Small Enterprise

From pioneering M-Pesa agent to business magnate

Investor Patrick Macharia. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Investor Patrick Macharia. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Nothing is quite as upsetting to Kenyans as going to a mobile money shop for an urgent transaction only to be turned aware because the agent “does not have float”.

Patrick Macharia, a Nairobi businessman, believes that an agency worth its salt should never turn away a single customer as long as its doors are open.

Mr Macharia says he has applied this philosophy at the 265 agency shops he owns countrywide, earning him several awards from Safaricom — M-Pesa’s parent company — and a tonne of money to boot.

The 46-year-old was among the first people to start offering the now highly popular mobile money transfer service to Kenyans when it was launched in March 2007.

“Most of us (early adopters) were unfamiliar with the kind of jargon being used. So, we had every reason to think that this was a con game. We were reluctant to embrace it,” he told the Business Daily during an interview.

At the time, Mr Macharia used to operate a cyber café on Nairobi’s Mfangano Street.

His till number was 209, making him one of the first batch of businesspeople through whom M-Pesa has grown to become a business with an annual revenue of over Sh40 billion.

In recent weeks, there has been debate about a proposal to split M-Pesa from Safaricom as part of remedies to raise competition among telecommunication firms.

But for Mr Macharia, a father of two, the service has been nothing but the proverbial goose that kept on laying the golden egg. He started off with Sh70,000, Sh50,000 of which was from his friend and the balance coming from his personal savings.

His doubts about the business quickly changed when he was paid Sh54,000 for transactions in the first month, which was way higher than the Sh20,000 he used to get from the cyber café.

“Within two or three days, we started seeing people flocking to the shop.

“We soon started seeing a reduction in cyber café business in terms of cash collection. Three or four months down the line, we decided to progressively shut down the cyber cafe and concentrate on the agency business.”

He started recruiting a sub-agent, recruiting other people to operate businesses under him.

He noticed that his recruits were expanding faster than him and Mr Macharia says he also decided to go “overboard”. This saw him start opening shops across the country.

By 2010, he had 170 shops, 30 shy of the cap at the moment. These restrictions were soon thereafter lifted and he continued expanding his business, growing his shops to about 400 in 2013.

“I still have shops in places such as Lungalunga, Kakuma, Garissa, Migori, Sega, Kitale, Diani, Sololo and all these areas,” he says.

At his peak, each shop used to return a monthly profit of Sh200,000, a far cry from what he used to get from the cyber café.

Today, each shop earns him between Sh5,000 and Sh120,000 per month—a huge income spread which Mr Macharia attributes to the size of shop and more importantly its location. He was selected as Safaricom’s Agent of the Year in 2013 and 2014.

Three years ago, he decided to slow down on the expansion, sell off some of his shops and try his hand at servicing tenders to several counties. “I got burned. I soon realised that there are many cartels in the business. I decided to do business with the national government instead,” he told Enterprise.

Today, other than operating his agency shops, Mr Macharia also services tenders he secured mostly from Kenya Power, the Rural Electrification Authority and the Kenya National Highways Authority.

He has also opened several other businesses. His growing portfolio includes Logical Links Limited (a car hire firm), Generations Capital Limited (a non-deposit-taking microfinance) and Generations Tours and Travel (a tour company).