Zevan Limited: Lessons from a Kenyan Startup

By Sherry Shiku  |  May 20, 2014


Being a part of a startup is like deciding what kind of a house you want to live in and then laying its foundation. It’s tough work. It’s the time you build networks, acquire documentation, and pitch to investors. Here are some of the valuable lessons we learned as we started building our return trip optimization platform at Zevan Limited.

Comply with All Government Requirements

A lot of young people fall into the trap of not complying with government requirements like acquiring registration documents and remitting taxes and instead, they concentrate on building the business. Their reasoning is that they will ‘deal with all the bureaucracy’ when their company is at the verge of making it. This wrong kind of thinking makes investors quickly shy away and mistrust you. Every time we impress investors during a pitch, they wanted to see our compliance documents immediately. To give an example, if we didn’t have these documents at the time we pitched to Savannah Fund, we would have lost our opportunity to be a part of the accelerator.

Read! Read! Read!

Read newspapers. Read magazines. Read books. Read government publications. We cannot emphasize this enough. Reading opens up your mind to new ideas and keeps you updated on the business and economic trends in your region and the world. This knowledge enables you to keep in touch with what affects your business, so you know what to watch out for. This gives you foresight so that you are able to plan how to best align yourself with a dynamic market and investors. Our clientele happens to be at two extremes with the small-scale ordinary farmer on one end and the sophisticated logistics company on the other. Keeping up with these two groups enables us to find a voice as we create different communications strategies.


On Time Management and Priorities

Most startups find that there is too much to do and little time to get everything done. Being able to manage your time and prioritize your needs becomes a necessary skill. There is no proven way to organize your schedule to be the most efficient way to manage your time, but most people find a balance along the way that works for them. One thing we can tell you for sure is this: there is time for meetings, time to prepare for meetings, and time to deal with emerging issues. Balancing the three is the trick. Some people find it easy to have meetings during certain hours, while others prefer to have them during certain days and spend the rest of the week getting other work done. Just keep in mind that if you spend too much time on one thing, the others are bound to suffer.

Do Not Underestimate the Power of Social Media

Social media has taken the corporate world by storm. CEO’s and managing directors are on Twitter and Facebook, as are presidents and board of directors from multi-million-dollar companies. If they have found social media as a vital part of doing business, so should you. Engage your market through Facebook and tweet people you are interested in working with. Follow what they are doing, know their interests, learn their mode of engagement, comment on their wall–do whatever you have do to be noticed. At the end of the day, it is the person who stands out that gets the attention, not necessarily the modest one. Some of the strongest relationships we have built have been a result of engagements on Twitter.

Find Yourself a Mentor and a Good Lawyer

A mentor does not necessarily have to be someone in the same business field you are in, but they have to at least understand it and share the vision for your company. Mentors steer you towards paths you should take and encourage you to be persistent in the face of challenges. In some cases, they “pull strings” for you when you are stuck and pat you on the back when you break through challenges.

As a startup, you will enter into partnerships with many people and companies, so having a good lawyer you trust is crucial. Contracts will be signed, terms of engagement written, among other things. A good lawyer will always look out for what is best for your company and advise you accordingly. They will explain terms and contracts and give you their professional perspective on issues that you would have otherwise been inadequate to handle.

As a startup, we have benefited a great deal from the mentorship we’ve received from Savannah Fund as well as our personal mentors. We know we do not know everything, so having someone to point out the way is therefore necessary.

Stephen Kimiri, CEO of Zevan Limited

Stephen Kimiri, CEO of Zevan Limited

Fall Seven Times, Stand Up Eight

Challenges and set backs will always be there. Be ready to stand firm and fight. It’s not about how many times you fall. Rather, it’s about how many times you get up and keep trying. You most probably won’t win that contract or bring that investor on board the first or seventh time, but who knows, the eight might time might be it. Do not give up.