Among the reasons cited by most Kenyan youth for their reluctance to invest in business is the stiff competition from more established business entities. The entry of popular global brands into the local scene has not helped matters either, especially due to the youth’s inclination toward these trademarks.
Undeterred by these roadblocks, a group of young entrepreneurs has gone ahead and bet their money on ventures that are seemingly crowded. They have defied cutthroat competition and a myriad of other challenges, to run flourishing businesses.
They share with us what keeps them in business in spite of the truckload of challenges that come with entrepreneurship.
Frankie Kiarie, 27 and Shiverenje Simani, 28
Just Gym It Fitness and Nutrition
Frankie and Shiv grew up together in Nairobi. After high school, Frankie went to Manchester University in the UK where he studied Nutrition, while Shiv studied hospitality in Nairobi.
What was the motivation behind this business idea?
We have been active in sporting activities since we were young, but in university, it was hard to commit to sports because of the pressure of academic work, so we gravitated towards working out in the gym. After graduating in 2015, we discovered a void in the market. Gym facilities were spread all over the country, yes, but there was a deficiency in gym trainers, especially those who could offer nutritional advice. Frankie started training clients on a fulltime basis while I did it part time. By 2016, our clientele base had grown significantly, making it necessary to fully commit to our business. This is what we now do for a living.
Who are your clients? How do you source them?
Mostly professionals aiming to start or sustain a healthier way of life, or people simply looking to lose or put on weight and maintain a good body shape. We get our clients through marketing our services on social media and word of mouth from clients and friends.
There are numerous gym facilities across the city. How are you able to run a successful business amid this competition?
We offer a diverse range of products that are largely not in this market. Also, we do not dictate a lifestyle to a client, rather, we coach through living that lifestyle ourselves.
We also show them how to sustain that lifestyle long after achieving their desired weight and shape. We prescribe a sustainable style of living as opposed to one-time fixes. We also conduct ourselves in utmost professionalism, which appeals to clients across gender, religious and age divides.
Yours is a partnership, how are decisions made to ensure smooth operation?
Thankfully, we are in agreement most of the time. But only because we listen to each other’s ideas. We have different personalities, but make an effort to find common ground for the sake of our business. Having grown up together has also helped us to understand and appreciate each other’s perspective.
Every business and profession has its own setbacks. What are some of the challenges unique to running a gym?
Personal training is very time-consuming. Some bodies respond very slowly to work out. You may go for a month without any notable change. Some start to put on weight when they start exercising, as a result, such clients lose patience, convinced that they are wasting time. You, the trainer, has to encourage them to keep going. Efficient training demands advance planning, but many clients are unable to keep time. Others miss sessions, which inconveniences the trainer, and it takes a couple of weeks for the client to readjust to the training.
What attributes must a trainer possess to become a successful at their job?
Patience is paramount. One must also be able to inspire confidence in clients and to assure them of desirable results. Time management skills and knowledge of nutrition is a good combination.
Why are lifestyle diseases on the rise despite more Kenyans taking up exercise?
Exercising alone does not make you healthy. You should pay attention to all other aspects of your lifestyle such as what you eat and drink and how much of it you consume, as well as how well you sleep and rest. If you monitor all these factors carefully, you will lower the risk of lifestyle diseases.
Advise someone reading this on the importance of exercising, and other ways to stay fit...
You need to find something that you love doing and make it part of your lifestyle. Lifting weights is one of them, but then weightlifting is not for everyone. You can jog, power walk, swim or play tennis. It is all about making this fitness habit a lifestyle and enjoying it. Being consistent, patient for results and honest with yourself and eating right are vital for good results. Seeking professional advice and comparing the advice given will help you to make informed decisions. Above all, you must trust the process.
What does one need to study to become a gym trainer?
There are local universities and colleges that offer physical and health education courses at certificate and diploma level. Kenyatta University and Alison Caroline Institute offer degree and diploma courses. The International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) offers online fitness courses. Besides formal training, your creativity and professionalism will reward you.
Wairimu Migwi, 34
Brand name: Manciny
You specialise in men’s wear, why?
