Being a digital entrepreneur

BY VICTOR ADAR

Tonnie Mello is the founder and CEO of Bizna Kenya, a digital led marketing and enterprise development services provider that is focused on small businesses. He started the company in September 2014. 

A fourth-generation entrepreneur with interests in digital marketing, logistics and real estate, the holder of Masters of Philosophy degree and a Bachelor of Education degree both from Moi University, Mr Mello is grabbing the opportunity to get the best in entrepreneurship. He is the chairman of the Professional Business Mentors Association, a member of Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry and a former governor at Kenya Private Sector Alliance. He spoke to Victor Adar on owning and managing a digital business. 

For the years that you’ve been in this business, what have you learnt?

Business is a mixed bag: there is a fair share of joy and success but also pain and disappointment in equal measure. Done right and with patience, it is one of the most rewarding experiences.

How much capital did you start with? 

The level of investment depends on that approach and the activities you choose to engage in. I invested Sh1 million to set up Bizna.

How much can Bizna fetch in a month? 

Bizna has not broken even yet. We are still investing.

Is it a business you would advise Kenyans to consider?

Invest in understanding a business before you invest. Most entrepreneurs make a lot of assumptions about business and invest based on these assumptions, which leads to failure, loss and great disappointment.

How would you describe the digital business landscape? 

Digital business in Kenya is still virgin. There are a lot of untapped opportunities and there are huge lessons to learn. Those who invested in the business in the early days are beginning to reap benefits.

How do you market your services?

Through digital, social media channels and through events and activities we participate in.

Have you encountered any challenges so far?

I am a fourth-generation entrepreneur and I believe in the power of entrepreneurship to transform lives and communities. For this transformation to happen, there is need for governments to create an enabling environment especially for small businesses. In Kenya, small businesses receive little or no support at all which leads to attrition levels of over 80% in the first 5 years.

You manage different divisions that include Young Entrepreneur Awards, Bizna Club, Bizna Agritours… Are you not spreading yourself too thin? 

Small businesses require many forms of support to succeed. The anchor or the business is the portal, https://biznakenya.com, which is what we consider our front office. We serve a small business-focused content daily. We have over 10,000 posts so far and generate over 1 million views from over 500,000 visitors monthly. 

Bizna Club is a subscription service through which we deliver value added services to our readers. Through this platform, we have an opportunity to engage at a closer level and deliver services to address their immediate concerns and needs.

We started the awards program last year though we have been working and refining it for years. We are currently running Young Entrepreneur Awards and SME Awards. The essence of the awards program is to provide a platform that recognizes, showcases and celebrates entrepreneurs. Young Entrepreneur Awards focuses on entrepreneurs under 35 which SME Awards focuses on businesses with annual turn overs of 5 – 500 million.

How do you distinguish Bizna Digital Services from many others we have seen doing the same kind of business? 

Focus and approach; our focus is to help small businesses access markets and improve their capacity to do business. Additionally, we have a pragmatic approach. We tell stories that affect the pocket. Every piece of information we share, and service we offer is a seed that someone can nurture to generate income to improve their bottom line.

Bizna core values include entrepreneurship, quality, technology and life. Would you say it is a success story? Is it an area you would advice someone to invest in?

Bizna is a success story. I am proud of what we have achieved at Bizna in the last five years. I have had the privilege of working with many people who have contributed immensely to the vision that is Bizna today. I invite others to make this worthy investment for current and future generations.

Do you have enough qualified staff, how many people have you employed?

Yes, Bizna has some of the best brains and I am proud that we have achieved so much because of the dedication and commitment of the team. Bizna has been, for us, a learning and growth experience. We have innovated and invented many things and processes and ideas that have been borrowed and, in some cases, stolen by bigger businesses. We keep going and doing our best to offer solutions that work for small business owners and managers. 

Our motto is Better Business Better Life. We are doing our bit to offer better lives for Kenyans and other citizens of the world by improving how small businesses function.

Bizna currently has a dedicated team of
nine.  

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