When she came back home from pursuing her studies in UK, Ann Nyagichu had high hopes for her career. However, a futile quest for a fulfilling job saw her venture into business. She speaks to Simon Mburu.
In the layman’s definition, tarmacking could be easily interpreted as the laying down of tar and broken stones to upgrade a road to bitumen standards. But in Kenya, this term has become synonymous with thousands of jobless graduates walking in and out of offices in search of jobs. The script is mostly the same for every graduate — earn your papers and join the train.
Anne Nyagichu, 33, was no exception. After acquiring her Bachelor of Arts degree from Keele University, United Kingdom, in June 2008, she returned to Kenya with high hopes that she would find a good job.
“With no previous work experience, I started off as a protection intern at the United Nations High Commission for Refugees branch office for Somalia in Nairobi,” says Anne.
But although she would have loved to remain at the United Nations, it was not possible. “I was not getting paid for the internship. I needed higher academic qualifications in order to be absorbed into full salaried employment. I was also told I would have to wait for six months before I could be considered for any formal position,” she says.
Once her internship was over, Anne moved on to an administrative post at a private investment company in Westlands in July 2009. “I was started off on a salary of Sh35,000,” she says.
Over the period that Anne was in employment, she began to realise that there was a slow rate of absorption into high earning employment positions. “There was too much bureaucracy in the organisations I had worked for so far, which hampered the growth of anyone who did not have years of experience or direct skill set,” she says.
In a bid to make herself more marketable, she left her Westlands job and moved back to the UK, where she pursued her Masters of Science degree at the Manchester University. “I returned towards the end of 2011 but still found it hard to get a stable and fulfilling job,” she says. She says she really wanted to change this situation. By this time, whichever way she looked at it, the only way she could do it was quit her pursuit for employment and venture into entrepreneurship.
Anne began to carry out surveys on the type of business she could start and thrive. “I came up with a list and eliminated one business idea after the other.” Eventually, in July 2016, she settled for a business that could provide power charging services for electronic devices such as phones and laptops. She registered her business — Charging Bar Limited.
She says she was inspired by the sheer irritation of always having to leave the house with electronic device chargers, the trouble and inconvenience of finding strategic plugging points, and the risk of leaving valued electronic devices such as mobile phones for charging with strangers. “I saw all these inconveniences as an opportunity for me to provide a unique solution to an unattended market,” says Anne.
Initially, Anne sourced for her start-up capital from her personal savings. But this quickly ran out. She tried to get a bank loan. But this, too, quickly proved to be an impossible task. “The service was new in Kenya and banks were not confident in putting their money in my business idea,” she says.
Also, the concept of her charging business was not easy to comprehend, which meant more difficulties in quantifying the return on investment that any institution she approached for funding would get. “I was taken round in circles and asked for endless documentation only to end up with rejection slips. In the end, I was left with no choice but to turn to family for support. Fortunately, my family came through with the much-needed finances. This was huge relief for my start-up,” she says.
She started the business as a pilot placement at a conference centre in Nairobi’s CBD. Nonetheless, once she launched her business, she was thrust into the rough road that starting and running a business can sometimes be. “From onset, I was faced with the challenge of getting a clear picture on what the market entails. This is a challenge that up until now rears its ugly head sometimes,” she says. The cause of this challenge has been largely due to the dynamism and unpredictable nature of her target audience.
“Even though there is a demand for the services that my business offers, market penetration has proven to be harder than I thought,” she admits. “This form of business is not too common, either, but I’m glad to be among the pioneers. I also believe that the most successful entrepreneurs are those who move away from the norm and go on to introduce new forms of market solutions.” Currently, Anne is targeting corporates, with whom she is pitching her services as a form of value addition to their various market niches.
It is now almost three years since Anne launched her business. She not only provides direct central charging services, but has also acquired charging machines, which she has been hiring out to corporates on short to medium term contracts of between one and two years. “The business has also diversified to advertising on our charging depots, where we provide audio and visual adverts for corporates. It also offers on-demand branding services, which have worked well in creating new revenue streams for the company,” she says. Anne also moves her services to events and concerts in order to widen her audience. “Today, we offer our services in public areas such as malls, restaurants, bars, clubs, campsites, and conference meeting areas.”
She admits that there are days she doubts her resolve to be in business. “I sometimes yearn for the predictable pay cheque at the end of the month, and the stability that formal employment gives, especially currently when the economy is not doing well. But she has also resolved to keep her head above the water. “In the next five years, I foresee the business forging partnerships with corporates, and also becoming a market leader in the modern, new form of advertising and brand promotion,” she says.