I’m fifteen, in Nairobi, Kenya, and at my boarding school I’m already managing a team of four girls, responsible for the safety, comfort, and discipline of over 200 schoolgirls.
The responsibility was huge. Certain girls would sneak out to go partying, and I was the one who was responsible for their transgressions:
Basically, I had to make sure that 200 thirteen-to-fifteen-year-olds followed all the rules: eating three meals a day, getting their homework done, cleaning their dorm areas, and going to sleep on time, and waking up on time.
This is more discipline than many adults are able to achieve for their own two children–and I was thrust into a position of leadership over 200 unruly young teens, with more hour-by-hour responsibility for them than the teachers. Plus, I had to get my own homework done too, or face expulsion. I can tell you, that was a handful!
One day, I walked into a bookshop to gain some insight into this question. The first thing I saw was a headshot of a guy with a big face and a big smile I didn’t know who he was, but I gravitated toward the book under the headshot. I picked up the book: Awaken the Giant Within by Tony Robbins. It was 1,000 shillings, precisely my mother’s monthly salary.
It was expensive, but I knew I need to own it. My brother had moved to San Diego and was a successful businessman there, and–in addition to paying tuition for my boarding school–he used to send me lunch money. By being economical in my spending over the previous years, I had saved just enough lunch money to buy this book.
And so, I made my first investment in myself–though certainly not my last. Reading Tony Robbins, I realized,
It was the first time I wrote goals in my life. My first goal was that I wanted to move to the United States. My second goal was, I wanted to be a millionaire (in US dollars, not Kenyan shillings!) And my third goal was, I want to impact the lives of thousands or even millions of women, so that they could have more opportunity than I had.
With the help of my brother, I was able to accomplish my first goal, moving to the US, quickly. He sponsored me to come to San Diego, where I got my college degree in IT administration. With this degree, I got a job with IBM doing Onsite Tech Support for their enterprise clients. I did Tech Support for many interesting and powerful clients of theirs, including Chase, Johnson & Johnson, and MetLife.
I parlayed that job into a career as an independent consultant. One of the challenges I had building a career as a consultant was the color of my skin, and my gender. In Kenya, it never occurred to me that opportunity could be limited to me based on being Black–nearly everyone was Black, so opportunity was not divvied up by skin color.
That was a shock in coming to America. I just couldn’t believe that people would take me less seriously based on something as superficial as the amount of pigment in my skin. In addition to that, I also faced the well-known biases people have against women in tech.
– because money talks, and people don’t care what skin color you are or what curves you have under your dress, if the money coming out of your wallet is green.
But how was I, an economically disadvantaged immigrant from a 3rd world country, going to become an entrepreneur?
One day, when I was talking about business opportunities with a business colleague, she said, out of nowhere, “Why don’t you go into medical billing? It has a component that’s IT based, and it’s an industry that never loses demand.” I did my due diligence, and determined that the industry was highly fragmented and that there were many opportunities for consolidation and
I bought a list of every medical billing company in the country, and started dialing them one by one. My cold pitch was exactly the same every call:
I called over 3,000 business. Twenty-eight hundred and fifty rejected me outright. And most of the remaining fifty said “maybe.”
I was able to show the owners that, with my IT expertise, plus my experience in cold calling and sales (which they were getting a taste of in that very call), I could double their business within a year or two, so it would be advantageous to them to sell the business based on those projections.
With the revenue track record of our portfolio companies, and associated valuations, I’ve now reached my second goal: becoming a millionaire, on an equity basis.
Now it’s time for my third goal. The medical billing industry is primarily staffed by women, and many of them are women of color. I’ve come to believe that America is the greatest country on Earth, and I’m on a mission to empower women and provide opportunities that I had to fight so hard for here in America.