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How we started and built our successful businesses

Friday October 27 2017

Four female entrepreneurs open up about the

Four female entrepreneurs open up about the challenges and successes they experienced while starting their businesses from scratch. PHOTOS| COURTESY 

SIMON MBURU
By SIMON MBURU
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Sarah Kabu, managing director and co-founder of Bonfire Adventures, a tours and travel company

How the business started

“I always knew that I wanted to start a business; I just didn’t know which one was right for me. I was working in administration when one day in 2007, an online group of young professionals that I belonged to decided that we should finally meet up. Being one of the most active members, I suggested that we should plan a trip to Naivasha, and I made the travel enquiries and got the best deal.

“On the day, 100 people out of the group membership of 1,000 showed up. When the other members saw the pictures portraying how much fun we’d had, they asked that we plan a trip to the Masaai Mara the following year. More people came. Because of how seamlessly I planned these trips, people thought that I was in the tours and travel business.

I decided to organise weekly trips to the Maasai Mara from August through to October. From the success of these trips, my husband and I saw the potential of a budding business, and we both quit our jobs and registered our tours and travel company.

Sarah Kabu, the managing director and

Sarah Kabu, the managing director and co-founder of Bonfire Adventures, a domestic and international tours and travel company. PHOTO| COURTESY

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We both shared a great passion for travelling, which meant that we started a business that we were both passionate about.”

Start-up capital

“Many people starting a business find capital one of the most difficult hurdles to overcome. The truth, though, is that you don’t always need a lot of capital to start a business. For example, my husband, Simon Kabu, and I started Bonfire Adventures with Sh20, 000.

We used this amount to buy a desk, a chair, and a telephone which we used for marketing our services on social media platforms. These included Facebook and Twitter. Our advantage was that we went into an untapped market – domestic tourism. Many of our first customers were surprised that they could enjoy travel at considerably low rates.”

The right business idea

“A good business idea will always be about creating a unique product or offering unique services that people need and love. It’ll also be about a product or service provision that has the potential to establish a niche market for your business. On the other end, a business idea that is bound to fail will mostly be a copy-paste of someone else’s idea.

Always remember that copy-pasted ideas will be the ones that cost you more before they can bring in anything.”

Wambui Muriithi, managing partner at Leed Business Corporation, an investment and business advisory firm that offers investment opportunities to investors and international private equity and venture capital companies.

Wambui Muriithi, the managing partner at Leed

Wambui Muriithi, the managing partner at Leed Business Corporation, an investment and business advisory firm that offers investment opportunities to investors and international private equity and venture capital companies. PHOTO| COURTESY

Starting the business

“My business was the answer to a personal quest to find a solution for poverty. I was convinced that entrepreneurship is that solution. In 2012, I interviewed entrepreneurs, investors and academics, and identified major gaps that, when filled, would enable SMEs to flourish.

Today, my business addresses the needs I discovered from this research. These needs include challenges such as access to funding, brand building, access to market, creation of value chains, development of business models, and agri-business.”

Start-up capital

“I used my savings and a loan from my chama. I also got two partners who chipped in some cash and got stakes in return. When I factor in the sweat capital, which included time for research, developing my business manuals, prospecting and administration fees, my total starting capital was roughly Sh10 million.”

What you should consider when starting a business

“First, evaluate the ‘need’ that you are seeking to address through your business. Is there a need in the market that matches your business?

You must also have a clear, concrete business model. This should include your key activities, key partners, value proposition, key resources, distribution channels, customer relationship, customer segment, cost structure, and revenue streams.”

Evelyn Kasina, founder and managing director of Eveminet Communication Solutions Limited

Ruth Mwanzia, the founder and director of Koola

Ruth Mwanzia, the founder and director of Koola Waters, a company that specializes in manufacturing, distribution, treatment and packaging of pure drinking water. PHOTO| COURTESY

Starting the business

“I was working at the Ministry of Health before I started my business in August 2012. While I loved my job, I felt that I wanted more exposure and challenge. I started to consult for small and medium enterprises on their information technology policies’ management, website development, email management, and security frameworks. I saw an opportunity and with a start-up capital of Sh500,000, I opened my IT firm. I used my savings and SACCO shares for capital. Although it wasn’t easy, I was able to break even after nearly three years. Within this period, my company has gotten a cyber-security expert partnership that gives me an edge in this industry.”

Things to consider when starting a business
“You will always do well in business if you venture into a field you are an expert in, and which you are passionate about. To avoid debts early on or diverting funds from the business kitty, get adequate working capital first. You can do this by developing an analysis of what you’ll need, from registration to operation. Have a solid business and written vision to guide you. Build as many important professional networks as you can. You may not always have enough capital to market your services, but you can always utilise the power of the Internet to create an online presence.”

Challenges

“So far, my main challenge has been unfair competition and cheap labour. Many people don’t like investing in professionals and instead prefer cheap labour and services. I have also found out that many clients will not to take cyber security awareness seriously until after a cyber-security breach.

When I was starting, access to useful information was also a challenge. To remedy this, I joined cyber security organisations to keep up with information.”

Ruth Mwanzia, founder and director of Koola Waters, a company that manufactures, distributes and packages drinking water

Evelyn Kasina, the founder and managing

Evelyn Kasina, the founder and managing director of Eveminet Communication Solutions Limited. PHOTO| COURTESY

Start-up capital

“This was the biggest hurdle that I faced when starting my company. I did not have enough capital, and I did not want to start off with a loan. When I decided that I wanted to run my business, I came up with a plan that would help me transition from employment to entrepreneurship.

I pooled both my salary and savings together for the business. I was able to come up with Sh2 million. This was my starting capital. I used it to purchase my first bottling machinery, a delivery vehicle and for operational costs. Since manufacturing requires a lot of financial input, I kept my job and ran my company as a side hustle. I only quit my job when the business became profitable.”

Challenges

“It took me one year to break even. Within the first 12 months, penetrating the market and customer retention were monstrous challenges. It took months to acquire my first 10 loyal customers. Customers were not used to my product and instead of purchasing, many in different locations would ask that we leave ‘samples’.

This meant that sometimes I’d travel for long distances to market the product only to go back with zero coins in my purse.

“Administration and human resource management didn’t make my new start-up any easier to run. A majority of my employees were young and inconsistent in turning up for work or making deliveries. Some of the orders I got took too long to deliver, forcing potential clients to go for other products.

It is very critical that you get the right employees: they will make or break the business.”

Building the business

“You can never build a business if you are afraid of investing in it. Good business will always be about risk. This is why I ploughed any resources I laid my hands on into my business.

When I started, I didn’t have enough manpower. Back then, my three employees would only manage to package a maximum of 100 cartons per week.

Today, though, I have grown from a workforce of three to 10 employees. With growing demand for my product, I purchased new production equipment that has facilitated the growth in the number of cartons we package weekly from 100 to a maximum of 500. Fathoming how to delegate tasks has also been advantageous.

Previously, I oversaw all aspects of the company, from procurement to accounting, without delegation.”

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