Play Guru: Wycliffe Waweru has built a bicycle business that has gone from passion to profit

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I met Wycliffe Waweru Maina through Rotary a couple of years back and it is amazing how far he has come with Play Guru.  He is a testimony that passion and hard work can take you places. Play Guru Ltd was started in February 2010 in Buru Buru selling bicycles by the roadside. The initial capital was the 6 mountain bikes that Wycliffe had and two chains to lock up the bicycles from roadside theft. The journey led to diversification of their operations where they leased out bikes to people for fun days as a new revenue stream. Most of the leases were based on the pricing factor – most people would never afford to buy. Slowly from the sidewalk business they started thinking of how to grow their own brand thus why they sought to develop 3 bicycle models in Taiwan and setup a bicycle assembly line in Kenya.

Play Guru Wycliffe Maina

Now Play Guru Ltd is working on setting up a bicycle assembly line and a national conservation program that will have tree growing as the core. All these in an effort to build our climate resilience.  The company is dedicated to sustainable development of Africa through restoring the order – Planet, People and Profit.

The vision for Play Guru is to be Africa’s sustainable development partner. The mission for Play Guru is to be a trend setter for climate resilience.

Tell us a bit about yourself. Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Wycliffe Waweru Maina. A young Kenyan entrepreneur working on promoting Non Motorised Transport in the country. The business is based on a lifelong passion and obsession with bicycles. I started selling second-hand bicycles in Nairobi East and now working on opening a bicycle assembly line in Kenya.

Play Guru Wycliffe Maina 2

I am 30 years old and I have grown up in Nairobi. I played harder than my peers all through life and grew up with great admiration for the Shimano brand in bicycle manufacture. I am an IT graduate with a bias to Business Information Systems. I worked at Riara group of schools prior to setting up the venture and now looks up to my former boss as a mentor.

I was generally enterprising all through my childhood and teenage life through building toys, leading clean-ups in the estate, loaning out pocket money to fellow students in high school, learning how to drive, drift and do doughnuts with the family car way before I got his ID card. A rebel as the myopic viewers perceived me.

How did your company start?

I walked out of formal employment to pursue my passion – play. With 6 bicycles that I owned I started selling bicycles as a sidewalk executive in Buru buru.

Why Bicycles? Did you always picture getting into this line of work?

Bicycles are a lifelong obsession but I never saw the transition from a hobby into a business. My growth both in person and my hobby helped in the transition.

 So far, have you seen the vision that you had set out for Play Guru take off?

Yes, I have. More opportunities have unfolded through the journey. The value is what keeps it growing and the impact to clients’ livelihoods.

How many people work for you?

Currently I have 8 considering we shut down all prior operations in our pursuit of the new setup.

What makes your company stand out from others?

We seek to empower more than sell – solution over transactions.

You are opening a bicycle factory and have plans to open others. How did you get the funding? Tell us more about the bicycle factory.

We got funding from private investors and other manufacturers who seek to have a presence in our dear continent. It’s all complimentary in the interest of growth.

The factory will churn out bicycles to empower the millions of Kenyans who walk to work seeking to empower their lives, lower our carbon footprint and have an efficient labour force in the country.

Tell us about the process of taking Play Guru to the next level

We have a rich pool of mentors and advisors who have helped us grow the value proposition. Coupled with that we have been members at Enablis (entrepreneurial network) that also helped us build capacity for the dreams.

Rotary has also played a major role in linking us up to agencies and dignitaries during our research years – Rotary Malindi and Muthaiga Clubs.

KIRDI through the able Director Dr Ken Chelule has also played a significant role in ensuring we delivered as per the set goals in synergizing our concept with Vision 2030’s blueprint.

You have a partnership with Vision 2030. Tell us more about that

We have an MOU that will help fast rack implementation of our solutions with primary focus being on the bicycle assembly lines. One in Nairobi and 6 more in the national grid. This will help empower Kenya’s labour force while also creating many sustainable jobs for the youth/growing cycling as a sport.

The second critical area is the 8 national tree growing circuits which will replicate the job creation while also ensuring we conserve the environment that we thrive in.

We were awarded the flagship status due to the uniqueness of our concept and the fact that it will fast track achievement of other flagship projects.

How many clients and orders do you get in a day/week/month?

Currently we’re sitting on double digit orders in thousands.

What are some of the biggest clients and orders you’ve made?  

Our wake-up call was orders to supply 6,200 bicycles when we run the small operation with the second hand bicycles. Secondly, a friend refered us to an NGO back in 2012 that sought a supplier for 20,000 pieces.

Where do you source your material from? Is it easy/hard to acquire? If hard, what do you think we can do as a Kenyan market to make sure some of these materials are more accessible?

Material is not hard to obtain – readily available. We can still make it easier by increasing partnerships with other global leaders instead of re-inventing the wheel.

Play Guru Wycliffe Maina 3

Do you get people to help you out in sourcing and executing the ideas for your projects?

Yes, I do and we have a rich resource – mentors/advisors both within and beyond borders. This is something most youth take for granted in their pursuit of greatness – capacity building.

