He mingles with workers at a busy construction site in Pipeline area on the outskirts of Nakuru Town, he looks rather like a supervisor coordinating a housing project.
But James Mwangi, 35, popularly known as Kaka James in the construction industry is not your ordinary site supervisor. He owns a fast expanding construction company that focuses on affordable building blocks for houses.
His journey to where he stands today is exciting having gone into business almost by fluke. When he bought a bag of cement at Sh750 seven years ago to build a ventilation block, little did he know that he was laying a foundation stone for a company that is now worth millions of shillings.
Seeing that the business had a great future, he borrowed Sh50,0000 and set up Kaka James Concrete Enterprise which uses what is called interlocking technology to provide “shelter solutions” to thousands of Nakuru residents.
The technology is reducing construction costs by removing some of the components that make building a house expensive.
The building blocks are compressed by a hydraulic machine with cement and the results is ecofriendly materials.
“Interlocking technology is affordable and appropriate means of addressing the need for decent homes. The technology is also environment-friendly and sustainable,” the entrepreneur says.
The new method, Mr Mwangi says, is the key to providing affordable houses for millions dreaming of owning a home.
Thanks to his venture, people who have been living in mud houses are gradually converting to permanent homes.
He has invested millions in machines used for making the blocks. Currently his business makes at least 2,000 blocks daily which goes for between Sh60 and Sh70 each. His turnover of about Sh800,00.
“These blocks are light in weight which is good for storey buildings and besides they are thermal insulators and allow the warm air in the cavities to rise and exit the house,” he explains.
Mr Mwangi went to Hyrax Primary School and later Langalanga Secondary School. He then proceeded to the Kenya Industrial Training Institute (KITI) in Nakuru Town where he studied for a diploma in architecture. He later studied accounts at Egerton University, and he is now a Certified Public Accountant.
Aside from building blocks, he also makes classic concrete paving blocks for driveways and walkways as well as hollow concrete blocks.
“Many developers today prefer using hollow concrete blocks to make slabs for storey buildings as they considerably reduce the cost and time of putting up a high rising building,” he says.
His target market includes schools, churches, private individuals and non-governmental organisations and Constituency Development Fund (CDF).
But what is his secret for success?
He says resilience, dedication and patients are central to any venture.
“I am a self-driven entrepreneur with a passion to make sure whatever I start ends beyond my expectation. I am also a keen listener and I accommodate all clients,” he says.
“I have learnt to be patient as well.”
His joy, he says is to see those struggling to build a decent shelter accomplish their dreams.
He knows the importance of a good house having lived in a slum. His parents struggled to raise a family of eight at Wamagata slum in Kiti area.
The entrepreneur says houses can be made far cheaper than they are currently.
“A three-bedroom house which at the current market price can cost between Sh2 million and Sh3 million could easily be constructed at half the price,” he says.
According to Mwangi his building blocks can save the cost of building a new house by 45 per cent.
“With this kind of cheap and affordable technology in the country, the cost of constructing a house should not be a big headache to developers. This is one of the surest ways to do away with the many slums in our urban areas and other emerging settlement schemes,” he says.
To further reduce the cost of his products, he uses waste from quarries to make the building blocks.
“This has enabled me to cut cost of the blocks and that is why with only Sh70,000 one can still afford to put up a single room instead of living in a mud house as two bags of cement are enough to join 400 blocks,” he adds.
His road hasn’t however been paved with gold. His age was the biggest challenge as he started at the age of 27. Many potential customers considered him inexperienced and this made him missed out on many construction tenders. Lack of capital was another challenge he faced, especially when he had a big order to supply materials.