Betting Boss Who Doesn’t Gamble


Wanja Gikonyo Betway country manager. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

She has a firm handshake, great eye contact and has a “power coat” on. These are attributes that our photographer insists stand out about Wanja Gikonyo, Betway Sports country manager. She’s had seven years in mobile technology and content business, over 13 years’ experience in information technology and telecommunications at Intarget (country manager), AccessKenya among others. She has an MBA (international finance) from University of Maryland, Robert H. Smith School of Business and a Bachelor of Science from the US. She runs marathons, loves to visit new cities, adores her daughter and is currently searching for the answer to the question “why?” as she also grows Betway, a betting company.

She met JACKSON BIKO for coffee.

Do you gamble?

No. (Laughs) For work purposes I’d say yes.

Are you a lucky person?

Yes. I can say I’m lucky. The last thing I won was a trip to the Maasai Mara from a raffle draw. So away from gambling, I just feel I’m a lucky person.

I never win anything in my life.

Because you say that. You must say it to win it. It’s the attitude. When I’m picking the ticket, I’m feeling lucky. And more often than not I am. I believe it and when I do it just happens.

What do you like about this job?

Like the industry, it’s new, it’s exciting, all eyes are on it. It gives me an opportunity to delve in to the new answers of it. I have studied the behaviour of Kenyans on their mobile phones, where you find them and how to talk to them. Never a dull moment really. Some people love it, some people hate, but responsible gaming is a message we like to push.

What is this ‘responsible gaming’?

Gaming is entertainment, and anything that you engage in for entertainment you don’t overindulge. You spend what you can afford to, so if you’re having a drink or a cigarette, you’re not going to spend your whole salary there or drink from morning until evening. So extend that to gaming; it’s entertainment, spend what you can afford to lose. It’s not something you wake up to do all day every day, or borrow to do.

Do you have a bucket list?

I think most of it is travelling but I just don’t travel for the sake of travelling, so I run when I travel. I love going to a new place every year. I exposed that to my daughter. One thing that wasn’t on my bucket list that I did was paragliding because she wanted to paraglide, so the list is extending. There is also skydiving.

When you said she wanted to paraglide, how old is she?

Six and three quarters, you must remember the three quarters. (Laughs). She is really looking forward to the next age so the three quarters is a thing. Kids! They just wonder about everything that they are going through, so yeah, please don’t forget the three quarters. (Laughs)

Do you think parenting is a gamble?

No. First of all, it’s a gift. You imagine what it’ll be and it’s a hundred times or a million times better, so maybe in that sense it’s a gamble. You don’t know what you’ll get. You discover who you are. For example, I definitely felt more elastic, how much more love do I have? How much more patience do I have?

What would you be doing with your time if you weren’t a mother?

I have no idea. I don’t even know what I was doing with my time or money before her, or what my hobbies were. It’s a good and bad thing. Bad in that maybe now I’m too invested in her, now she’s getting her own little life so I have to remember, ‘so what did I used to like to do?’

What’s been your greatest revelation in life so far?

(Pause) That’s a big question. (Long pause) Humans are very resilient. No matter what life brings you, you might come out on the other side a bit tattered and beat up, but you are stronger for it, and you go on to do bigger things.

What have you survived?

Uhm, life. (Laughs). A loss of a parent, my late dad. That was very painful and difficult to navigate. Uhm, I’ve lost a marriage. (Pause)

How did the loss of a marriage change you as a person?

Uhm, oomph! I think I lost trust. (Laughs) Even now it’s not easy for me to trust people and I think it’s made me stronger. What am I about? What do I want? What was I giving up while in that marriage? So knowing myself better.

Are you going to jump back in?

Uhm, I don’t know. (Laughs) It’s been seven years, eight.

At what point in your life did you feel that your life is taking an important shift?

When I got pregnant. (Laughs). Before that I was grieving my dad. But something clicked at that moment, that something important is happening here. I went and got the right books, of course to know how to eat right and all that, how to prepare for a child, take care of my body. I say it was Godsend because it jolted me out of whatever direction or emotions I was going through and I had to focus on this other person.

If you were to go back and undo a certain part of your life, change it or shift it, what part would that be?

I would say a little bit of my childhood. I take myself very seriously. Maybe it’s the fact that as the first born, I had to be responsible. I’m a serious one and less fun-loving.

If you are to recommend a book that you feel had a profound effect on you, what would it be?

I’ll give you a little bit of background first. Before I entered into the gaming world, my interest was in technology. It’s not what I studied, but I’ve been in the mobile space, mobile money, mobile technology which now permeates everything. So one book that I read maybe about a year and a half ago was ‘‘Augmented: Life in the Smart Lane by Brett King’’. It gives a history of where we’ve come from the industrial age all the way to where we are today and what to expect going forward. And every so often I go back into it and just read some highlighted parts to remind myself. It’s a profound book, I know it’s not one of his latest but for me it stuck.

What’s the one question about life that you’ve not been able to answer?

Why am I here? Life is almost mechanical: wake up, wash yourself, eat, go to work, take care of your child, go to church... But what is my passion? What do I want to do that is not about money, that will be remembered, that will leave a mark that will fulfil me outside of being me now? (Pause) I don’t know that yet. I don’t know what my life’s purpose is.

Which of your qualities do you least admire?

(Pause) Perfection. It’s an issue for me, it’s becoming an issue for my daughter I think, so I need to relax a bit on that.

What has been your greatest lesson as a country manager?

Take a moment and sleep on things. Don’t make rush decisions. I guess that’s patience or wisdom.

What would you like to be remembered for?
Kindness. It eludes me that’s why I want to be remembered. (Laughs) I think in taking myself seriously, I can come across as harsh. I’m a very caring person and I would like to be remembered as a kind person in any role whether it’s in volunteering.