During my five years in the industry, I have learnt that menswear is a market niche driven by tradition, authenticity and detail. Menswear is technical, practical and functional. Men buy clothes with longevity in mind. They prefer clothes with timeless quality, and are inclined to pay a good sum of money for an impressive design.
The make of every product is influenced by several factors. What inspires your designs?
I was born and raised in Nairobi’s Eastlands. I have grown up seeing men from all walks of life who have a voracious appetite for style and costume designers. I am inspired by costume designers and wardrobe stylists from my favourite TV shows. Through their designs, my peers in the industry, #38FashionRevolutionAfrica, also inspire what I make. My designs are also influenced by what I like to wear. My work, therefore, borrows a little from all these inspirations.
As a designer, how would you rate Kenyan men’s sense of fashion?
Some Kenyan men are dapper. They are mindful about what they wear, how they wear it and for what purpose they wear it. There is an increasing number of fashion-conscious men in our country, especially young men. This is good news to local designers.
Do you envision a time when Kenyan fashion brands will weather the cutthroat competition they face from overseas clothing brands? What do you think needs to be done to achieve this?
High cost of production makes it hard to compete with imports, especially second-hand clothes.
Market liberalisation also hurts our industry due to the immense importation of Italian, British and Turkish clothes and shoes. The government and other stakeholders should promote innovativeness and create an environment that appreciates local designs. Tabling a bill that prohibits or limits clothing imports would be a good start.
Where have you exhibited your products?
I have exhibited at FAFA 2014, Craft Fairs in Nairobi (Biz Baz, NFM) and North Coast (Vipingo Ridge/DriftWood Beach Club, Ocean Sports Resort and at K1 Flea Market.
Is there room for more designers in the market?
There are other categories outside apparel, such as eyewear, sportswear and headwear that an aspiring designer could build on. These areas are not as crowded as other categories of clothing. As long as you are creative, opportunities in the fashion industry are endless.
What would an aspiring designer need to arm himself with to be successful in this business?
Working with a designer is a good start. Following fashion trends locally and online will keep you in the loop of things. That said, style is innate and usually a reflection of your identity. It is therefore important to find within yourself what you like to wear and what appeals to your taste, eccentric as it may be, you then bring it out through your designs.
What is the best way to start?
Observe what other designers are doing. Having formal fashion training is also an added advantage; there are many colleges that offer fashion and design courses today, though I am a self-taught designer.
Tatiana Karanja, 25,
Tatiana studied photography at the Royal Academy of Art in Den Haag (The Hague), The Netherlands. She has been practicing photography professionally for two-and-a-half years now.
Briefly narrate your journey in photography…
I was 12 when I received my first Nokia camera phone from my parents. I could not stop taking pictures. I would dress up my younger sister and take pictures of her all over our house. I then got a Canon EOS 1000F camera gift from my grandfather, which I took out on safari. It was an analogue camera, so I would have to print the pictures first to see what I had taken.
I was clueless then about lighting and other settings, so it was all guesswork. I didn’t think of photography as a career until I turned 17, when I took a three-month online art course at Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam. They later accepted me in their pre-course year in 2012. This set my career in photography in motion.
What genre of photography do you practice?
I love travel and food. Lately, however, I have developed a fondness for maternity shoots, which, essentially, is photographing expectant mothers. Most young women want to record their pregnancy period in photos. This category pays so well.
How do you get your clients? What determines how much you charge for a work?
At the beginning, I got all my clients through family, then it spread to family friends. After that it was referrals from former clients. I have a general rate card which I sell to prospective clients. Different types of shoots pay differently. Ultimately though, it narrows down to negotiations with the client, where we agree on a price that suits us both
Photography has many dynamics. What would you say has changed from when you started out to now, and how has this affected your
Foremost, it is encouraging that photojournalism in Kenya is becoming more acceptable as a career unlike several years back. Some friends thought I was crazy to study and pursue photography as a fulltime career. Secondly, the culture of modelling has grown significantly in Kenya, and among the biggest beneficiaries have been photographers. Notable also is that clients have become more cognisant about good quality photography, especially designers. People are willing to hire professional photographers and pay them well for quality work. Competition has grown, which calls for professionalism and investment in quality equipment.
