What I have learnt handing over a company I founded

Photo Credits Pixabay

Today marks the day I hand over a company I Co-Founded. I join a list of founders who in their lifetime have stepped aside from companies they founded to take on new assignments. Ken Njoroge of Cellulant, Sam Gichuru of Nailab, Julian Kyula of Mode amongst others. We registered Wylde international in 2004 together with my co-founder David Kamau as a youth leadership development company. We were way ahead of our time but believed we could change the world by transforming the generations that were coming after us. We eventually pivoted into a corporate learning company and then added organizational development and strategy consulting to the portfolio in the next 6 years. Eventually we pioneered paid entrepreneurship programs, which turned out to be our niche. David left in 2012 to pursue other related interests and Chris Odongo joined at the same time.

We proceeded to grow our footing in the enterprise development space, training and coaching hundreds of entrepreneurs in our accelerator program dubbed the Greatness Business Club (GBC), which today has evolved into the more powerful and targeted Scalerizer® program. We have in the ten years of running entrepreneurship programs partnered with corporate organizations that had SME clubs, Banks, insurance companies, donors, global tech giants and UN agencies funding SME programs and investors. Our team grew from the initial 3 to 4 at any given time to 17 at one time (it’s almost back there even in my absence). We recruited and retrenched and recruited again, learning painful but valuable lessons. In the background we were baking the idea of putting together a one stop shop concept for supporting SMEs.

This one stop shop came to be in 2019. We had initially envisioned it as a Wylde subsidiary but the more it came together the more we realized it was a gigantic idea that needed its own space and vision. We Christened it SNDBX (Pronounced Sandbox) and we eventually hived it off and registered it as a separate company. I was at one time CEO of SNDBX and Wylde Simultaneously but it became quickly clear to the board and ourselves that I couldn’t run both (How does the twitter/Square guy do it?) So, we made the decision for me to move and focus on growing SNDBX since it was a big opportunity and needed a focused team to unlock its growth. As SNDBX grows, so does Wylde. As of today, I am officially no longer the CEO of WYLDE International. In a continent where leaders and entrepreneurs hold on to power till the grave, this is a monumental step for me and the company

I now feel like I’m running a government at SNDBX (25+ companies under me). But I learnt a lot of lessons in the quiet handover that we did in the 6 months before this announcement was made today.

  1. Set your successor for success – Before I left, we fixed all pending gaps in our structure, developed a full 3-year strategy and hired competencies to fill all positions that were pending. I’m actually a bit jealous at all the firepower Chris has and sometimes wonder why I didn’t do this during my term.
  2. Prepare the ground for your successor to take over – As soon as the decision was made, we began to let the staff, clients and partners know about this decision. Chris began to take over conversations with our key clients and chair meetings. By the time we announced to them that I was leaving most would say “but we have been dealing with Chris anyway” They were confident in his leadership having experienced it. I have even heard a few (painful) comments that some people prefer my successor to me! We also began to get more speaking and media slots for him to build his profile as the Wylde representative instead of myself going for them.
  3. Build confidence in the market about your successor – Every potential client conversation I had in the last 6 months I have finished by mentioning that they will be handled by someone better suited than myself going forward.
  4. Allow your successor to fail and feel the entire burden of leadership – There are times I have foreseen some trouble coming up and kept completely quiet about it and waited for it to happen and then watch to see how my successor and his team will respond. Even when they have tried to rope me into decisions that I feel are now his, I decline to give a comment and send them back to the new leader. It has been hard holding back but it was entirely necessary for them to realize I am no longer calling the shots. And one of the best hallmarks of leadership is dealing with crisis and mistakes. From how I saw them handle the issues? They will be just fine without me.
  5. Allow your successor to break away from your direction and set a new one – In one of the weekly transition meetings I told Chris that he is free to set a new direction once this strategy we developed together begins to run out. He will be the one on the ground interacting with the changes in the internal and external environment. My input will only come at board level. I suspect they will blow our minds with their ideas and investments.
  6. Don’t interfere in your successor’s decisions – the hardest part has been watching my successor come up with decisions that are very different from what I would make, and they work brilliantly. I largely grew Wylde through making grave mistakes but the current teams have a lot of wisdom and resources to draw from.
  7. Decide on your potential successors early – I was lucky that Chris had walked the journey with me for a long time but I always advise leaders to identify 2 or 3 potential successors from their team as soon as they begin their tenure. Why 2 or 3? Its good for an organization to have a pipeline of leaders who are being prepared for the job.

I am still on the Wylde board and I miss being part of the incredibly talented and full of integrity Wylde team, but I’m also excited about the new global possibilities that SNDBX portends. We are talking to large brands, foundations, governments and multilateral agencies which see SNDBX as a unique solution to enterprise challenges especially in emerging markets. We are talking to potential partners around the world about the possibility of setting up SNDBXs in their jurisdictions. We are building a legal network and a fund. We are having big and small conversations from Nebraska to Berlin, China to Joburg. We are setting up a fund and experimenting with digital platforms. We have attracted big names locally and regionally as advisors. SNDBX is exciting and demanding. And I have an awesome team to do this. My 2nd play is bigger than the first.

I miss my first venture and team but they have proven in the first quarter that they will do much better revenues than I did. They have a full management team and highly experienced and qualified consultants on board. Their programs are growing. I miss the product development that Wylde is so good at but I can also see they are a mature company poised for scaling. I look forward to the challenges and lessons that the SNDBX will bring. And I wish Chris Odongo, Wylde’s new CEO all the best. I have all the confidence in you to do greater things than I did because you have diligently been the one who implemented the dreams and strategies that we came up with together anyway, and kept the coffers secure. Oh, and I’m dead serious I won’t interfere but you have my support any time you need it. It’s all yours now!

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