To think that Ksh6000 is enough to start a company is audacious but this is exactly what Esther Njeri Njoroge thought. The bold 26-year-old is the director and CEO of one of the leading tours and travel operators in the country, Bountiful Safaris.
But how did she get there?
Esther spent her early years in Bogita, Thika town before her family moved to Nyahururu in Nyandarua County. Life wasn’t easy growing up. Esther had to stay with relatives several instances to enable her to attend school.
After high school, her parents managed to enroll her at the University of Nairobi for a social science degree. Two years down the line, Esther secured an internship at an NGO that did community service that also had a lodge in Narok County that they managed. Little did she know that it was her internship that would define her journey to prosperity.
A few months into her industrial attachment, a position as a travel consultant for the lodge fell vacant and Esther was asked to sit in before they could find a replacement. Being a fast learner, she quickly got acquainted with the position and soon enough started earning a salary.
“I was paid Sh6000 per month – a salary I continued to earn for the next three years until it was raised to Sh10, 000. I was not able to finish my degree due to the nature of the working hours,” Esther says. “I used to walk from Nairobi’s Upper hill to Ngara so as to save the little that I earned.”
She did not despair. Instead, she approached a webmaster with the brilliant idea of setting up her own website to market her own tours and travel company. It went by the name Bountiful Tours and Travel Safaris. She later shortened it to Bountiful Safaris. It was going to cost her Sh25, 000 in total, and since she could not put together the whole amount, she started paying with installments of Sh1,000 every month.
Three years later, in 2009, the second born in a family of four left the company for another tours and travel company that was now paying her Sh 15,000. “The second job was much better than the first one since I earned commissions. By the end of the month, I would take home up to Sh70, 000,” she remembers.
Even with a better paying job, her tribulations were far from over.
Boss from hell
“My boss, just like the previous one, used to belittle me. He severally told us that we only came into the office to warm the seats,” she says.
The tours and travel company was owned by a couple who indiscriminately meted out words of abuse to their staff members. The more she stayed, the more she endured hardships at the workplace. “I remember an incident in the office whereby my boss (the wife) told me blatantly before everyone that I should just quit and go open a brothel since that was the only field she felt I would prosper in,” she says.
“That was it, the following month which was November of 2013, I quit employment with no plan of what I was going to do next,” she continues.
All this time, Esther had been documenting her tribulations in a journal. Without a job and with no savings to kick-start her own venture, she would go through her journal which dated back to her childhood, and with time she became suicidal.
One day, she took a bunch of painkillers with the intention of ending her life and subsequent suffering.
“Unfortunately it did not work,” she laughs. “My friend found me unconscious in the house and rushed me to hospital. The doctors gave me at most two hours to live due to the damage the drugs had caused on my body.”
She left the hospital a week later.
Clients for her website
In December of 2013 and after much encouragement from her mother, things started looking up. Someone suggested that she open a Facebook page to build traffic to her tours and travel website as she started seeking her own clients. And just like that, the Facebook Page Bountiful Travels (https://www.facebook.com/Bountifulsafari/) was born. It currently boasts of over 62,000 likes.
“My big break came when I booked a particular group for an excursion in Mombasa and they referred me to an embassy that was looking to have a similar excursion,” she says. “They wanted to deposit a million shillings as part of the payment immediately so they requested that I send them my bank account details- I didn’t even have a bank account!”
She called a friend who worked at a bank and was able to open a bank account immediately, successfully jumping the first hurdle. The second hurdle was when the clients said they wanted to come to the office, which she also didn’t have. Again, another friend came to her rescue by allowing her to use his office in up market Kileleshwa. She would use the office for the next two months until she was able to set up her own office in Westlands.
“My elder brother paid my rent for the first three months, and that’s how Bountiful Safaris was born,” she says exuberantly.
Due to the hardships she endured in employment, Esther strides to make it better for others behind her and especially women.
“I now have 12 employees and I would never put them through what I went through”
She, however, admits that it hasn’t been smooth sailing ever since. “I remember approaching tour destinations and they would brush me off. Some said I was too young and inexperienced while others said I was too new to the market.”
With time now, she has built a name that commands respect from the same tour destinations that brushed her off as well as her competition. Other challenges she continues to encounter is when prospective clients assume that holidays are a reserve of the rich.
