Steve Kimani, 31, is an IT consultant, lecturer and entrepreneur. He candidly talks to EDNA GICOVI about breaking into, and navigating through, the IT industry in Kenya and finding fulfilment in teaching.
It’s a cloudy afternoon when I make my way to Thindigwa in Kiambu County to interview Steve Kimani. He welcomes Gilbert, our graphic designer who accompanied me take photographs, and I very warmly, offering us cold drinks as we settle down for the interview.
Easygoing and good-humoured Steve, is the youngest in a family of eight children and was born and brought up in Kiambu. “I grew up like any other gichagi (countryside) boy, climbing trees, skidding in the mud and generally getting up to a lot of mischief,” he says with a grin. Throughout most of his school life he was among the top performers in his class, though this changed in high school when he got involved with the wrong company and his grades greatly deteriorated. Tired of school and ready to give it all up for the vices of teenagehood, Steve expectedly didn’t perform well at the end of his high school education.
Falling in love with IT…
He became a staunch Christian after high school and this helped him get his life together. He joined the Railway Training Institute (RTI) in Nairobi’s South B estate to do a diploma course in telecommunications. The diploma included a few units in programming – the process of writing computer programs, which greatly interested him. By this time Steve had regained his good performance and was one of the best students in his class. Regrettably, due to financial challenges he had to discontinue his studies.
He decided to look for a job in Nairobi to sustain himself. Unsuccessful in his quest, Steve returned home to Kiambu and got involved with his local church working with the youth. He was out of school for two years before his kind mother-in-law offered to pay his university fees. “I am very grateful to her and can never give the story of my life without mentioning her,” he says.
He enrolled at Daystar University for a Bachelors of Science degree in computer science in 2005. Having had a taste of IT during his time at RTI, Steve relished the idea of joining this degree course. “The pain of almost seeing my dream die made me cherish the wonderful opportunity to study at Daystar so I put in a lot of effort and performed very well,” he says.
During his final year, he learnt from a friend that NairobiNet Online, an Internet and Applications service provider, was looking for a knowledgeable IT professional to train the company’s staff how to use Joomla, a content management system for publishing content online. Steve had taught himself how to use Joomla, was proficient and had even taught some of his classmates. Thus, he confidently approached the company’s managing director and offered his expertise.
At first, the company was reluctant to hire him, as he was still a student. However, after demonstrating his skills they took him on immediately. Steve worked at NairobiNet Online, training and maintaining systems hardware and software and related infrastructure. He got a lot of valuable experience and built networks but left the company soon after his graduation in 2009 to start his IT company.
Setting up his company…
His friends and family thought he was out of his mind to leave a well paying job so soon after graduating to navigate the murky waters of self-employment. “My sister tried to urge me to look for another job but I had already made up my mind,” he says.
With his little savings, he registered Mocksoft Technologies in late 2009. Though not convinced that he had made a sound decision, his sister, who had a beauty shop and salon in Ngara, let him use a small adjoining stall to set up his first office with his laptop, a broken seat and an old office desk. “It was a very small, dimly-lit room in the corner of a building but I was happy to have an office,” he says.
After a slow first day, he received a call from a friend at Daystar who referred him to a client in Limuru who needed a website. He made Ksh 30,000 from this job. “That was my first cheque. I was very excited to deposit it in the bank and made sure I took the banking slip to my sister to show her that I was actually doing something,” he says.
Having done a good job for this client, Steve started to receive a steady stream of clients through referrals. Within a short time, he was not only doing website development but also website hosting and registering of domains. “The work suddenly became too much for me and I called two of my good friends who had also studied computer science to take on some of it,” he says adding that with the help of his friends, the company was able to take on more jobs than before and grow significantly.
Mocksoft Technologies was known for its thorough execution of IT jobs and within a short time of its inception, Steve and his associates started attracting bigger clients, including various reputable organisations.
Sometime in 2010, Mocksoft was shortlisted amongst other IT companies by the East African Seed Company who were looking for an online application to sell their products. After an impressive demonstration, Mocksoft was chosen over other more established IT companies. “It was a big job and there was a substantial amount of money involved, which scared me a little. Mocksoft was still a relatively small company then, with a small office,” Steve recalls. They were nonetheless able to complete the job successfully and to the client’s satisfaction.
