Treading where only eagles dare
For MOSES KAMAU, losing his job as a cashier opened up a new path for him: that of supplying incinerators, including human and animal cremators. He talks to HARRIET JAMES about his journey
When Moses Kamau lost his job in 1996, he did not envision he would get to where he is today. Kamau is the CEO of Plenser Ltd, an engineering company that provides industrial and commercial heat energy, industrial and waste incinerators that include hazardous waste, animal and human cremators as well as the maintenance and repair of the same across board.
Through his business, Kamau seeks to demystify cremation by supplying human cremators. Currently, there are a few crematoriums in Kenya, indicating a huge market for the machines, exacerbated by lack of space for burial and decent public cemeteries.
“We need decent cremators in which bodies can be decently burnt and ashes properly disposed, such that when families receive the remains of their cremated loved ones, they will appreciate the decency in which it has been done,’ he says
Before he started the company, he worked as a cashier at various hotels such as Serena, and Laico Regency. When he lost his job in 1996, he was forced to look for new ways to fend for his family. He became a hawker in Nairobi until the day he met his former classmate.
Repair and maintenance
“He mentioned that our business would be in repair and maintenance of steam and hot water boilers. I was clueless about boilers and my friend taught me all I needed to know,” he narrates.
Since his friend was more experienced in the engineering field, he handled the technical bit and Kamau handled marketing. All he needed was to get the confidence to communicate with customers and explain the simple parts, while his friend handled the technical questions. That was the birth of Plesner Limited, whose name was coined from plant engineering services. The name was flexible enough to give them enough room to diversify into other services.
Just like many other businesses, this one too faced a number of challenges, especially when starting out. The first one being acceptance.
“The company did not have a face or people it could be identified with. People didn’t know us or what we were all about, but there was need in the market for this service, which made it tough to get business,” recalls Moses. To deal with this, they invested heavily in marketing the company and their products and worked extra hard to prove they offer quality and reliable services. It would take them about a year to get high-level clients such as the Aga Khan and Nairobi hospitals.
Their reliance on landlines back then cost them vital business. “We were using other people’s landline phones, which meant we sometimes missed important calls from clients leading to loss of business,” he says
The other challenge they faced was financial. As Kamau recalls, they began the business with only Sh9,400, cash just enough to do the first invoices, business cards, and delivery books. “We didn’t even have an office. We were operating from a friend’s house because he had a house phone. Mobile phones were very expensive back then and belonged to an exclusive group. We even hired my friend’s house help as our assistant,” Kamau narrates. But as time went by, they were able to secure an office to conduct their business.
The business had a turning point in 2006 when the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) put in new requirements that companies only use incinerators that did not emit smoke. The company saw it as an opportunity to find a partner in incinerator manufacturing business abroad and they landed one from the UK called Matthews Environmental Solutions Ltd. Today, they represent the agency in Africa as they sell incinerators that comply with Nema requirements.
In 2013, they participated in Top 100 SMEs in the country for the first time and emerged fourth. “The evaluators were looking for business growth potential, how well it’s being managed, how likely the business is able to grow into a corporate and the financial management. In addition, they looked at how sustainable the business was and that’s how we won,” he explains.
Among the many business lessons the 55-year-old has learnt in his journey is that patience, focus and commitment is the answer to any entrepreneur. What makes him tick is the satisfaction of his customers and his concern about proper waste disposal, particularly for bio medical waste, which is not properly disposed off in the country and on the continent in general.
His plan, as the CEO of Plenser, is to get into manufacturing of waste incinerators and boilers for the African market, making him the first in the country to do so.