Upon graduation, James Mworia was literally head-hunted by big firms for his skills in technology. But unlike many a graduate who would have welcomed such opportunities, Mr Mworia said: “No, thank you.”
“The offers were many, all based on my final year project and the fact that I had scored a first class but I was advised against taking any of them,” he told Money.
His project was a sacco management software that automates day-to-day transactions by integrating both the front-office and back-office deals. The software by the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture Technology 2005 graduate caught the eye of a leading sacco in Kenya but instead of taking up a plum job post, Mr Mworia negotiated to contract out his product to the microlender at a fee.
Then, he was an inexperienced 21-year-old with little exposure to big money agreements.
“The contract was worth Sh500,000. I would not have negotiated such an amount without the help of my lecturers,” he says, adding this is the point Empire Microsystems limited, an information technology solutions firm that he has built over a period of nine years was established.
By offering telecommunication outsourcing, financial management software and other business solutions, he estimates his enterprise to be worth Sh300 million after nine years of business. At 30, he is the chief executive of a firm with presence in over 20 African countries handling clients ranging from financial institutions to telecommunication firms.
Later this year, Mr Mworia says that the company has an ambitious target of listing on the Nairobi Securities Exchange or court a venture capitalist to help raise about Sh1 billion to fund its expansion. “Whichever comes first, the bottom line is that we will be aiming to raise capital to up our coffers and strengthen our capacity to serve,” notes Mr Mworia, now a PhD student.
The firm was registered in 2005 when Mr Mworia signed his maiden contract. He was the sole staff then. Today, the firm boasts of a workforce of 200 employees. By 2007, he had over 20 saccos on his client list, prompting him to register a limited company to conform to taxation rules and also ready himself for more opportunities.
“I did not at any time doubt my programming skills and I was sure great opportunities lay ahead,” he said.
When in 2008 the IT industry was gripped by the fibre optic craze, Mr Mworia diversified into the telecoms, a step away from his flagship sacco management software. The move paid off instantly as Empire Microsystems landed a contract with one of the major triple play (video, voice and data) companies in Kenya as opportunities continued to prove limitless for his venture.
“What the company does here is basically outsourcing. The operator gives us the mandate to install, maintain and support its clients,” he says. In 2010, the two arms seemed not enough for the ambitious start-up, seeing the firm diversify into project management outsourcing with an eye on banks and financial institutions.
Under the new unit, the firm provides human resource expertise to financial institutions intending to change or overhaul their information technology systems. And for its success, the company was feted last month by the ICT association of Kenya as part of the Kenya @50 celebrations: “We were crowned ICT Company of the Year Award (SME) beating a list of 45 competitors and this has fuelled our belief,” he said.
Empire Microsystems has an estimated annual turnover of Sh100 million which the CEO says is just a scratch on the surface, considering the enormous opportunities in the ICT industry.
How have you managed to steer your firm considering your age? I ask. “We’ve solid structures in place without which probably the venture would still be a small entity,” he said.
The company draws ideas from a think tank comprising of individuals from various fields. It advises the executive committee which Mr Mworia chairs. The team is the firm’s command centre where projects are conceptualised and delegated to a designated manager. “If we’ve a contract to overhaul a bank’s IT system, we hand the project to a manager who has a free hand in determining staff, budget and time for as long he accomplishes the task,” said Mr Mworia.
It has not been an easy ride to establish and run such a company with the major challenge being high employee turnover due to the many opportunities and better offers in the IT industry.