Jonathan Somen Millionaire from Kenya and the Million Dollar IT Company

In 2007, many Kenyans were introduced to AccessKenya as the family-owned Internet business prepared to become the first technology company to list on the Nairobi Stock Exchange.

In the past year, the yellow and blue colours that characterise the company have now become familiar, as an aggressive marketing campaign and the glitz that accompanies a listing propelled the company into the public rostrum. Behind the scenes, however, the company has managed to maintain its growing profile as an IT solutions provider.

Since its flotation on the Nairobi stock Exchange, the company is now worth Sh6.7 billion, with each share worth Sh33.90. The Somens now control 33.7 per cent of the shares, which are worth Sh2.26 billion.

The story of how the company began is your typical techpreneur start-up scenario. It took just one room, a couple of computers and two fiery entrepreneurs with big dreams to form the company that went public after just five years after birth.

In a script that reads like the typical tech company fairy tale, the Somen brothers formed what was to become Kenya's largest corporate Internet Service Provider (ISP) - AccessKenya.

"It was your typical fly by the seat of your pants growth," said Mr David Somen, executive director and the senior of the two enterprising brothers. "One day it was a concept, within months it had grown to become a full fledged business."

From a small room in a building on the outskirts of town, the company the two formed in their 20s now boasts one of the largest financial war-chests in the industry.

Abandoning lucrative employment opportunities to plunge into the fairly new and unfamiliar technology field, the duo armed themselves with the simplest of office equipment and went to work trying to crack into a highly competitive Internet Service Provider (ISP) market that had casualties.

"Our first major purchase was a fax," says Mr Jonathan Somen, now 38 and the firm's managing director. His executive director brother, David, is 42 and their father, Michael, is the chairman.

David says the brothers started out by gradually building on the services they offered -emailing and consultancy - before consolidating to start what is now known as AccessKenya in 2001.

"You could say it was our first baby," said Jonathan's wife, Petra, who doubles up as the firm's marketing manager. As her children grew up, so did the company, fuelled by a mix of the family savings and angel funds from friends and family.

The first non-Somens, Mr Mungai Ngaruiya, a non executive director and Mr Ngugi Kiuna, a director, joined the company board in 2005. "Ngugi (Kiuna) was an old friend of dad's and could bring us his extensive experience in management," said Jonathan.

Since then, the addition of industry heavyweights Mr Eddy Njoroge and Mr Michael Turner have added more diversity and steel to the company's director line-up, said Jonathan. He often emerges as the more vocal of the two brothers. Sibling rivalry?

"We've never had issues," he says. "We work very well together."

Indeed, a glance at either brother's CV reveals they have done almost everything together, from attending Banda School as children to working for large technology firms listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Even now, the two brothers list the same things as their likes.

They love fast-paced motor sports like Formula One, playing squash and are passionate about a newer hobby - flying. "I'm about to learn how to fly so I can follow Jonathan who already has a private pilot's licence," said David.

With the addition of the husband-wife team of Henry and Lucy Njoroge following the acquisition of Openview Systems, AccessKenya's family focus remains apparent even as the company celebrates its first year of listing on the stock exchange. But the feeling of family closeness is not restricted to the executive team.

Growing its employee base will be one major focus in the coming year, as it strives to meet its IPO promises.

"I would say we're still tightly knit," said Jonathan.

"Our employees' names might not be Somen, but they are part of the family."
Business Daily (Nairobi)

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