Businesses & Financial News

How Francis Adunga bootstrapped his company from a dingy workshop

By STEVE UMIDHA

It takes courage to trust your gut, and it takes even greater pluck to admit to others how much you rely on your intuition when making big decisions.

The life threatening risks, known to serial entrepreneurs like Andreas von Bechtolsheim.

Bechtolsheim, known in his social circles as “Andy”, is the Co-founder, Chairman as well as the chief development officer of network switching company Arista Networks, whose fortune mostly stems from an early $100,000 investment in Google.

That is about Kes11.5Million going by the current exchange rates. Who does that? Only gamblers, right?

He was one of the first two investors in the American multinational, even before the technology company was legally incorporated in 1998 by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Google’s founders.

Bechtolsheim’s risk-taking leanings is the kind of fire Francis Adunga respires when we recently sat down to discuss the enthusiasm behind him starting Directcore Technologies – a local based IT solutions firm which turned 10 years in April 4, 2022.

“Jumping into fire is something I am not afraid of. I thrive in taking risks, and I have done so nearly all my adult life,” opens up Mr. Adunga – the founding engineer and the Chief executive (CEO) of Directcore Technologies – a Kenyan-based IT Company predominantly known through its flagship product, Nexcom internet.

“Starting off was actually the easiest thing. My seed capital was my brain and my laptop,” narrates the soft-spoken and camera-shy IT guru who started out as a consultant, offering IT solutions, designing IT-related solutions, security solutions and firewalls among others, pocketing between Sh60,000 and Sh100,000 in a good month. Sometimes the amount would be more.

“These could be family, friends, referrals from who I created my network and made decent paychecks,” remembers Adunga who ran a besmirched workshop along Jeevanjee Gardens, located in Nairobi’s Central Business District, just on the start of Moi Avenue.

Despite signing his first employment contract, Adunga tells me, he kept his begrimed workspace for sentimental reasons – a place he’d sit quietly, most of the time unaccompanied while designing some of the aforementioned solutions at a cost. He also targeted corporate firms.

“I chose to keep it for various reasons, really. I learnt so much while at the workshop. My side hustles offered me more than what my employer was paying me at the time in monthly salaries,” he recalls, adding, through the paid gig, he acquired skills such as financial management, people management – abilities that he’d conveniently apply in running his company that employs over 20 staff today.

“For us, the journey has been a throbbing one, a tedious one but also a fulfilling lesson that I can never take for granted. We are a company that is exporting Information technology know-hows to other countries and also have affiliates locally,” he divulges.

Kenyan Silicon Valley

He simply describes Directcore Technologies as a bootstrap, a Kenyan Silicon Valley that is ready to take on market’s big cheese such as Telecommunication firms Safaricom and Airtel among others primarily on internet business.

“Ours is basically a bootstrap whose time has come despite being around for 10 years now. We have spent the last decade studying market trends, and we are now in a position where we feel that, time is ripe to be heard in terms of solutions offerings. Our target for now is to improve our offering in fast and affordable internet services for individuals and small and medium sized businesses,” he continues.

“Of cause we have our underperformances but that is how we learn. My future plan is actually to make this an all-Kenyan brand, to see the company transform into a fully-fledged IT company offering all IT services under one roof,” narrates the confident Adunga, who says he has a clear-cut roadmap to see the inkling into fruition.

Bootstrapping a company occurs when a business owner starts a company with little to no assets. This is in contrast to starting a company by first raising capital through angel investors or venture capital firms.

Bootstrappers like Adunga, often face cash flow issues and high levels of personal stress – challenges he admits inspired him to twitch a successful company, Directcore is today.

Statistics show that most entrepreneurs opt for savings, family and friends contributions or bank loans to jumpstart their business ventures, a route Adunga says he dodged owing to emotional and financial slavery that comes with such undertakings.

“I remember while starting out, I was everything in the company. I was the marketer, the CEO, an accountant, everything, really.

But over the years I have learnt a great deal in business management including creating relationships with suppliers, my staff, financial disciple as well as vulnerabilities as a startup,” he recounts on the challenges he had to face including obtaining bank facilities to expand his business as well as the unforgiving State bureaucracies which often target such startups.

To him, one of the greatest goring challenge to date remains capital and access to money.

Today, Nexcom –which is essentially the ISP arm of the parent company, Directcore Technologies, offers internet access both for small and big businesses ranging from speeds of between 3Mbps – the cheapest at Sh1,500 to 20MBPS retailing at Sh19,000 among other offerings.

Key among segments the company will be eying this year is expanding its single API payments platform – a system that enables businesses to collect payments online and offline while allowing anyone to pay from their mobile money, local and international cards or directly from their bank.

The platform provides seamless transactions, while delivering locally relevant and alternative payment methods for global, regional and local merchants.

Known internally as Pesatel, the product is presently in Kenya but operating as a payment gateway system but has also been approved in two countries, transacting as Instacash and B’weza.

Adunga reckons that it took about 5 years to develop the platform whose development is capital intensive and has to go through rigorous regulatory approvals and thorough acquiescence checks in order to be sanctioned.

“Atleast two countries have approved it and we have two more markets where we are awaiting the greenlight. We have a plan to rollout it out in the local market in what we are anticipating would take at least two years.

The delay to rollout out locally is as a result of many factors. It is a saturated and highly sophisticated market that needs a lot of financial war chest. But we will get there,” he affirms.

Read full story on our upcoming print (magazine) edition…

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