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Rose Ntong’ondu: Popcorn Hawker Who Owns a Multi-Million Beauty Empire

From selling stuff on the roadside, Rose Ntong'ondu runs a cosmetics school and manufactures a number of beauty products locally and internationally

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Rose Ntong’ondu, founder of Makeup by Rose, is a Kenyan-based makeup artist, teacher, mentor, and beauty entrepreneur. She operates a cosmetics school in Kenya with the slogan, ‘Beauty with a Difference’. Rose was born in Meru, into a very humble family. She realized her love and passion for beauty therapy early enough, and she would admire big names in the industry.

Rose Ntong’ondu recalls how hard it was to get to Nairobi. Then her mum gave her little money to rent a single house in Umoja. Although her portfolio was shallow to navigate as a makeup artist in a city bustling with similar businesses, Rose had to take up a number of informal jobs to survive. “I had to sell popcorn and onions at Mtindwa market to survive and fund my business because Makeup by Rose (her business name) was my dream. But today, I have built an empire.”

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Rose says she secured her first job at Suzzie Beauty in Nairobi as a salesgirl where she earned Ksh20,000 salary. Three months later, she was promoted to a retail manager and later made the general manager at Suzzie Beauty. “I was tasked with promoting products at Junction. I put in a lot of hard work. The firm was making Ksh300,000 a month, but that month we made Ksh700,000. In three months’ time, the boss called me. I thought I was going to be fired, but I was promoted, and my salary doubled,” Rose says in a YouTube interview.

After learning a lot about the industry, Rose wanted to make her own name and brand. She would go through magazines, pull out salon and beauty hub contacts, then sell her services and promised a 20% commission for referrals.

But setting up the business was not an easy path. “It took me three years to make my name. TVs and radio stations started to notice my brand and products, and I would be called for interviews and be working with celebrities. At that time, I only had one product, but today I can boast around 20 products.”

Rose Ntong’ondu disclosed that she would make Ksh100,000 to Ksh300,000 a day. She further says despite her being good to her employees, they betrayed her and stole money to the point where she was unable to pay her bills. “I used to take my employees on vacation and buy them nyama choma and drinks on weekends,” she recalls, “little did I know they were stealing from me. I had to fire them and put in more hard work to revive my business.”

She says as a business owner, you have be strict and shouldn’t fear firing and hiring new people.

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Today, Rose runs a cosmetics school and manufactures a number of beauty products locally and internationally. She says despite sleeping hungry on the floor in her early days, today her business has enabled her to travel the world, live the best life she admired, and drive the machine of her choice.

“In my first three years in business, it was hell. I had to sell popcorn and onions in Nairobi to fund my business. Sometimes I was arrested by kanjo. Not once did I have to walk from Nairobi town to Umoja because I had no bus fare,” she says.

She advises young people to remain optimistic and never give up.

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Steve Wambugu is a journalist based in Nairobi.
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