Telecom expert Kris Senanu: Hold on India – Kenyan Silicon Valley in the making

Kris Senanu has completed the Holy Trinity of “very interesting interaction” with the startup world being an entrepreneur, investor and a mentor. As a rule, hardship precedes bliss and Kris has got his fingers and toes burned before when he lost money as an entrepreneur. But he still prefers to concentrate on the positive – how he as a mentor has been able to help people. And, well, as any right-minded investor would, feel good about having made some money, too.

While his day job is Managing Director at AccessKenya, a data company that offers corporate Internet and IT solutions to businesses, for the past six years Kris has also been investing in three Kenyan startups. None of the three – operating in the areas of software, connectivity and web – has made an exit yet, actually one of them is not in business anymore. If we were to believe the general statistics – which state that out of 10 startups, 9 end up being a dead end and only one a golden ticket, then Kris’s investment average has been good.

The startups that he invested in, came to him by chance through his previous mentoring experiences for different organizations and the university of which he is an alumni. This year Kris tries his hand out in onsite mentoring at our Nairobi event. He says he appreciates the intensity and the broad growth-bed of the 48-hour investment boot-camp concept. “When you put a time-limit onto them (the entrepreneurs.-IPO48), you are turning up the heat on the cooking pot – the good ones get to the top and not so good ones realize what they are missing in order to be among the good ones thus moving to another level. The adrenaline is great to get people thinking on their feet. It is like the British TV-programme “Dragon’s Den” (Where entrepreneurs pitch for investment from some of Britain’s top business brains.- IPO48)”

So, what does it take to triumph in the “dragon’ s den”?
“A lot depends on the entrepreneurs’ ability to have a good business model, but the person himself is a very critical thing, too,” Kris says. “I mean they should have the right mentality, and understand that it is not all about them, it is about their business system and structure – whether they get hit by a bus or take a 6 week holiday, the enterprise must live. So, the personalities are no 1. One should also maintain the right kind of business culture which helps entrepreneurship and attracts the right people to work with them. Because the startup means, especially in the beginning, people working long hours, multitasking and being very flexible.”

It is not so much the numbers that Kris considers during the startup screening process. “It is easy to see numbers, “ he explains. “One can do the general math about which startups can bring profit and which not, but I tend to look more into the entrepreneur’s EQ, the individual – do they have their thought process well aligned? There will be always obstacles – but first and foremost an entrepreneur must have the mental resilience and the ability to focus on the prize – on the life that he will be able to lead after the hard work is done.”

Kris knows what he is talking about, being a man who only sleeps 5 hours per night. “I work for 8, take a short pause, then I work again. If you optimize you can have a good 19 work-hours in the day. There is plenty of time for everything,” laughs Kris.
Kris considers entrepreneurship to be a journey, not a race. Besides knowing that, entrepreneurs should have simple business-ideas which provide convenient solutions for a lot of people, he says.

Of course, given the market’s opportunities and explosion in the last couple of years, a lot of the tech entrepreneurs in East-Africa create mobile money platforms. And Kris, having an extensive experience in Kenyan telecommunication field, considers these profitable ideas to go after. “These platforms are definitely a good idea, as there will be a lot of activity in the telecommunication space in Kenya and all of Africa. There is currently a lot of interest from international investors on what is already being accomplished and what more can be done here.”

Kris himself considers Kenya to be the Silicon Valley for Africa, especially now that Kenya aims to challenge India in the IT field with its Silicon Savannah project. “Kenya needs to keep on doing what it’s doing. We have already done a lot to move in that direction (to be the Silicon Valley of Africa.-IPO48). We are ready – we just have to push it to a different level, because in terms of telecommunications we are already the IT hub of Eastern Africa. The cost and prices are lower here, the needs are more basic. In terms of innovation and creativity we definitely have an advantage,” claims Kris.

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