Hesbon Okeyo does not regret his days as a hawker in the streets of Kisumu because this is where he honed his negotiation skills, selling belts and wallets. He went on to become a successful insurance practitioner.
â€œHawkers are very daring and masters of the word, you must admit. This is where I trace all that I have achieved in life,â€ says Mr Okeyo.
His story typifies the â€œjack of all tradesâ€ adage; he has literally tried his hand at everything, from working at construction sites, cutting grass and mining stones, running a driving school, and hawking clothes at market places.
At 31 and owner of three insurance brokerage firms and a real estate firm with a combined net worth of over Sh30 million, Mr Okeyo says he has barely achieved half of what he wants to in life.
â€œI want to achieve what my parents, who could not put me through college, never had before I attain 40 years,â€ says Mr Okeyo, whose quiet office location built on his own parcel of land tell very little about the struggles he has gone through.
At the age of 19 years in 2001, Mr Okeyo dropped out of college, where he was pursuing certified public accountant (CPA) training, due to lack of school fees.
However, he got a job as an accountant in an insurance brokerage firm in Kisumu town to raise his college fees.
â€œI was wrong since this set in motion a series of bad choices in my life as I struggled to get something worthwhile.â€
He started working at constructions sites, selling second-hand clothes, and working as a broker every Sunday at Kisumuâ€™s Kibuye open-air market.
When things became worse, he sold his phone at Sh2,000 and used half of the amount to buy food and invested the other half in belts and wallets, which he would hawk in Kisumu.
A friend who worked as an insurance agent invited him to work as a marketer instead of â€œstrugglingâ€ on the streets.
The fact that his friend had worked for only five years and already owned a car was reason enough for Mr OkeyoÂ to consider the invitation. He was put in a team of 30 sales people after a brief induction. The group was to sell medical cover policies.
However, nine months down the line, Mr Okeyo had not sold a single policy, but the success stories of his team members kept his hopes alive. His wife was taking care of his belts and wallets business on the streets, raising enough money to pay the bills.
During the second year, he suffered what he considers double tragedy. After winning his first sale, a well-connected individual grabbed the deal. As if that was not enough, a few months later, the insurance firm collapsed before he was paid the commission for another successful deal which he had bagged.
He teamed up with a friend to start an insurance brokerage firm without the relevant legal documents. This narrowed their potential to win big money clients, limiting them to small and not-so-lucrative assignments.
â€œAll I needed was a source of income, considering that my jua kali Â business had collapsed,â€ he says.
In 2005, he registered Hesbon and Company Insurance Consultants, which he traded with until 2007 after suffering lack of trust from banks and customers as they preferred dealing with registered companies.
Income from trading under a business name gave him the requisite fee to register Celtic Africa as a limited company in 2007, which he credits for his financial breakthrough.
â€œThen I started winning customers and everything started turning for the better. God has been kind up to now,â€ notes the father-of-two.
He operates from an office built in his compound five kilometres from Kisumu town where he controls three brokerage firms and another firm that deals in real estate.
He decided to build an office in his compound to cut rental costs. â€œI would be paying about Sh40,000Â for an office like this in Kisumu town,â€ he says.