Orphaned At 10, Turned Down Harvard At 17, Millionaire At 19 – Meet Kenya’s Very Own “Mark Zuckerberg”
There is hardly any doubt that the African tech scene is going through what could be described as a renaissance. And interestingly, it is some young, ambitious entrepreneurs that are leading this charge.
Mubarak Muyika; a 25-year-old Kenyan entrepreneur, is one of such individuals who has been at the vanguard of the action in recent years. In spite of a past marred by tragedy and grief, the young techie has managed to rise from the ashes like the Phoenix and become one of the hottest prospects on the African tech scene.
His beginnings could be traced back to earlier times in Kenya’s Western Province, where he spent his formative years. Muyika’s father held a position in the civil service while his mother was a high school teacher.
Both parents didn’t exactly take home fat paychecks every payday but they earned just about enough to keep the family comfortable. Things seemed pretty much stable – well, up until tragedy struck. And not once, but twice.
First, Muyika lost his father when he could barely form words – he was only two-years-old when the old man passed on. Now, it was entirely up to his mother to take care of the family and on her meagre income, that wasn’t always easy.
Life dealt Muyika yet another lethal blow just before he turned ten. This time, it was his mother who passed on under tragic circumstances. How unfortunate it was that before he even hit double figures in age, he had already had both parents committed to mother earth.
Now orphaned and alone at a very young age, he was passed around among relatives for a while until he ended up with an aunt who decided to take him in permanently.
Well, here’s the thing about tragedies and misfortunes – they can do just as much ‘making’ as the ‘breaking’ that they are notorious for. And that’s what many individuals who have faced tragic ordeals fail to realize as they get drowned in sorrow and self-pity and go further under.
It’s natural to hurt and grieve in the aftermath of a very unfortunate event but then, it always comes down to two options; playing up the victim card and hoping that life will somehow get easier because of what one’s been through, or coming to terms with the fact that life’s got no qualms spitting on persons who have already been trampled upon.
And that’s a rather frank way of saying that life doesn’t just grow a soft spot and suddenly become a bed of roses just because one’s been hit by many misfortunes and done a lot of grieving and sulking. If anything, it punches even harder. So, there comes a time when grief needs to give way for growth.
Muyika may have realized this from a very early stage and his case, he opted for the ‘make’ rather than the ‘break’ option in the aftermath of the tragedies. Now under the care of his aunt, it wasn’t exactly a ‘feel-at-home’ arrangement, but he resolved to make the most of it – starting with his academics.
From his high school days, Muyika showed glimpses of promise as an immensely-gifted student. It was, in fact, during those early times that he made his first breakthrough in tech – something he called the “Enhanced Petrol Tracker.”
He was only a 16-year-old high school student when he built a tracking database designed to curtail mismanagement of oil resources by cataloguing and monitoring the movement of oil tankers, as well as keep an eye on oil flow and the demand for the product.
Essentially, his creation promised better management of petroleum resources, which apparently, was a solution that had been long sought after by stakeholders of the industry.
So, it was quite fitting that his tech-driven solution was well received and he earned some acclaim, having emerged Best Student in the Computer Exhibit Category at that year’s annual Kenya Students Congress on Science and Technology.
And that was just the first of his many exploits in tech. Muyika’s next move was to build a functional website for the book publishing and distribution company owned by his guardians.
He took on the project as a way of boosting the online presence and by extension, the productivity of the company, and cutting down on costs – that was after he convinced his aunt and her husband to sever ties with their website manager who he discovered was doing a botched job of managing the company’s web presence while taking home a fat paycheck that he scarcely deserved.
His adoptive parents decided to put their faith in him and by the time he was done teaching himself PHP, Java, and HTML, he had designed a highly-functional and interactive website for the business.
Those newly-acquired skills opened the floodgates for what has shaped into a career in tech. He honed his skills further and on the backs of his self-taught skills, he launched his first business, Hypecentury Technologies & Investments Ltd., in January 2011.
Part of the company’s offerings was website design and management, hosting services, and domain reselling. He hired two of his friends to join him in the business and together, they got it up and running.
The business grew in leaps and bounds as it came into existence at a time when a great many businesses in Kenya and beyond were intensifying efforts aimed at creating a strong online presence. By May 2012, the company already had nearly 2,000 domains which represented clients in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, South Sudan, and Congo DRC – no mean feat.
It was about this same period that Muyika crossed paths with one of Kenya’s richest businessmen, Chris Kirubi. The young Kenyan techie had appeared on the radar of the tycoon and having been impressed by the young man’s work, the millionaire was willing to throw his weight behind the youngster.
Kirubi recommended Muyika for a full scholarship to one of the world’s most prestigious Ivy League schools, Harvard University. The idea was to have him bred under the same roof as some of the world’s best and it seemed like a no-brainer.
Well, it would seem like a dream come true for many people but Muyika is unlike many people. In what was an incredible turn of events, Muyika took a pass on the scholarship to focus his business ventures.
And that’s because he thinks of himself as more an entrepreneur than a scholar. Even at that, the decision was a reflection of his total belief and confidence in his own talents and abilities.
At the time, it seemed like an ill-conceived move that might eventually prove his undoing, but it did pay off, and big time too. His company continued to blossom and before long, it was courting international suitors.
Eventually, international tech investor, Jignesh Patel, invested some serious cash into the growing business for a 25 percent stake. This turned out a shrewd move for both parties as things got even better for the business which now had the leeway to leverage the expertise and connections of the experienced Indian investor.
As every honeymoon is bound to come to an end, Muyika soon felt the need to take on new challenges. Being a young, ambitious individual, he was always on the lookout for new territories to explore.
After several months of hushed conversations, the big decision came in 2013 when he sold his 60 percent stake in the company in a lucrative deal that turned him into a millionaire at only 19 years of age.
On his decision to move on from Hypecentury, he had this to say; “I had the feeling that I was not maximizing my potential. I opted to sell my shares and develop a new venture.”
And that new venture came in the form of Zagace, his newest project which was launched in Kenya soon after he walked away from his first company.
Zagace is known to provide a completely integrated, online business management toolkit for small and medium-sized companies. The product allows users to manage human resources, inventory, accounting, and communications via a series of well-designed, integrated apps.
Although the business has since set up shop in California, USA, the Kenyan tech entrepreneur has not shifted his focus from developing and leveraging some of the best African tech talents available.
In 2015, Mubarak Muyika was named one of Africa’s most promising entrepreneurs in Forbes 30 under 30. He has been recognised by Yahoo who named him one of nine “Mark Zuckerbergs” of other countries. Muyika is also an Anzisha fellow.
With his talent, resilience, and determination, Mubarak Muyika could be considered one of the torchbearers of Africa’s burgeoning tech scene. And if pedigree is anything to go by, we should expect to see him trigger yet more buzz in the ecosystem sooner, rather than later.
Featured Image Courtesy: africa-me.com