Today I got a chance to interview one of the top technology blogger in Kenya & East Africa. His influence in the technology industry is growing everyday with a whooping 500,000 to 800,000 impressions per month on his website.
I was able to talk to a good friend of mine, Martin Gicheru on how he started his amazing journey in blogging and has been able to make a living from it. He is the managing editor at Techweez.com, where he covers mainly consumer technology and electronics, internet business, Social Media and web trends. Sometimes he tries to maintain sanity in the newsroom.
I started the interview by asking him, could you please tell us a bit about yourself and what kind of a person are you?
Thank you Enock. My name is Martin Gicheru; I am the managing editor at Techweez.com. Techweez is a tech blog located in Nairobi. It has very good authority in the mobile industry both in Kenya and East Africa. We were ranked by Technocratic among the top 100 technology blog globally.
So, when Techweez started out, what specific idea, purpose or vision was the key driving force?
I would say that initially it started as a passion. When I was growing up, I thought I was going to become a journalist but then somewhere along my life, I got influenced to do Information Technology (IT) but this didn’t change my passion that I had.
When I finished my studies, I realized that there is an opportunity in the technology news segment. There was no in-depth story telling going on about the technology industry in Kenya, only just news coverage by the mainstream media on technology news which didn’t get that much air-time. That’s when it came to me that I needed to start a tech blogging business.
So I decided to blend my passion for journalism and my IT skill to start a blog about technology news and provide more insight to readers on what it happening in the tech space.
It is interesting to see how you merged your passion and skill to create Techweez.com. Now, what challenges did you face when you were looking for your first customer after setting up Techweez?
That’s a very good question Enock. Well, conversion has been the biggest challenge when I started blogging. Mainstream media had always been perceived as the point of information and thus it has attracted companies to advertise their products/services with them.
Companies used to perceive bloggers as just bunch of guys sitting at their homes expressing their bad opinions on anything via their blog. But there has been a huge progress on blogging in Kenya, as we have seen more corporate companies collaborate or advertise on blogs as the perception has changed dramatically. We have been able to attract small businesses and corporate website to advertise and run campaigns on our platform.
What were the main challenges you faced early on in your business? And do you still encounter them to this day?
Well, I have IT skills and am passionate about journalism but I had little business skills. Before I got a business partner who invested in my company, most of the business operations and process were hard for me. I had challenges on how to sell my products, how to package it, and also presentation were not among some my list of strengths. Since I was able to build a team that could be dedicated on those areas that I was not strong, it allowed me to focus more time on my strengths which was writing articles.
Considering the fierce competition in Today’s business world, how would you highlight your company’s competitive advantages? What makes it stand out of the crowd?
There is a beauty in specialization when it comes to blogging. You get more recognition in your area of specialty when you focus on one topic as suppose to when you try to cover everything. You should always avoid trying to be everywhere and be nowhere. People tend to look for someone who understands a particular topic very well to consider them an authority in that field.
In Techweez, we have made that we only focus on technology reviews and news thus making us an authority in our field. That has helped us to get recognition by some of the big technology corporate companies who have engaged us because of our specialty.
Techweez made some improved changes on its user interface for online web and mobile platform. Could tell us what impact this changes made for the company?
The growth of our website was an increase in resource utilization on our web hosting. Sometime back we were struggling to pay our hosting bills because our website started to consume more memory, disk space and of course that meant that the cost of our hosting went upwards due to the frequent upgrades we needed to do to sustain the site traffic.
With the increase of bandwidth and memory consumption on our website, we decided to move our hosting to a dedicated server that would provide resources that will help us to sustain any increase in traffic in our website.
We also started to create products on our website that will make us stand out from the mainstream media and improve our web structure so to allow easier access of information by our readers.
On a lighter note, what are some of your top mobile apps that make your work more effective?
Telegram – I find this app very useful especially when it comes to collaboration and communicate with my team and has improved our teamwork.
Mailchimp – this helps me to view reports on my mobile in regards to the performance of my website when it comes to email subscription for our website.
Evernote – When I attend events, I usually use Evernote to write my notes that enables me to save it offline. When I go online, the notes get synchronized automatically that allows me to access the notes on my laptop and other devices.
Office365 – We also use cloud computing service. We have subscribed to Microsoft Office365 that allows us to store images from events attended by our writers. Our cameras has Wi-Fi capability that allows our writers to send us photos to office365 as soon as they take them, thus enabling us at our offices to access the photos almost on real time basis.
What is the toughest decision you had to make?
I would say it was the transition from employment to entrepreneurship. Employment had provided me with consistent salary but you know when you get into business, your salary is not consistent. Of course business has its benefit because I am able to set my salary and determine how much I would like to earn.
Do you feel that the decision you made to leave employment was the right decision for you?
Yes! I am glad I started my business and have the freedom to build an authoritative business in my industry that is attracting big corporate who want to work with us.
