If you were in his class at Ghana School of Law, you’d have seen a 23 year old Moses Baiden, trudge to attend lessons, his big black bag in tow. Inside the bag were the dreams of a young man from Sekondi, and the humble beginnings of a million-dollar business.
During a working holiday to the United Kingdom, Moses became acquainted with personal computers and the disruption they were bringing to the office as they replaced the typewriter. Fascinated by the industry, he wanted to be a part of it.
At the time, the local players in this space only sold personal computers, note books and printers. But these required more capital than the young Baiden had or had access to. So he decided, smartly, to focus on the ‘stuff’ generated by personal computers, note books and printers. “I was very fascinated by the possibilities for the finishing of documents, and I thought that was the lowest entry level, and nobody was in that space in Ghana”, he explains.
So he invested part of his vacation earnings in a document binder and laminator. His plan was to drum up sales by demonstrating to potential customers what his machines could do.. But it was to second-hand clothes trading that Moses turned his attention upon returning home. He had seen one of his classmates prosper from a similar venture, and followed him into that business. But he lost not only his own money but also the money he had persuaded his brother and his friends to invest in the business.
With no money and debts to settle, he dragged out the laminator and binder, then gathering dust under his bed. And with that, brought document lamination into Ghana. “The focus was on getting people to create beautiful documents and to protect, to preserve and present them in the best possible way. We used to call them the three Ps”, he recounts of the plan in the beginning. The scope was vast; from certificates to photographs to ID cards – any document that could be laminated.
Again, he turned to his brother. This time, to request that he use his good credit score to obtain credit from the UK, and invest in the business. He agreed. Moses founded Margins Supplies Company Limited (now part of the larger Margins Group) with that investment in December 1990, and a quarter century later, they’re living the name. “The central theory of finding the name Margins was that after thinking through a business process, I realised people work for a margin; that’s the central theme of business. Everybody goes in for a margin. You don’t focus on the margin for yourself, you focus on the margin for your customer, you try to be a margin above your competitors, when you go to your suppliers, you try to get a margin lower than what they sell to your competitors and you put the whole chain of margins together and it makes good business, so I decided to adopt the name Margins”,
He recruited a classmate from law school and together, they skipped some classes, put on suits and headed out into the world to convince businesses that they needed the machines. On their first sales outreach, the plan was to convince just two of the eight companies operating from Total House, then Mobile House, in downtown Accra, to buy their machines. When they finished their first demonstration, the employees burst out in spontaneous applause. That day, they signed-on all the eight companies in Total House. But that was only the start.
In the next two years, they acquired over a thousand customers and made over one million dollars in revenue. Margins expanded into selected office products and professional and semi-professional equipment for the commercial and graphics business, as well as providing technical support in the maintenance and repair of binding and lamination hardware.
It also quickly became the go-to company when people required identity and other security documents on a large scale, working for a wide range of entities such as West Africa Examinations Council, Ghana Police Service, Ghana Army and the Non-Aligned Movement.
When the Passport Office started having problems with tampering of the biodata page of the Ghanaian passport (to illegally replace the photograph), it was Baiden who came to the rescue of the nation by providing a more secure solution.
When he was branching out to form Margins ID Systems Application Limited, he would rely on this network to succeed. Entering the high security space of identification cards required more sophisticated systems that only that network could provide. His bankers were not interested – Margins Supplies was doing so well, his bankers thought Baiden was crazy to want to venture into a new and yet untried business. But Moses persisted as he had seen the opportunity in the changing trend, just like his law school days: no company was preparing to take care of the need for identification systems for Africa. So, relying on his network, he persuaded a Danish shareholder to co-invest in setting up Margins ID Systems Application Limited which provides identity, security and transaction solutions.
In secondary school at Mfantsipim, Moses kicked his way to become a national martial arts champion. He may have retired from kicking his competitors in the ring, but not at kicking at the opportunities business in Africa presents every day. He is still in it for the margin.