I see this happening because traditional models of NGO and corporate CSR funding are not sustainable and hubs need to find a different way to survive.

5. What would you do if you were president for a day?

First things first, with all powers vested upon me, I’d check in to State House and let my friends know I am the boss.

I’d also invite my dad and mum to that office too! Mums always pray for good things to happen to their sons so I’d have breakfast with my folks :-). When I was going through adolescence drama my dad vowed never to come to State House even if I became President. For context, he somewhat said it’s my life and I get to enjoy all the good things and trouble that comes with whatever I get myself into.

Anyway, back to work – I’d call up a few people and ask what I can do for this great nation in a day and get down to make it happen. I’d also send another batch of politicians to Pangani, Kamukunji and Central etc – they all deserve a Pangani 6 experience before 2017πŸ‘€. With politicians behind bars, I’d hatch a secret plot and launch an alternative vehicle. My wishful thinking has lead me to believe 2017 should not be about two options – two families, parties and a battle between incumbents and old guard. Kenyans deserve a third choice, a viable and progressive alternative that cuts across tribes, age and ethnic lines.

I’d set up a task force or a commission – Anti Mathogothanio Unit and appoint Dan Aceda to chair it – we need less BS to prosper. I’d look into what happened to Enterprise Kenya, and stall efforts to privatize KCC, spearhead coffee sector reforms and get juice on the whole plot to split KBC. I am all for farmers, after all people must eat!

After lunch, yes I plan to enjoy state resources- I’d jump on Twitter for a live AMA. Of course if it’s on a Friday, the emperor will hold court at State House, convene #FounderFriday meet up, throw a good party and leave something like “MK was here” on the wall.

Before leaving, I’d call Baks, Moi and UK to talk about life and moments in the house on the hill and later pardon politicians I sent behind bars. That’s enough for day? After all I’ll have 24 hours.

6. What’s your favourite book & movie?

Book: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

Movie: 3 Idiots – all is good πŸ˜‚

7. Who or what inspired what you do now?

It’s a sum of everyday interactions and opportunities. Hard to pinpoint events or people who inspired me but if I have to drop names, I have to say Eric Kinoti of Shade Systems and Dan Nduati of Brand2D gave me an opportunity and access early on to discover myself and learn what I enjoyed most.

While at Shade Systems, leading Business Development and PR, I got first hand experience on how to get a company off the ground and the power of story telling. Later on at Brand2D, Dan Nduati exposed me to a whole new world of big brands, branding and essence of quality work – doing the stuff you are proud to leave your name on it. I have found meaning and purpose in being a part an entrepreneur’s journey in pursuit of their life’s purpose from the early days and enjoy telling innovation stories. Current mission: rewriting Silicon Savannah script and amplifying certain narratives. Nobody knows and understands Africa better than Africans – we have to tell our stories, by Africans for Africa (and the world) and in the African way. It’s time to beat our drums! It’s time for Africa!! πŸ˜‚

8. If you were to change jobs, which profession would you get into? Why?

Tough one, but I think I’d be a designer, creator, builder of sorts or in a lab somewhere. I am fascinated by how things are created and come to be. I have this crazy obsession to be a part of something from the early days – I enjoy the hustle, uncertainty and pain of starting from scratch and building it from the ground up.

9. If you had a superpower, what would it be?

A superhuman mind and invention skill set would be helpful in my line of work. A bold future belongs to people who create and usher things that do not exist into our lives. There are lots of problems and I’d love to solve some of them, leave a legacy in the process maybe?

10. Which 5 things would you want to have if you were deserted on an abandoned island?

I love quiet spaces and solitude – this sounds like a great solo adventure.

  • A sleeping bag (I love my sleep)
  • Some whisky (to put myself to sleep)
  • My phone (just to let the Twitter know where I am stuck)
  • A bow and arrows (my paranoid self, food and because TIA)
  • Some old newspapers and magazines ( I love reading those, plus the smell of old paper and they are multi purpose ).

11. If you were a car, which one would you like to be? Why?

Tesla Model S. Musk is a geniusπŸ˜‚

Tesla Model S

12. If you could be in any band in the world, which one would it be? Why?

I’d be in Guns N’ Roses. They are/were cool and made history. Ricky: Built a culture too. Slash’s riff in Sweet Child o’ Mine is considered by most as the best guitar riff of all time. Despite the drama and setbacks, they still command a faithful following over two decades. They contributed heavily to Rock merchandise wear through the licensing of their iconic logo etc.

13. In your honest opinion, what the current status of the Silicon Savannah?

The playing ground is heavily tilted and we do our fair share of heavy lifting to even that ground for local entrepreneurs to plug in and play. There’s a lot happening but most of the opportunities presented to startups are just distractions – we need more of concrete stuff not PR.

Everyone’s still trying to figure out what to do and how to do it better than everybody else. After five years, people and organizations are refining their offerings so I’d hope to see more specialization and consolidation – laser focus moving forward.

I hope to see less of personality driven initiatives that rise and set around certain names. Communities or movements do not need faces and names as it’s been last five years but a purpose and sense of ownership moving forward. We need to our differences aside, pull it all together and push harder to make it happen.

I believe Silicon Savannah ecosystem can rally behind something great- I’d hope to see more of cooperation (and less of competition and replication). I truly believe innovation born here can apply elsewhere and compete globally. We have to strive to present equal opportunities – not based on gender, age, nationality or accents but capabilities. Privileges must also be checked πŸ™‚

b. How does one go about securing funding for their startup?

There’s lots of literature and resources online how to go about this, what different investors look out for in people and companies – there’s simply no one way to do it. All investors have mandates and focus, which you should read before submitting a deck or asking for a meeting to pitch.

To answer your question.

  • Investors are human and just like other people they can be right or wrong and venture capital is a retrospective game. Your core focus should be your business, problem you are solving and customers not what investors are looking for.
  • Understand why you need the money – most entrepreneurs do not think through this.
  • Access is truly more valuable than capital – money cannot solve access problems but access can fix money problems. Go for folks with the right network, experience and credibility – good reputation opens doors.
  • Instead of pitching to everyone, narrow down your search and seek introductions. It’s a sure way in.
  • Learn how to have a conversation not constant pitch mode – without necessarily feeling like you’re being interviewed or in a due diligence session. Ask for help when you need some advise or introductions – it’s a sure way to tell how valuable they are.
  • The network also plays a huge role here – they’ll ask “what do you think about X”, “or know about these guys” – ensure your street credibility is clean and oh do a quick scan on the investors too – look at portfolio companies and reach out with questions, hopefully theyll help with some introductions and share some insights into the process.
  • If investors hear good things about you/ your work from trusted sources/ circles, then they can confidently put in a good word for you in their network and help push things internally. You need true believers on the inside, some influential guy sitting across the table because it’s rarely a democratic process πŸ˜‚
  • Investors are people (not money), so treat the process like dating – the investor wants to know as much about you and your business and most importantly how they can add strategic value. You should also go the process with the same mindset.
  • As it is in dating, your aim at the end of a meeting is to get the next meeting- next step or date. If you can get on someone’s calendar often before a deal happens, that’s a good indicator that they are interested and genuinely want to help you.
  • Start fundraising at the right time and stage, it’s a tedious and lengthy process – almost a full time job. Most importantly, if you have to take external money, take it from the right people.

14. Share something interesting about yourself with our readers.

I am an ambivert. I turn up consistently and thereafter retreat for a few days. I find long conversations with strangers fascinating – there’s something about being able to talk without fear of being judged or ever crossing paths with those people again. I do this whenever I travel :-).

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