An optimistic Simon Njiru started his business with a measly Ksh 500 and a huge dose of passion for service. From this humble beginning, today at the age of 30, he runs a reputable courier and errands running company with eight employees and serving over 20 companies within Nairobi. He talks to EDNA GICOVI about his business and the value of offering excellent service.
While most people would rather put their feet up, take it easy and have someone else take care of the seemingly mundane tasks of everyday life, Simon Njiru is not one of them. He actually enjoys, and is happy, being of service to others and often offers a helping hand to those in need.
“I was probably the person who ran the most errands at home despite being the first born in my family,” says the good-natured young man. It is this willingness to be of service that drove him to start Nitume Services – an errands running and courier company based in Nairobi, which offers a wide range of services.
Nitume is Swahili for ‘send me’ and aptly sums up the company’s goal. Simon got the idea of starting an errands running company after noticing a gap in the market and figured out that he could easily fill it. After hearing many people complain about being too busy to have time to run important errands, he thought of starting a company that would take over this burden from them.
Simon started the company in 2007 with Ksh 500 he borrowed from a friend. He had just dropped out of the Kenya Polytechnic in Nairobi where he was studying computer science because of financial difficulties. He had several business ideas prior to Nitume but this appeared the most viable and didn’t require much capital to start. He used the borrowed money to print business cards, which he distributed to friends and encouraged them to give to people they thought could use his services.
The business offered errand services including making payments for utility bills like water, electricity and telephone, as well as banking and home shopping. He charged a small fee for this service. He later included another service called ‘Nitume Marigiti’, whose idea was to cheaply shop for fruits and vegetables for clients from the famous Marigiti market in Nairobi and deliver to any location. He had not envisaged that this was going to be such a challenge.
“I would make one trip to the market to shop for different clients, often carrying the heavy loads or hiring a hand cart (mkokoteni) to ferry the goods. Sometimes the clients would reject my selection of fruits and vegetables, meaning I had to make another trip to the market to replace them, obviously at a loss. I made little profit and the client base grew discouragingly slowly,” says Simon, adding that his parents were concerned about the slow progress he was making.
His younger brother, John Gitonga, joined him in the struggling business after two years. This was a great relief to Simon as he had someone to help him make the trips to the market and also help in delivering the goods. Despite his business being featured on NTV’s Swahili news segment “Msukumo Wa Maisha’ in 2010 for it’s uniqueness, he discontinued ‘Nitume Marigiti’ service as it was not making any profit.
From the tiring and least rewarding daily market trips, he decided to concentrate on the courier and errands running part of the business, and also got a mentor to give him business advice and hold his hand as he manoeuvred through the difficult terrain.
“My mentor helped me focus my business plan and also showed me how to grow contacts, manage the business finances, market my services and ensure good service, among many other useful tips,” says Simon.
With time the business started picking up and running it with his brother made things easier. As the clientele started to grow, they hired a small staff to ensure efficiency. The numbers continues to increase as the business grows and today stands at eight. Among the services they offer include property searches, having vehicles cleaned or serviced, ferrying clients to hospital appointments, house cleaning services, renewal of documents such as licenses, business registration, filing of VAT returns, among others.
The company also has an interesting customised product called: ‘How do you like it?’ Simon explains that his business understands that different people have different needs and this product caters for clients whose needs fall outside the packages on offer. “The beauty of our business is that it is versatile and we are in a position to offer almost any kind of errand service,” says Simon. “It has to be legal though,” he adds with a cheeky grin. They also hire out their staff on short-term basis to other companies to do various jobs such as messenger work, cleaning services, or packaging and delivery, among others.
Nitume current regular clients comprise of about 20 companies in Nairobi and its environs. The company has two offices, one in Eastlands and the other in Nairobi’s South B Estate. Their operations cover other areas outside Nairobi including Machakos, Kajiado, Limuru and Thika. Clients also reach them through their website – nitumeservices.com.
Excellence at all times…
“Referrals play a big role in my business. This is why I give my best attention to all our clients and motivate my employees to do the same, as I do not want to let my clients and those who referred them to us down,” says Simon. He adds that it’s easy for one to get sloppy in their work and not give the best service to clients. “Excellence makes the client respect you and use your services repeatedly and also recommend you to others,” he says.
The company has encountered several challenges, which Simon has taken in his stride and has learnt from. Traffic, for example, is one huge challenge and it makes their work more difficult as sometimes errands are not run as efficiently as they should. “From these challenges I have learnt that the most important thing is to remain in communication with the client and let them know when there is some unexpected delay. I don’t wait for my clients to call me. I anticipate the problem and keep them informed of the action I am taking,” he says.
Simon says his company strives to offer excellent service to all their clients as well as maintain a good relationship. “Disappointing any of my clients is the worst thing that can happen. We have established a good relationship with our clients and I want it to remain that way,” he says.
Another major challenge is clients not paying on time. Because of many cases of clients paying late and some not paying at all, Simon now insists on payment in advance if you are not a regular client with credit facilities with them.
Simon has learnt a lot in the course of running his business. “I’ve learnt and continue to learn new things at every turn. Now I know how to conduct interviews, what to look for in potential employees, how to deal with mistakes when they happen, and also how to generally deal with people,” he says adding, “I’ve also learnt the importance employee motivation. It’s important to encourage your employees, let them know when they are doing a good job, support them and also pay them well.”
Having a vision, dedicated mentors and being passionate about what he does are a few things that have helped him bring success to his business. He is mostly now involved in administration of the company while his brother and staff do the running of errands. When asked about the strangest errand he has had to deal with, he says with a chuckle, “It’s tricky shopping for ladies’ intimate items such as wigs and cosmetics.”
Simon is looking for business growth outside Nairobi and hopes to cover the whole country and also extend to other East African countries. “I hope this is a business I can grow and leave to future generations. I also hope to mentor other people in business start-ups so they can benefit from my experience,” he says.
His parting shot, “If you have a business idea put it to task. Believe in yourself, start small, and push for it to grow bigger and better. Have patience as it will grow with time,” advises Simon who also plays basketball for his church, Nairobi Lighthouse, during his free time.
Published in January 2013