“Work hard or rather work smart, you never know who’s watching” is a phrase that most Kenyans are all too familiar with, in a country where opportunities are extremely difficult to fashion, budding talent would be best served by sticking to this mantra.
Kevin Mutiso is now the chief executive of Alternative Circle, the fintech company that owns mobile lending app Shika, he is also the treasurer of the Digital Lenders Association of Kenya (DLAK), an association formed to lobby for the interests of mobile lenders in the country.
It was not always smooth-sailing for Mutiso, he was once an ambitious young bloke who harboured dreams of sitting on top of the world, he’s gotten here by getting his arithmetic spot on and that is how someone spotted his hidden talent.
He cleared high school in 2005 and his mother advised him to get his boots on the ground and look for a job as he waited to join university.
Between 2006 and 2009, Mutiso was studying at the United States International University-Africa. Many Kenyans subscribe to the school of thought that academics is the surest way to realise their dreams and stick to that etho religiously but Mutiso did the math and saw that school could actually have been derailing his journey to the promised land.
Based on that line of reasoning, he did the unconventional thing and dropped out of school in 2009.
“At the time, I weighed my options and saw that there were a lot of untapped opportunities. I decided to test myself at the highest level,” Mutiso told Business Today during an interview at his offices in Westlands, Nairobi.
Shortly after quitting school, an opportunity to work for Suntra Investment Bank came calling. His job description was a client relationship manager, he dealt with clients and looked out for their interests.
He worked in several functions of the company but most notably being selected as the team leader for the Mumias Offer For Sale. He also worked on the Kengen IPO as well as Access Kenya and Scangroup IPOs as part of the customer relations team.
He would later land a job at MRL as an investment manager. MRL is an investment group formed by a group of wealthy individuals.
While at MRL, he was given a job, he was entrusted with growing a Ksh20 million portfolio.
By then he had already learnt the ropes, his experience at Suntra had prepared him for tasks of this magnitude.
“I diversified the investment and identified potential areas we could invest that money. I invested some of that money in the stock market as well as other asset classes and grew the Ksh20 million to Ksh150 million,” said Mutiso during the interview.
One member of the investments group was so thrilled by Mutiso’s craft that he tapped him for a similar role with different investment groups. His role, to replicate the success that had swept investors at MRL off their feet.
The confidence garnered from his work at Suntra and MRL made him thirst for more, after all, success is like a drug once you get a taste of it, you develop the tendency to stick to mannerisms that generate you more success stories.
He decided to test his mettle at Samchi Credit, a microfinance institution that had already identified SMEs as the next frontier.
“Logbook lending was not big then as it is now. Together with my colleagues, we designed logbook lending as a product after being convinced that the mathematics made a lot of business sense,”
“We did our research and did not like the forms that financial institutions were using those days so we designed our own form. The product was an instant hit in the market. Believe me, right now when I walk into financing institutions that are big on logbook lending I find that they still use the template that we designed,”
He worked at Samchi between 2011 and 2016 but it was in 2015 that he got the idea of how he could finally become his own man and start his own company.
Mutiso was excited by the M-Shwari concept born out of a collaboration between M-Pesa and the then Commercial Bank of Africa (CBA).
“I saw an opportunity there. M-Shwari served a very little segment of the market that was not even 50% of micro-entrepreneurs in the country,”
“M-Shwari and Fuliza only move 250 Million USD every month. The Kenyan market is far bigger than that. JP Morgan moves 6 trillion USD daily in the US which should communicate something to us as Africans,” added an enthused Mutiso.
He believes digital lenders in Kenya should move at least USD500 million (Ksh50.8 billion) a month since the Kenyan economy is capable of absorbing that amount.
Armed with those facts, he started Alternative Circle in March 2016 with a mission to give financial access to over 200 million people globally.
In 2017, Alternative Circle closed a seed round of $ 1.1 million (Ksh111.5 million) from CreditInfo for scaling operations and growth of the company. The strategic partnership with CreditInfo enabled Alternative Circle to further develop the credit scoring algorithm.
As it stands, Shika has 104,000 accounts of which 10,000 are active. As he reflects on how far he has come, Mutiso is nowhere near satisfied. He has set his eyes on being the biggest entrepreneur in the fintech space that will build sustainable businesses in Africa.
“I am not in fintech by chance. I purposed to be here. By December 2018, mobile lenders had advanced Ksh60 billion to customers. By the end of this year, that number will have doubled and will grow exponentially over the next five years,”
“I am working towards making Shika the super app where micro entrepreneurs can get the best deals for loan products, savings products and business news that can help them grow their businesses where a person in Kitale can sell furniture to a person in Kigali and have the goods transported free of charge, said Mutiso.
The journey continues.