From Tarmacking to Post Construction Cleaning

Esther Wangui Ndegwa

Esther Wangui Ndegwa graduated from university with a bachelor's degree neatly tucked under her arm. She had done a Bachelor’s of commerce program majoring in finance, and she was going to be a finance manager in some company, or so she thought. Little had she anticipated the challenges of finding a job. Ten interviews later, Esther had not landed on a single job yet, and that led her to rethink her unemployment situation. It was on her tenth interview when she had an epiphany. While waiting at the reception area, she picked the company profile and begun perusing the pages, taking note of the directors. Her attention was on their age bracket. They were all so young, and yet they had managed to build a successful startup that now she was applying to work for. “If they can do it, why not me?” she asked herself, just before she was called in, to the interview.

To date, she has never known how she performed at the interview. Whether she succeeded or failed, the mystery remains, for just as she walked out of the interview room, she never looked back. All she knew was she was going to start her own business and build her own empire. Five years later, she lives to tell the story.

Esther Wangui Ndegwa, a mother of one, is the founder and Managing Director of Keep It Kleen, a cleaning company with a special bias on post construction cleaning. She describes herself as a free spirit, full of passion and life. During her free time, Esther spends maximum time with her son. Her favourite readings include motivational books by Robin Sharma, Stephen Covey and Napoleon Hill and magazines like Home and Living, Entrepreneurship and Management.

 Esther Wangui Ndegwa

Esther advocates for positivity in everything she does and believes she has instilled this in her staff. She believes that nothing is impossible and she would rather try, fail, pick up and move on than not try at all.

Martin Luther King Jr is one of her heroes and she loves one of his quotes that guides her in life: “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michel Angelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’” This, she says drives her to work hard every day to achieve her goals.

THE ODYSSEY

Esther’s decision to start a business came as no surprise to her family, for in fact, they had been waiting for her to do it, and truthfully wondered what took her so long. In her university years, Esther’s project had revolved around the cleaning industry, with a special bias towards post construction cleaning. She had tackled this project with such passion and zeal that her family was convinced she would immediately launch into entrepreneurship once she graduated.

Fine tuning her university project proposal, Esther began her journey. “Setting up the business was easy,” she recalls. It did not take a rocket scientist to come up with a business name. She wanted a name that spoke about what she did without much explanation. “Keep It Kleen” she named her business. A cleaning company with the typical cleaning services but focused on post construction cleaning as its main niche. Thereafter her brother designed the much needed graphics for her, and as they say, the rest is history.

 Esther’s journey on entrepreneurship begun with 50,000 Kenya shillings which she received from a friend who had bought into her vision. She used this for starting up, with hopes to expand later on. She took a radical approach to marketing her service. She begun with her close knit family circles, then moved on to her friends and later into the wider untapped market. Her tenacity paid off, for months later, she got her first job. This was the boost she needed to reassure herself that she was on the right path. She soldiered on, increasing her marketing strategies to include social media and the classifieds. To date Esther’s client base has expanded and along the way she has engaged in very exciting projects and worked in partnership with some of the leading interior design companies, contractors, real estate agents since inception and has grown across several markets to serve individuals, local companies, multinationals and also the public sector.

Some of her customers include IOM (International Organization for Migration), Regent management, Continental Reinsurance, Design Corporate just to mention but a few. Some of the projects she has worked on include Safaricom Sevens cleaning the grounds during rugby matches, Safaricom and National Police Surveillance Center projects across the country, KPMG offices, RBA, (Retirement Benefits Authority), RTI (Railway Training Institute), Vodacom, Mackenzie, Monsanto et al. All this to say, when you make giving up not an option, you soon begin to reap the rewards from the fruits of your labour.                

ROLLING WITH THE PUNCHES

Not all is fair in love and war, and that rings true for entrepreneurs as well. Esther’s journey being no exception, the punches came rolling. She remembers a time when she came into the office on a Monday morning only to find an empty space staring at her. All her cleaning equipment, office equipment and office documents were gone, and her office manager was nowhere to be found. This experience left such a bad taste in her mouth as it rendered her powerless to do any work for a week. Eventually this became a police case, her office manager was located and she was able to recover all her assets.

The second punch came when Keep It Clean got a job for cleaning a house, only to be dismissed when they were halfway into the process. She remembers being very downcast after that and for one whole week she stayed in the house recovering from the experience.