Your company recently received some funding. How did Techweez obtain funding from investors and what was the key to your success in getting that fun
Well, I don’t know if my case applies to any person, because before I got my funding I wasn’t looking actively for funding but rather focusing more on building my influence in my space.
There are people who are looking for investors actively and they tend build their business with the hope of getting funding. To get funding, you need to start solving problems that exist in your choose niche market or mass market. Do not create a problem that does not exist, make sure that you do research to find the problems that people experience in your market and how you will go about bringing a solution for it.
You need to also have a big vision for your business. Investor likes to see an entrepreneur who has a great vision for the company that will grow the business in the future. Don’t focus so much on how much money you will get or you want from an investor, but rather look at whether your business idea is viable or fundable.
You need to have the ability on how to build a good team that will enable the business to grow by utilizing the funding wisely that will bring results. You need to develop growth projections for the business and be able to lead your team to achieve those targets.
Many entrepreneurs complain about not succeeding in business due to lack of adequate funding, what is your take on this matter and how do you cope with funding issues in your company?
I’d say it entirely depends on the type of business you have and also your business model. If you are targeting mass market, of course you will need to have huge resources to acquire them, but if your target is niche market or Business To Business (B2B) like us, then you have a chance to be able to grow your business with minimal resources. But don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean that our business model is cheap to run.
Let’s say that you want to start a social media in Nairobi for Kenyans, you will need huge amount of resources to build such a social media company since you will be competing with well established business such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+. To get funding for such a business will be harder, unless you can prove to the investor the viability of the business.
What impact will this funding have on Techweez operations?
The funding has enabled us to have stability in our operations and it has been easier to build strong structures for the business to grow better. We have been able to publish more stories to our readers because we now have a good team.
When I used to run my business by myself, I was limited on the number of interviews or events that I can give coverage. But now with a team, we have been able to give more coverage to Technology events and perform several interviews. We have more capacity to run multiple campaigns for several corporate clients all at the same time.
I can see you have a good number of team members during the tour you gave me in your office. What’s your way of identifying talents and building effective working teams to achieve great results?
Well, there is one interesting fact that doesn’t get mentioned in public domain. There are a lot of people in the job market and of course there are a lot of jobs. But what is currently missing is the connection between what the companies are looking for and the skill set that the employee has. It is hard to get the right person for your business at the same time unemployed people are finding it hard to get the right company for them as well.
So, did you find the right skill set for your company and how did you go about it?
Yes, I was able to get the right people whom I wanted to join my team because I used the right forums to reach out to the right people. I also looked for people who had passion for technology but also the know-how when it comes to technology news and writing skills for blogging.
What are your most effective methods to motivate your team for outstanding results?
First thing I do, is to sell the vision on why we exist and what we stand for. I make sure that ownership of the vision is there. In the media industry, there is a great responsibility to provide accurate information to the readers. That’s why I make sure that our team understands this responsibility of working on articles that are accurate and relevant to our readers.
Outline the schedule of one of your typical working day?
My typical day starts at 6am. I start by checking on the website, to see if there is everything is running smoothly. I also check social media to see if there is any urgent response needed to be done that myself or the company has been mentioned on. I also check reports on the website traffic and how it has been performing.
I arrive in the office at around 7am, where I check my emails to see if there is any correspondence that are required. This helps me prepare a To-do list that I need to achieve for one that given day before end of business.
Part of my to-do list as a managing editor is to make sure that our readers are getting the relevant content. I also monitor other sites that are in my industry and see what they are doing.
We also do content strategy as a team so that everyone knows what they need to get done, and then we use our Telegram App to engage each other on those tasks in real time.
My day usually ends at around 8-9pm.
Wow! Now that is a long day at work. Do you consider yourself a workaholic?
There is nothing special about the number of hours I work. Well, success doesn’t come easy. You have to put in long hours in your business for it to succeed.
What are your top websites/blogs that you can’t imagine your day without? Give your reasons.
I would say Gmail and Twitter. Without Twitter, I would feel very disconnected from the world. I use twitter a lot to read most of other websites that I follow & keep up with. Gmail is also another crucial site that serves me for communication with my clients, so I can’t see how I can go a day without it.
Who is your greatest example and inspiration?
I would say Jim Bankoff – CEO Vox Media. Jim runs all aspects of Vox Media, one of the fastest growing online publishers, focused on the sports, personal technology and gaming categories. Am impressed at how he grew The Verge which he started 3 years ago and now it is the most influential online media website in the US. They are doing things differently and interestingly and everyone wants to be associated with them.
That’s the direction I want to do things at Techweez.com. I want us to be different from other tech blogs or media websites in Kenya and Africa.
Ok, final question from me: What are the future plans for Techweez?
We plan to grow and scale up our business to other markets. We want to focus to East Africa countries, South Africa and also Asian countries. But our main focus now is to build an established authority in Africa.
Thank you Martin for a Great Interview! Here is to your success in business.