From taking “other people’s lunch money” as a kid by selling stuff to profiting off other people’s money through investments, Joel Macharia has always had an eye for the gold and the tenacity to grab it. How poetic it is that he is currently building a massive investment brokerage firm with — you know it — other people’s money.
By the time Joel Macharia had turned 29, he had basically seen it all and done it all. Okay, maybe not all, but a lot of it still. In what had been a storied journey, the Kenyan entrepreneur had made money, lost it, fallen into debt, made some more money, lost it yet again, before finally emerging from the ashes like the Phoenix to build one of East Africa’s fastest growing businesses; one that is scoring big wins in what looks like a niche market.
Joel Macharia currently calls the shots at Abacus; a Kenya-based online investment brokerage firm he founded back in 2014. But long before succeeding at building web and mobile software designed to help people anywhere in the world gain access to African financial markets with this fintech firm, his genius had already helped him strike gold on more than occasion, even though he seemed to have lost it at some point. Or maybe he didn’t.
Having previously founded and headed up the consumer financial news publication, PesaTalk, and having put in some years as the Africa Head of Product Development for the mobile money team at the Kenyan mobile commerce and payment technology provider, Cellulant, his current venture, Abacus, has grown to become a leading financial services company with over 3,000 investors.
And perhaps he always had it in him. As early as when he was still in middle school, he had begun to make a few bucks off trading his lunch for cash, sweets, and WWF stickers.
Joel Macharia grew up in Kerugoya; a town some 128 kilometres from Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. When he was just 12-years-old, he was already carving a path for himself in the world of finance, having taken quite a liking to banking following an introduction to the concept of “Other People’s Money.”
By the time he got as far as high school, he had become an avid follower of the stock market and the commerce lessons he took as part of his formal academic studies were laden with hours of watching the numbers on Wall Street.
In the years that followed his high school days, things got stepped up a notch. He was managing people’s money at 19, running banking technology projects at 22 and teaching finance at 23. Everything seemed to be going pretty well. Up until the storm came. And it was a big one.
In 2008, in the wake of the violence that marred Kenya’s 2007 general elections, the stock market back home went into free fall. Stocks plummeted and serious money was lost. Joel Macharia’s business was dealt a coup de grace when his clients pulled their money, leaving him in major debt at a 22.
Lucky for him, he had other skills and they were put to good use. With the knowledge of technology that he had gathered over the years, he managed to land a job as a product design manager with one of Kenya’s biggest fintech firms.
But as the lure of the stock market kept calling like the wail of a siren, it was only a matter of time before he had his comeback. Joel eventually went back to investing and personal finance planning and his efforts culminated in the launching of PesaTalk. At a time, it was the largest consumer business news site in Kenya. Once again, it looked like he was getting it, but yet again, it was snatched right out of hands before he ever got a full grip.
A dispute with some VCs first saw him shunted out wide before leaving the company. This was in 2012. But he took the setback in his stride, grabbing all the resources he could get his hands on and founding Abacus in 2014.
Joel is now set on building the largest pan-African investment brokerage. His goal is to grow Abacus’current investor database of around 4,000 to half a million within the next few years, and he wants to see the systems that Abacus is building being used to build wealth for the disadvantaged and poor. His hard work and pioneering spirit were recognised in May 2016, when he was included in Forbes Africa’s 2016 30 Under 30 list.
Featured Image Courtesy: yeejo.rw