“While many people assume it’s a costly affair to go on a holiday, our work at Bountiful Safaris is to demystify the notion by offering affordable holiday packages available for either domestic tourism or otherwise.”
Over time, Esther has learned to be more persistent and now goes out of her way to mentor others of the importance of pushing on. “Nothing is impossible as long as you have the drive, and trust in God.”
Looking back, she couldn’t be gladder she pushed on. Esther is set to travel to London in November to receive an award in which Bountiful Safaris was feted as a unique tour operator in the Luxury Tour Guide awards. “God’s grace has been sufficient,” she beams.
Esther plans on growing her business by opening several other branches outside the country.
Three things that make a startup fly
The most successful products in the market create the want, and then bring on board the remedy.It is not easy, and it doesn’t mean that you have to be malicious
It’s not all about getting your dream business idea realised, it goes beyond sustainability. Any business idea/entity should go beyond the startup stage to growth and eventually success.
For one to realise such, planning and strategising should be prioritised. However, as much as the two determine to a larger extend the success of a business entity, the following three factors play the biggest role in the success of any business:
- The people
They are the consumers, and without them the business is dead on arrival. These are the number one target of any product. Regardless of the place of manufacture, the product should be brought where the people are, and if not so the people should feel the need/urge to go for it wherever it is.
However, getting the product to where the people/consumers are does not guarantee success. They should be made to know about it and most importantly the reason they should buy it. If you successfully convince them, then you are good to go, as long as you can win their loyalty in cases where competition is eminent.
- The product
It is the centre of any business entity. Some entrepreneurs struggle to make their business entities known. It is a big mistake. Instead, the consumer should know your product better more than the entity. It (entity) is not as important as the product. If they like the product, then they’ll find ways to know who the producer is.
This way, your product will sell anywhere, even without your influence. This is how products like the Cocacola, Fanta, Sprite and Krest have been able to dominate the world beverage market. Very few people know the owners of the company or even the CEO. To them Cocacola is a brand, not a company.
- The potential
Every business entity has a potential for growth, but not all business entities have the potential for success. Potential for success has to be created through the product. Potential is identified/created through existing gaps in the market.
However, life will always seem perfect, that there is no gap, the reason you have to create it for your product in order to gain a bigger potential. The most successful products in the market create the want, and then bring on board the remedy. It is not easy, and it doesn’t mean that you have to be malicious.
For instance, a toothpaste brand will show you how you might lose your teeth if you don’t use the right toothpaste. This alone creates the need for the right toothpaste, despite there being existing products. The entrepreneur should bring on board his/her toothpaste which fits the description of the right toothpaste.
In this context, even if a new/existing brand poses competition for your product, they’ll always be number two. This is because your product is the measure of the right product.
Sinapis: Where start-ups blossom in the name of God
It provides innovative, scalable business ideas through providing rigorous Christ-centred business education, word class consulting, mentoring services and access to seed capital
When a Kenyan student, Karibu Nyaggah, and two Americans, Courtney Rountree Mills and Matt Stolhandsk, met at Havard University in 2010, little did know that the friendship will birth a non-profit organisation that is now the the source of livelihood for more than 750 Kenyan entrepreneurs.
What started as a simple idea has seen four start-ups access financial support of up to Ksh 1 million each for showing extra commitment and zeal in their respective areas.
The three pals discovered that a lot of business entities which could bring solution to the dragon of unemployment facing developing countries are either failing, being failed and even some do not see the light of the day due to lack of technical skills, financial ability and corruption. Others are suffocated by stiff completion hence stagnating or failing completely, without realising the intended goal/impact.
Eager to be part of the solution to such problems, the three post-graduate students formed what is today known as Sinapis. They decided to make the Sinapis programme one that is centered on Christian-grounded business principles that help entrepreneurs integrate their faith with their businesses. They named the organisation Sinapis, a Latin word that has its origin in the mustard seed parable of the New Testament, to reflect this vision.
