Lillian Gachoki: How I and my friends saved to start microfinance

“My name’s Lillian Gachoki. Dream Credit Limited is a microfinance credit-only business. I am currently the chairperson. My interests have largely been in the financial sector over the many years I’ve been involved professionally. I am passionate about information, communication, and technology (ICT), but I’m primarily interested in financial software solutions.

Lillian Gachoki

Micro lending has been the main focus. We aim to provide affordable credit to micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises through this business.

One step is all it takes to make a million miles. As a partner, I formed a credit company to start my entrepreneurial journey. As many entrepreneurs, I started with a job as a formal employee.

It all started fifteen years ago, when I graduated from the Kenya School of Monetary Studies. I also received an Associate of Kenya Institute of Bankers Diploma and a Bachelor of Commerce (credit option), both from Gretsa University. After graduating, I worked in various sectors of the banking and information technology industries. My first job was at Equity Bank in 2002. I worked there as a credit officer until 2003. After that, I was promoted to project manager.

My last assignment at Equity Bank, I was in the Trade Finance section. I felt I needed more challenge so I moved to Craft Silicon Limited in February 2008. Craft Silicon Limited is a local technology company where I was a Technical Sales Manager for 9 years. These jobs were very competitive in terms of remuneration.

I was able to feel secure from my job and have a stable, competitive remuneration. But I felt an uncontrollable urge to start my own business. I wanted to create wealth. I wanted my own platform so that I could design and execute my business passions without having to work in a corporate environment.

Above all, I was motivated by the desire to improve the efficiency of the credit sector. My banking career had taught me that bureaucracy, cumbersome processes and inefficient procedures were the major reasons for entrepreneurs not taking up credit.

2009 was the year I made the decision to start my own business while still working. While I knew that I would be successful in my decision to leave my job and go into entrepreneurship, it was nerve-wracking to realize that the venture that I was considering was very capital-intensive. After doing some research, I realized partnerships were the best way to go. I shared my vision with potential partners, who were also thinking about switching to entrepreneurship.

The idea was accepted by a few friends who were carefully chosen. The cherry on top was that all of us had been working in decent salaries. We were able to pool our savings and launch Dream Credit Limited together.

With only one employee, we started out as sub-tenants of Rehema House in Nairobi’s Central Business District. Although we could have made major hires, as a start up, we preferred to keep our operational costs to a minimum. We learned a lot from previous experience in banking and financial work and were determined to save money and not spend more than we earned until we reached profitability. We wanted to be frugal and efficient with our money, just like we would to our customers.

Dream Credit Limited was actually launched with the compelling proposition that customers could get loans within two hours of their compliance. We kept our jobs, however, because we needed to increase our operating capital. However, in 2015 I decided to focus on Business and quit my job.

It was not easy to support the business until it had a solid foundation. We had to overcome many obstacles. One of the most difficult challenges was sourcing, recruiting, and retaining employees with unquestionable integrity. The challenge of finding customers in a highly competitive environment was made worse by this. Also, we had to deal with dishonest borrowers that borrowed money without any intention of repaying it.

Because we have found solutions to these problems, today I can smile with contentment. We no longer prefer to hire experienced staff as we did in our early days. Instead, we choose to hire new graduates who will model the work culture and ethics we have established.

Over the years we have been in business, one of the most valuable lessons I have learned is the importance of networking and connecting to like-minded businesspeople. Joining the Business Networking International (BNI), for example, has helped the company grow. In fact, I was privileged to be a president of one of the local Chapters for BNI. As we celebrate our 10th year of entrepreneurship, I am delighted that our loan pricing has been competitive, which ensures sustainability and growth. There have been many trials and tribulations in getting this company to where they are today.

Companies in the financial sector, for example, are always reviewing and adding new products to their existing offerings in order stay relevant and competitive. Dream Credit Limited is no different. We tried group lending to market traders a while back. We made a terrible mistake and really burned our fingers.

Along the way, there have been many non-financial difficulties. As with all actors in the space, the process for contract enforcement is expensive and slow. It is also a challenge to pay suppliers and contractors who use credit facilities, even though we want to help government create wealth and jobs.

I have never regretted starting this business, despite the setbacks. It’s funny how I wish that I took the plunge sooner. Working with banks has the advantage that you can see customers fail and others succeed. Because of this, I knew exactly what I was getting into from the beginning. We are working to make our loan products available throughout the country over the next five-years. This is possible through high-end credit technology that is easy to use.

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