When AVA Digital awards, 2017 winners were announced, a Kenyan company would cease being just a local company; finally it had outdid itself and rose against insurmountable odds and landed in the international market space with a bang.
Martin and Allen open up about how they built a multi-million digital company that won a Platinum award
At a time when the digital space in Kenya was totally green and how can a brand be your friend on facebook? was the kind of articles being wrote, armed with USD 6000 as seed capital they plunged in head on hoping it will pay off.
Bean Interactive, a digital agency based in Kenya specializing in digital marketing, planning and execution had won a platinum award in the information experience category for their work on the BLAZE by Safaricom website.
“It was really humbling because we had this idea of how to inspire the youth with a website, you know that is a weird thing to think off (breaks into laughter) and they say to win an award you have to put the extra 10% so there was the normal interface that people design but then again we thought of going a little bit above that, I really want to acknowledge my development team for pushing the envelope, it was a validation to us because we were entered among people who built websites in America, in the UK etc. and we come out the best” Martin Kiarie, Bean CEO and Co-founder beams with confidence as he recalls the memorable moment.
Bean interactive had lived true to its character, where strategy, creativity and innovation come together to disrupt the market.
“I remember we were having an operations meeting, when Stella (bean employee) sent an email saying it looks like we have been listed as winners, so of course (laughs) this is on a website so it looks like oh wow but it never hit me at fight so I thought maybe they are just short listing, I had to read it about four times to release that we had actually won and the feeling of elation started to take over I was very humbled personally and I believe we are a very humble agency to have won an award” , Allen Kambuni, Bean COO and Co-founder remembers the day like yesterday.
Bean interactive entered the Kenyan digital space in 2009 and since then it has experienced many challenges and successes in equal measure
“The truth about Bluetooth marketing is that it simply got us into the scene, why I say this Is because it was part of an audacious dream, before that we were running business at that point, you know just trying to keep up with the joe’s and so on but what Bluetooth marketing helped us to do was put our names out there in a big way and the people who interacted with us at that point thought of us as ground breakers” Tech-preneur with a Prime focus on mobile technologies for digital marketing, Allen digs into their company’s history.
After graduating with first class honours from the University of West of England with a Bachelor of Computing and Information Systems, Kiarie witnessed how Bluetooth marketing was disrupting the marketing sphere in the UK, he quit a prestigious job and came home where he hooked up with his long term friend, Allen a holder of Bsc Information systems and technology networking from the United States International University (USIU) and together they founded BEAN short for Bluetooth Enabled Advertising Networks.
At a time when the digital space in Kenya was totally green and how can a brand be your friend on Facebook? was the kind of articles being wrote, armed with only USD 6000 as seed capital they plunged in head on hoping it will pay off.
Their bravery paid off in a big way and currently their customer portfolio boosts of big brands such as Safaricom, NIC bank, CBA, Cadbury Kenya, UAP, and Nokia to mention but just a few.
One thing which is hard to miss is the good rapport between Martin and Allen, watching them discuss business you get the feeling of watching some sort of a bromance moment.
“The amazing thing about our relationship is that I have big thinking problems (breaks out laughing) you know I see the whole picture, Allen is able to see the big picture and then breaks it down, okay if that is where we are going this is how we are going to achieve it so I am more of strategy , vision and direction he keeps asking the now, I keep asking the tomorrow so it is a very powerful relationship” Kierie discloses.
I sat down with the duo to know more about their entrepreneurial journey.
George: You quit a well-paying job some would give everything to get and instead choose to pursue entrepreneurship why?
Martin: I had the opportunity to work at Microsoft, I was actually already working at the royal bank of Scotland while I was in UK but something was burning inside me, I don’t know, sometimes they say entrepreneurship is a calling I guess I was called, I was so uncomfortable, let just put it this way something showed me ten years in the UK I would be doing the exact same thing I was doing that day (breaks out laughing) whereas If i put the same ten years here instead of just owning a job I would also create opportunities and it would be much better off not just for me but for everyone
George:What advice can you give to people out there who still doubt whether digital marketing has any future especially in Sub-Saharan Africa?
Martin: first of all I will begin by saying People don’t buy your end result; they buy how you approach solutions so I would really advise everyone to jump into the digital economy, the digital economy has such diversity, if you look at other markets for example like in UK 51% of the whole markets spent is on digital marketing In Kenya our Average is about 8% so we have so much opportunity and space to go, that is space for innovation and new thinking.
George: what is your secret to winning big projects and disrupting the market from day one you opened for business?
