We had the privilege of interviewing M/s. Marita Mutemi, CEO and Founder of Peleza Service Ltd. The name Peleza is coined from the Swahili word Upelelezi which means investigate. Peleza Services is the pioneer East African Background Check Company, with its headquarters in Nairobi. Background check is valuable to employers since they have a right to clearly understand the individual they are about to get into a legal agreement with. At the same time, employers need to ensure that the individual they are about to engage doesn’t have any attribute lurking in their past that might harm the business, and the people working there, including fellow employees.For budding entrepreneurs and those who plan to branch into entrepreneurship in future, Marita’s inspiring journey will shed some much-needed light on your paths. Read the eye-opening interview below.
For budding entrepreneurs and those who plan to branch into entrepreneurship in future, Marita’s inspiring journey will shed some much-needed light on your paths. Read the eye-opening interview below.
BrighterMonday: Did you always want to be an entrepreneur?
Marita: Yes. The idea of monetizing an invention or activity has always intrigued me. I remember as early as my high school days selling biscuits to fellow classmates. Of course there is nothing novel about biscuits and profits, but the activity got me excited. I have had my share of good and bad experiences as an entrepreneur ranging from wrong advice from would-be experts, misinformed research on the market, joining dubious investment band wagons, and many others. Failed ventures have taught me valuable lessons that have got me thus far, and I am now what I consider more business savvy.
BrighterMonday: How did Peleza come into being?
Marita: Peleza is a brainchild that was born when I was working at General Electric. I joined GE in the Accounting and Finance department based on my academic background. I gained immense experience in the department, however I was also curious to know what goes on in other departments; of keen interest to me was the procurement department. The good thing with working at GE is that they seek to develop and empower their staff with knowledge and skills. My move to the procurement department was approved and that is where I developed an ardent interest in background checks and integrity in business operations as I worked as a commodity leader handling professional services and labor. To succeed in this role, background checks on individuals and companies I worked with was crucial. My vision to start Peleza blossomed at that moment and it was evident that it was a much needed service in the Kenyan market.
BrighterMonday: Tell us about the setting up and launching.
Marita: As the idea of background check took root in me I began searching the Kenyan marketfor experts in the field but all I found that came close were Private Investigators. My vision was more than that. I therefore incorporated the skills and experience of a former colleague at GE, who had left two years earlier, and we launched Peleza in December 2014. The company started trading in January 2015 and we started off with 2 employees; one in marketing and the other one in the verifications departments respectively.
BrighterMonday: What challenges have you faced setting up and running Peleza? How have you tackled them?
Marita: Initially, I found it quite challenging trying to juggle between GE, Peleza and my studies. Being the vision bearer responsible for spearheading the vision and guiding everyone else, I was not entirely present during the day to day operations of the business. Working part-time in my own company meant that I was not fully focused on Peleza and it begun taking the hit, as I had to rely heavily on reports. It got easier once I left employment and concentrated on Peleza fulltime.
Another challenge for us was staff turnover during the initial stages of the company. For the employer, recruitment can be a rather costly affair because getting a suitable candidate takes time. Also, once you onboard a member of staff, you need to inculcate your vision in them, train on culture and operations and an understanding of the clients. I have tackled this challenge by introducing a wholesome reward process to encourage retention like recognition for staff that go above and beyond their call of duty. We are currently in negotiations with pension and medical scheme providers to have the same as part of staff benefits. I also plan to introduce an employee share ownership program for the staff to not only be an employee but have some ownership of the company. I find that as the business is growing and gaining more credibility in the market, employee retention is stabilizing.
The cost of information was and still is a challenge. Delving into systems and institutions to get information that our clients require is met with bureaucracies, processes and the high cost of information to say the least. We are, however, working on ways to reduce the same in order to ensure it is favorable for business. I also believe that client education is crucial at this point for better understanding of the different background check products and their value.
BrighterMonday: Where do you draw inspiration from?
Marita: First I’d like to highlight that I am a strong believer, so naturally my inspiration comes from God. I read the Bible, meditate on the word, pray and seek His guidance as He orders my steps.
Secondly, I have a strong love for my country. I am passionate about making Kenya a better place, especially with all the negative corruption reports going round. Peleza is a small way of me contributing to repair the torn fabric of integrity in this country. That is why Peleza is more than just a business venture; it is a calling seeking to restore back integrity in the business environment.
My mom has been a great inspiration for a long time: Always cheering me on in all the stages my career and life in general. She passed on last year and my greatest wish would be for her to see how far we have come. I’m sure she’d be extremely proud.