“It is called Sinapis – an organisation that empowers aspiring entrepreneurs in the developing world with innovative, scalable business ideas by providing rigorous Christ-centred business education, word class consulting and mentoring services and access to seed capital. Through these means, Sinapis strives to create Christ-seeking business leaders, sustainable employment and improved quality of life for many,” says Silvya Kanana, the Country Manager for Sinapis in Kenya.
The first step in the training entails a complete four-month mini-MBA training designed specifically for the early stage entrepreneurs looking to grow their businesses. Taking a similar programme from Acton School of Business – where the content of the training is adapted from – would on average cost Ksh 250,000. However, through donors, churches and individuals Sinapis has been able to cut the cost of training to just Ksh 35,000. The programme is entirely practical and focused with everything the entrepreneur needs to know and nothing they don’t.
After the training, the entrepreneurs are asked to pitch their business ideas through business plans and the winning idea gets funded with Ksh 1 million, for actualisation.
Having discovered solutions to lack of skills, knowledge and finances the pioneers were left with the issue of corruption. To them, a clear stated and principled stand in religion was the only solution, the reason behind making the programme Christian centred.
However, as Ms Kanana puts it, they do not in any way restrict the training to Christians with the current class having a Hindu. The initiative invites trainees even from other religions.
To actualise the religious bit in the training, the entrepreneurs are required to come up with a spiritual integration plan besides their business plan in order to help them put their faith into practice.
Ms Kanana states that they do follow up their entrepreneurs to gauge their progress, with the recent survey showing that more than 78% of start-ups by the entrepreneurs survive past three years as compared to other start-ups where barely 40% survive past the first year according to research. Each entity on average creates 3-5 jobs per year, translating to 9-15 jobs in three years.
Faith-wise, more than 24% of the entrepreneurs bring someone new to the faith, while more that 80% report that their faith was significantly increased during and after the training.
Being a faith-based organisation, business ideas that contradict the Christian faith such as opening a pub, betting/gambling and even pornography do not make it past the admission stage.
Currently, the programme operates in Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu. However, plans are underway to expand its wings to other parts of the country as well the other regions of the world. Sinapis already exists in Brazil and by next year they will be expanding to South Africa, Ghana, Uganda and Rwanda.
In Kenya, the organisation will be making another milestone as they launch an all-women class on December 2, which will be accompanied by a free seminar for women.
Ladies guide to starting successful business
A few years back, most ladies wanted to be models or news anchors. The let’s-change-the-world perception was not ideal for ladies. Many a time ladies shy away from some professional spaces because they consider themselves a misfit.
For example in the tech space, few women have tech-related solutions and yet most companies are investing in initiatives that offer tech solutions.
So how do you start and sustain a successful business? One question that must be at the top of your head as young dreamer or a startup entrepreneur is; how well do you interact and work with others? This is an imagination kind of thing since imagination is more powerful than knowledge.
This is one factor that will help you work on your attitude towards others and your idea. With a positive attitude, you will be able to visualize and, in fact, actualise, your logical business prospects.
Here is a rundown of the steps and factors that you must consider:
If you love something and you have the courage to pursue it, just go for it. A friend of mine loves making artsy designs. She can make a beautiful necklace from leather and woolen material. The lady redesigns her shoes and clothes. She has a creative mind that has never been tapped, and she is passionate about making masterpieces and selling them. Every weekend she displays her art and the crowd she attracts, it’s massive.
Some ladies choose careers based on success stories they hear either on radio or from friends, “don’t choose a career solely based on the supposed success it will bring you. Instead, choose a career that makes you happy, and you will find it easy to maintain a balanced life while putting in the continued hard work and effort that bring success,” Oubria Tronshaw writes.
Come up with business goals and plan
Most ladies don’t have clear business goals and objectives. Before you even make a business decision, you need to come up with a plan that has clear objectives. Becoming a successful businesswoman requires thinking and acting strategically; your career is like a marathon race, not a sprint. Be willing to give it your all, and starts with a simple business plan.
Keep running through the walls
Disappointments and trials make a complete business trait. You must be able to pull yourself up every time you get knocked down. As an essential success scale; you’ll succeed as long as you keep trying. Difficult bosses, competitive co-workers and career setbacks happen to everyone…
“So many things go wrong when you are trying to start a company, and often people inquire the number of mistakes you should avoid making…as an advice, don’t avoid making mistakes because you will eventually make tones of mistakes,” Mark Zuckerberg said in a motivational talk.
