Dennis Makori Onfon Media Ltd Technology Entrepreneur Millionaire Kenya

A former Moi University student registered a company based at the institution at 21. Fifteen years later, the enterprise is said to be worth Sh1 billion with four million subscribers.

Dennis Makori, chief executive at Onfon Media Limited — a value added telecoms service provider — is not shy about his road to recognition. He says that he is not done yet and the present success can only be termed as a start-up.

“In 1998, while at the university, computer technology was evolving and although I did not have any skills on its usage, I developed a deep passion for computers and taught myself about the technology in less than three months,’’ the 33-year-old entrepreneur told the Business Daily at his office on Mombasa Road in Nairobi. “I started securing freelance jobs in computer programming.”

By the time he completed studies at the university in 2003, Makori set out to develop his briefcase business — Comb Soft Developers. At the time, he says, he was keen on selling himself as a brand.

Andrew Mbuya, Makori’s former classmate describes him as risk-taker and a shrewd businessman able to tap opportunities.

“I worked at his university-based company since both of us were pursuing Electrical and Communication Engineering,” he told the Business Daily on phone. “We joined hands and contributed Sh50 each to register Comb Soft  Developers, he was passionate  about  trying out new ventures.’’

Hezborn Otachi, who attended Kisii High School with Makori, says entrepreneurship traits were evident in the businessman whose conversations were dominated by discussions on top investors.

“This is a rare feat for a man who kept talking about success given his humble background,’’ Otachi says of Makori.

The entrepreneur operated his business from home between 2003 and 2005, and on a good month he could earn Sh9,000 as salary from his business.

“I was building the ground for my small firm but those were my lowest moment. There is nothing disheartening than seeing what you love doing most is not flourishing,” says Makori.

“Operating through a registered company was more encouraging. I had seen Its potential.”

He decided to change the name of the company to Onfon Media Limited to pursue mobile advertising in 2005. He approached Mbuya, the former colleague at the university for a partnership. However, the Sh110,000, which was required for registration was a big challenge. The licence for the business cost Sh100,000 while Sh10,000 would was for registration.

“In January 2006, I had saved a good amount of money from the numerous projects I had handled through Comb Soft Developers,” he says. “My friend Mbuya was at hand to help and we registered Onfon Media Limited in the same month,’’ said Makori.

Today, Mbuya owns shares at OnFon Media where he is also a partner.

As the two entrepreneurs waited for the licence from the Communications Commission of Kenya, they rented a small office to plan and lay down strategies for the company. In January 2007, the regulator issued them the licence. They partnered with Safaricom, which allowed them to send short code messages through the telco’s value added services system. The deal was based on revenue-sharing.

“We had no money to buy a router but we configured a clone server which routed our connection to Safaricom.We had only one computer,” said Makori.

“The next step involved approaching vernacular radio stations for partnerships on premium messages. We chose them because the main stations were already in business with other companies in the same venture.”

He adds: “Under the agreement, for every Sh10 message, Sh3 goes to the Kenya Revenue Authority while the remaining Sh7 we share equally with Safaricom where each party gets Sh3.50, we normally get our monthly payments from Safaricom’’.

He initially started with one radio station — West FM. Within a month, the new deal earned them a Sh50,000 profit.

“Take a case of the current trend in our local radio and TV stations. For every programme there is an opinion segment where listeners and viewers are asked to air views on a given issue. Millions of Kenyans respond with their opinions daily,’’ he says. “This at the end of month translates to good figures.”

How does the system work? I asked him. “The message from the sender goes to mobile service provider then re-routed to Onfon Media where we relay them to media houses through our automated system,” he explains. “We have a capacity of 50 million messages a day. We install a software to our media partners that enables them to access the content at ease.’’

Makori says that their turnover rose to Sh30 million between 2008 and 2009 from Sh1 million in 2007 when they started operations.

Started with one radio

“Between 2009 and 2010, our turnover rose to Sh86 million, and this was buoyed our online banking model, among other factors’’ he says.

Currently, Onfon Media Limited has been contracted by K-Rep Bank, Consolidated Bank, Africa Investment Bank and National Social Security Fund for a joint mobile banking venture based on the revenue sharing model.

To clinch more deals locally and in the region, Makori diversifies his enterprises. As a result Onfon Media operates in Uganda, Tanzania, Ghana and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The entrepreneur plans to cover at least 10 countries in Africa and list on the Nairobi Securities Exchange, London Stock Exchange and New York Stock Exchange by 2015.

Makori says he owes his success to his parents and sponsors.

“My father was a tout and I went through high school and university courtesy of well-wishers and bursaries, my upbringing  taught me that  humility is the key to winning hearts,” he says. “I believe in uplifting other people’s lives just like people who supported me.”

Makori says he sponsors seven orphans in high schools in Kisii and he is working with 5,000 artistes in the region on a ring-back tone project.


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