No College, No Problem: This Kenyan Designed His Own Destiny
As a boy, Huston Malande had his fair share of struggles. Growing up in a household that struggled to make ends meet, he possibly knew more about privations than was good for a kid his age.
But that was just the reality. His parents had to really grind for every penny to be able to sustain the family, and perhaps the little boy picked up a thing or two about digging deep.
There are those who have crumbled under the sheer weight of difficulties, and then there are people who bore it to the finished line and got the gold. Huston Malande is one of the latter. From those less-than-modest backgrounds, he’s gone on to become a potential world-beater and rewrite his story as one of success, even though the first few chapters were laden with tales of woe.
Today, Malande calls the shots at Skyline Design – a technology company he pretty much set up from nothing. His youth-led firm designs bespoke websites and handles corporate branding/signage for various organisations.
With Malande on the driver’s seat, the company has since managed to land a number of A-list clients in the past few years, and his reputation as one of Kenya’s top tech talents has only blossomed since he managed to pull the company to its feet by the bootstraps. Those efforts even culminated in a feature in last year’s Forbes 30 Under 30.
But he didn’t just stumble upon a magic wand and voila his way into good fortune, though. It took some real work – one that he might have just been well-equipped for. Even as his family seemed to be worse off financially and everything just seemed twice as hard, Malande showed glimpses of promise from his early childhood days.
When he sat for the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education back in 2007 – an exam that featured over 400,000 students – he made it to the top thirty. But even his academic prowess didn’t have answers for the financial troubles which prevented him from going to college for a full two years.
During that two-year hiatus, he busied himself by working as an intern in a small business centre that handled computer repairs. A couple of months on the job and he already knew his way around. As his skills improved, it wasn’t long before he found himself in the office of a bank manager who needed to have a glitch fixed.
It was actually a small problem – something with delayed emails – and it took him all of fifteen minutes to rectify. But by the time was done fixing it, the bank manager was really delighted, so much so that he handed Malande a KSh 15 K cheque. Apparently, it wasn’t a ‘small problem’ after all, at least, not to the man in the suit.
There was only one thing on Malande’s mind when he left the premises of the bank that day. He was amazed that he had only tinkered about for a few minutes and yet had been paid so much, even as he wasn’t exactly a pro. It got him thinking about ways to do even more as it now occurred to him that people did value solutions to their problems, regardless of where it came from.
After a few days of looking for problems to solve and earn some bucks, he realised there was a demand for blank Compact Discs (CDs), which was the go-to for data storage at the time.
With some of the money he had made from his ‘exploits’ at the bank the other day, he bought a pack of CDs for KSh 10.00 apiece and made a poster advert that said he could burn documents on a CD for KSh 20.00. A week later, the entire pack was sold out.
That was really his first personal business venture but it was a shortlived one. Because he was doing his CD business in the same place that he was undergoing his internship and using its facilities for his own gains, he was ordered to stop. Ironically, that same centre soon went into the same CD business not long after, and according to Malande, it took only a few years before half the space was converted to an accessories section.
The same year he discovered profitability in tech, he started learning web design and programming. His only motivation at the time was to gather enough skill that would help him and his family wriggle free of poverty.
But as his knowledge of the field broadened, so did his ambition. His intentions went from just wanting to know enough to do some cool stuff and make some bucks to wanting to be in the business of tech. And in 2008, he registered his company, Skyline Design, without any real idea where he was headed. He co-founded the company alongside like-minded colleagues.
Everything pretty much fell into place from that period. He landed his first two clients within the same year he kicked off the business and on the backs of some top-notch projects he marshaled, many more high-brow clients have come along.
The business has grown in leaps and bounds since he took those initial, tentative steps, and these days, Malande is associated with a group of companies, of which four subsidiaries are registered and operational and it seems like there’s a lot more in the pipeline. Word on the street is that these companies turn over hundreds of thousands of dollars yearly.
Through his efforts, Skyline Design has also been able to secure a multi-year contract with Kenyan telecom giant, Safaricom, which brought him on board to help them achieve human-centred product design at their innovation centre called Safaricom Alpha – a project he runs as Senior Product Designer.
Skyline Design Lab is also known to consult for a number of heavyweights in the space, including iHub, Mookh, and United Millers. A glance at their list of past clients would reveal the likes of Nation Media Group, The Business Daily, Kenya Airports Authority, Africa Uncensored, Kenya Orient, Savannah Fund, and Aga Khan University.
As Senior Product Designer at the Safaricom Alpha, Malande supervises and guides end-to-end invention of new products at the Innovation centre using human-centred design (HCD) methodologies.
Such a responsibility would usually entail user experience (UX) research, user interface (UI) design, and prototyping, as well as development, deployment and several testing phases. And maybe some more research. Yes, it sounds like geeky, head-breaking stuff but Huston Malande happens to have it as a hobby, and he’s pretty cool too.
These days, you’ll probably find him anywhere in between managing people, developing products, writing code, designing interfaces, speaking at tech summits, mentoring young techies, or perhaps preaching the gospel from the pulpit.
Featured Image Courtesy: Youtube