Founder Feature: Kelvin Wachira

Sylvana Lewin, Monday February 19th 2018

This week we spoke with BidiiBuild CEO Kelvin Wachira. Read on to learn why Jack Ma is his tech idol and why he believes starting BidiiBuild is his greatest success.

Where are you from?

I was born in a small town at the foothills of Mt. Kenya called Karatina, but Nairobi is where I call home.

Tell me a bit about your company.

BidiiBuild is a management platform uniquely built for the construction industry, catering to contractors and real estate developers. It comprises of a project management system that enables you to get live updates from the field, keep track of of all your projects from start to finish, and brings the whole construction team together right through your phone/tablet.

Why did you come to MEST?

I am a graduate of civil engineer, but always had a desire to create a successful company that would span the whole continent, if not the world. I loved reading about great companies such as Apple, Google, and Alibaba and I always felt it could be done here, too. I found a MEST advert while scrolling the web and though initially skeptical on how perfectly aligned it was to what I wanted, I did some digging, applied, and the rest is history.

How did MEST help get you to where you are today?

The first month of MEST felt like 2 years of graduate school combined! I was learning so much at such a fast pace. I embraced it all, though, reading all the business books in the library, attending all the events that could help me understand how my new world operated. As an engineer it’s more about focus after school, but MEST was more about learning various things and using the knowledge to make something work, and I loved it

I increased my network immensely in a short span and also toured Ghana quite a bit. I’m naturally curious about different cultures so traveling came naturally. At the end of MEST I had changed  wholly as an individual. I grew more in ambition, learned to work with other amazingly talented people, and most importantly came to value the gift of giving. I still enjoy learning, touring, and working in great teams today.

What do you wish you had known as an EIT? Do you have any advice for this year’s group?

First, I would definitely say that one year moves fast at MEST. You are constantly learning, meeting guests, travelling, and pitching so 12 months seem to whiz past. The truth is time passes by quite fast as an EIT.

I also want to encourage the EITs to take just a bit of their time to answer a few “why’s” on the journey they are about to take (if they haven’t done so) then go ahead and get out of MEST and into their particular field and understand the problem they are trying to solve deeply. It should ideally be that at the end of the program they have made steps in tackling a great opportunity that can build a great company, backed by passionate entrepreneurs.

It’s also important to ask questions more often, get great advice, but also stretch and test to figure out how an idea can apply to your case. I see the entrepreneurship journey like being an artist with an empty canvas, you don’t become a great artist by mimicking other artists to the last brush, take the best from others, but  add some flair to your brush strokes!

If you could go back in time to when you were just starting your company, what would you tell yourself?

Keep going. Learn fast, and use the lessons as your blueprint. Also, continually seek your customers and get to know them early on. Strong relationships really do carry you through stormy weather.

I would also advise myself to tap into the local network at MEST and the MEST Incubators earlier, the community is truly vibrant and community knowledge has truly been pivotal for us.

What have been some of the biggest challenges you've faced while at the MEST training program and the MEST Incubator? How did you get past these challenges?

At MEST my biggest challenge was probably the long lectures we sometimes had. I am quite energetic and like movement, so sitting for a big chunk of my day is less than ideal. I found out I sometimes got fresh perspectives by interacting with people who were out there on the field. What I felt was needed was a good mix of both, which I got as soon as I explained my goals to the faculty.

What would you say is your greatest success?

Discovering BidiiBuild with my co-founders. It has been a great learning curve teaming up with other equally talented people to solve the problems encountered in the construction industry, and I am quite grateful. Coming back to Ghana to start BidiiBuild was quite a pivot from what I had initially pictured my journey would be like, but the encouragement I get from players in the industry on what BidiiBuild offers makes it all worth it.

What’s your favorite food?

Chapati and some beef stew. Ugali and nyama choma follows closely. Get me that and we are bonded for life!

What do you like most about Ghana?

The people, definitely.  I really love their friendliness and ability to help. I remember when I was doing a short internship for my market research, an engineer named Timothy went above and beyond to help me out in learning the ins and outs of how they ran their projects, It was an invaluable helping hand, and we developed a great relationship. I also think Ghanaians rank high for their bright colorful expressions, especially on their buildings and in their fashion sense.

What is your favorite memory from your time at MEST?

I would say the guest lectures. In one year, I attended more guest lectures than during all my previous learning experiences. I would always look forward to knowing who the new guests were, what they were working on, and their individual journeys.

Also, I really enjoyed the fun road trips we took outside of Accra with the guys. We used to do a fun thing and “bootstrap” a trip and always managed to get back while traveling lean (mainly with only the clothes on our back), a lot of entrepreneurial lessons there!

Who is your tech idol? Why?

This is a tough one since I admire quite a number of great people, but I would have to say Jack Ma of the Alibaba Group. His story is as unique as the company he has built. How an English school teacher rose to be one of the foremost tech entrepreneurs in history is quite an epic human interest story. He is the true definition of embracing oneself and doing it your own way.

Do you have any books about tech that you would suggest?

What is your favorite tech company? Why?

I would have to say Amazon. Jeff Bezos started just selling books online and now 24 years later he sells everything. Amazon is a great company not due to their recent stock surge, but by the simple reason that they are innovative and consistently show their innovation in their strides in ecommerce, cloud services, physical retail, and now Alexa!

Who/what inspires you?

From an entrepreneurial perspective, I would have to say Strive Masiyiwa. I was one of the earliest followers of his Facebook Page, which now numbers in the millions. His teachings, principles, and his example were a great foundation to a lot that I do today. Jorn Lyseggen’s vision of trying and impacting the whole African continent one entrepreneur role model at a time is something that has been of great benefit to me personally and that I admire. Ricardo Semler exemplifies bold thinking to me and I’ve learnt alot from his examples.

From a personal standpoint, it would be family, especially my mother and granny. Time and time again I saw them exert their “super powers” and ensure I had everything in order to succeed. I am a product of their love and hardwork.

Lastly, it would be Kelvin Wachira in 10 years. I am looking forward to meeting him and seeing what example he is setting!