Paddy Mwangi, 32, is an entrepreneur, creative, marketer and motivational speaker. He has a background in pharmacy, a career he chose not to pursue as he lacked a passion for it. Keen about purpose-driven living, Paddy is zealous about helping others discover what unique value they bring into the world. EDNA GICOVI finds out what makes him tick.
I have Paddy Mwangi’s number saved on my phone under Fresh Freddy, the name of a comical character he played in a popular toothpaste commercial in the late 90s. He laughs heartily when I mention this to him and acknowledges many people still associate him with that commercial, which he also helped create.
The first-born son of pharmacist parents, Paddy helped out at his parents’ pharmacy ever since he was tall enough to see over the counter. The pharmacy in Nairobi’s Westlands area, which his parents still operate, opened from 8am to midnight every day. He worked as a cashier and sometimes dispensed over-the-counter medicine. “I grew up in the shop,” he says. “After my ‘O’ levels, my parents wanted me to get into the sciences but I was an artist. I’ve always been creative since I was young and often got awards for drama and art,” he says. Nonetheless, Paddy followed in his parents’ footsteps and studied for a bachelor of science in pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Bradford in West Yorkshire, UK.
His heart was however not in pharmacy. “I was a C student in the sciences in my ‘A’ levels and also throughout my pharmacy degree. It’s not that I couldn’t do it. I just wasn’t passionate about it. I love doing well and I didn’t like that I was not performing well. After my graduation, I started working as a locum in residential chemists in different areas of the UK, a job I found rather boring. I was surrounded by sick people all day and that was not my cup of tea,” he says.
A near-fatal mistake and self-discovery…
Paddy is convinced that along the way, whatever your heart desires reveals itself somehow, no matter how much you may try to suppress it. One Thursday afternoon, after about six months of working as a locum, he got a prescription for peppermint water, which is a concentrate of peppermint and water. “You’re meant to mix 10 percent of the peppermint concentrate with 90 percent water when administering it. I remember being tired, hungry and sleepy – the perfect recipe for forgetting. So I got the prescription, went into the dispensary and prepared the peppermint concentrate but did not mix it with water,” he says, adding that ingestion of this potent concentrate is enough to kill two adults.
“I was about to dispense this to a six-month-old baby, but God intervened. My colleague, who had never bothered with how I did my work, on that day asked me, ‘Paddy did you mix that?’ That’s when I looked at the bottle and remembered that I hadn’t. I could have killed that baby instantly,” recalls Paddy.
After correcting his mistake, he handed in his resignation. This experience taught Paddy an important lesson. “You could be doing a job you don’t like, but never let your lack of passion jeopardize someone else’s life,” he says. Using his savings, he applied for a Masters degree in marketing and was admitted to the University of the West of England (UWE) in Bristol.
Here, he thrived like a fish in water. “I enjoyed myself immensely. I could understand concepts without thinking. The former C student was now getting distinctions throughout,” he says. His thesis won an award from a marketing company based in London and he was hired by a renowned direct marketing firm, which he says opened up his mind to the concept of real business.
“My friend and I were at one time sitting in a restaurant in London when we saw a couple kissing in the corner and we noticed the guy checking his breath before he went in for the kiss. While we wished that was us, we also wondered how to solve his problem,” says Paddy chuckling. Together with his friend Jim Drew, Paddy played around with different concepts, and they came up with a soluble form of toothpaste that could be swallowed, as they conceptualized the idea for a disposable toothbrush. Fuzzy Brush, a chewable, disposable toothbrush that brushes teeth and freshens breath in one go was born from these efforts.
“At least my training in pharmacy came in handy for this,” says Paddy. However, this idea was only delivered six years later when Paddy and Jim partnered with big players like Oral B and Accenture who helped them get their product off the ground. Fuzzy Brush has sold 20 million pieces in 62 countries so far. Because of its portability and the fact that it doesn’t require water, the brush has been targeted to the airline industry and the military, and is available for the general public through vending machines mainly in the UK, the US, Greece, Netherlands and Singapore. Paddy would also like to see it grow locally, where it’s available for Kshs.40 a pack. The brush recently became ISO certified.
“Being a part of this business venture helped me appreciate working in a team,” he says. He eventually returned home and worked for several companies before engaging in business full time. Paddy has always been interested not only in business, but also in value creation. “I want to have products and services that add value to people. The by-product of value is money. If someone’s only focus is money, they will never get it. People buy something that is solution-providing, a very simple but profound truth,” he says.
He is currently running several businesses with various partners, including Mascoteers Limited, a company that creates branded mascots for fast food companies, sweet companies and fast moving consumer goods companies. Mascoteers has worked with clients like Innscor, Pepsi, Safaricom, Airtel and Braeburn schools. He also operates Walkers Limited, a storage company where one can store their merchandise for a short period of time in a secure storage room at a small fee.
Paddy also imports spare parts for luxury cars and runs a car hire company for exotic cars that are usually hired out to hotels for VIP pickups. He also provides sound equipment, mascots, bouncing castles, and other party merchandise to event companies. “There is so much business in this country!” he says, again emphasizing on value creation, and not just selling anything or doing business for the sake of business.
Paddy also continues to lend his creativity to the performing arts. “I love acting and the experience of becoming somebody else for a while. The Fresh Freddy ad was the first and it opened up the door for others. I’ve done radio ads for Pepsi, Coke, Safaricom and Airtel. I’ve also appeared in Leo, a movie about a Maasai boy who achieves his dream against all odds, where I played the villain. I’m also in the DSTV series Kona. I love art,” he says.
In 2012, Paddy took part in a personal development course at Personal Development Institute (PDI) that, he says, helped him understand himself and others by extension, and also appreciate everything he has been through. He currently volunteers as a facilitator at PDI and Man Enough, a10-week programme that calls out men to lead in service as sons, brothers, fathers and husbands in their families and society.
Passionate about helping others discover their passion and purpose, he also does motivational speaking and one-on-one coaching to enable others discover their value. Last year, he published Beyond Your Limits, a motivational book inspired by his life experiences and what he has learnt over the years.
“Freedom is my drive. I do business because I want to be free. I create systems that work and can work without me having to be there so I am not tied down. This enables me to be free financially and time-wise. As a child, I saw my parents work hard all day, every day, rising very early to open the pharmacy and closing late, with little time for themselves and it made me appreciate the value of time,” he says. He adds that he values his time very much and there are certain habits he has deliberately picked up to drive his success like early rising to read and meditate, and surrounding himself with great mentors and like-minded individuals.
He is also a big believer that one’s thoughts about life can make or break them. “I’m very selective of what I put into my head. The mind is very powerful. I have learnt that my response to different events determines the outcome of my situation and that I have control of what I choose to think,” he says in conclusion.
Published on March 2014