Kenya is fast becoming a startup, tech and investment beacon for the rest of Africa to imitate. The wave of innovations witnessed across the local and global IT industries in the last few years have driven market leaders such as Microsoft, Google, Intel and IBM among several others to set up bustling regional hubs in the country. For shrewd tech-preneurs like Ms. Gatwiri Kirimi, such developments are welcomed with open arms.
After a 10 year sales career at General Motors East Africa’s Nairobi headquarters, Gatwiri gave in to an offer to take up a similar role in an IT startup in mid-2010. 6 month’s into the new job, she opted out and decided she was better off on her own. Today at 39, she is the Managing Director of Inforparts Limited, a thriving ICT venture with a multi-national client portfolio straddling a diverse range of corporate, NGO and government institutions.
“I had always wanted to start my own firm so when I finally found a partner who was IT savvy I knew I would readily have the technical support I needed and I just went for it,” reveals the mother of three.
In the years that followed, Gatwiri relentlessly marshalled her team to build a steady customer base through consistency. From airlines and SME’s to parastatals and multi-national agencies, her roster of blue-chip patrons rely on Inforparts’ stream of products and services to quench their constantly evolving technology needs.
“Of course there are one or two who fail to pay,” she points out, “but if you establish a trusted relationship with clients they will support you.”
Admittedly, working in a sales environment gave her invaluable experiences that have been instrumental in her entrepreneurial journey. Through her rich networks, she was able to gradually establish her business as a credible enterprise by leveraging on trust to establish and build relationships with clients and service providers.
“As certified agents, we only deal in genuine products from authorized dealers. We also try as much as possible to deliver on time and provide after sales services and support to ensure our clients are always up to date with the latest trends in the market. That is how we have managed to maintain our relevance in this industry.”
Like any entrepreneur worth the audacious title, Gatwiri’s ride has not been without its fair share of bumps and bruises. For all her triumphs, the mother of two cites a parallel struggle she had to navigate as she sought to nurture her dream into the present reality.
“There are times I would go for a sales pitch and the client would look at me and ask, “where is your manager?” she reminisces. “I had to bring my male employees to all my meetings in the first few years just to secure that confidence.”
Besides the cultural barriers and initial cash flow challenges, she quickly realized the need to infuse seamless management practises to ease decision making processes and nurture independence among her co-workers. Gatwiri credits her open door management policy as an instrumental pillar for the survival and growth of any startup.
“For us to be able to grow from a tiny office with just a few clients to having partnerships with global brands we had to embrace a very dynamic approach in our operations. Part of that involves continuously empowering and training our sales and technical teams to efficiently play their roles in the business.”
Perhaps premised against the backdrop of her own experiences, Gatwiri is actively involved in various personal and joint initiatives that are concerned with tackling the challenges facing Kenya’s vibrant ICT industry. She was part of a group of entrepreneurs who partnered with the Kenya Private Sector Alliance to implement a World Bank funded youth empowerment programme in 2015.
“KEPSA realised that most graduates lack employability skills which I have found to be true in my attempts to provide training opportunities for young girls in IT. We came in to mentor them and instil relevant employability and entrepreneurship skills.”
Despite her litany of personal and professional accomplishments, Gatwiri insists she is only just getting started on her mission to establish herself as an unwavering luminary in the sector. Her resolve is spurred by the consistent organic growth she has realized over the years against numerous storms and challenges.
“Think of how Microsoft has successfully evolved within the realm of technology to remain a global force over the years. We are also innovating our products and services to suit the prevailing market needs,” she explains. “For instance, while our server business has decreased we are now able to provide very robust cloud computing solutions that meet the latest standards. Gradually, we hope to become a one-stop solution provider by enabling clients to keep up with the latest products and solutions at practical costs through long-term IT leasing models.”