People and prosperity

My big break: starting a business with my friends

Entrepreneur Virji Kerai on how a shared vision led to the creation of one of Kenya’s leading construction companies

Company snapshot

  • Name: Sentrim Contracts
  • Founders: Harij Hirani, Ravish Varsani and Virij Kerai
  • Location: Nairobi, Kenya
  • Turnover: USD24 million
  • Number of employees: 200

How it all began

The three of us first met working for a construction company in Kenya, and it wasn’t long before we discovered we had a common dream. Our fathers had all been in the construction industry, so you could say that construction is in our blood. But while our families found success in smaller building projects, we had the appetite for something much bigger. We set up Sentrim Contracts in 2004, starting out with small maintenance jobs to get us going, but quickly winning a succession of larger projects. Today, we are one of Kenya’s leading construction companies, focusing on housing and commercial properties.

Our toughest lesson

For any company, it is very important to never borrow beyond your means. The last five years have been difficult for our business. Due to the challenging economic situation in Kenya, some customers have had trouble paying for their construction projects. Luckily, we have not overextended ourselves, avoiding unnecessary borrowing costs. We have also been conservative in taking on new projects, only working with customers we know well and who are financially stable. And we only work with trusted suppliers whom we can rely on to deliver.

Our lightbulb moment

Shortly after starting the company, we won our first large-scale project – to build a hotel in Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve, worth half a billion Kenyan shillings. We were ecstatic, seeing our chance to get our new company on the map. It wasn’t a simple job, though. The site was almost five hours from Nairobi and in the bush, so we had difficulty with logistics and staffing the build. We decided to be positive, seeing the challenges as opportunities to show that we could handle even the most testing jobs. Despite a very compressed timeline of four months, we completed the project on time and the client was very happy with the results. Soon after, we were winning bids for other big construction projects.

Finding funding

Starting a new company comes with many obstacles and finding funding is certainly one of the biggest challenges. Luckily, we have had the backing of Standard Chartered since we started Sentrim. This has been immensely helpful in managing our cash flow since we usually have to pay our suppliers before we are paid by our customers. Also, things move fast in the construction business. Being able to process everything online and transfer funds between banks in a day helps us to deliver projects on time.

We owe our success to

Our fantastic team at Sentrim. It’s thanks to their hard work that we’re able to meet our customers’ high expectations year after year.

Standard Chartered has been providing business banking services to Sentrim Contracts since 2004.

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