BrighterMonday: What personal routine/regime has helped you as a CEO and Career woman in regards to balancing professional and personal lives?
Marita: First. I would like to point out my personal perception of work-life balance. I believe it is seasonal and it is based on the stage at which one is in life. For instance, I would not expect to have a normal 9-5 in the initial stages of Peleza launching. I need to go the extra mile, burn the midnight oil conducting research and charting the next step forward. I expect to work extra hard and longer for now to ensure I get to where my vision for Peleza is. That said, it doesn’t mean I am a dull Jack and that my life is all work and more work. I create time within my busy schedule for family, friends and also some me-time.
I strictly adhere to the rule of not carrying work home with me, so as to ensure my home is the haven I would want it to be. I also set time daily to spend on meditation and prayer, as it gives the daily boost I need to face challenges of the day. As a team, Peleza takes time on a quarterly basis to relax, away from work schedules by activities such as watching a movie, a play, teambuilding among others
On Wednesdays I set aside 2 hours, to specifically research on technology and its advancement. I possess an avid interest in technology, big data, internet of things, infographics etc. and their impact on the business world. I strongly believe that the worst place an entrepreneur can find themselves is the ‘perceived expert’ with nothing more to learn.
BrighterMonday: What advice do you have for budding entrepreneurs and those with the intentions of going that way in future?
Marita: First as an entrepreneur you have to be patient. There will be sleepless nights of planning and re-planning, be ready to knock on closed doors and not give up. They also have to manage their expectations and avoid the illusion that things will happen quickly. Rome was not built in a day should be their daily mantra however you must also watch not to be too comfortable and push yourself to achieve the goals set out.
They have to be willing to sacrifice. At some point I had to sacrifice a well-paying and stable job to concentrate fully on my business. One has to be willing to put in time, energy, resources, prayer and research. All this things take time. You must have big dreams but be willing to start small and see things through. Resilience is also important because not everything you start will succeed. You will fail many times, make regrettable decisions that will cost you; but what matters is rising up, dusting yourself and starting again, wiser and stronger.
As an entrepreneur, you should not be afraid of competition. The existence of competitors is usually an opportunity for you to reinvent yourself and come up with better ways of presenting your product or service to your target market. It gives you the opportunity to maximize on your unique value proposition and perfect it. Remember you bear the vision and even if someone else replicates your idea they will not have the vision you do and will therefore not execute it like you will. Trust me your clients will notice the difference.
The financial aspect is also crucial. Most entrepreneurs invest their life’s savings into business ideas, while others secure loans to give them the financial boost they need to launch. Aside from the monetary factor, it is wise as an entrepreneur to identify potential partners that can help your business gain the traction it needs in the market. This might mean letting go of a certain percentage of ownership rights for more beneficial partnerships.
Finally, conduct research continually. Never get contented with what you already know. Growth and conquering of new markets requires continuous innovation, continuous reinvention which is a by-product of research. Cultivate a learning culture in the company. Be hungry for new information and find relevant ways of implementing it.
BrighterMonday: Being an expert in Background Search, what advice do you have for candidates in regards to the importance of a clean career history?
Marita: Candidates have the tendency to lie on the CV. Little white lies may seem harmless, but most organizations take lies and misrepresentation of information very seriously and it can be grounds for disqualification once the lie is discovered. Areas that candidates feel irrelevant hence lie about include; dates/ duration of employment at an organization, reason for leaving previous employment, position held, roles and responsibilities, advancement within the organization, academic scores/ merits achieved, course completion, short courses attended among others.
Social media is another area that provides a peak into a candidate’s background. It should not be taken lightly and candidates need to guard their online presence to avoid unwanted and unfavorable representation that may tarnish a company’s reputation or brand. Even when already employed, employees need to be careful how they represent their employers online and how they carry themselves when in possession of company merchandise e.g. company branded t-shirts.
Something else career oriented men and women should be keen on is protecting their personal brand regardless of their stage of employment. Most employees envision that only managers should carry themselves with decorum and that juniors have the luxury of slacking and taking things easy. On the contrary, everyone should be careful how they carry themselves, because today’s juniors will be eyeing managerial positions tomorrow and background checks will be done as protocol. Questionable behavior in the past could make one miss out on career growth opportunities. In fact, it is increasingly becoming the norm to carry out background check not only to the managerial positions but also juniors.
Parting shot: It is therefore of paramount importance as we protect our careers and embrace integrity, to focus on working diligently at whatever we do as though we are working for the Lord rather than for people.