Listen and learn
Have a good listening power because you gain knowledge from listening either from friends or role models. You should ask questions and review the answers you receive in order to come up with concrete ideas. Allow yourself to be taught by every person you encounter. Listen more than you speak, and suppress the impulse to say.
Young David makes millions from waste bottles
No one imagines collecting waste bottles could fetch millions, even David Chege himself who has become a millionaire from the activity. He is a millionaire at the age of 30, not through government tenders but through his empire of artwork, the House of David.
Any Interior Designer, just like David, who holds a Diploma in Interior Design from Buruburu Institute of Fine Arts, would aim at doing away with any waste materials in the house to make it look better. Turns out, throwing such materials away is tantamount to throwing away millions, according to Chege. This is where he earns his daily bread, and his wealth.
The idea started when he saw empty wine bottles lying around his estate. He would collect them for fun, decorate them and in turn use them to decorate his house of residence. He would then take photos and post them on his social media accounts for his friends to see. Surprisingly, friends started inquiring whether he was selling them. Pushed to the limits he decided to give it a try, and in his first sale he pocketed Ksh2,500, with zero capital input, only creativity and passion.
The third-born in a family of five would then abandon his side hustle and job at Maasai Mara as a Graphic Designer to concentrate on his newly invented business. He would operate from his own house, which served as a residential house, workshop, showroom and even a shop, the reason he picked ‘House of David’ as the brand name.
KCB Lions’ Den
Family and friends were never surprised at his move, as they had known him to be in love with artwork since his childhood. Being the only one with interest in art, his family supported his idea, with friends helping him market his products.
Chege would be glued to his television set just to watch KCB Lions’ Den Season One just to see what others were doing. He never paid much attention, as he never thought of participating, and if at all he did, he never thought he could win, so he just decided to watch and learn.
READ ALSO: Butchery – How to run Kenya’s most lucrative business
However, friends decided not to just watch, as they encouraged him to take part in season two. Chege explains that it was not such a big struggle as he thought, since all he had to do was to put his passion in explaining his business. He decided to be honest and face the reality, which bore him fruits. Convinced of Chege’s efforts, Wandia Gichuru decided to support him up to a tune of Ksh1.5 million.
This was one of his turning points as he bought some of the machinery required to enable him do more. In fact, he expanded his business from just house decorations to lampshades, cushions, wood products, centre pieces for events, and anything customisable from the waste materials he collected.
The business was gaining momentum and at one point he received an order worth Ksh90,000, of furniture assortments, which he regards as the best sale so far. Monthly, he earns hundreds of thousands as currently constituted.
With fluctuating orders, Chege has been able to hire two permanent employees to assist him meet customer demands, and one standby employee to chip in in case the orders soar. Despite the growth, Chege only mouths what he can chew, and would turn down an order if he knows he cannot deliver.
House of David, Headquartered in Kahawa Wendani, still serves only Nairobi and its environs. However, plans are underway to expand it to other major cities in Kenya, employ more youths and on top of it all mentor them to start their own ventures. They also intent to start a showroom for their products, since their current workshop doubles as the showroom hence when clients visit sometimes operations have to stop.
The one-year journey has however not been smooth, as Chege puts it. A good number of his customers will buy his products, copy his works and then resale them at a cheaper price, denying him the right of ownership since most of his works are not patented. However, he says this will not stop him from achieving his dreams of penetrating Kenyan market with locally made products.
He points out availability of market as another big challenge facing local artisans.
“Most Kenyans do not appreciate locally made artwork, especially from recycled materials. You cannot sell such works in supermarkets and the ‘official’ markets. The products are in their own class, hence you have to create the demand in order to market them,” he says.
Chege vows never to seek employment. He terms talent as the best venture for any individual. “Talent is the best-paying job in the world,” he says. “Exploit it to the capacity and somebody will appreciate you.”
Chege, single, gives his advice to upcoming and existing businessmen. “People go wrong because they do not plan. Lack of planning is the first killer of businesses. There are many stagnant businesses, because they do not have plans,” he advises.
To Kenyans, he says: “Embrace and appreciate Kenyan art and local talent.”
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