What motivates you to do what you do?

The millions in poverty, jobless graduates and the fact that I have to be the change I wish to see. Biggest motivation is an uninspired generation.

Describe to us your typical day of work.

Right now it’s more of capacity building meetings with stakeholders – long days and shorter nights. Previously it was follow ups on the repairs and orders for the morning. Afternoon, supervise deliveries, repairs and handling complaints.

What are some of the biggest and most memorable moments so far?

The honour bestowed by the Vision 2030 delivery board to be a flagship project under the blueprint.

Crying myself to sleep while enduring the pain and loneliness that comes with the process. Never thought I would shed any!

Walking back to where it all started and seeing God in it all over effort.

What are some of the ups and down you’ve faced in your business?

formalizing was a painful journey – from hawking to writing a concept paper.

Having the past 3 years of research funded by friends and family as I sold off all I had.

Too much talk and less execution by officials in the organisations I sought partnerships with while I spent a borrowed dollar.

Walk out by 99% of the initial disciples because the process took “too long”. They actually tapped out!!

 Do you have any other side businesses or personal ventures?

I spend almost all my social life in encouraging start-ups and jobless youth to being innovative. Some amazing work has transpired as most don’t need capital but just the right push.

How is the bicycle market in Kenya? Are there challenges you face in selling bicycles?

The market is as big as this – see the number of people who walk to work and do a multiple to cater for leisure/recreation.

Challenges – infrastructure to support the riding. Secondly, road share is a problem with the entitlement mentality most road users have including pedestrians.

Where do you see yourself as a company in the next ten years?  

As an individual I wish to be alive as the company should be a catalyst for sustainable development in Africa. With a bias to efficiency in human capital and SDG’s.

Are you planning to expand your business outside Kenya? If yes where?

We are already involved with a regional platform that represents the interests of 10 African states. Our involvement with them is two years old now and they want us to replicate the solution.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs who want to be social entrepreneurs?

Invest in yourself and be allergic to average.

Wake up to engage in something that is bigger than yourself but aligned to your values.

What is the attitude of people towards what you do? Do they find it strange that you have an IT background but are out here selling and hiring out bicycles?

It was mockery from the start as an enterprise is now labelled a white collar affair. It’s never made sense to them until they realised the opportunities that lie untapped.

The stigma this presents has led many into mediocrity as they seek to fit in instead of standing out.

Who are your targeted clients? what are the rates for individuals and corporates?

Our target clients are the ‘the urban working poor’. We shall resume the leasing and retail sales 6 months after launch of the assembly line – focus.

Do you offer training for clients who want to hire bicycles but they don’t know how to cycle?

Yes. We have mentored youth into being trainers and they carry this out at Karura Forest. I personally trained a 65-year-old lady 2 years ago who is now hooked on riding.

Any recognition or successes so far?

I was in the top 100 Kenyan innovators boot camp in 2011 – moment of truth.

Without spilling the beans, I have been short-listed for a global award on sustainable development and conservation.

Using bicycles as opposed to vehicles would help us cut the problem of climate change and we are glad that your organisation is doing something on the preservation of the environment. Tell us about that initiative.

Looking at daily human activity transport cuts across all economies. This function is majorly motorised in the developed spaces (urban) thus emissions from the choices of travel deposit tonnes of carbon into the environment. The move to bicycles which are human powered will reduce an individual’s footprint and collectively help decarbonise.

We shall also run 8 national ‘family fun’ weekends in the wild aimed at tree growing. This will be our long term solution to conservation considering trees serve as the lungs to the planet we live in.

Has the government or any other organisation come on board to support what you do?

I must applaud the government and its various agencies for the great support they have accorded us.

We have a pool of private partners who are keen on partnerships to empower the ‘urban working poor’ beyond the bicycles. Sample – having them use clean energy cooking solutions which increase their productivity and further help in environmental conservation.

In countries like Netherlands and China, dignitaries use bikes when heading to their offices. Do you think we’ll ever get there as a country? Mark you, this would be a great way to also curb the crazy traffic we have in Nairobi.

For us we sought to start with the market niche that needs the solution more so as to kick-start the paradigm shift. Reason being the culture change will make it more acceptable and practical over driving as most workers (both formal and informal) travel within a 20 km radius from home and work.

Lessons you would like to pass to aspiring entrepreneurs?

It’s never easy and it is never meant to be. The clique around you right now will quickly be your anchor to failure if your goal is smaller than your challenges.

Be willing to risk it all to have it all as if it was easy everyone would have it.

Live in the moment and treasure every relationship along the journey as most people hold the keys to the doors you seek to open.

Go from being a gazelle to a lion as if you don’t hunt your people will not eat. Ignore convenience and build resilience.

Be utterly ready to possibly see the love of your life walk out on you as the process seeks to empty you to fill you with greatness.

Do it because if you don’t who will – be the change leader.

Lastly, the most important – develop a reading culture for relevant material to your dream that is bigger than your talk. This way you will forever attract wisdom!

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