Another punch came in the form of partnership. She had been approached by a friend of a friend. It was a big project that needed capacity, and Esther had what it takes to complete the job. After going through the details, she agreed to partner and carry the project to completion. This was off to a good start, as everything looked rosy and mellow. However halfway into the project, Esther realised that most if not all of her workers had been replaced by her partner who cited that she felt the people she brought would do a better job. Not one to ruffle feathers Esther maintained her perspective. After all, her company “Keep It Kleen” was still registered under the project and she was still receiving the quarterly payments for the work done. However her shock came when upon completion of the project which had now run for over a year, she went in to receive the payments only to be told, that her partner had received the payments on her behalf, citing that “Keep It Kleen” had been going through changes during the course of the period they ran the project and as a result the management and name of the company had changed. This knocked the wind out of Esther completely. For her, the betrayal was huge, and to date it still stings. The amount in question was staggering, and to let it go was almost impossible. Her team had not been paid for the work done, neither had she been compensated in any way, yet her “partner” took the payments and took off. As we speak the matter is now a police case. 

Esther Wangui Ndegwa

ON LEARNING THE ROPES

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” someone once said, and despite major challenges, Keep It Kleen has not folded. They have kept moving, having immense fun along the way. One of the highlights in their journey was when they got a request from SC Johnson, a company known for famous household products such as Mr. Muscle, Glade, Raid, Bygone etc. It was indeed a dream come true. A client had referred them, and they were to clean the warehouse which involved high ceiling cleaning, something they had never done before. Esther sought to partner with a company that specialises in this, and as a result was able to deliver on the project and even more so exceed the company’s expectation. In all the regions where SC Johnson is located in Africa, Kenya emerged as the cleanest with the best work done. Esther’s work was recognised globally for the exceptional cleaning and highly recommended as a result.                    

Like any other entrepreneur, Esther has learnt to grapple with the issue of high staff turnover. Usually she engages casuals on a project based basis and after training them, they end up getting other jobs and so when they are needed for a project they are not available. To avoid such frustrating occurrences, Keep It Kleen gives a retainer to those who wish to continue working for them.

To prevent the issue of errant office managers, Esther has engaged a company, Meticulous Solutions, that does background checks on employees before hiring them. This helped her solve the problem of having your premises being held hostage by someone you had completely trusted and given access to your office. She also insists, on a certificate of good conduct for all her employees.

Multitasking is a common thing in business, but in her early years she has learned to focus on one client at a time. A practice she still engages with until today. This heavily contributes to her success to date.

THE SUCCESS FACTOR

The one thing that Esther attributes her success to that she would like to share with other entrepreneurs venturing into the same business is the need to find out what problem or challenge the client is facing, then solve it. For example the client could be having a challenge with cockroaches in their kitchen. We know cockroaches feed on leftovers; so the solution apart from fumigating is to do a professional kitchen cleaning. Turn the kitchen upside down and clean all corners from appliances to fixtures; thus solving the client’s problem for a long period of time.

The MD of Keep It Kleen says she has also learned the importance of having a proper structure on how she conducts her business from the time a client places a call to the execution stage. Having a detailed explanation on the services offered, to how they carry out their services to how much it costs to the terms of payment, has really worked well for her. When the client has all the information first hand, instances of broken communication on both ends are avoided.

The goal for Keep It Kleen is to continually solve client’s problems all across the industry. Their joy comes when a client gives feedback on how a problem that they have been struggling with was solved. To date, Esther is proud that her business has grown from having just one employee to 32 employees and an additional 20 casuals, all in a span of three years. She now has a competent team with well-trained supervisors on site all round.    

FUTURE GAME PLAN

Esther’s end game for Keep It Klee involves penetration into the construction industry, by creating awareness of the services they offer to the industry and in turn solve subsequent cleaning issues once the building or space has been occupied. Keep It Kleen will be the leading company in the industry by providing professional and personalised services that fit the client’s need. They are currently venturing into providing cleaning services to gated estates, malls and upcoming buildings.     

Five years now into her journey Esther is proud to say that the goal she had long ago at the lobby of the company she last visited when she was a job seeker is now coming into fruition. She is on her way to success on her own terms.

“Entrepreneurship is not for the faint hearted,” she concludes. “It has challenges, ups and downs that can either make you or break you. I am glad I took this journey because it has made me to be who I am. That is unbreakable, determined and successful. Things I may never have realised if I hadn’t overcome my fear and plunged into the deep end of entrepreneurship.” 

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Esther Wangui Ndegwa
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Diana Ashley

 

Diana Ashley is "A Fearless influencer of society.
Book lover. Coffee lover. 
You can check me out on 
https://thebookswag.wordpress.com"


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