Steve moved the company’s offices to bigger and better space in Kiambu in 2011. By then, his friends had left to work on their own projects and he hired a small staff to help in the day-to-day running of the company. Mocksoft continued to grow and Steve now found himself doing a considerable amount of IT consulting. “I don’t do website development as much now. Consulting ended up becoming my main focus,” he says. He, however, still offers website hosting and, more recently, email hosting services.
Some of the organisations he consults for through Mocksoft include Bible League, Catholic Relief and the East Africa Seed Company, among others. What does IT consulting entail? “For instance, when a company wants to install a system or other major IT-related activities, I have to be there as an external consultant to offer my expertise, advice or recommendations. I also meet with their service providers to see the best way forward for the organisation,” he explains.
In the course of consulting, Steve decided to do a master’s degree in organisational development to enable him understand better the area of consultancy and effectively work with different organisations. He is currently awaiting graduation.
In January this year, Steve ventured into yet another area – lecturing. He is a part time IT (Information Technology) and BBIT (Bachelor of Business Information Technology) lecturer at the St. Paul’s University in Limuru. “I was used to doing a lot of IT training as part of consulting before but teaching was a new and interesting world to me,” he says adding, “Teaching is amazing. It has changed my thinking and brought me a lot of satisfaction and fulfilment.”
According to Steve, teaching makes one realise how much they know in their area of specialisation as they answer questions and impart knowledge. He tries to make his lessons as practical and relevant as possible and encourages his students to observe current trends and come up with realistic strategies for the career paths they plan to follow after they graduate.
Partnering in a solar lighting company…
Blessed Sun Technologies, a solar lighting company, is another venture undertaken by Steve in partnership with his brother-in-law who resides in Netherlands. Started in 2011, the company aims to make use of solar power from the free energy from the sun. This way, Steve explains, more people will have safe and clean light at night and the use of polluting paraffin lamps and high electricity bills will decrease.
So far, Blessed Sun has been involved in a lot of corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities. “Organisations must live to empower the communities they live with,” says Steve. The company has worked with several disadvantaged schools. They distribute solar powered desk lights to needy students in these schools for free.
“I meet with headmasters and visit different schools around Kiambu so we are aware which schools are most needy. We are also able to identify the students who need the lights the most. We reach out to school going children from families that cannot afford proper lighting at home. Most students will use paraffin lamps to study and these can be very unhealthy if used consistently as one continually inhales the paraffin,” says Steve.
There are also families who are very poor and cannot even afford paraffin, meaning that the school-going children from these families can neither study nor do homework at home in the evenings. These two are the main beneficiaries of the solar powered desk lights from Blessed Sun. The company gives the desk lights for free to schools, which then assign them to needy children during the school term.
Steve says that they have received positive feedback from children who have benefited from the project. He particularly remembers a letter from a girl from one of the schools, which they supplied with desk lights. “The letter touched me. The girl even attached her grades to show us the improvement in her performance since she got a study light. Their family couldn’t afford paraffin and she was never able to study at home before. Now that she is able to study, her grades have really improved,” he says excitedly.
“Our motivation is to reach out to as many people as possible. What if no one reached out to me when I needed help?” he asks, adding that it is important to contribute to society and leave a legacy. Blessed Sun receives some donations from Netherlands and also from well-wishers, which enables them to run this project. Away from that, Blessed Sun thrives on selling solar-powered products.
Steve, a really industrious fellow, is involved in several other business-related projects. What is his recipe for success? “You have to be a good time manager. I actually don’t feel like I’m doing a lot of things and can do much more than I am doing right now. I realise that God has given all of us a lot of potential and we don’t use most of it because we don’t really optimize our time,” he says adding that, “Sometimes you will have to sleep late or wake up very early to get things done. There are also very many things we do that waste our time and if we learn to account for these times, we will realise how much time we have.”
Steve says that it is also important to believe in yourself, give your best at all times and have faith in God. “I cannot take credit for my success in anything. It’s all because of Him,” he concludes.
Published on July 2013