Besides making a living, what keeps you going in photography?
I am a mother now, which has come with more responsibilities and almost no breaks at all. But the fact that my job is not the 8am to 5pm type of job allows me to take care of my baby and do my photography work in a more flexible schedule. I even take my baby to work.
If you were not a photographer, what else would you be doing?
It is hard to imagine what I would be. I wanted, however, to study at Les Roches, a top hotel management school in Montana Switzerland, just like my mother did, but I have often felt that I would probably not be half as happy as I am today.
Besides a camera and a subject to capture, what else does one need to become a successful photographer?
A keen eye for detail and inspiration are key to superb photography. You must be creative and embrace entrepreneurial discipline to be able to make a worthy business out of photography.
If you had the opportunity to photograph that one person, object or scene in the world, who or what would that be?
I have a soft spot for human and natural geography. I long to photograph the Cuba Street in Wellington New Zealand because of its beautiful heritage, cafes, boutiques, fashion stores, art galleries and music shops. Another scene is the expansive Namib Desert in Namibia because of its history. Either of this would make me very happy.
Dennis Kaweru, 29
Experience Events Africa
Dubai, Embu and Nairobi
Kaweru first flirted with entrepreneurship while working as a corporate banker at the Standard Chartered bank. He quit to start his own business, selling cooking gas in Embu town. A few months into the business, he lost Sh5 million and closed shop.
In 2013, he started LaGiacca, an Italian-inspired brand of custom-made suits. Unfortunately, he was involved in a fatal car accident in 2015, which broke his jaw and injured his head. He was hospitalised for three months, as a result, his business suffered huge losses, forcing him to close down.
Undeterred, in 2016, Kaweru decided to try his hand at events planning, which turned out to be his forte. He has since been involved with planning and organising, among other events, the Henry Wanyoike Run and Standard Chartered Nairobi Marathon.
What is the scope of services that your business offers and what are your main revenue streams?
We offer event planning and mechanics, logistical support, digital marketing, ticketing solutions, crowd management, security and sponsor sourcing. We have our in-house DJs and emcees and equipment. I hope to start a talent academy by the end of the year. My income comes from ticket sales, vendor slot sales and sale of merchandise. We get hired to plan and execute weddings, dowry payments and book and product launches.
How much do you earn in a month? Would you wholeheartedly recommend this business?
A good month fetches between Sh400,000 to Sh500,000. If you have an easy way with people, want to be your own boss, are patient and don’t mind working odd hours, this is your type of business.
Describe the local events management landscape…
It is still not saturated, so there is room for new entrants who have what it takes to quickly carve a niche for themselves in the market. Creativity, ingenuity and exposure are vital, as clients demand a package that offers more in terms of utility, and ensures value for money.
What is the future of events business in Kenya?
The sector has seen tremendous growth since the inception of the late Big Kev’s TruBlaq. He inspired many developments in the industry, and the standards he and others set are very high. Due to high competition and the fresh concepts being generated every day, the events industry is headed for a complete revolution in the next few years.
This form of business peaks during certain months of the year. What keeps you going during the slow months?
The beginning of the year is always very slow. During this period, no major events take place, so our revenue majorly comes from leasing out sound and decks to small events, product promos and roadshows. Contracts start flowing in from August - this goes on until the end of the year. We hardly have time to rest.
Start-up businesses face lots of setbacks, especially financial-related ones. What then would motivate a young person to jump into the struggle instead of seeking for employment?
Business is not for everyone. The risks are immense and some days you are broke and depressed, but if you are determined and tenacious, the returns will far outweigh the sweat of struggle. The joy of building a successful venture from scratch is unparalleled. If you want real money, then entrepreneurship is the answer.
Would you consider employment?
Not again. I just love having to answer to myself.
What do you do when not working?
I give talks to budding entrepreneurs, university and high school students. It fulfils me to mentor someone regarding investment.