Martin: one fundamental thing that makes bean unique is the way we approach the industry, because what we are doing now and what we started are totally different, as I mentioned we started doing Bluetooth right now we are a 360 digital agency so it is not about our product but it is about our approach to the solutions that we deliver that has kept us consistently growing and to disrupt the industry.
George: you were also recently nominated for Kenya’s top 40 under 40 awards, how did you end up in the coveted list?
Martin: I keep acknowledging my team because I think they are just superb, I was actually nominated by my team I only come to know about it afterwards (laughs) when they short listed me and I was given a full interview and then later on told I had made it to the top forty, it was very humbling and it is not really for me because I am not an entity on my own, the team that I work with enabled me to achieve success so it is really their win and I celebrate and congratulate them for that.
George: most entrepreneurs would put capital as the biggest obstacle between them and their dreams; do you share the same view?
Martin: Money is a consequence, all one needs to disrupt and cause mass action is energy, that all you need, money is as the bible says money is a consequence of something greater so all you need is energy in fact I am really opposed to businesses that start with the idea of getting funding, a business is something that changes the lives of people and add value through a solution to the society so focus on that not funding
George: where do you see bean interactive say in the next 10 years?
Martin: our vision is to be the digital hub that revolutionizes the global market, so we do not want to play in the African space we want to play in the global space, so we are making movements currently to enter Europe and America as well because nothing is stopping us. So in the next ten years we want to be the biggest digital hub not necessarily agency within the African region so help us God
George: how do you unwind after a hard day at work, do you read books?
Martin: I don’t read books, I listen to books because I don’t have time to read but I am currently listening to the 10X rule by Grant Cardone, I love Michael gladwell and good to great by Jim Collins.
George: What keeps you going year after year despite all the challenges you guys face daily?
Allen: For me every time I have always wanted to quit, I know it is always darkest before dawn, that is when your darkest moments comes just when you are about to make it and I think about that when we loss let’s say our sight, so I keep telling myself keep punching because you are just about to win the fight, every single time I get into that space I just say a prayer and I keep those positive words in my mind and I try to bring them out in what I do.
George: Do you have any mentors you look up to, to encourage you to keep on pushing and punching?
Allen: Locally there is Moses Nderitu whom I have had several interactions with over the course of time but he does not know i really see him as a mentor, one of the main people who I look up to is of course Elon Musk, who founded tesla, he is the kind of person I look at as being a very brave entrepreneur , he is always ready at any given time to risk everything, and I think I have a high prepotency of risk, so if I see someone who does it successfully it encourages me to be able to do that and I think risk is a big part of what we do as an agency and what has put us out there the fact that we are willing to bring something like a bleam and fly it around and actually introduce it as a product after making such a heavy investment in it.
George: After you cleared your undergraduate studies you immediately went into entrepreneurship, for young people out there who are yet to make up their mind between career and entrepreneurship what is your advice?
Allen: that is an age old discussion I like it, I will say this whether you are in business or whether you are in a career always maintain an entrepreneurial mindset, an entrepreneurial mindset doesn't’t mean owning companies or shares. it means focusing more on what is the bottom line, what is the output , once you have that mindset whether you are in business or you have taken the career path you will ultimately be successful and the other thing is always follow what you are passionate about, the younger you are the better.
George: what do you love most about the Kenyan digital economy?
Allen: we have very strong local brands that is one thing we love about this country, the strength of our corporate sector, we have a strong inbuilt corporate sector that is able to power our economy, that is able to support business like ours and millions of others, that is able to give jobs to millions of Kenyans something we should be very proud of.
George: what is the most frustrating thing about the Kenyan market that will be a game changer should it be sorted out ASAP?
Allen: I will speak about one big challenge because I believe this would be a game changer and is something called ease of doing business, I will say for a fact that it is not easy to do business in Kenya, at least not by the standards at which we should apply to, a lot of multinationals and even local companies are now moving their manufacturing and production lines out of the country.
George: For an agency out there planning to enter the digital marketing what makes you stand out?
Allen: We have a very active research and development culture at bean and it is one thing we encourage and invest in, all these new technologies you know that is part of who we are, that is part of our DNA as the founders of the business, one of the things that we invest in and invest early we are daring, so we have an active research and development culture and in fact this year we are starting an innovation Friday, we have left it to the team to brand and call it something fun like a bean stalk.
George: How do you balance work with family?
Martin: As soon as I get home I have to spend time with my family, because having a balanced life is very important, it is important to your overall mantra, your overall being as a person and so my day always ends with spending time with my family.
JOIN OUR PULSE COMMUNITY!
Eyewitness? Submit your stories now via social or: