(Chia) Seed Investors: the surprising story of how chia seeds came to be grown in Africa


In this episode, I speak with Sabina Karumba about how she and her husband started Chia Africa.

Most businesses have an interesting formation story, though this one is one of the best I’ve heard in a while.

Sabina and her husband were watching TV one evening in 2012 when a doctor came on the show and explained the health benefits of chia seeds.

Compelled to learn more they undertake research and a few months later are planting their own chia plants in Western Uganda.

This is the first commercial plantation of chia seeds on the continent, and after going around with samples of what they grew they both quit their day jobs and go full time on the business.

A few years later and they are the premier producer in the region, trying to keep up with demand despite other people entering the market too.

Sabina and I talk about lots of interesting things such as how chia seeds should only be grown within 5 degrees of the equator, the genesis of becoming Africa’s first chia seed producers (despite never having farmed), and keeping up with the demand for the superfood.

One thing which Sabina downplays, but I thought was particularly impressive is her attitude to sales.

Two of the biggest breaks for the company came with being listed by a major supermarket, and then one of the region’s largest distributors.

In both cases, she just turned up unannounced at their offices, asked to see the owner and after sitting down with them, sold them on making big orders for Chia Africa in just one meeting.

The reason I think is that Sabina is clearly incredibly passionate about the power of chia seeds, and believes everyone should have them in their diet.

Her pitch is pretty simple: it has amazing health benefits that can change people’s lives,  people just don’t know about it yet, make sure you have some in stock.


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Pictures from the farm

Preparing to plant the chia seeds
Preparing to plant the chia seeds
Chia plants growing in Western Uganda
Chia plants growing in Western Uganda
Scouting for places on the Chia Africa chia seed farm
Scouting for places on the Chia Africa chia seed farm
Chia Africa's Dr Chia range
Chia Africa’s Dr Chia range

Social Media Links

Website: http://www.chiaafrica.co.ke/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/chiaafrica/


Sam:                                      00:00:00               Intro.

Sam:                                      00:03:37               Cool. So we’re here today with Sabina from Chia Africa, Sabina welcome to the show. So just to get started, could you tell us a bit about you and a bit about Chia Africa.

Sabina:                                 00:03:48               Thank you so much Sam, as you’ve heard, my name is Sabina Wanjiru Karumba, I am a Kenyan. We do run Chia Africa with my husband who’s also my business partner. His name is David Kisembo and he’s based in Uganda. Chia Africa is registered in Kenya with offices in Kenya, but our farmlands are in Uganda. That’s where we do our farming since the 2012, that’s when we started, or that’s when we first heard about chia seeds. Amazingly, we heard about chia seeds from one program on TV called the 700 Club. There’s a gentleman who had been brought in, who is a medical doctor who was talking about chia seeds, and we were like, what wonder seed is this? We were so excited and were like, let’s find out more about this seed, what this seed is all about because it was so amazing. Whatever they talked about the chia seeds, it was so amazing, it was something like everybody must know about. So our journey began and the research began. Initially, we were calling it chai. Chai in Swahili or in East Africa is tea, that is tea. And we were like, we’re looking for this chai, chai, but we couldn’t find the chai.

Sam:                                      00:05:14               Looking for tea?

Sabina:                                 00:05:14               Yes. Yes. So we had to replay The 700 Club once again, and then we released it is chia.

Sam:                                      00:05:20               Okay. So a TV program?

Sabina:                                 00:05:23               Yes, The 700 Club.

Sam:                                      00:05:23               Why is it called the 700 club?

Sabina:                                 00:05:26               It has its membership probably, I believe its membership. They started with a membership of about 700 people who were supporting, it’s a Christian program.

Sam:                                      00:05:35               Okay.

Sabina:                                 00:05:35               With somebody called Pat Robertson, yes.

Sam:                                      00:05:38               Okay. It’s a Tv program and Pat, he invites some guests?

Sabina:                                 00:05:44               Yes. They do talk about politics, they do talk about health, they do talk about business so amazingly on this particular day, besides the normal question they do and all that, they also discussed about the health, human health.

Sam:                                      00:05:57               What was the medical doctor, what was he saying about chia seeds?

Sabina:                                 00:06:01               He was talking about how amazing this chia seed is and what it does? What it is able to give the body from very small quantities of what you consume? The minerals in it, the vitamins, the proteins, the omega 3 in it. We were like from that one tablespoon or 20 grams that you consume in a day, and you’re able to get all this, it was amazing. Yeah.

Sam:                                      00:06:22               Wow. Okay. So this is in 2012?

Sabina:                                 00:06:27               That was in 2010.

Sam:                                      00:06:28               And how long was it before you realized it was called chia and not chai?

Sabina:                                 00:06:31               Amazingly, at around that time, we were, me and my husband were discussing about career change and all that. He’s a mechanical engineer by profession. I am an accountant by profession. But we wanted to venture into something that we would be able to do and work on together? So actually at that time, we were thinking about the agribusiness and amazingly, this important information comes to us so immediately we didn’t take long. We started finding out what this chia seed is, so we went like three, four days. We were not able to find out what this chia seed is because we’re looking for chai and we’re like, the chai we know is the normal chai I take every morning. It has never given me, yes, of course, it has benefited me, but it hasn’t even given me these amazing benefits as what I heard from the 700 club, so eventually were able to find out that it is not chai, it is chia and the research went on and barely a month after that we’re able to even get contacts of some Americans who had come to East Africa. They had done a bit of groundwork, some research to try and find out if they can introduce this seed to the East African region.

Sam:                                      00:07:42               Okay.

Sabina:                                 00:07:42               Yes.

Sam:                                      00:07:44               And what did they say?

Sabina:                                 00:07:44               They had just engaged the first group of farmers, of which sometimes because of probably the education background and all that, people up country in rural areas, they find it difficult to embrace new crops that they don’t understand about.

Sam:                                      00:08:02               Yes.

Sabina:                                 00:08:02               But amazingly because we had already heard about it and when we looked around and were able to talk to them, actually we talked to them, we were in Nairobi, they were somewhere in a place called Masinde, that is West of Uganda. They were there at that particular moment, this the same place that my husband, area. That’s exactly where he was born.

Sam:                                      00:08:19               Really?

Sabina:                                 00:08:19               Yes. So it was very easy for them to understand and to, for us to integrate and they were also excited because they were like, no, we’ve gotten people who are willing to, understand this whole project that we are getting into. Yeah.

Sam:                                      00:08:34               Cool. Okay. Wow. So I mean there’s lots to sort of talk about but I think, sort of, let’s keep on the supply side of the business.

Sabina:                                 00:08:42               Yes.

Sam:                                      00:08:43               What does it, what does the chia plant, is it chia plant, chia seed from chia plant?

Sabina:                                 00:08:48               Yes, the chia seed comes from the chia plant, and, okay, chia seeds, it’s generally South American, basically Mexico, but its scientific name is salvia Hispanica.

Sam:                                      00:09:03               Salvia Hispanica?

Sabina:                                 00:09:03               Yes, that’s the scientific name.

Sam:                                      00:09:05               Okay.

Sabina:                                 00:09:05               But the common name, which is known everywhere, and it’s embraced, if you go to North America, go to South America, go to Europe. It’s been called chia, come to Africa, we’re calling it chia and not chai anymore.

Sam:                                      00:09:15               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 00:09:15               Yeah, exactly.

Sam:                                      00:09:17               Okay. What does chia, what does a salvia Hispanica plant look like?

Sabina:                                 00:09:21               It’s just a plant that grows that with, let’s say not very big leaves, medium-sized leaves, which grows to about two to three meters in height.

Sam:                                      00:09:35               That’s quite tall.

Sabina:                                 00:09:35               Yes, yes, yes. And you achieve that if you having good weather, the soils are good, but if your weather is not good, the rains are not coming well, it will flower, even when it is like even one foot high, which is not good. Yes, it will flower, but if you put that in the labs, you are going to find that the nutritional content is very low. But in good environment, actually it can go even as high as a three meters.

Sam:                                      00:09:59               Okay.

Sabina:                                 00:09:59               Yeah.

Sam:                                      00:10:00               Cool. And how long does it take to grow to three meters?

Sabina:                                 00:10:02               It takes about three to four months on the higher side, four months. If you have some delay in the rains because we are using rain feder, it’s rain farming that we are doing, if you have a bit of delays, within four months, at most four months, you will have harvested. But if there’s no delay with the rains, even three and a half months. You’ll do your havesting.

Sam:                                      00:10:23               And can you do all year round or does it have to be, so can you do, if it’s four months, can you do three cycles a year?

Sabina:                                 00:10:34               Okay. First, let me take you a little bit back on the good conditions for the growth and germination of the chia seed. Basically the seed, the reason why it has gotten this high popularity, It is because of its nutritional content. It also has to be in an optimal area, where it can develop or manufacture these particular nutrients that you’re looking after and basically it needs about five degrees within the Equator, North or South of equator. Exactly.

Sam:                                      00:11:07               Really?

Sabina:                                 00:11:07               Exactly.

Sam:                                      00:11:07               Not very many places are conducive?

Sabina:                                 00:11:09               And that is why you see, it’s around the Mexico area. The South America. That is where it does very well and that is why the group of first people who came to invest here, they came from North America and they came in the region of East Africa, reason why, East Africa generally lies between five degrees, North and South of Equator. That’s where you get the optimal.

Sam:                                      00:11:34               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 00:11:34               Exactly. So if you come here, you will find that even within the Equator, there’s Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, we are lying within the Equator, but in some regions, the rainfalls, they vary, for any seed basically to germinate, it needs some moderate reasonable amount of rainfall. Some regions they do get rainfall like twice, two good seasons in a year, although in as much as we’re falling within the Equator, so where we are farming it in Uganda, we are able to do it comfortably. We can do it twice. Although there’s another short season in the month of June, July in Masinde, but it’s quite unreliable. So basically we do opt to do it between February and then we harvest by end of April, May, latest by June. And then the next season we start it in October and we do our harvesting by December, January.

Sam:                                      00:12:25               Got it.

Sabina:                                 00:12:26               Yes. So two seasons in a year comfortably. Although when the rains are sufficient, we can do three seasons. Yeah.

Sam:                                      00:12:34               If you could irrigate, could you definitely do three seasons?

Sabina:                                 00:12:38               You can do it all around. If you can do irrigation, you can do it all around because the sunshine within the Equator is more or less consistent throughout the whole year.

Sam:                                      00:12:49               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 00:12:50               Yes. Yeah. Now, unfortunately, the part that comes with farming chia, the productivity per acre. If you look at the product, the yields are not as high because when the rains are good under optimal weather, you get about 400 Kgs, 400 kilos per acre.

Sam:                                      00:13:08               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 00:13:09               People who do maize farming, that is corn. They’re able to do like 40 bags of a hundred that is like a 40 bags. You’re doing here four bags of chia, with the maize, you’re doing 40, you’re doing 10 times.

Sam:                                      00:13:26               I see.

Sabina:                                 00:13:26               Yeah. So, because the seed is equally very, very small. You have a look at it, it’s a very, very tiny seed. So the productivity is low. So what does it tell you? You need a very high acreage for you to be able to produce a lot. Likewise, when you do irrigation it means you’ll be irrigating a very vast area and investment on that will equally be very high.

Sam:                                      00:13:52               If the potential for it to yield, if it had a greater potential to have high yields, it would make more economical sense to do irrigation.

Sabina:                                 00:14:00               To do irrigation.

Sam:                                      00:14:01               So at the moment, it’s not quite a good investment?

Sabina:                                 00:14:04               Unless, let’s say, because for me I can say we as Chia Africa, we’ve had so many enquiries, especially from Europe. Europe is a very big consumer of the East African products. Like for Kenya we are doing a lot of horticulture and if you look at the flowers which are being done now in Europe, like almost I think four out of ten roses in Europe are from Kenya, actually basically in Kenya. So Europe is a good market for the East African agri-products. We’ve been having enquiries here and there and very, very positive, because we do send small quantities as they’re developing also their markets because they also need consistency, but I do believe in a very short time sooner than later because we are having very advanced discussions with quite a number of big time suppliers with some huge supply chains in Europe, we should be able to get to a point where we can say. We are not willing to invest so much into irrigation to harbour an all year round production.

Sam:                                      00:15:04               That’s very interesting so at the moment is Chia Africa exporting?

Sabina:                                 00:15:08               We do export. We do export small quantities. We’ve sent to Germany, we’ve sent to our clients who were still based in Nairobi, but has clients in Europe, but It’s a US company based here. They do oil, crude oil-pressing.

Sam:                                      00:15:25               Cool.

Sabina:                                 00:15:26               Yes.

Sam:                                      00:15:29               Are you selling it to them packaged in your packaging or are you selling it just as a commodity?

Sabina:                                 00:15:35               It depends on the preference of the customer. There are those who are ok with our packaging. There are those, because of also the regulations within their area, they need to have different kinds of packages and also language barriers. Like for clients who are coming from Arabic regions, we do translate our stickers and everything, even our own, the same, same branding, but we do translate it into their, into the commonly used language wherever they’re coming in, they’re coming from. Yes. And for that who are not willing to, to do, they want to develop their own brand because sometimes it’s also wise to develop your own brand. Yes. For those who are willing to develop their own brand, we do get them in bulk.

Sam:                                      00:16:16               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 00:16:16               Yes.

Sam:                                      00:16:17               I see. Is chia seeds, is there any real difference in chia seeds that are grown here versus in Mexico versus growing elsewhere or, like can you say that yours is a high one, chia seeds is a high quality than another? Or is it just really about the packaging or like that? Or the method of delivery?

Sabina:                                 00:16:44               Let me say this, the reason why I took you back to the optimal regions for growing the chia seed and why chia seed is becoming so popular. It is because of the nutritional content. They’ve said within the equator and it has been researched and they are these information out there, researched information about the most optimal area. Reason why actually when you do plant it within the five degrees North and South of the equator. You do get the nutritional levels being very, very high. It doesn’t mean pride elsewhere and that’s why I was saying the first group who introduced the chia farming here generally, basically in East Africa. They had come from the US. They had done a bit of research here and there and they, they had understood that if we do it. Within the Equateur you’re going to have the optimal, if you do it in other areas, they’re still going to get the chia seeds, but the nutritional levels, especially things like the Omega three it hasn’t been confirmed, the levels were very, very low. When the Americans came here, they did a comparison of the chia, the first habits we had with the chia seed in Masinde and generally in Uganda area, they compared to what they got from Mexico, I’m proud to say it came out six times better.

Sam:                                      00:18:00               Six times…

Sabina:                                 00:18:02               It was amazing. Yes, exactly. And then I knew you would ask me again, why do you want to do it in Uganda? We’re based here in Kenya. There’s a reason for that. If you look at the history Uganda, let’s go to the history of Uganda, there was a lot of civil unrest after they got their independence. So as a result, people never got to settle and do the farming as such. So their land was not very much over utilized. In Kenya, we’ve had basically and we thanks God for that. We’ve really enjoyed civil stability, especially after independence. That is in the early sixties. We’ve had stability, political stability, whereby, people able to do their farming, they all that and all that. So as a result, spaces here, have been quite over utilized. And again, if you look at the percentage of arable land in Kenya compared to that in Uganda, Uganda is a much smaller country than Kenya, but you can say 34% of the land in Uganda is arable. That’s quite a good percentage as opposed to here in Kenya we have a very, way much smaller percentage which is arable, so there are soils not over utilized. Secondly, most of the area you can do your farming, so it becomes quite an optimal place for us to do the farming.

Sam:                                      00:19:21               Ok, and also your husband is from there.

Sabina:                                 00:19:25               He’s there so it makes it even more convenient. Yeah.

Sam:                                      00:19:29               So talk me through how it works, so you watched the 700 club in 2012.

Sabina:                                 00:19:33               Yes.

Sam:                                      00:19:34               You had the conversation with the Americans a month, two months later?

Sabina:                                 00:19:38               In fact, barely a month after that.

Sam:                                      00:19:41               And how long was it before you were planting your first chia plant?

Sabina:                                 00:19:44               In 2012 October.

Sam:                                      00:19:49               October of 2012?

Sabina:                                 00:19:50               October of 2012, we did our first trials. We had never farmed before.

Sam:                                      00:19:54               Oh.

Sabina:                                 00:19:57               We didn’t, actually even at that time, I was still employed somewhere, doing accounts for somebody. My husband was still doing he’s a technical things.

Sam:                                      00:20:06               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 00:20:07               There we go to the farm. We now think we’re equipped with all the knowledge that we need to do the farming. And we failed miserably the first time we did it. We harvested so little. But thank God, the little that we had enabled us to do the, at least the lab analysis and it gave us encouragement. Yeah. And besides we also knew now if we do it better and at the right time we’re going to get the yields that we expected, so the next season, there we were, we went full board and we also began to also try and sensitize it because the whites, the Americans, the Western world, they are aware, they were aware of what chia seeds were, they were beginning, a high population was aware of what chia seeds were. Here locally, you would talk of chia seeds and they would be like, what is that you’re talking about?

Sam:                                      00:20:50               Yes.

Sabina:                                 00:20:51               So just to impact on making people understand what chia seed is and all that. Because we were fully convinced this something that should be in everybody’s diet on a daily basis.

Sam:                                      00:21:00               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 00:21:00               Yeah.

Sam:                                      00:21:01               Okay. And how much work is needed, is necessary on the farm? Do you have to engage with some of the population?

Sabina:                                 00:21:10               It is a lot of work. The first time we did, we did, we started with 30 acres, you know we were like no, this is the right thing to do…

Sam:                                      00:21:17               How did you get 30 acres?

Sabina:                                 00:21:17               In Uganda as I’m telling you, they are still having huge chunks of land. It’s possible to even get a hundred acres of land consolidated so you can run a farm of up to a hundred acres. Because what happens in Uganda with most of it being fertile, you’ll find people, even with two acres, they’re able to produce their own food sufficient for the family. So there’s also quite a lot of land laying up there. Still not being utilized. Yes. It makes it easier to be able to acquire that land.

Sam:                                      00:21:42               And the fact that you’re husband is Ugandan, that means you can, did you own the land or do you leas the land?

Sabina:                                 00:21:47               They do have land, fortunately, in his family, the grandfather had invested in a very huge piece of land because we have like 400 acres of land.

Sam:                                      00:21:56               Wow.

Sabina:                                 00:21:56               Yes, yes. So with 400 acres of land, there’s part of that land that has never been ploughed completely. So 30 acres ia a drop in the ocean, considering what is within the exposure.

Sam:                                      00:22:09               So you do that and then who, how many people could you have to sort of cultivate that?

Sabina:                                 00:22:16               We did mechanical farming, ploughing. There are certain things you just, we’ve got a tractor. We also had to do a lot of bush clearing. That entails a lot of work. It’s a lot of work. Then we did a plan. We got a tractor, two, three days, it does the ploughing. Yes. And the disking, that we do it mechanically, but now when it comes to the planting, we had a planter, we had acquired one planter from China. Yes, a planter, a simple handheld planter.

Sam:                                      00:22:49               Its a machine?

Sabina:                                 00:22:50               Yes. Yes. A planter because we’re looking at it and we’re saying, you know to do 30 acres, when are we ever going to finish this. Yes. we said, okay, let’s get a planter. So we had gotten a planter, which unfortunately didn’t work.

Sam:                                      00:23:07               Your husband being an engineer, he couldn’t fix it?

Sabina:                                 00:23:09               You know you fix it, these other part falls off tomorrow. So we gave up on that and we had done I think like at most four, five acres with the planter.

Sam:                                      00:23:19               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 00:23:19               And it wasn’t as effective as we had been made to believe it would be. We’d drop a seed here, the next one will be dropped there. So he had to go back again and… Exactly, yes. Yeah. And then after that it would drop a whole half a kg in one place. But we said it’s a learning experience and we were ready for it. We had, it was an exciting journey for us, we’re looking at the future, more of the future. So at that point we got people, a whole group of people, a whole village, just gather the whole village.

Sam:                                      00:23:59               You call like a village meeting?

Sabina:                                 00:24:01               That’s how they work, yes. That’s how they work. Actually they work in groups.

Sam:                                      00:24:05               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 00:24:05               Yeah.

Sam:                                      00:24:05               And you said like 50 people?

Sabina:                                 00:24:07               Yes. We’ve got about a group of about 50 people and in like two or three days, we had done it.

Sam:                                      00:24:13               So did you have to pay them?

Sabina:                                 00:24:16               You negotiate in their groups. You know they come like a group of 50 people, but they’re not in one grouping. They have a leader, actually, they have someone who negotiates on their behalf because you see some of them, they’re not educated, they’re having so many challenges. So they prefer working in groups. They have like a chairman who comes and negotiates on their behalf. So for an acre they charge about Ugandan shillings, that’s about thirty thousand Ugandan shillings, which is about 3000, which is about $30, 30 US dollars.

Sam:                                      00:24:45               $30 per acre?

Sabina:                                 00:24:51               Per acre, yeah.

Sam:                                      00:24:52               And then once they’re planted the seeds…

Sabina:                                 00:24:54               Yes.

Sam:                                      00:24:56               Does there need to be continual watering?

Sabina:                                 00:24:58               No, good thing here now, we now, depend on their rain fed. We do rain fed.

Sam:                                      00:25:05               So once it’s planted?

Sabina:                                 00:25:05               Yes.

Sam:                                      00:25:05               Is there much more work to be done.

Sabina:                                 00:25:07               There’s a lot of work.

Sam:                                      00:25:08               Okay.

Sabina:                                 00:25:09               The other major and challenging thing that comes on board, actually it is the weeding part and the weeding actually you cannot even do it mechanically, because you’re going to mess up a lot of your crops. So that one also has to be done manually. Yeah.

Sam:                                      00:25:23               Okay.

Sabina:                                 00:25:23               Yeah. Again, bringing the whole village, in groups, for about another one week and they’re able to do it, manually.

Sam:                                      00:25:31               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 00:25:31               Yeah.

Sam:                                      00:25:32               Okay. And then, so that was sort of when you started, what does the operation look like now? Are you still at 30 acres?

Sabina:                                 00:25:39               Initially when we started, we did the 30 acres and from the experience we had we realized we can do even much more. And again, at that point we had done a lot of sensitization. We did a lot of, especially here in Nairobi and in Kenya, let’s say in Kenya because people are more exposed, there is more exposure here, the Kenyan market embraced the chia seed quite well, and quite fast. We did not even have first to go to the export market because we were still having challenges of volumes, we could not do the volumes. So for the Kenyan market, once it accepted we are able now to feel like we can project, we can do this number of acres. So the first time we did the 30 acres, we did at the wrong time because we had never farmed before we, we did plant when it was slightly late. Remember, we’re depending on rain-fed water, we did it a bit late, so our yields, were a bit, In fact, they were just very low, let’s be very honest, they were very low, so next season we got very ready for it. We did partner with somebody else who was also willing to come on board because we wanted also, remember we were having the challenges of building a market and also production. We got a partner, based in Uganda full time, to manage the operations of the farm and here we did the marketing and sensitization. Yes. And it worked quite well.

Sam:                                      00:27:02               How did you find that partner?

Sabina:                                 00:27:05               He was among the first few people who were also in touch with the first, with the Americans who came with the first seed. Yes. So when people started getting, feeling like, this is something I don’t want to do, these things, you know, because chia seed, unfortunately for up country, I don’t know whether you’ve been to any of these up country areas of East Africa or Kenya for that purpose. Basically, they depend on their farms. Whatever they produce on the farm, that’s what they sell. If they’re not able to tell it, they can feed their kids on it. Chia seed, you cannot cook this and give it to your kids.

Sam:                                      00:27:37               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 00:27:37               So they felt, Okay, this is too risky business, we are not going to do it, let them do it. Once they succeed, we’ll come on board. So we, the few of us who are courageous to continue with it. We did. That lady was among them so we went again did farming. This time, we put in a hundred acres, did the ploughing at the right time, just on season, as the season was starting, we did it and it went very well until harvest time. Yes. Chia seed is not like any other crop, you see like when we plant, when we do farm, let’s say like maize because that’s basically the main thing which is being farmed around here in East Africa, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and it happens that it is raining during the last one week when we were anticipating to harvest. What you do, You don’t remove your crop on the farm. You just leave it until the sun comes out and then leave it there for about a week. It’ll dry up and you’ll be able to harvest it and it will be okay. Dried. It’s okay. Chia seed, once it comes into contact with water, It forms a gel.

Sam:                                      00:28:36               Yes.

Sabina:                                 00:28:36               It can not separate. Now, unfortunately, We just watched helplessly as it rained. The rains, It became a havoc in 2013. There were so much rains in East Africa, so much, actually it even brought down a few buildings here.

Sam:                                      00:28:50               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 00:28:51               Unfortunately it was harvest time. There’s nothing we could do. We cannot remove it. It’s not yet fully matured. It needed about a week and within that week it decides to rain and rain heavily, we just lost chia worth like 30,000 40,000 tons, metric tones.

Sam:                                      00:29:07               Just from that rain?

Sabina:                                 00:29:10               Yes, and that became another learning lesson for us. Now what we’ve done since then, we’ve still expanded our operations, but we’ve tried to see how we can reduce our risk. I’d rather lose 5 acres instead of losing a hundred acres. You’d also rather lose 5 acres instead of you, you lose a hundred I lose a hundred, another person also loses a hundred so what have we done? We’ve gotten farmers to come and invest. We’ve provided the land because the land is available, we still have about a hundred to a hundred and fifty acres available for chia farming. We bring farmers on board, we give them the seed, we facilitate them whenever they do not have finances because somebody made to come buy the seed, put it on the ground. But when it comes to the weeding point, this person doesn’t have the finances. We don’t just let the crop get, go to waste. We facilitate them to do the weeding then eventually, at the end of the harvest, we all come and sit down, I facilitated you with this and this and this, and we are going to buy this chia, in as much as we’ve given you the land, we facilitated you. We’re still going to buy it from you at this cost. Why? We’re trying to spread their risk. Yeah. And it’s beneficial for everyone because even the people now, the farmers who are not willing to come into cheer for me, they’ve seen us lose a hundred acres and they’re like these people are still going back. What is it about it?

Sam:                                      00:30:35               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 00:30:35               And again, now with the consumption of chia and the benefits they get out of it. They’re like, okay, I think it is still worth doing the chia seed. If you give somebody two acres, they’re able to manage two acres because with two acres they can do it. Even within the family members, the husband with their kids, they can manage two or three acres. So it means they’re the cost of input is reduced and then when they harvest, and able to get money or when they do not have any money for their school fees and we are facilitating them with the school fees, for us to be able to recover it when we harvest, we’re okay.

Sam:                                      00:31:05               Very good, so that’s sort of the main supply side of the business, you’ve got these sort of different farmers who are coming in and using the land.

Sabina:                                 00:31:18               Yes.

Sam:                                      00:31:25               Talk to me a bit about the demand side. So you’re saying that even if Kenya picked up quite fast, chia seeds are not something that’s really on many people’s radar. Even a few years ago. How have you seen the demand for chia seeds? What’s the story of the market of chia seeds in East Africa?

Sabina:                                 00:31:35               Okay when we started sensitizing, I would talk of chia seeds, even people would not listen to me, they would wonder now what is this person just wants to sell me the things? There are so many things that we keep hearing about health foods and all that and at that time actually the first harvest that we did, the majority of that went into sampling. The first 30 acres we did and we harvested so little. We decided fine, we’re going to take the full loss of this, but whatever we’ve harvested, we are going to use this as our Sampling, we give samples, actually, we give out a lot of samples. But thank God, chia seed is a very effective seed because in a short period as three days, you’re able to feel a difference in your body. So we were like so certain it is not a loss. We’re investing for the long term, not for them for the short term, but we knew in the long term, it was going to pay off because everybody who would use chia seeds, after three days would come back and tell us, my joint pains. I can tell you there’s a very big difference, I’m feeling much better. After a month, someone with arthritis will come and tell, you know me, I’m just a different person.

Sam:                                      00:32:41               It cures arthritis?

Sabina:                                 00:32:41               It does take care of arthritis very effectively, actually for somebody with arthritis, severe arthritis, after one week they tell you there’s a remarkable difference in the way they’re feeling.

Sam:                                      00:32:52               Wow.

Sabina:                                 00:32:52               Yeah. And actually even medical doctors, they’re now even telling people go and find chia seeds. At that time, these people, they don’t even know whether it is a plant, it is an animal, but they all go looking for chia because it is something which has been proven and now, good thing there is a lot of researched information on the effectiveness of chia seeds.

Sam:                                      00:33:11               So who, who are the main people who are buying chia seeds?

Sabina:                                 00:33:15               Initially when we started basically the people with arthritis.

Sam:                                      00:33:21               So it’s mainly medicinal. Like people…

Sabina:                                 00:33:24               It has nutrients… Okay, let us address what is disease. Disease is, it comes as a result of the body lacking vital nutrients. So the moment the body gets the vital nutrients that it is required and in correct quantities, the body will feel eased, it will be okay.

Sam:                                      00:33:40               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 00:33:41               Yeah, exactly. And because chia seed does that, it provides the nutrients that are needed in the body. It makes the body feel like, now I was unwell, now I am well.

Sam:                                      00:33:50               Okay. And if you, do you like segment your customers or do you say, you know, we’ve got these, this type of customer, we’ve got this type of customer, that probably I think that the people who have got ailments, you’ve got the people who just want to be a bit healthier. We’ve got the mum’s who give it to their kids every day. Did you, do you sort of have different types of customers that you can talk about?

Sabina:                                 00:34:15               Initially when we started, we basically were going for people who are having conditions, so they wanted relief on.

Sam:                                      00:34:22               How did you find them?

Sabina:                                 00:34:24               We used to have conferences. We used to have like a workshop. We’d hear there’s a workshop going on, we would register for those workshops. We would go there, talk about it, like whatever it is that I do attend…

Sam:                                      00:34:36               When you say workshops, you mean like?

Sabina:                                 00:34:36               We do have organizations that do organize workshops, like women’s organizations. We have agricultural organizations that do organize workshops from time to time.

Sam:                                      00:34:50               What are they, like what’s a typical workshop? What might it be about?

Sabina:                                 00:34:51               It depends, us, we would go for any, because at the end of the day, it is their awareness that we want to create. Maybe there’s a women’s conference, we’re there, there’s an agribusiness discussion going on, business investment, we are there because this one will fall under business investment, under health. Anything, any workshop that they’ll allow us to go and have a discussion, we would go and talk about it. And as a result we’re able to reach out on so many people and in those workshops would give away actual samples. Yeah.

Sam:                                      00:35:18               And you’d say, so the first day you go, wherever it was you know, people have got ailments…

Sabina:                                 00:35:25               Exactly, yeah.

Sam:                                      00:35:26               You’d give them samples to try out?

Sabina:                                 00:35:30               Exactly.

Sam:                                      00:35:30               Yeah. Then how would people buy, if people had wanted to come back and buy them?

Sabina:                                 00:35:35               Thank God, the few people and the effectiveness of the chia seed, for every person who we would give a sample, they would definitely come back and buy for their own and they would know somebody else who has a similar condition or somebody else who has another condition that would benefit from it. So as a result initially we get, we got a lot of referrals. Very many referrals.

Sam:                                      00:35:57               What kind of referrals? Did they say call…

Sabina:                                 00:35:57               Yes, yes, yes. We would give out our business cards and in all of our packages, we do have our contacts. So they would call up. Yes.

Sam:                                      00:36:06               So at the beginning…

Sabina:                                 00:36:08               It was on a one,on one, at the beginning it was one on one.

Sam:                                      00:36:13               How are you packaging chia seeds?

Sabina:                                 00:36:16               This is how we’ve always packed our chia seeds.

Sam:                                      00:36:19               This is like clear plastic?

Sabina:                                 00:36:20               Exactly. You can see exactly. You can see what it is. And we’ve also provided a lot of information that will, that is eye catching first of all. It’ll make you curious. What is this? Are you telling me that this will give me all these? You know that curiosity will just make you, okay, let me just give it a try to prove them wrong. Amazingly, as I’m telling you, being a very effective seed, in three days, this person is already…

Sam:                                      00:36:45               They’re like I want some more.

Sabina:                                 00:36:46               And then they get it. Most, most of them, they got it for their parents, elderly parents. People with arthritis, it helps manage diabetes type two. It helps manage hypertension and those are very common, common, common conditions that people are having. Actually statistics shows that out of every 10 people in Kenya, 3 people, they do have either diabetes, hypertension, arthritis or all of them.

Sam:                                      00:37:12               Really?

Sabina:                                 00:37:12               Yeah, so you can imagine for every 10 people you talk to around here, there are 3 people who would be willing to give it a try.

Sam:                                      00:37:18               I’m just reading the back of the packaging, two tablespoons is the recommended amount?

Sabina:                                 00:37:23               It is recommended and basically this is just food. You can take more than two tablespoons, but ideally, what the body does when you give it more than it needs, it discards so don’t take more than what you need. Just take what is sufficient and you’ll be ok.

Sam:                                      00:37:38               Eight times more omega 3 than salmon. When you say salmon, that’s a portion of salmon or two tablespoons of salmon?

Sabina:                                 00:37:46               Three table, two table spoons?

Sam:                                      00:37:49               So it says 2 tablespoons of chia seeds contain eight times the amount of omega 3 in salmon.

Sabina:                                 00:37:50               Exactly. Omega 3.

Sam:                                      00:37:52               Is that like a proportion of salmon or is that like, how much salmon?

Sabina:                                 00:37:57               Yes. In a normal portion of salmon.

Sam:                                      00:37:59               Three times more higher than Spanish. 64% more potassium.

Sabina:                                 00:38:08               And good thing, you see, if you look at that information, you’d feel like it’s a bit exaggerated, you might feel like the information provided here is a bit exaggerated for marketing purposes. It is not because nowadays, we’re in the era of the internet.

Sam:                                      00:38:22               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 00:38:23               In fact, I used to tell people who are like curious about what we have indicated here, please do not go even into my website, can you go and check other research websites, which is totally independent, impartial. And they’d always come back.

Sam:                                      00:38:36               The branding here is Dr. Chia or Dr. Chia plus. Why is it not Chia Africa?

Sabina:                                 00:38:44               We are Chia Africa, the company is called Chia Africa, but we are calling it Dr. Chia Plus because after we had registered our chia here and our chia Africa, and Dr. Chia, we realized there’s another chia, Dr. Chia, I think somewhere in Australia.

Sam:                                      00:39:01               Really?

Sabina:                                 00:39:01               Yes, and you see that can bring about legal issues and not even that, we are developing a brand, we don’t have to develop a brand and then somewhere along the way we have to lose after working so hard. Yeah. Actually Dr. Chia Plus is patented here. Yes. We do have a patent for this.

Sam:                                      00:39:17               You have a patent for Dr. Chia Plus?

Sabina:                                 00:39:17               We do have a patent for this. Yeah.

Sam:                                      00:39:20               The best way to do is to put two teaspoons of Dr. Chia Plus seeds in a glass of water or any other liquid and take after five minutes. Why do you have to wait five minutes?

Sabina:                                 00:39:31               Because what you’re trying to do is to allow it to form the gel. What this does, once it comes into contact with any fluid, it absorbs water and becomes larger.

Sam:                                      00:39:42               Yeah.

Sam:                                      00:39:42               It does not dissolve.

Sam:                                      00:39:44               Okay.

Sabina:                                 00:39:45               We do not want that whole process to happen within your body. Actually, you can even scoop it and put it in your mouth, but you can see now the process of it absorbing water and expanding will be happening in your body. It will be expanding using your body fluids, which is not dangerous. There’s nothing wrong with that, but you’re going to get so dehydrated. It means you’ll need to take a lot of water. Yeah, so the best way, just make it easier for yourself. Make the gel and then just drink. It has no flavor. It’s tasteless. It basically has no flavor. If you put it in water, it won’t alter the taste, you won’t get some other funny taste on your water. You can put it in your juice. There are people who are not able to take it in plain water. You can put it in your juice, it blends basically with almost anything. Your milk, your juice, yoghurt, soup, anything. It’s user friendly.

Sam:                                      00:40:33               The best thing is to get it to do it’s gel for me otherwise, it makes you thirsty?

Sabina:                                 00:40:40               Yeah. You know, actually this seed, when it gets into contact with any fluid, it can even become like even a 20 times its size. So you can imagine you’ve taken this…

Sabina:                                 00:40:55               20 times its size?

Sabina:                                 00:40:58               That is happening actually in your body, can you imagine the amount of water being absorbed from your, from your body, your fluids. Yeah. Yeah.

Sam:                                      00:41:05               How much does, so this is 100 grams. How much does 100 grams cost?

Sabina:                                 00:41:10               Okay. I’m a wholesaler, basically, I don’t sell pieces.

Sam:                                      00:41:15               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 00:41:17               I think, I bet I’ll take you back now to how we got to where we are. Yes, yes.

Sam:                                      00:41:24               So the beginning when it was one on one?

Sabina:                                 00:41:24               Exactly.

Sam:                                      00:41:27               So maybe just tell me the story, starting from one on one to where you are now.

Sabina:                                 00:41:27               Yes. So when we got to a point whereby we had created enough base of awareness, we realized we’re getting no phone calls. We would run up and down every single day. You deliver here, you deliver, it become too hectic. The supply chain…

Sam:                                      00:41:47               What year is this?

Sabina:                                 00:41:47               That was in 2013. Yes. Let’s say around mid 2013. Yes, we did 1st October…

Sam:                                      00:41:55               The first one you did samples, the second one failed because of the rains.

Sabina:                                 00:41:58               Yes, exactly.

Sam:                                      00:42:02               So you did another harvest?

Sabina:                                 00:42:02               Yes, yes.

Sam:                                      00:42:04               So after you’ve done that, and there was no problem with that one?

Sabina:                                 00:42:08               Okay. Of course, now, that’s when we decided we’re not going to do large scale farming again. We’d rather spread this risk. Come do your five acres here, we also do our minimum, every season, we do our minimum of 15 to 20 acres, now plus the other small scale farmers who come in and do three, five acres, like that, like that and we’re able to do our hundred metric tonnes every other, every other season. Now, having established awareness, we were getting phone calls here and there, give me five pieces, give me 20 pieces here and now we realized we can even develop the brand. Remember initially we didn’t have the brand.

Sam:                                      00:42:46               Okay.

Sabina:                                 00:42:46               We’re just selling chia seeds.

Sam:                                      00:42:49               In an empty packaging?

Sabina:                                 00:42:49               In a packaging without a brand. So we realized now we have to develop a brand because if you want to take it, probably in the supply chain, you must have, you must be a recognized brand, because now there’s enough awareness and we are running helter-skelter every day, supplying here and there. So we started approaching the retail owners, retail shops. We went to Chandarana. In fact…

Sam:                                      00:43:14               Chandarana is one of the biggest supermarkets.

Sabina:                                 00:43:17               We do have Tuskys and Naivas, they’re quite big, Chandarana, they’re also equally big, but not to, if you look at the outlets.

Sam:                                      00:43:25               For people who are not in Kenya, Chandarana is a big supermarket. So you went to Chandarana?

Sabina:                                 00:43:31               Yes. We went to Chandarana, and amazingly some of these entrepreneurs, they always have a gut for this is it. It’s something new. We went there and we spoke to the owner, Mr. Amir. He had never seen chia seed, he had not heard about it and he was like. He orders all his branches. Supply each dozen, dozen, dozen across the board across the different sizes, taking a risk, that much risk, it is in December, towards the Christmas season. And you know what we supplied by 22nd, 23rd, by the time we were coming back in January around 15th, he had sold off everything. Yeah. And then there’s also another one lady, her name is Shanice. Shanice runs a shop called Elixir at the village market. She’s also another person who said, even before the branding, she would just buy and put in small packages and put in her shop. So she was like we’ve branded it, and she just took the leap with us. Yes. And from there, there was no going back.

Sam:                                      00:44:34               Okay, great. So to sell it to Chandarana, that would’ve been the end of 2013?

Sabina:                                 00:44:42               2013 December, yes.

Sam:                                      00:44:42               Okay. And then what’s it, what was the next big win after that? What was the next like thing which came after Chandarana?

Sabina:                                 00:44:49               We do have so many outlets and you see, like even for Chandarana, they do have many outlets. It’s not only one outlet. So you supply here today. Tomorrow there. We started moving to other retails. Big retailers, it became quite a challenge. One, first and foremost, they view you as a very small supplier. They’re dealing with food suppliers and not just Chandarana, we also had so many other local shops, like even out here, there’s a small supermarket, just before the Uchumi, I also do supply them, so many small, small outlets. So every day we were supplying everywhere. We are running down, up and down everywhere. We’re having now trouble with credit control, your supplying.

Sam:                                      00:45:33               But that would mean you delivered, but they paid thirty days late.

Sabina:                                 00:45:36               Yeah. There are those who are paying cash. There are those who are, they just don’t want trouble. They just pay you cash and they’re managing their finances very well, they don’t want to believe they’re having money yet it’s other people’s money because once you supply on credit and you’ve sold, that’s not your money. That’s somebody else’s money, so they don’t want to get caught up in that. So for them, they, there are those who pay cash, it will keep us going, but there are those who are also big, big time buyers, credit, credit, thirty days. So you can imagine by the time you’re getting money for the first supply, you’ve supplied somewhere in between another like four, five supplies.

Sam:                                      00:46:08               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 00:46:08               So we began to have trouble with our cashflow. We realized if we go on like this, it’s going to be so difficult for us. And again at that time, remember we are still small players in the supply chain because we’re not, these supermarkets are not only selling chia seeds. They’re selling sugar, they are selling floor, they’re selling all sorts of things.

Sam:                                      00:46:25               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 00:46:25               No, you are coming here, maybe you want your 200,000. They are owing somebody 20 million. They don’t even want to hear about you. So we realized nowhere, we are having trouble with our cashflow and we decide now we must have a solution for this. As we used to go round, there’s one major distributor that we would find, everyday you go supplying, you’d just find them. You go here today, he’s there. We realize this is a big muscle in the market, we did approach him, another very interesting person. Mr. Raju and his brother Asmok, and we appreciate them a lot. He had also not heard about this. He looked at it.

Sam:                                      00:47:05               So he’s a distributor?

Sabina:                                 00:47:05               He’s a distributor. Big time distributor, but he was a very receptive person.

Sam:                                      00:47:10               Okay. And how did you get a meeting?

Sabina:                                 00:47:13               We walked in, you know we looked around. We saw, we came, googled, realized it’s somewhere in Babadogo. We walked in there and imagine the first thing you walk in there, we had no prior appointment. We were just going there to ask around. We find the brother, he tells us no, today my brother is not in. Come on this day, we are going to give you a call. They called, we just went, discussed and he was very receptive, he said this is it. I’m going to give it, a shot on it. He said go do this. There are a few modifications we’ve done along the way, since we started the first packaging and all that but it hasn’t been so far away from from this. We just did that, he made his first order, first month he moved things around second month before we knew it. Sometimes he overwhelms us and we appreciate a lot, we’re so thankful to him because even the credit period that we agreed with him, he keeps to it. Today if I ran out of cash flow and they found it’s harvesting, he will not fail to give me the cheque. He’ll give me the check and tell me to go do your harvesting, it will not wait for the 30, 60 days, no, he’ll give me the cheque. So that resolved our cashflow issue.

Sam:                                      00:48:22               Wow. All because of you…

Sabina:                                 00:48:22               We just picked on the right person. He’s a big, big-time supplier. He’s a very smart and intelligent person. I like the approach of, he’s approach of doing things, he’s a risk-taker.

Sam:                                      00:48:37               I think you need to give yourself more credit for how good you are at the chia seeds. You got to two very senior people, one of the biggest supermarkets, one of the biggest distributors and one meeting. You convinced them to…

Sabina:                                 00:48:50               Let me tell you they also, they’ve been in the business for long. They can smell business. They had realized there’s a niche for superfoods because like the chia seed was just coming up, and they had not, and because they’ve been in the business for long, they just knew this the right time for this.

Sam:                                      00:49:09               Were they importing chia seeds from anywhere else?

Sabina:                                 00:49:12               There was no chia seed in the market? There’s only one supplier helping. I used to supply her in bulk and she would pack in her, because she has her own brand. It’s only Healthy U you who was importing it actually they were importing it I think from somewhere in Europe and they were exporting it at a very high price.

Sam:                                      00:49:33               Importing from Europe?

Sabina:                                 00:49:33               Yes

Sam:                                      00:49:33               That person has imported from somewhere else.

Sabina:                                 00:49:36               South America, it was coming from South America that time, yes, exactly. Yes. The logistics, it was becoming very expensive. Yeah.

Sam:                                      00:49:43               Cool. So how much, you now just sell wholesale?

Sabina:                                 00:49:51               Yes, we give the distributor and then he takes, actually even to these neighbours. If you go to these neighbours, you’re going to find chia seeds, there’s another shop here, if you gp, you go to Naivas country-wide, you’re going to find my chia seeds.

Sam:                                      00:50:01               And do you have an account with Naivas or you do it through the distributor?

Sabina:                                 00:50:05               I do it through the distributor. Even with the Aneal and all that, we all channeled them to Raju. The amazing thing is that Raju and Aneal, they had worked before, together before. Yeah.

Sam:                                      00:50:17               So what’s the exact numbers? I’m just interested like what’s rough figures, like how much does it cost to produce? How much does it cost for you to get it in the packet, how much you, what margin are you giving to the distributor, what margin is then gauged to the consumer, roughly what are we looking at?

Sabina:                                 00:50:37               I think I better talk, we do have our recommended retail prices, which we do expect people around to be sticking to, but there’s certain things if you look at very well, they might not work as you would want them to because today you might have your shop here. I know these neighbors will not pay rent the same as they’re their rent maybe in Hurlingham. Might probably be a bit higher, but we do have a certain percentage. We do play around within about 15 to 20% along the chain. I keep my 15% somebody else keeps their 15% and they don’t keep their and everybody feels it’s a fair deal.

Sam:                                      00:51:17               So that means, so how much does a pack of 100 grams cost in a regular Naivas, like what would…

Sabina:                                 00:51:23               This one we’ve recommended 195 shillings. These are a hundred grams? It’s about a 195, that’s the recommended retail price.

Sam:                                      00:51:34               $1.85?

Sabina:                                 00:51:35               Exactly. It’s about $1, 2 dollars, let’s give it $2, yeah.

Sam:                                      00:51:40               And we’re saying the supermarket…

Sabina:                                 00:51:43               They do have their margin there.

Sam:                                      00:51:46               So they’ll take about 15% to 20%?

Sabina:                                 00:51:46               Exactly.

Sam:                                      00:51:47               The distributor another 15%?

Sabina:                                 00:51:47               Exactly. And I also keep my 15%.

Sam:                                      00:51:52               So then it’s like, is, that what it costs for manufacturing?

Sabina:                                 00:51:58               Exactly. For the production and all that.

Sam:                                      00:52:00               Got it, I knew in terms of the supply chain, you know everything from the plants all the way up to putting it in this package, so there’s no other people involved?

Sabina:                                 00:52:11               No.

Sam:                                      00:52:11               Okay.

Sabina:                                 00:52:12               Yeah.

Sam:                                      00:52:12               Right. Okay. Did you think this will continue? This would be the main, if you look at how you’re going to expand the business will you continue to use this channel, you’re going to keep producing. Sell it to the distributor, or will you look for other channels?

Sabina:                                 00:52:29               Let me say for now, we’ve had a bit of good working relationship with DB and Herman Fear, and they have a Countrywide coverage and being a distributor because he does nothing else but distribution, what all these big companies, people who are doing biscuits, people were doing jams, people who are doing pasta and all that. They’re channeling their products to him. And again, having been in the market, he has reasonable muscle to be able to manage the credit part of it, because in the recent past we’ve seen supermarkets that have gone down with people’s finances, he has a muscle to manage that and to cushion you, to cushion basically people. Because for me, I’ll go and get my money from him, whatever business he’s having with the retail chain, he is, he’s able to handle that and because we’ve had very good relationship with him so far, I’m not planning of… And again, I am, the only other way would be I do it myself, it’s a big challenge in investment, I’d need to have a whole logistics center set up for the vehicles, the staff, and all that. Yeah.

Sam:                                      00:53:45               So if you look at kike how you might look to grow the business. What are the, what are the main, how are you thinking about, what are the main areas that you should focus on?

Sabina:                                 00:53:52               I would want to do much more than just the basic product, because the chia seed as it is, there’s nothing added to it. We just harvest, clean it, get it packed. I’d rather want to, I’d want to add even more value to it.

Sam:                                      00:54:06               Okay.

Sabina:                                 00:54:07               That is why we’ve tried to do high energy biscuits, this is what you call high energy biscuits. Yes, yes, yes.

Sam:                                      00:54:16               How does this work?

Sabina:                                 00:54:16               This one, we wanted it to work in such a way that it has lots of chia seeds, such that for people who were not able to consume it the way it is, they can still have the benefits of chia seed probably in their breakfast with a biscuit with reduced sugar because at the end of the day, we don’t want to give you a health product and then we dilute it. Yes, yes. So reduced sugar or we go natural and do it, do use stevia or something like natural honey.

Sam:                                      00:54:41               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 00:54:41               Plus the chia seeds. Even the kids would enjoy that even as a snack.

Sam:                                      00:54:46               Fantastic.

Sabina:                                 00:54:46               Yeah, we do have, we’re working on morning serials. We want to do morning serials that are friendly with our chia seeds.

Sam:                                      00:54:54               What’s this going to look like? So chia morning serial. How is, what’s the value addition that happened to it?? Is it like cornflakes with…

Sabina:                                 00:55:02               Exactly we are saying, the way you have cornflakes, which is also good for you, you can have some twist of a bit of chia seeds in it. Yeah.

Sam:                                      00:55:13               Okay. That sounds good. Currently, most of the, most of the business is happening in East Africa, but you’re beginning to look at exports. You’re doing some export at the moment.

Sabina:                                 00:55:28               We do get those inquiries. People will take like half a ton, one ton, actually, the American took a whole container of 6 tones. Yes. We cannot fail to do any export business. Besides that, there’s one challenge that has been affecting us, especially when it comes to the first one, the market, they prefer the organic. This is, we call it conventional.

Sam:                                      00:55:54               Conventional.

Sabina:                                 00:55:55               But ideally there’s no fertilizer. We basically, it’s a very, chia seed is a very resistant seed. You plant it, as long as you’ve weeded the place very well, you do weeding at the right time, it will grow and germinate without much trouble.

Sam:                                      00:56:10               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 00:56:10               It repels actually some insects and diseases by itself. So ideally, when you’re farming this, we do a put any fertilizers, we do not use any pesticides, herbicides, we don’t do that. But I the end of day for something to be recognized as organic, it has, it must have a certificate from recognized organizations.

Sam:                                      00:56:31               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 00:56:31               Yes. Again, it’s quite an intensive, cost-intensive exercise.

Sam:                                      00:56:38               Really?

Sabina:                                 00:56:38               Yes, it is. Because for you to get that, you’d invest almost like 30,000 USD.

Sam:                                      00:56:45               30,000 USD?

Sabina:                                 00:56:46               Yes. For that season, for you to be able to get actually that certification and you know you have to keep doing that for every other season because you see it might be organic, this time does not necessarily mean I have done it organically. And that is just for the certification. Besides the cost of the farming. Now, they want the Organica certified seed which is very much okay. But even, in fact now this coming season, October you also want to do it organic and keep it, whether somebody has ordered for it or not, because previous what we’ve done is get somebody who’s willing to get the organic and then we do specifically production for them.

Sam:                                      00:57:26               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 00:57:26               Yeah.

Sam:                                      00:57:27               Okay. So maybe just a few more questions. So when it comes to sort of the supply chain, so you’ve got this farm in Western Uganda, does the packaging, what is the packaging format? How is the logistics of physically getting the product from Masinde in Western Uganda through to the distributors in Nairobi? Where is some of the processing?

Sabina:                                 00:58:06               From the farm? The only thing we do is grow, harvest it. We just do the basic cleaning at the farm. This thing. By the time it looks this, there’s a lot of work that has been done to it.

Sam:                                      00:58:16               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 00:58:17               There’s no single husk here. Initially, when we started the farming, we had trouble with the sun because during the dry season, when it is harvest time, it’s windy and there’s dust being blown all over.

Sam:                                      00:58:30               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 00:58:30               So it used to have a lot of small sands, particles of sand. We do have a machine which is based here in Nairobi. That is why we have to bring it, farm clean, get it properly and thoroughly cleaned here before the packaging. There’s a machine also in Uganda, but the person uses it also for other things like sim-sim to, They are also farming a lot of sim-sim, sesame seeds.

Sam:                                      00:58:51               Sesame?

Sabina:                                 00:58:54               Yes. We call it sim-sim here.

Sam:                                      00:58:56               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 00:58:56               They’re also doing large scale farming there. So they use that machine basically to do that so it’s perpetually busy. You can almost have no time to have your chia cleaned there, but because we have a facility, there’s somebody who has invested about a hundred million Kenyan shillings in that equipment, so we’re able to do our cleaning.

Sam:                                      00:59:14               How do you know him, a hundred million dollars.

Sabina:                                 00:59:16               It’s a lot of money. We’re just here depending on that one machine. Yeah, it’s a huge investment, and we appreciate and whenever we walk in there, he’s always ready to do the cleaning for us, yeah, we walked that journey with him. He knew he wanted to invest in that. So as he was shopping around, we did provide him with a lot of the chia seed, for them to do their trials and eventually decide this is the machine they’re going to do their cleaning with.

Sam:                                      00:59:42               Yea.

Sabina:                                 00:59:42               Yeah, and we appreciate a lot.

Sam:                                      00:59:44               Very good.

Sabina:                                 00:59:44               Yeah. So basically after the cleaning, we do the cleaning here in Nairobi, packaging is done here in Nairobi.

Sam:                                      00:59:51               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 00:59:52               Yeah.

Sam:                                      00:59:53               I mean, do you have a warehouse or do you go straight from the packaging?

Sabina:                                 00:59:56               What you do is, because it’s bulky, chia is bulky. Yeah. The same facility where we do our cleaning, once we come with it from Uganda, he, he rents a space. We keep it there, do the cleaning, we keep it there. Then we just pick what he needs to pack. And again, because we are doing bulk packing and giving it to the distributor, we do the packing a week or so. And we do bulk supply to the supplier and he keeps, he has a warehouse, big warehouse, so we do have where we can put our raw materials. After the packing, we take it to the warehouse distributor’s warehouse.

Sam:                                      01:00:30               Have other people started farming chia seed?

Sabina:                                 01:00:34               Yes. Yes. We do have, we do have, actually most of them are Kentans. There’s also another Kenyan who’s doing farming in Uganda.

Sam:                                      01:00:40               Yeah,

Sabina:                                 01:00:41               They’ve also taken up land there, here in Kenya, we also didn’t want, we had already lost so much initially by doing the trials we arm, we lose, we knew the Americans had done quite extensive research on the farming in Uganda. Even in Rwanda, they opted for Uganda, they opted for Rwanda because of the Congo forests, it gives them very good climates. Yeah, so we decided we also don’t have the finances now to go and start researching and see how much omega 3 is going to be in my, when I do it here in Kenya, but as we speak we do know the people who are, who have done trials done trials and then funding it here and there.

Sam:                                      01:01:16               Yeah.

Sabina:                                 01:01:16               Yeah. It is good for business because you can see, when I said, even today, I know there’s somebody who has never heard about chia. Even today as I speak, even I’ve done this for so many years now, but they know even right now I speak. There’s somebody who has never had a boat chia. Go and reach out to that person. There’s somebody, somebody has to reach out. It might not be me.

Sam:                                      01:01:41               Yeah, it could be somebody else. Yeah. What do you think is you about your journey so far? What do you think the biggest lesson you’ve learned?

Sabina:                                 01:01:49               Farming is a very risky business, but it’s also fulfilling.

Sam:                                      01:01:54               Okay.

Sabina:                                 01:01:55               Once you’re able to understand the dynamics of about of activities the farming activities. It’s very fulfilling and more so, the chia seed. Basically, I want to be known for super foods, as we speak, I’d be soon doing black seed. It’s also very nutritional. We do have pumpkin seed. We have things like moringa. These are beneficial to the human body. Today as we speak. We’re dealing with many, many health issues. We have cancer small kids are getting cancer. You find a nine year old with diabetes, you wonder how did this happen when you give them this at times it comes from, you know what, I’m not limping anymore. My arthritis is good. It brings some kind of fulfillment. It gives me Joy and happiness and keeps me going. And honestly I’m passionate about farming. I’m an accountant by professional. But when it comes to, even when I talk about chia, somebody had told me that I go and work for them and, I’m not a marketer but i’m very very passionate about the chia seeds, so I’m able to talk about each with lots of passion. Yes. And the outcome is that chia seeds dance of disappoints never disappoints. Yeah.

Sam:                                      01:02:58               People who are listening at home,. What were the best ways that they can learn more about what you do?

Sabina:                                 01:03:04               Cheia Africa. We do have our website, www.chiaafrica.co.ke 2013 [Inaudible]. We are also available. Our products are available on all super markets or all retail shoes, go to naivas, go to tuskys, go to chandaana, go to zucchini, go to Elixir, you’re going to find us there, even you’re locals now shop around you. You’re going to find chia, Dr. Chia seed products.

Sam:                                      01:03:26               Did you menton, should they just contact you about…

Sabina:                                 01:03:30               You can also contact, If you are internationally out there and you’d want to reach us, we do have a www.chiaafrica.co.ke Africa, and we also do have our contacts there. We do have our telephone numbers for David Kisembo and also for Sabina Karumba.

Sam:                                      01:03:44               Fantastic.

Sabina:                                 01:03:44               Yes.

Sam:                                      01:03:46               Perfect. Cool. I’ll put a link to those in the show notes.

Sabina:                                 01:03:50               Thank you.

Sam:                                      01:03:50               Well Sabina, thanks so much.

Sabina:                                 01:03:52               Thank you so much and I’m glad about this. Yeah.


How Lynk raised $1.3m and evolved from “TaskRabbit for Kenya” to micro-franchising and construction


In this episode, I catch up with Johannes, co-founder of Lynk.

We initially spoke back in late 2016 along with his co-founder Adam. You can listen to the interview by searching for the episode on ‘How Lynk is building a “TaskRabbit for Kenya”‘.

The company has continued to grow over the years, and this time we meet in the new Lynk house/ office. With a new round of funding secured their employee numbers are up to 45 and, well, they need a new place to house people.

Johannes and I dig into how the business has grown and evolved over the past few years.

The company began by offering services to individuals, and whilst this is still part of their platform, a much bigger side of the business that has grown is B2B.

One of the things Lynk now it is effectively a construction company.

They use their roster of workers to effectively and efficiently build factories, as well as do the interior design and facilities management.

Regarding the individual services that are offered, such as beauticians, the model has also evolved into more of a micro-franchise. Practically this means that Lynk defines the services and how they should be delivered, and then give new workers on the platform a start-up loan to purchase the necessary materials and build their business on Lynk.


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Social Media Links

Website: https://lynk.co.ke/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Lynk.Kenya/

Twitter: @Lynk_Kenya

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/lynk-kenya/


Sam:                                      00:07                     Intro.

Sam:                                      02:51                     Cool. So we’re here with Johannes from Lynk.

Johannes:                           02:54                     Hey guys,

Sam:                                      02:54                     Again. So we were last here with your colleague Adam, in the old Lynk house and Adam is away sealing big deals today.

Johannes:                           03:03                     He is, yeah, he’s signing contracts.

Sam:                                      03:05                     Signing contracts, so…

Johannes:                           03:06                     Doing other things.

Sam:                                      03:07                     Doing other things. So we’re having a catch up on what you’re up to. We initially had this chat around the corner in your old house, Lynk’s offices.

Johannes:                           03:18                     Yep. We are still, we were a smaller place then.

Sam:                                      03:20                     Yeah. So you know what I’m saying. So, so today we’re going to sort of, basically get a catch up of where Lynk is, but just sort of to get started, can you give us a brief overview of like what Lynk is what you’re doing at the moment?

Johannes:                           03:30                     Cool. Awesome. So we focus on two things at Lynk. We work with informal sector workers, so these are workers that often work without labor contracts, they form about 80% or so of Kenya’s population, right? People that don’t have access to the protection that comes with the work contract, right, like health insurance and whatever else. So that’s one side of what Lynk does. And then the second side of what Lynk does is technology. So we try to find ways that these informal sector workers can find more reliable work can build a career and can get access to the labor market that normally they’re locked away from.

Sam:                                      04:10                     ‘Fundi,’ That’s the word.

Johannes:                           04:13                     Yeah. So in Kenya I think an important word is ‘fundi’ that’s the general handyman, I guess. So that’s one part, I guess maybe like about 25% or so of our worker population could be described as ‘fundis.’ We, I mean, the word is nice, but what we don’t quite like about the word fundi is that often it implies that people don’t specialize, and we would, we want our worker population to try and specialize, right? So to get really, really good at one thing and then focus on that one thing. So we have fund in our platform, general handyman, but then we also have things, you know, like in segments such as, you know, like beauty. So you can get a, I don’t know, manicurist to come to your house. You could get a hairstylist to come to your house. We have things around you know, like cleaning and cookings, so you can get somebody to house your pins for you, or cooks for you or whatever it is. So any kind of service that’s designed at your house, but then also you know, like even physical things that somebody makes for you. So furniture making, carpentry, tailoring all kinds of diverse services. But then in addition to your informal sector workers who are as independent service providers on our platform, we also bundle products for business customers, so we work with our workers together to do things around facilities management and maintenance, right? So we have a team of key account managers that work with large-scale property management companies to do repairs and maintenance for their property space. And then we also do construction and fit out we call it the boutique construction firm where we have product managers, interior decorators, architects, who are working with our workers to deliver construction projects to our clients. So a diverse set of products.

Sam:                                      05:56                     Yeah, I mean, that’s definitely new because I seem to remember when we first chatting, it was sort of the, the analogy was a task rabbit.

Johannes:                           06:02                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      06:02                     If you need somebody. And we’re saying, you know, most requests are reactive, so, you know, I need some plumbing done…

Johannes:                           06:10                     Something’s broken. I need to fix

Sam:                                      06:11                     Are you saying, is the company taking more of a direction of this sort of bespoke work or yeah, how would you sort of describe it?

Johannes:                           06:20                     So we’re still kind of spread out in different segments. One thing that we did realize is that there is a lot of opportunity on the B to B side, right? So initially we did indeed focus quite heavily on the household side. Now we do a lot of work on the B to B side. So we have two different products for business customers, right? One of them is the maintenance and facilities management product we call that Lynk for business. And then the other one is the construction product. We have realized that there’s a lot of potential in that space construction is a thing in Kenya that is booming, right? So like developing countries usually grow with construction quite heavily. And on the customer side it was always kind of clear that it would take us time, and I guess also money to develop the household customer side, specifically because a lot of behavior, like our product relies on a lot of behavior trends, right? So we need to work in, we’re working in a space where there’s a lot of mistrust, right? So customers don’t trust workers. They think workers are out to, I don’t know, steal from them, lie to them and whatever else. And in many cases that may even be true, right? So they have kind of learned that behavior and we need toit would take us time and it is taking us time to build a brand where people are then trusting us and saying, yes, generally in the informal space, reliability’s an issue quality’s an issue or whatever else. But if I do it with Lynk, I do get a quality guarantee. I get a hundred percent money back guarantee if something goes wrong, right? They will help me when there’s any kind of issue and afterwards I will not be left with a bad taste in my mouth. I will actually be satisfied, happy with the job. And whatever else and I’d come back. So we think on the household, on the customer side and the personal customer side there’s a lot of behavior change that still has to happen for us to be able to access the whole market. I mean, we’re seeing Jumia needing a little bit of time to explain e-commerce and make it work and similarly fast, right? Essentially an eCommerce experience for services. So that’s something that before us didn’t really exist.

Sam:                                      08:10                     So how did the whole B to B side, how did that, that side of the business, how did that emerge? Was that, was it that a cold inquiry came in?

Johannes:                           08:20                     Yeah. It’s kind of like that, so initially I mean it actually emerged kind of at the time when we first spoke. What happened is that businesses came to us and said, you guys have plumbers, right? So like, maybe you can help me with my renovation project where I need a couple of plumbers, I also need some masons or whatever else. And we said, yeah, I guess we can, I mean, it’s not quite how we operate, right? We’re like an automated platform where, that sort of thing doesn’t really fit in. But like, let’s see. Right? So, and then we started hiring project managers to deliver those projects to have all work as coordinated, right? Because if we would just send, I don’t know, three, four different kinds of workers to project site and hope that they will organize it, that obviously wouldn’t work, right? So you need to manage a construction site. So we started hiring a key account managers and project managers would then go to our customers and work with them to deploy our work as effectively. And this product just grew. So we started adding things like design around it so somebody can come to us and can say, I want a design for my new office. And then afterwards I want somebody to build it. So now we have a team that delivers designs and then afterwards a team that delivers the bid out. And since this market isin some ways very difficult and specifically the construction space is maybe not very efficient. We are able to deliver higher quality at a lower price, then whatever the market is able to deliver. So that product has grown tremendously.

Sam:                                      09:42                     We see the design as in, someone will say, right, I’ve got a empty office.

Johannes:                           09:47                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      09:48                     And I kind of want you to do not just construction, but also the creative. How do you source interior designers?

Johannes:                           09:54                     We hired them on like full time on staff. So it’s a normal hiring process. And like many hiring process, it just takes time, right? You need to identify the right talent and whatever. So we have a team sitting right behind us, essentially in the room right behind us that fulltime works on designing and building different…

Sam:                                      10:12                     Okay. So the design, interior designers are in house. They don’t ask. They’re not, it’s not another…

Johannes:                           10:19                     This is not the platform approach. This is designers we have on staff architects we have on staff and project managers, we have on staff. Deploying our workers on construction sites. So from the worker site, this means for them that they get access to project sites that they normally wouldn’t have access to. Right. Because unless, I don’t know, maybe they somehow got lucky or something like that. But it gives them the ability to work on project sites, on days that they’re not busy on our platform.

Sam:                                      10:45                     Yeah, and I imagine as well, if you’ve got like, I actually got no idea how the interior design world works, but I imagine a big part of the thing is, yes, here’s my vision, but actually I need someone to deliver it.

Johannes:                           10:56                     Yup.

Sam:                                      10:56                     So I imagine…

Johannes:                           10:57                     Yeah that happens quite a lot. So I mean, frequent projects that we have is restaurant build outs. So we’ve built quite a lot of restaurants that you may know or may have been at, for example, Bao Box, J’s in Westlands, The Alchemist, we put down some work there. There’s a lot of different places. And in those cases, there’s often quite a strong vision that the customer already has where they say, I want my place to look like this. I want my furniture to be rustic. I want my, I don’t know what and then other types of customers that we have is actually start-up offices. So quite a few startup offices we’ve built out and in those cases, usually customers come to us and they say, I have this space. I want to maximize it for people to be able to work effectively, or I want it to be you know, like cozy and a nice work environment and quiet. So I need, I don’t know, phone booths to be quieted and so on and so on. And then we make a proposal and they say, yeah, I like it. Or they say change these three things. So quite traditional, I would say.

Sam:                                      11:49                     Okay, do you make foosball tables?

Johannes:                           11:53                     I don’t think we’ve made a foosball table yet, but what are you looking for one? We can ask our head of carpentry if he can make a foosball table.

Sam:                                      12:01                     You’re going out and kicking out all these startup offices. That might be something which you have on your list of your things. Okay. So that’s quite cool. Oh, so that’s like part of the business switch which came by, and one of the things which I remember speaking about was that the approach you were taking was to go broad and shallow rather than just try and do one vertical because there just wasn’t the demand for it.

Johannes:                           12:22                     Yup.

Sam:                                      12:23                     Are you seeing that? I mean from the sounds bit, you’ve kind of, you had your whole households and your actually this whole other vertical in the B To B side. Is that kind of how it’s panned out?

Johannes:                           12:32                     Yeah, so I think one thing that has happened is that we discovered the B to B side. I mean we knew it was there before, right? We started experimenting with some customers in the B to B side before when we spoke last. But now we know that there is a lot of potential. Now we’re actively going out and pitching to businesses to take over all of their maintenance.

Sam:                                      12:49                     So what’s the main, so the maintenance side is just that, some sort of recurring business that you’ve got.

Johannes:                           12:54                     Essentially recurring revenues.

Sam:                                      12:55                     And, so that would otherwise have been done by some sort of facilities management company.

Johannes:                           13:01                     There is a lack of supply in the market in this space, right? So this, this market is very inefficient there is a lot of corruption in this market there’s a lack of formal established companies that can deliver at a decent price point, high quality work. So when we go and pitch to property management companies, all of them say, wow, that is awesome. I want it. Can we please sign a contract with you guys? But the operational modality of it is difficult, right? So like we are realizing, and not only in the, in the B to B space, but in other, like in other products as well. The operational logic that we need to apply in many cases is actually it’s quite complicated. Right? So like, just to give you an example I talked about corruption, right? So like in the property management space, a lot of these companies are maintaining their own operations team, right? Their own maintenance teams to do maintenance for all of their commercial properties, right? So if you’re talking about the malls or whatever else and the people who they have on the ground often receive kickbacks from their suppliers, right? So they get paid by their suppliers to give them a contract.

Sam:                                      14:05                     This suppliers being?

Johannes:                           14:07                     The suppliers being the repairmen or companies that deliver work for them, contractors or whatever. So there’s a lot of, you know, like corruption in that space and we obviously don’t have any of that on our platform, which makes us very attractive to the owners of those companies, but maybe makes us not so attractive for the people on the ground. So we have to kind of navigate that in a way, which is interesting, right? Like, that’s not something we had thought about before but clearly the value add is tremendous, right? If we can cut out corruption in that space, deliver higher quality work and for a lower price, it’s obviously a tremendous opportunity.

Sam:                                      14:41                     I see. And what’s like your deliverable? I’m trying to think. So, do you basically say, right, you’ve got a fit, you’ve got a call out charge or you’ve got X. And then basically, let’s say that one of the malls, and they’re like we’ve got a broken pipe. Do you, is it like request comes into Lynk and you’re like, cool, who’s the nearest plumber or…

Johannes:                           15:03                     So we now have fixed prices so we have prices for our customers, right? So that they wouldn’t have to kind of guess what the price would be for that repair or whatever else, right? We can then tell them beforehand with quite high degree of certainty what the price would be. Right? So there’s certain rates for labour there are certain rates for specific types of materials and so on. And obviously there has to be variations depending on the complexity and so on. But we can usually tell, give them an indication beforehand. The way that we usually work is that or the value addition of us is that we send key account managers to these properties and we give them a regular report, right? So you get an inventory at the beginning when you sign up with us where we say we recommend these five things to be done. Here’s a respect of quote, write it across such and such. And then all they have to do is click and it will get confirmed and we will do it and then we will send them at the end of the week a report of what has been done, what has not been done, what else has been discovered that should be done? Right? So like maybe in the, while we were doing repairs, we discovered that you know, like one of the wash rooms has been leaking and it needs to be fixed as well, or something like that. Right? So good communication, consistent updates, notifications about what is happening and transparency also about like, what are you paying for What? Right? So like pictures being taken on site and embedded into the report. And then the transparency of what kind of money flows where I think is something that people find quite attractive.

Sam:                                      16:20                     That’s really cool. Okay. And did you have any, I suppose yeah, you mentioned you sort of were thinking this might happen one day. This is just something which I, when I first thought Lynk I was thinking yeah, like someone have a, if you’re going to have like a beautician come around or something. So it’s quite cool how it’s nowadays like a full on facilities managing company.

Johannes:                           16:43                     But let’s say a facilities management company with a technology component.

Sam:                                      16:47                     Okay, okay, so that’s that one of the things that you were quite, you personally were quite excited about, I remember, was all the data that you were collecting. So I can only imagine it’s gone. There’s more data. What are some of the cool stuff you do now?

Johannes:                           17:04                     Just to quickly explain this, my background is in data science and actually Adam and I met I think when I was running a data science meetup ages ago and that has since gone to sleep cause I didn’t have the time to keep it up anymore. But so that’s my background and that’s why I’m super excited about what we’re doing. Right. We’re learning pieces of information, data points about a space where there just isn’t a lot of data, right? Like there’s a lot of economic activity but there just is not a lot of data about what these workers are doing, what they’re earning, how they’re spending their day, and what else they can be doing. So super exciting. So we are collecting very, very interesting data. And we actually had I would say the first serious use of our data has been a loan. So we wrote out a loan product together with and supported by a company called BFA, bankable frontiers association, who’s been helping us to develop this. So they approached us actually and said, you guys are sitting on this worker data, why don’t you do something with it? And we said, yeah, great, we’d love to we’re going to focus on other things first, but I mean, you guys have got the expertise, so please work with us and we work together. And what we’ve come up with is one, a, I guess regular loan product where, because we understand what our workers are making, right? They’re making their money through our platform, we can more easily credit score them and it’s more reliable information than just transaction information that people have on their phone, right? Because, and also it’s kind of collateralized, right? It goes through us. So at the moment where it is generated, we can withhold a certain percentage and send the rest of the workers. It’s quite attractive to the workers because we are sending them jobs, which is additional income, right? So they don’t have to actually send us cash, right? It gets withheld at the moment when they’re generating cash where they’re making income. And it’s not fed so strongly as if you have to actively send money back to, to one of those something else. So we have a traditional product where we said, okay, who is eligible for a loan? Okay, you have to have certain levels of activity, do we have enough data about you also that so that you understand the value of the platform enough and you know, like we don’t accidentally incentivize you to leave the platform because we have given you a loan or something like that. And that worked quite decently, I would say. Like it wasn’t, it wasn’t glorious. But then what was glorious is that at the same time we’ve changed operational modality a little bit. So what we said is we want to be more heavily involved in what our workers are doing. Back when we spoke Sam, we actually had a quoting platform, right? Where all work were Auctioning essentially, right? They were, they were bidding for jobs. They were giving quotes and customers choose, chose who they worked with. We changed this, right? We said we want more, we want to be more directly involved in the value that our workers are delivering. Right? We want to define better what it is that is expected, right? If you’re a beautician like what kind of materials do you have to have? What kind of prices do you charge and what kind of cut quality expectation does the customer then get in return? Well, to better define this so that the customer experience would go up, but then also we made it a lot easier for our workers, right? If we define more or less what the work is that they’re doing, it is less hard. There’s less ambiguity for workers to have to figure things out, right? It used to be that people had to have quite a lot of experience with pricing and other things to be able to participate on the platform and that’s not the case anymore. Now it’s, we have an onboarding day essentially where a lot of things are explained and the products that people can deliver through our platform. I explained, and if you do have the right vocational background, you can already join the platform, right? You don’t have to have, I don’t know, five years of work experience to be able to join. And now together with the loan program, we’re actually able to give people start-up packs into jobs, right? We can say as a beautician you have to have these five colors of nail Polish, its more like 20, actually of nail Polish. And then, and those are the ones that we know lead to high customer satisfaction, right? Whereas, you know, in the status quo, before it used to be the case that people kind of had to guess, right? Workers had to gues., I’m a beautician, what kind of nail Polish do I bring to a job so that the customer gets what they want? And if they guess wrong, the customer is unhappy, right? You lost a customer right there.

Sam:                                      20:56                     And they’ve bought, and they’ve spent cash on…

Johannes:                           20:59                     Exactly, and they’re carrying it around through the city, right? Like, it’s not easy and so on. So but we know, right? So we have this understanding from our platform. So we give our workers a start pack. We start them off with a loan, which might sound a little bit crazy, but we start them off with a loan but because we are able to consistently give work to them, we actually don’t see other, right. We don’t see workers taking this and running away and instead of just giving them money, we’re giving them something to work with and then we’re giving them a means of generating income using that starter pack which is super attractive and the repayment rates are through the roof. Like, we have not lost almost any money on this. Right. We have not had any cases of workers not repaying. We had a couple of cases where we actually like two cases, where we, deactivated workers and that’s the reason why they weren’t able to repay, right. Because something went wrong or they weren’t able to follow the, our quality guidelines or things like that. So that is an awesome non-profit because it’s repaid just at the moment where workers are generating income. And it is not disincentivizing them from generating that income. Right. So like that is, that’s been working super well.

Sam:                                      22:02                     Wow. Is that money coming from your balance sheet?

Johannes:                           22:04                     We had had support so we have been given up to $100,000 from, I think ultimately it was MasterCard foundation but it came via DDD, digital divide data, and was managed by BFA.

Sam:                                      22:18                     We always get the acronym.

Johannes:                           22:20                     Exactly but again, like it wasn’t only about the money, it was also about these guys having a lot of experience, being interested in platform businesses and marketplace businesses, who were able to offer additional value add services and financial services and they approached us and said, you guys have to do this, like this, is the work.

Sam:                                      22:38                     You have to do this, you have to take this money.

Johannes:                           22:39                     I said, okay, fine. I was super excited and it was very successful and we’re using it everyday. So we, we built tech into our platform that we otherwise maybe wouldn’t have built yet and would’ve spent more time making do without, and now we have this product and it’s working awesomely and obviously our customers feel it right, because they get services delivered to them by workers who have the right tools and materials to deliver them well.

Sam:                                      23:03                     Yeah, because it’s really sort of I mean one of the things we spoke, I think I remember us talking about, was like the analogy to maybe Etsy or like or something and this idea of like, it’s quite interesting how you basically said yes, you know, there is free markets and Everyone, anyone’s free to do anything. But really we know that if you make a bench with these dimensions, it’s going to sell.

Johannes:                           23:26                     Yep. It’s quite similar. So what we’re talking about now is, I guess, or what I just said. Where I said that the operation with LGS changed a little bit. We sometimes explain this as micro franchising of services, right? So where maybe Coca-Cola used to give unemployed people some merchandise and a small cart to be able to sell Coca-Cola, we can give a prepackaged service to be delivered to customers for anybody who has the right kind of vocational training, which in Kenya is quite a lot of people actually and they can then deliver it and the likelihood of it going well is decently high. Right? So it’s, we call it, we like to call this micro-franchisees of circumstance.

Sam:                                      24:01                     Okay. And so does that mean they’re kind of going under the Lynk brand?

Johannes:                           24:04                     Yep, exactly.

Sam:                                      24:05                     Yeah. So that’s…

Johannes:                           24:07                     Often part of the startup pack in many cases actually a uniform. Right. So, because it makes such a big difference. If you are a beautician and you are, you know, like dressed in a uniform, you look so much more professional than if you’re just coming in your regular everyday clothes, maybe you’re smelling a little bit and so on.

Sam:                                      24:22                     So you’ve got Lynk deodorant as well?

Johannes:                           24:23                     Lynk deodorant, we don’t have. We need to work on that, that’s actually a great idea.

Sam:                                      24:29                     Okay. So what have been some of the, some of the projects in the last few years that you found really exciting? So maybe ones that we’ve not spoken about yet?

Johannes:                           24:39                     Yeah, I mean we had a, a lot of them, A big one was definitely the loan program, which is very interesting. I think a big game changer is also the realization that it is better for us to provide more clarity to our workers, more guidance to all workers. Right? So on one hand, on the one hand somebody might say you know, like we are restricting a little bit the choice that workers have on our platform. But the flip side of that is we’re making it a lot easier for people, right? They don’t need to think about the choices and they don’t need to successfully choose which choice would give them work and which choice maybe doesn’t. Right. But instead. We’re making it look easy for people. So that was a big, big change.

Sam:                                      25:19                     Yeah.

Johannes:                           25:19                     Then I think something that we discovered that is very interesting is and we don’t yet have a project to like change things at Lynk, but what we discovered was very interesting is that there is a lot of synergies between our projects business and the B to B side of our business, right? So when we’re talking to business customers, we’re saying let us take over your maintenance. The project team often comes in first and says, and builds out somebody’s office or somebody is, I don’t know, build somebody a factory or warehouse or something like that. And then afterwards they able to say, look, we built this out for you. What did you know that our company also has a maintenance service that you can subscribe to. Here’s a contract you can just sign here, done. And that is super interesting, right? These synergies that we now discover within. You mentioned earlier, right? We set ourselves up horizontally, but shallowly. I think the horizontal aspect of the platform is now showing its strength. They were able to find these synergies between the different products and serve as household customers, business customers, and then people who want projects, construction projects, built. And often there’s a lot of overlap between those services that we initially were a little bit worried about. Like we thought there might be but we weren’t quite sure turned out there is, so we have a couple of projects around, well, I mean we’ll start, a couple of projects are on, bringing those together.

Sam:                                      26:38                     How many, how many workers do you have now?

Johannes:                           26:39                     1,300 active, I don’t know the exact number. 1,350-Ish active. And then through the lifetime of the platform, maybe some 5,000 that we signed up but then maybe left the platform or, or we removed.

Sam:                                      26:54                     Sure. Active is has done a project in the last 30 days?

Johannes:                           26:59                     Has done work and can do, can continue to do work. Work will be sent their way is what this means. Okay. So active means the platform will send them, when a customer makes a request, the platform will send them that request.

Sam:                                      27:10                     Okay. What might cause a worker to be deactivated?

Johannes:                           27:14                     So, I mean, first of all, we don’t charge our workers anything, right? So joining the platform is completely free. What we do in return is we tell our workers, okay, you’re joining for free, right? We’re sending you work. So you must follow our quality standards. And our quality standards are one, two, three, and it depends on categories. Right? Every category has slightly different ones, but one big one for example is around timeliness, right? So we don’t, we don’t want our workers to be late. If you have to be late as a worker, as long as you communicate that fact there will not be any kind of consequence. However, if you don’t, there will be consequences, right? So then when you say, okay, you got warning, number one, strike number one if you get the second strike at some point you get temporarily deactivated and should you get the third strike, you get deactivated. And we communicate those. So like initially when we set up these quality standards we maybe weren’t transparent enough to all workers, right? So like we assumed if we send a message out to our workers who really understood. But now we actually handing them out, right? We’re telling everyone activity when we onboard them actually even several times what those are and why they’re important and why they make a difference and then we write them down and hand them to them. And it is quite well understood but those would be the reasons why we would deactivate a worker. Whereas it’s like if you do something bad, if you steal, obviously. Right.

Sam:                                      28:22                     Yeah. Okay. And was, was there always this onboarding process?

Johannes:                           28:26                     Yeah, so we have extended it. We started kind of without it. We never had workers who can register just without seeing us. So you had to kind of come and we create a profile with you we explain to you what, what you can and cannot do on the platform and so on. But it used to be that it was maybe like, let’s say one hour or two hour process in the very early days, right. Where we just kind of create a profile, that’s it. And then we hope that the marketplace nature of the business, will sort out, will weed out the bad actors and we promote the good actors and so on. Nd that is maybe where we are a little bit naive. I think in the early days, I came from Europe and I was like, let’s build a technology platform. But it turns out one has to be quite heavily operationally involved in order to make sure that some things work well, but you also have to immerse yourself to really understand what kind of issues are workers dealing with, right? Because we need, we realized, and maybe this isn’t so similar to other startup stories, that we have to immerse ourselves quite deeply and involve ourselves quite deeply with the work that all workers are doing, right? We have to really dive into the value chain, understand exactly what the value chain is and get involved at every aspect. Fix things that are broken, promote things that are working right. So like really, really deeply get involved in it. And that, that was a big realization. And that that’s what has changed I guess since maybe about like two or three years ago.

Sam:                                      29:34                     Yeah. What’s your favorite category on Lynk?

Johannes:                           29:37                     My personal favorite category. My favorite category is not doing so well. My favorite category has always been floor sending and vanishing, wooden floor repair.

Sam:                                      29:47                     Okay.

Johannes:                           29:47                     It is a very high value category, right? So like wooden floor when you sand and vanish it, that can cost like $2,000 or something like that. Unfortunately, people aren’t investing a lot in the wooden floors in Kenya. And secondly it’s just like if something goes wrong with the wooden floor, it’s very bad.

Sam:                                      30:02                     Yeah.

Johannes:                           30:02                     So we have very, very few requests there. That is my personal favorite, I think currently it’s actually deactivated even because we didn’t have enough good wooden floor senders and Varnishers. That’s my personal one.

Sam:                                      30:16                     The Lynk house does have wooden floors.

Johannes:                           30:20                     They have not been managed by us. I mean, we would have to like throw everybody out and tell them the floors are repaired, you can’t work today and then have them come back a couple of days later.

Sam:                                      30:29                     You could work in the garden actually.

Johannes:                           30:31                     Yeah, that’s true. It’s not big enough, everyone, I don’t think. Anyway. So like the, the most successful category. So one, one very successful category is a furniture making. Right. So, a lot of both like personal customers, households come to us for the furniture that they, that they want, right? Like let’s say somebody moves to Kenya and they need to furnish the house and it’s often quite nice to have something made for you as opposed to, I don’t know, buying imported furniture. So that category is growing quite nicely and is quite big. It also has a lot of synergies with the projects business and with the…

Sam:                                      31:01                     Would you call it like Lynk, soft landing or something like…

Johannes:                           31:04                     Exactly. You’re right, you get a massage, then you get like your furniture delivered the next day and you have a caterer come in the evening. Yeah, we should definitely do that. Packaging is something I haven’t done enough yet. We should do more.

Sam:                                      31:15                     Yeah. All right. So just a little bit about the company. So how many employees, how many Lynk employees?

Johannes:                           31:21                     Do you know what? I don’t know. I’ve lost track. I think it is 45.

Sam:                                      31:25                     Wow.

Johannes:                           31:25                     We’ve gone enough in the last few days.

Sam:                                      31:27                     Last few days?

Johannes:                           31:30                     So many people have been joining. Wait, we raised a lump sum, So…

Sam:                                      31:32                     Okay.

Johannes:                           31:32                     We had some money to spend. Not like I think a big difference is we’re now hiring more senior people, which, which is a lot of relief to us. There’s now people in the company who are a lot smarter than us, a lot better than us at the things that they’re doing and the things that they’re focusing on which is a big relief, right? We had to, for a while, be the smartest in the room and that’s a lot of burden. And now people are better than us, which is just great.

Johannes:                           31:56                     Yeah.

Johannes:                           31:56                     So I think about 45 people and we would like to grow to somewhere in the range of 70. However, we cannot do this in this house. We have to move office.

Sam:                                      32:07                     Okay, so, and so, yeah, I mean, I guess related, how has this whole funding been for the last like few years?

Johannes:                           32:17                     Very difficult. So I mean, we’ve been quite good at it to be honest, but still it took us quite a while to close our current round. We, I mean we all know the stories where people speak to hundreds of investors and before they can close their rounds or sell their companies, so I don’t know what it was seven of us. We had, we had lots and lots of conversations with lots and lots of different people. I think it was like, while it costs a lot of time and a lot of energy and a lot of head-space and I think it helped us a lot to really refine exactly what it is that we’re working on, right? Like to really understand given the criticism that we sometimes receive and given the feedback that we sometimes receive, really refine, like this is the right thing to focus on because we’ve gotten all of this feedback and we can distill it and make ourselves be smarter as a result of it. So it was quite a nice process.

Sam:                                      33:05                     Okay. Well what do you think was the clincher?

Johannes:                           33:09                     I think the clincher is has been that we have interesting traction to show in almost all of them. I think they serve different purposes for different business units, and I think it has been quite attractive for a lot of the investors that we are so active in the business side.

Sam:                                      33:27                     So, basically you raised a bunch of money a few years ago, and that’s kind of just been seeing you through all that. How is it, how’s that be doing in terms of operational profitability, things like that.

Johannes:                           33:37                     Operational profitability. The tough questions. No, I mean we’re very much a marketplace business and, and it is a well understood by us and our investors that those need time to grow. Right? Like you, you can usually not expect to just live off your margins. We do have an opportunity for this, right? Like in theory we could say, let’s scale up our margins a little bit and let’s scale down our team and we’d be profitable but we are not interested in running a small economy, right, like Adam and I both want to build a big business that has the opportunity to scale across Africa and operate in a similar model in different countries. So what we’re doing now is really figuring out how growing in a market looks like for us. Right? So like figuring out the commercial side a little bit better, refining, for example, our business product, which isn’t fully defined, right? Like we’re still in the process of really understanding what exactly is the best value proposition that we can offer. There’s a couple of things that we think might be it, but we need to validate them with our customers, right? We can’t just go out there and say, this is what we think is the best value proposition and afterwards it was wrong. And then in the next round would be around expansion, right? So we will maybe towards the end of this round we will maybe have boots on the ground in a second market, but probably not.

Sam:                                      34:49                     So just Kenya.

Johannes:                           34:51                     At the moment just Kenya.

Sam:                                      34:51                     Just Nairobi?

Johannes:                           34:53                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      34:54                     Just Nairobi.

Johannes:                           34:54                     I mean our project team is active across Kenya. So we, we’ve built houses, we’ve built, we have done projects in Kisumu and in other places.

Sam:                                      35:03                     Yeah.

Johannes:                           35:03                     So we are active across Kenya a little bit. We do have even a, what we’d like to call a special project that is spanning multiple Kenyan counties, but the marketplace, the platform is only active in Nairobi.

Sam:                                      35:15                     Okay.

Johannes:                           35:16                     And most of OUR workers are here.

Sam:                                      35:17                     Yeah. Okay. So how much do you actually want to scale. Like it might be, I don’t know, not about straightforward, I’m thinking it might not be that straightforward in order to scale, let’s say you just go to Rwanda.

Johannes:                           35:31                     Yeah, we’d have to set up operations in the new places. Right. So I mean, in terms of the platform and the market place, it’s not crazy, right? Because what, a lot of the work that we have been doing in the last few years, it’s actually understanding exactly what are the services that we’re offering them. How are they exactly defined? And what I told you earlier about the micro franchising, right? We really understand what is a good definition for a product that a beautician might offer. And taking that and packaging and repackaging it for Rwanda isn’t very difficult to do. So what you have to do in Rwanda then is find enough workers, which is honestly at this point we don’t need crazy amounts of workers so like given the beautician example, a beautician can do four, five, six jobs in a day, right? And that, if you translate that into monthly numbers, you can do something like 80 to a hundred jobs and that’s just one person. So when you start setting up in a specific location, you don’t need crazy numbers. It’s not, it’s we really need an operations team. We need brand presence and we need our tech to be translated for different occasions. That’s kind of it.

Sam:                                      36:35                     Is it a safe assumption that the beautician service will be the same in Rwanda as it will in Kenya? Right. Are you gonna, or is it safe to say people like to have orange nail Polish and stuff?

Johannes:                           36:47                     Yeah, I mean obviously there’s cultural differences and those kinds of things to take care of. But I think the principle is the same. Right? And if its not polishing your nails then it’s cutting your hair and if it’s not cutting your hair then it’s, I don’t know, cooking something. I don’t know what but like the services aren’t so different. They are not even so different if you compare them to Europe, if you compare them to India, if you compare them to other places. So it’s not crazy. But obviously there’s cultural nuances to take care of. And that’s specifically true when we’re talking about, you know like completely different places. Like where exactly, for example, one market that we find quite attractive is Egypt, right? And then language is different. There’s other cultural nuances to take care of, right. To like, especially delivering, I don’t know, beauty services and things like that. Right. So that is a little more complicated but it’s not crazy. I think the translation of service to other places, is probably the smaller problem to deal with.

Sam:                                      37:33                     Cool. Okay. So there’s the, most of the heavy lifting has been done. In fact you’ve done it for this one market so once there will be some refinement, yeah.

Johannes:                           37:42                     Obviously there’s refinement and I think it is always complicated to have a multinational company that you’re running right with operation teams in different locations and stuff like that. But it’s probably not that we have to redefine whatever Lynk is doing in a different market completely. And they’re probably be quite similar.

Sam:                                      37:56                     Cool. All right. Have you started feeling competition from other companies?

Johannes:                           38:01                     Not at all. I mean this is both a blessing and a curse, right? So this market is difficult. Working with informal sector workers is hard. Asking them to be on time, it’s hard, right? And we think we have quite a good handle on it where like we think we understand the quality that we are actually delivering quite well. We think for somebody to catch up to that level, it’s going to be hard. Right? Like we’re even not very worried of international players coming in, right? If somebody said they want to set up the service market place in Kenya, we’d say ‘karibu,’ good luck and then maybe afterwards they’d buy us because they realize what we’ve built.

Sam:                                      38:35                     Is that still a plausible exit strategy for an international company to come in and buy you Lynk?

Johannes:                           38:42                     Yeah. So in terms of exit strategies, there’s a couple of things that we think could be interesting. I mean, primarily we want to be a scale game, right? Like primarily, we want to build something massive and then hopefully realize opportunities because we’re big but I think services actually synergize quite nicely with a couple of companies that are expanding quite heavily in the markets around us. Right? So like if you’re talking about, I don’t know, motorbike delivery businesses, so stuff like that, or motorbike taxi businesses or stuff like that. And in Southeast Asia you have Go-Jek and others who have both services and deliveries and taxi businesses. And the reason they synergize so well is because for us, a big part of our costs, of our workers costs is transport. Right? If you, if you keep them very busy, then labor doesn’t have to be crazy. And materials is obviously substantial but maybe not, not crazy either. And transport then starts being substantial. Whereas I think margins is one of the big problems that most delivery or taxi companies have, right? Like margins are low in that space. There’s a lot of competition. So there’s probably an interesting opportunity there. We think eCommerce companies often find it attractive to look into services. Amazon has Amazon home services and in Asia, I think in Asia, I’m not sure where they have it. So there’s a couple of opportunities like that that would be interesting.

Sam:                                      39:58                     The reason being is that they’ve got the customer.

Johannes:                           40:01                     Exactly.

Sam:                                      40:01                     What, you know, there’s only so many electrical items that a customer’s gonna want to buy.

Johannes:                           40:06                     Yeah. So then how do you expand the value of that customer? Maybe send them some services. Yeah. We think that could be interesting. Then what I think is very interesting is that we are one of the few companies that are offering products made in Kenya made by the informal sector specifically. And that maybe goes nicely with e-commerce as well, right? If you’re saying, okay, we have furniture made in Kenya and most eCommerce businesses in Kenya are actually just importing stuff from China and selling it here. Maybe there’s a story there as well, right. Where we say we have local guys make local furniture at high quality and decent prices. I think there’s something to be explored there as well.

Sam:                                      40:40                     Yeah. Very cool. Alright. We’ll just do a few more questions. So we last spoke just under three years ago. If we were to speak in another three years, what would you recon, I imagine headquarters would still be in Nairobi, I guess.

Johannes:                           40:58                     Yeah, very likely. I haven’t actually thought about headquarters so much then about expansion markets.

Sam:                                      41:02                     Yeah.

Johannes:                           41:03                     So in three years I would say hopefully we have expanded to let’s say two other markets, we will start thinking about really scaling this business out. We will have saturated the, not saturated, hopefully. I mean, hopefully the market is bigger than that, but we will have started properly owning market share in Nairobi. And we will have gone to two other countries.

Sam:                                      41:28                     Okay. So that’s not like you speak some companies and they’re like boom, we’re going to be in 50 countries in the next year it’s still, it’s a bit of a slow burner.

Johannes:                           41:37                     I mean in three years that’s not a crazy amount of time. Right. So like in three years. So we really do want to spend the next two years in a row. Right. So like as I said, maybe we’ll have boots on the ground in the second market, but only some boots. Right. Not many boots. And then you do need some time to figure out how exactly you’re going to do this. I think it might actually be prudent to take it one at a time in the beginning as opposed to just expanding like all over the place. We do think that most of the conclusions that we’re drawing here in Kenya will apply for other markets as well and we will most likely choose larger markets than Nairobi as our expansion markets. So probably in terms of like market opportunity and potential, those will be quite attractive.

Sam:                                      42:15                     Okay.

Johannes:                           42:15                     So we should also be fast to go to those markets to make sure that we have some kind of first move advantage.

Sam:                                      42:23                     Nice. And when you run out of money you’re gonna have to like raise some more money.

Johannes:                           42:27                     We have to raise more money.

Sam:                                      42:28                     Okay. I’m sure by then you’ll have lots of lovely examples of like how it’s all…

Johannes:                           42:34                     Of course.

Sam:                                      42:35                     And what’s been like, what projects or thing are you most looking forward to in the next 12 months?

Johannes:                           42:43                     You mean like special project? Like things that we want to do in addition, like the loan product, other things? Yeah, I think something that I’m quite excited about and that could offer opportunities as well. I think it would be the inclusion of a wallet in Lynk. I think that’s what we see some of the other marketplaces do, especially in Southeast Asia, right? Like Go-Jek is maybe an example, right? Where they expand the value that their platform has by going into financial services.

Sam:                                      43:10                     These are the value for the worker?

Johannes:                           43:12                     So this will be better for the worker but potentially also for the customer. So we already have a semblance of that. Right? So like customers can hold a balance with Lynk just because they, you pay us money and then use that money to buy services. Right. So yeah, it’s obviously not fully your wallet. There’s also legal question to be answered when you really want to have a woman and stuff like that. On the workers side, I think this is special especially interesting because I think savings is something that the workers really need and usually don’t have in this market. Right. Informal sector workers struggle with savings specifically, right? Like no one says something they find very interesting, but what they actually do need a savings. So you’re going to say, cause I mentioned the payment’s coming quite they coming lumped regularly. Yeah. And l umps. Exactly. And then you don’t have anything for a week and then you have something again and then and with Lynk, yes, we provide you more consistent opportunities. Right. In the more heavily utilized categories. It’s like three, four jobs a day. Right. So that’s, that’s nice but imagine if you can say, okay, I want to keep 5% of all of the money that comes to me through Lynk in a savings account. Right? Like what does that mean for, I don’t know, like a single mother or something like that to be able to save put it, lock it away. Right. So that it doesn’t get touched. I think that has the potential for huge impact. And I think it would make the platform a lot more valuable. So that’s something I’m excited about. I mean, the biggest thing to be excited about right now is scaling out, like starting actually marketing activities, right? Like commercial deep, being commercially more active and present than we have been to date, we were cash constraint until now and now we can actually do interesting stuff. It’ll take us about three, four months to get ready for these kinds of activities. But we’re super excited about it.

Sam:                                      44:40                     Very cool. And as before people can go to lynk.co.ke.

Johannes:                           44:45                     Yes.

Sam:                                      44:46                     Do you ever get called up, like is there an lynk.co.ke, do you ever get called out by LynkedIn’s back in the funny name? What does he wanna know?

Johannes:                           44:53                     I mean people do get confused quite a lot. That’s true. We don’t get called out. I think there is a product by Microsoft called Link L. I. N. K. so people often confuse it with that…

Sam:                                      45:02                     There are worst associations for people’s house.

Johannes:                           45:03                     But just to be very clear guys, you should go to lynk.co.ke.

Sam:                                      45:07                     Is there an app?

Johannes:                           45:09                     There’s also an app. We, so resource constraints, we have to take it off the play store because it fell behind and features. So like we adjusted, we expanded on the feature set that we had and we just at some point said, okay, we can’t offer net that has less, has fewer features than the website. That’s kind of embarrassing. We’re, sometime this year.

Sam:                                      45:29                     Sometimes this year.

Johannes:                           45:29                     Sometime this year, you haven’t even started working on it. There’s so many things to do.

Sam:                                      45:34                     But yeah, as a first protocol, lynk.co.ke. Okay.

Johannes:                           45:37                     That’s it.

Sam:                                      45:37                     Fantastic. Awesome. Well Johannes, thanks so much.

Johannes:                           45:39                     Awesome. Was a pleasure.


Why Zamgoat believes goats are the next big meat in Zambia (and the world), with Paul Nyambe


In this second episode from Zambia, I speak with an entrepreneur who has found his niche and is fully focused on it.

Paul Nyambe grew up farming goats in rural Zambia. He and his family were unable to earn money from the animals which always struck Paul as frustrating.

Years later he built a career in food sales, specifically ice cream, which meant had relationships with large supermarkets and restaurants.

One noticeable thing missing from the menus and shelves was goat meat.

In 2012, Paul quit his job and started Zamgoat.

The vision is simple: to sell high-quality goat meat to the public.

In our conversation, we talk through various parts of the business such as the profit margin on a goat, the barriers to entry for getting a goat in supermarket aisles, and the reasons why Paul is so positive that goat products are the next big thing for consumers around the world.

We also chat about the potential for more value creation in goat products, such as making rugs from goat skins and various other products.

If, on the off chance, you happen to know someone who’d be interested in advising Paul in this regard, please let me know via the contact form.


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Social Media Links

Website: http://www.zamgoatgroup.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/zamgoat

Twitter: @zamgoat

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/zamgoat-products-ltd


Sam:                                      00:07                     Intro.

Sam:                                      02:35                     Cool. So we’re here today with Paul from Zamgoat. Paul, welcome to the show.

Paul:                                      02:40                     Thank you so much. Sam

Sam:                                      02:42                     So to get started, can you tell us a little bit about you and a bit about Zamgoat?

Paul:                                      02:46                     Okay, so like Sam you’ve put it, I’m Paul Nyambe and I’m the founder and CEO of Zamgoat. I was born in the Southern part of Zambian, I currently live in Lusaka and I started Zamgoat in 2012 and I’ve been actively running it since since then.

Sam:                                      03:02                     Very cool. And we should note that you’ve got a bit, you’re recovering from a flu at the moment, so your voice is not…

Paul:                                      03:08                     So my voice is a bit, a little bit Husky.

Sam:                                      03:11                     And from the name. So I mean Zamgoat, you’re in the business of goats in Zambia.

Paul:                                      03:18                     Exactly, exactly. Yeah. So we’re in the business of goat processing and distribution. Essentially what we do is we aggregate goats, we do not keep our own goats. So we buy goats largely from small holder farmers. We then process and distribute goats to get the emerging urban consumer base in Zambia, initially starting out with the Lusaka urban market.

Paul:                                      03:41                     Very cool.

Paul:                                      03:42                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      03:42                     Great stuff. Okay. So you so I’m sure there are lots of things that we can talk about both on the sort of supply and the demand side. I’m interested though, how did you spot this opportunity? How did the business sort of, what’s the founding story of the business?

Paul:                                      03:56                     I guess so, it started from a combination of two realities of my life, one of which is my rural upbringing. Growing up in a village set up as a child and keeping goats, my family keeping goats, with no economic impact whatsoever on our lives, you know, but just for village prestige, like any other villager would do at the time. Reason being or why there was no economic baring, more or less through our good keeping activities was because of lack of access to a readily available market. So later on, growing up in the city and working the city as a country sales person for, you know, a food company in Lusaka. You know, my experience with that, working experience, exposed me to a gap in the market. I used to do mostly with supermarkets, restaurants and hotels in supplying out food orders at the time for the company that I used to work with. But then I observed there was no goat meat sold in those supermarkets. And goat was also a rare feature in most restaurants. I mean most restaurants and hotels in Lusaka, whereas on the other hand, again, I’m an ardent consumer of goat. I love goat meat. So that, you know, opened up my eyes to the opportunity and that’s how Zamgoat started in July, 2012.

Sam:                                      05:18                     Very cool. What was the other food you were selling?

Paul:                                      05:21                     So my last job before I started Zamgoat, we used to, I used to work for a company that used to deal in ice cream.

Sam:                                      05:28                     Okay.

Paul:                                      05:28                     So yeah, I’m a former ice cream sales person. I used to sell ice cream.

Sam:                                      05:35                     At times, did you get paid to try out new ice cream? I mentioned that when there was, when you were selling ice cream, you had, you were given free samples and things?

Paul:                                      05:45                     Yeah, sure. So yeah, we would give out free samples to try to our customers during our field sales.

Sam:                                      05:53                     Okay. So basically you went from ice cream to goat?

Paul:                                      05:56                     I went from ice cream to goat cause that was my last job.

Sam:                                      05:58                     Yeah. Very cool. Okay. Right. So what should, so let’s start on the let’s start on the demand side.

Paul:                                      06:04                     Yup.

Sam:                                      06:04                     Okay. So the, you were saying that the supermarkets, restaurants, hotels weren’t selling goats. Is that because the consumer, the end consumer wasn’t demanding it or was, was it because they just didn’t have a reliable way to get on, to get it on the menu?

Paul:                                      06:22                     At that time there was a gap in the supply side. There was no company that was processing and you know, making goat available in those…

Sam:                                      06:30                     So people were still wanting it.

Paul:                                      06:33                     People would still want goat but at that time, I think the only source where people could, consumers could get goat meat from was from the informal market setups and these mostly are open markets, you know, setups that have a lot of litter and hygiene issues with them.

Sam:                                      06:51                     Yeah.

Paul:                                      06:51                     So that to a large extent tended to, you know, limit the uptake of goat among consumers.

Sam:                                      06:57                     Got it. Is goat quite, is it something which is eaten across Zambia or is it just particular regions that sort of eat it?

Paul:                                      07:06                     Goat meat is eaten right across Zambia and now, more consumers ought to actually love to eat goat more than any other meat products. And this, I think can be attributed to the health and nutritional benefits and values that you know, are associated with goat meat as compared to other red meat.

Sam:                                      07:26                     Such as what?

Paul:                                      07:29                     One of which, I think the key health benefit for goat is it’s lean, you know, it’s leanness, It’s a lean meat and that means it poses less challenges that associated with that cholesterol, you know, cholesterol levels in in mid, in mid consumption.

Sam:                                      07:50                     Okay. What are some traditional ways that goat is eaten?

Paul:                                      07:53                     Traditionally the goat is mostly eaten in a stew form, but that stew, normally people don’t add, you don’t add any other ingredients apart from salt. So just boil the goat and then add your salt and then they take it as a goat soup, which sometimes they also eat with the local staple, which sima.

Sam:                                      08:13                     Sima?

Paul:                                      08:13                     Yeah. The other common way that goat has eaten traditionally in Zambia is through Bryce.

Sam:                                      08:19                     Like a barbecue?

Paul:                                      08:21                     A barbecue, yeah. Most people eat it in barbecue foam, but that is mostly, again, common in social joints, drinking places, stuff like that. Yeah.

Sam:                                      08:33                     Okay. And so when, we’ll sort of get to a bit about how you’ve done it, but you’ve basically been able to say, go to supermarkets, hotels, restaurants and say I’ve now got a high quality supply of goat. What’s been the, what’s been your sales pitch when you’ve been going to, have you found it an easy pitch or have you found that they’ve said, Oh, well I’m not sure if people are actually going to eat it?

Paul:                                      08:58                     Sure. Our pitch in trying to upscale the goat, you know, the distribution of goat meat in Zambia is our emphasis on one wanting to transform the entire quotive value chain through value addition and improved of distribution of goat meat, which in turn would then also create a sustainable market opportunity for smallholder farmers. So our pitch out there is unlocking the availability of goat in convenient places where consumers would easily find goat meat, at the same time also creating a sustainable market for small holder farmers. So most of our customers engage with us on those two fronts. Wanting to make goat available conveniently to the growing consumer base of goat meat, but also wanting to contribute to the greater good out here, by creating a sustainable market opportunity for the small holder farmers who are the main producers of goats in Zambia.

Sam:                                      10:10                     Got it. Okay. So when you’re going to, I don’t know, the Radisson hotel for example or you know, like one of your big suppliers or one of the, one of your big customers you’re partly saying by putting goat on the menu, you can tell your customers that they are supporting small holder farmers.

Paul:                                      10:28                     Exactly.

Sam:                                      10:28                     Yeah.

Paul:                                      10:29                     Yeah, sure.

Sam:                                      10:29                     Does that resonate?

Paul:                                      10:30                     Yeah, sure. That’s what we do and most of our customers actually buy into that. Okay. So they buy into making goat available for their consumers but also stocking it as a way of supporting small holder farmers out here.

Sam:                                      10:46                     Yeah. When you go to your sales pitch, you bring along some goat for people to try?

Paul:                                      10:52                     We do so, especially like when we introduce a new product range, cause we have quite a number of goat products that we supply. So besides the fresh, ordinary goat meat as in it’s fresh or frozen state, we also do smoked goat meat. We do goat buton. We do goat burgers as well.

Sam:                                      11:17                     Oh, burgers.

Paul:                                      11:17                     Yeah, sure. So like in terms of, when I introduce a new, we just introduced a new product line we normally go with the samples, you know, for our customers to try out.

Sam:                                      11:29                     Very good. Okay. So company’s been going for about, like seven years, seven years now?

Paul:                                      11:35                     Yeah, about seven years.

Sam:                                      11:37                     What sort of scale are you at now?

Paul:                                      11:39                     We are quite at a good scale right now, starting out with just one goat in 2012, with under $200 in startup capital. We have at least to date, you know, done over 5,000 goats. Okay. And generating revenues, you know, slightly above $400,000 now. So for us, I think that’s a good traction, but we would have loved to do more than that. Would have loved to do more than that.

Sam:                                      12:08                     Yeah.

Paul:                                      12:08                     But we understand, you know, the Strata of our industry as a whole, they goat industry. Historically it has been underdeveloped. But, you know, we are still satisfied, I think with the strides that we’ve made so far, though we feel, I think we should have gone more, more than that.

Sam:                                      12:28                     Okay. So let’s sort of talk about the, the process that you have. So you’ve, sort of stage one is going and collecting live goats?

Paul:                                      12:38                     Live goes from small holder farmers. Yes.

Sam:                                      12:40                     Yeah. And then maybe just sort of, can you sort of walk me through the whole process from receiving a goat, all the way through to it being sold as a goat burger.

Paul:                                      12:51                     Okay. So it all starts from first engaging with small holder farmers whom we mostly organize in supplier groups and cooperatives. And then from there on we agree on the terms of business with them, we offer them a good buying price. Good in the sense that our price is actually better than the prices that most of the informal traders do, you know, of our farmers out here, and then from there on after we buy those goats from the smaller farmers. We take them to our processing facility in Lusaka, currently operating out of market. From there we do process goat, which we sell in two, or rather through two main ways, through the butchery set up where we, sell, you know, goat meat in its fresh frozen state as well as other value added products, that includes smoked goat, buton and goat burgers. And then we also have another sales channel which is a take away. This is a recently added sales channel where we are doing ready to eat goat products. Okay.

Sam:                                      14:05                     So within your processing plant you will be cooking?

Paul:                                      14:10                     Yeah, so currently we are trying to optimize the space that we have at our store, which also serves as, you know, a processing facility at the back end of it.

Sam:                                      14:20                     Yeah.

Paul:                                      14:21                     So we have, on the other side of the store, adjacent to the butchery section, we’ve recently opened up a take away offering, and the brand, we are calling Zamgoat express, so that offers good goat amd chips. We do smoked goat and chips, we do goat burgers. We do goat sausage and chips. Yeah. And those, we do an upscaled vision of goat soup, which is different from the traditional goat soup that, you know, has been common on the Zambian market.

Sam:                                      14:59                     Very cool, Okay what, in terms of the, sort of the economics of it, how much do you buy it? How much roughly do you buy goat for, roughly what ptice?

Paul:                                      15:10                     So roughly we buy our goats at about $30 from a small order farmer, $30 per goat.

Sam:                                      15:17                     Okay.

Paul:                                      15:17                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      15:17                     And how much, what’s the process to value of that goat?

Paul:                                      15:22                     On average, the minimum processing value of the goat that we sell is around $45.

Sam:                                      15:30                     $45, okay. So you;re making about $15.

Sam:                                      15:32                     Okay. And so what’s been the cost? What’s been the total cost to sort of set up the processing plant? I’m just trying to work out how…

Paul:                                      15:42                     So to date I would say we haven’t really had a formidable processing plant, so we’ve kind of you know, been bootstrapping our processes whereby we are doing everything that we do using very limited that means so far we’ve invested over $40,000 into our current, into our current processing facility, but we are actually current working on setting up an ideal processing facility,which is estimated to cost around $400,000. So we’re currently actually active in the market trying to raise the capital to set up an ideal processing facility so that we could then supply more good products out there. So satisfy our market as well as also increase our impact in working with smolder farmers.

Sam:                                      16:41                     Yeah. Okay. So $400,000. And you’re making about $15 per goats, so you’re gonna have to do like 250,000 goats, is that right? No, no, 25,000 goats.

Paul:                                      16:52                     About 1200.

Sam:                                      16:53                     25,000 goats?

Paul:                                      16:55                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      16:56                     Is there demand for that? 25, like at the moment you, you’re sort of production’s about, you’ve done about 5,000 goats. I mean that’s increasing the capacity of your operation by five times.?

Paul:                                      17:12                     Yeah. So actually our target increase in capacity is about 10 times more than what we’re currently doing.

Sam:                                      17:20                     Okay.

Paul:                                      17:21                     Sure. So we’ve done about yeah, you’re right. So it’s close to about 10 times more in terms of production output.

Sam:                                      17:32                     And I mean, I don’t, I know nothing about the goat industry, but I’m just thinking if you’re making $15 per goat and there’s, it seems like there’s a lot of, you’d like, you’re adding a lot of value. You’d be processing it, you’re packaging it, you’re distributing. I was wondering if like, do you need to get a certain scale before it’s become, before you make money off this, like, or is it already profitable? Like?

Paul:                                      18:00                     It is already profitable, except that the current state of profitability is limited by scale by our current scale. So we can only do so much for now, given our limited capacities. We Believe that once we grow capacities, then even our profitability should also be able to.

Sam:                                      18:24                     So that means that out of that $15 per goat that you’re making your, costs would you reduce?

Paul:                                      18:30                     Exactly, the cost will reduce because of optimize…

Sam:                                      18:32                     Yeah.

Paul:                                      18:34                     You know, our processes.

Sam:                                      18:35                     Okay,

Paul:                                      18:35                     Sure.

Sam:                                      18:37                     Do you think that you’d ever pay less for a goat? Ket’s say at the moment, if you’re going to a small holder farmer and you’re buying 10 goats off them for $30 each, would you ever get to a place where you’ll say, right, I’ll buy 50 goats off you for $25?

Paul:                                      18:54                     Exactly. So with increased the capacity operating capacity on our side, there is the possibility of us incresing our costs

Sam:                                      19:01                     But do the, do these kind of small holder farmers sell 50 goats for $25?

Paul:                                      19:10                     They would sell.

Sam:                                      19:11                     They would.

Paul:                                      19:12                     Yeah, they would sell, they would sell. Again, it all gets back or it all borders on our capacity at any given time. So with capacity at any give timeit is a fault to negotiate with our suppliers to look, we are buying so many at a go, so we’ll then negotiate for a bulk discount.

Sam:                                      19:34                     Yeah.

Paul:                                      19:34                     Okay. And then also that would make sense for the farmer because instead of just selling 10 goats, you know, they’ll sell at least more and make more money at a go than to make the same amount of, say in my photo.

Sam:                                      19:48                     Exactly. Like, yeah. And they get, Just sent a lot of cash, which they can then use to invest in…

Paul:                                      19:53                     To invest in that, in other activities that also, in enhancing their livelihood. Yeah.

Sam:                                      19:59                     How do you transport the goats? You said, I’m forgetting…

Paul:                                      20:02                     Yeah, so for now we outsource transport. We hire delivery trucks, we hire open trucks that move our life goods from the farmers to…

Sam:                                      20:14                     Do you have to take a Zamgoat representative to like tick off this number of goats have gone on.

Paul:                                      20:19                     Yeah. So we normally have people on the ground.

Sam:                                      20:21                     Okay,

Paul:                                      20:21                     Sure.

Sam:                                      20:22                     How many people are employed?

Paul:                                      20:24                     Currently, our establishment is still small. We have a total of four staff when I was that, I’m sure.

Sam:                                      20:31                     So there’s you and three other people.

Paul:                                      20:33                     Yeah. There’s me and three other people.

Sam:                                      20:35                     Each time that you go and buy goats, one of the four of you has gone.

Paul:                                      20:40                     Yeah, it has to be. Yeah.

Sam:                                      20:42                     Yeah.

Paul:                                      20:42                     But then we also have times when farmers bring themselves, so they come through to Lusaka. So we’ve made ourselves so popular among the small holder farmers, such that every farmer out there who’s living in the outskirts, whoever wants to sell goat, they know that there is Zamgoat. So they give us a call and then we make arrangements for the delivery. And sometimes, you know, there are those that you’ll be dealing with for some time, we know that they’ll bring us the right quality of goats. So we give them a go ahead. Okay. How many are you ready to supply this time around? They give us their number and then we give them a go ahead. Okay.

Sam:                                      21:26                     Yep.

Paul:                                      21:27                     Move them over to Lusaka, show.

Sam:                                      21:29                     Nice. What’s your quality assurance process when you see a goat? Do you, do you like how do you…

Paul:                                      21:38                     Yeah, so we look, we look at quite a number of things. One of which include the general wellness wellbeing, the physical stature of the goat. Okay. It has to appear to be in its, you know, perfect state. Okay. To go out to guarantee us quality meat, then two, it’s the age. We look at the age.

Sam:                                      21:58                     How do you tell the age?

Paul:                                      21:59                     There are a number of ways to tell the age. It’s the general appearance of the goat. You can tell this goat, I think. You know.

Sam:                                      22:05                     Okay.

Paul:                                      22:05                     Yeah, ths goat is too old. Then the other technique we use is looking at the teeth for measure, yeah.

Sam:                                      22:15                     The teeth, is that a good gauge for the size, the age of the Goat?

Paul:                                      22:21                     Yeah. To some extent it, it is to some extent, yes.

Sam:                                      22:26                     Yeah.

Paul:                                      22:26                     Sure. I think the best technique is just the general physical state of the goat in its appearance has to appeal to you as a buyer.

Sam:                                      22:37                     It’s gotta be…

Paul:                                      22:38                     It has to be safe. Okay. And not, you know, you’re looking at a goat, you’re able to see the ribs exposing, you know, protruding from out. So that it will give you an indicator. No this might not be, I think, in order to give us good quality meat. So it has to be well rounded.

Sam:                                      22:59                     Yeah. What’s the best age for a goat?

Paul:                                      23:03                     So we’re prefer goats that are not more than three years in age for meat production. Yeah.

Sam:                                      23:09                     Yeah.

Paul:                                      23:10                     I’d say between one and a half years and three years there about.

Sam:                                      23:15                     Okay.

Paul:                                      23:15                     Sure.

Sam:                                      23:16                     And then goats enter your processing plant. And at the other end, we’ve got goat meat like in between, what happens to, so obviously like the goat is killed. What happens to like the other parts of the goat that aren’t used for meat?

Paul:                                      23:34                     Yeah. So you’ll be shocked to learn that to date nothing much happens to, except for the offers. We sell the offers in our butcher section, then we use some also for the takeaway section, but then for the other parts of the goat like the skin to date, nothing that much has been done, you know, in terms of adding value to the goat skins.

Sam:                                      24:00                     Yeah.

Paul:                                      24:01                     So mostly goatskins in Zambia are just thrown about. But, you know, being pioneers in this industry as Zamgoat, we’ve taken it upon ourselves or seen an opportunity in that area as well to start adding value to goat skills.

Sam:                                      24:16                     What could be done?

Paul:                                      24:20                     So one of the things we’re looking at is adding value to, you know, to, to goatskins to save the local market coming up with finished products like belts you know, device poaches you know wristbands and stuff like that.

Sam:                                      24:36                     Can you make rugs?

Paul:                                      24:37                     Yeah. You can also make rugs, you can make bags.

Sam:                                      24:40                     Okay.

Paul:                                      24:41                     You can make shoes like the final leathershoes, most of them are actually made out of goat skins. The other opportunities doing maybe just basic processing and then exporting the semi processed goat skins.

Sam:                                      24:55                     Okay.

Paul:                                      24:55                     To the other parts of the world.

Sam:                                      24:59                     So if there are any goat skin artisans listening to the podcast, they should get in touch with you?

Paul:                                      25:05                     You’re right.

Sam:                                      25:05                     They would be able to come sort of help with the, making nice things.

Paul:                                      25:10                     Excellent.

Sam:                                      25:10                     Okay, cool. How long does it take between goat enters and like processed meat at the end?

Paul:                                      25:20                     Okay. On average takes about 15 minutes. Let me say 15 minutes.

Sam:                                      25:28                     Yeah. Okay.

Sam:                                      25:29                     You do one at a time?

Paul:                                      25:31                     Yeah. So we do, slaughtering, given our current limited capacities, we do slaughter them one at a time.

Sam:                                      25:37                     Is it by hand?

Paul:                                      25:38                     By hand. Yeah. Currently slaughtering is done by hand and then flailing also by hand.

Sam:                                      25:43                     Flailing?

Paul:                                      25:43                     Yeah. Removing of the skin is manually done for now because of our limited capacities.

Sam:                                      25:49                     But this $400,000 investment.

Paul:                                      25:51                     So this $400,000 investment, we are looking at investing in some, at least close to state of the art, you know, kind of facility that would enable us to, you know, to process our goat in a much commercial like manner unlike, you know, how we are currently doing it.

Sam:                                      26:13                     And would that be like a machine?

Paul:                                      26:15                     Yeah. So we are looking at, you know the slaughtering line where you have some conveyor belts that, you know, that electronically move the goat from the slaughtering stage, the flaring stage. Yeah. Up to the, you know.

Sam:                                      26:34                     Where do you, where do you buy that machine from?

Paul:                                      26:36                     So for now it has to be imported from outside the country.

Sam:                                      26:43                     Made in China, India?

Paul:                                      26:44                     Made in China. China will always be the cheapest, you know, the cheapest source, I’ve had some discussion with a number of our suppliers of slaughter house equipment in China. Yeah, sure.

Sam:                                      27:01                     Purely out of interest, do they eat goat in China?

Paul:                                      27:05                     They do, yeah.

Sam:                                      27:07                     Okay. So they probably got it. They’ve got these machines that would be that would be perfect, got it.

Paul:                                      27:14                     And they do slaughter goats there as well.

Sam:                                      27:16                     Yeah. Okay. Because you’re going to get one of these machines and then you’re going to be able to, once you’ve got that, your capacity and then you can just go out and buy more goats. What’s like, if you’re saying that you buy at $30 and you sell at $45, roughly how many days does it take for you to keep the money?

Paul:                                      27:37                     Ideally, it doesn’t take, sort of like through our, our butchery section. So we have a two revenue model, which is retail and wholesale. So wholesale, I mean retail is cash sales.

Sam:                                      27:52                     The cash.

Paul:                                      27:52                     So you slaughter the goat then within a day or two you have, you know, you recoup your money.

Sam:                                      27:59                     Yeah.

Paul:                                      27:59                     And then we also have another revenue model, which is wholesale supplies to these other intermediaries that include supermarkets, restaurants, and hotels. So that in most cases comes with credit, you know hotels. And at most for now, we, we, we accept at least two weeks.

Sam:                                      28:18                     Okay.

Paul:                                      28:18                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      28:19                     So 14 days is your max?

Paul:                                      28:22                     Sure.

Sam:                                      28:22                     So it’s not 30 days?

Paul:                                      28:24                     For now, it’s not 30 days, given our current, you know capacities we can’t do 30 days because then that would wipe out the much needed cash that we need to manage the operation.

Sam:                                      28:35                     Okay. So let’s say you’ve got an, and how does it work? Does it, have you kind of got like a constant flow of buying goats, processing them, selling them? Or is it kind of like up and down?

Paul:                                      28:51                     So it’s up and down. And it mostly depends on two factors, one of which is the demand on our markets marketing side. Okay. And the demand of products from our customers who we’ve signed up with, then two, it is our capacity in terms of you know, working capital, to procure at any given time.

Sam:                                      29:15                     Yeah.

Paul:                                      29:15                     Yeah. So it depends, again, it fluctuates Nothing.

Sam:                                      29:19                     Yeah. But there’s, okay, so there’s demand. So what might cause a fluctuation in demand?

Paul:                                      29:26                     A fluctuation in demand is caused by a number of factors. One of which is the marketing of goat in the manner that we’ve been trained to do it is still relatively a new thing on the market. So a lot of you know, customers and partners through which we sell our products are still getting, you know, acclimatized to our concept and distribution.

Sam:                                      29:59                     Are they still sort of saying, okay, we’ll buy a hundred goat burgers and see how it goes as opposed to we’ll have 200, so they’re still in that sort of testing.

Paul:                                      30:09                     So there’s still a bit of market development activities, you know, going on.

Sam:                                      30:13                     Yeah.

Paul:                                      30:13                     On our end here.

Sam:                                      30:14                     How do you, do you go around with leaflets, how do you sort of…

Paul:                                      30:18                     Yeah, so we, yeah, we do leaflets and then we also do online marketing through you knowplatforms like social media, useing Facebook, Twitter our website as well as just, you know,physical visits to targeted clients.

Sam:                                      30:42                     Okay. So let’s say, are you in shoprite?

Paul:                                      30:46                     Not yet. So for some reason we are yet to start dealing with most of these big retail chains. And the major limiting factor for now is our luck luck over the right, I do, operating scope in terms of processing as well as distribution capacity in terms of…

Sam:                                      31:13                     As in, they’ll only deal with you if you can do a thousand goats.

Paul:                                      31:16                     Yeah. So you need to have a certain level of capacity, you know, we don’t want to engage with you and then tomorrow you’re unable to supply. They need to, again most of these large retail chains are very particular in terms of hygiene and sanitary requirements. So your products, your processes must meet certain, you knowcriteria?

Sam:                                      31:43                     Yeah.

Paul:                                      31:44                     Like how you go about slaughtering, processing and also delivering your goods to market, you need to meet a criteria, which to date I think,e’re still working on and that’s the more reason why we’re also trying to raise money, so that we can scale up our operation and move, you know, our business from this state of,you know, proof of concept like. I think we’ve overstayed at this stage and now we need to grow our capacity and just,ou know, flood the market with…

Sam:                                      32:19                     Flood the market with goat meat. Yeah. I mean you’re right. I mean it seems like you’ve been going for seven years now. You’ve kind of worked out visa the basic functions, you’re going to go off, buy goats, process them, sell them. Okay. Well you go…

Paul:                                      32:37                     So now I think the only missing link is just, you know, aligning our capacities with the, the process that we’ll develop so far. So I do get to fully take advantage of, you know, the market opportunities.

Sam:                                      32:51                     Do you think that there’ll be any resistance or any hesitation from let’s say Shoprite, so one of the biggest supermarkets here, will they perhaps say, okay, well, we’re going to buy this goat from you, but we don’t think people will buy it. Like, do you think you’ll have to do some?

Paul:                                      33:10                     No.

Sam:                                      33:11                     No?

Paul:                                      33:11                     There’s no that hesitation, right now we have actually we have an active conversation with another large retail chain, Choppies. Okay. So they are ready to engage with us.

Sam:                                      33:24                     Okay.

Paul:                                      33:24                     By the end, they’re just waiting on us to be ready in terms of capacity setting up a formidable slaughtering facility, processing facility and also having the right distribution you know.

Sam:                                      33:38                     Set up in cold, you’d have to have some cold chain.

Paul:                                      33:41                     You need a cold truck cause you can’t deliver meat, you know, at the back of a cab. So you need, you need the right distribution tools, you need a cold truck, you need cold storage, sufficient cold storage so that you keep your meat, you know, in the perfect state at all times.

Sam:                                      33:59                     How similar is, how similar is that process to beef and pork?

Paul:                                      34:05                     It is very much similar.

Sam:                                      34:07                     Okay.

Paul:                                      34:07                     What process are similar.

Sam:                                      34:09                     What’s stopping an existing beef producer or pork producer just saying, okay, we’re going to go out and buy some goats and put on and just,

Paul:                                      34:20                     Yeah. I think until recently what was stopping them is really lack of the edge to try out new things or getting used to what they’ve been used to over time. And then two, I think most of these other general meat processors, you know, because of their size, scope. Again, at least most of them reached, a level where they, you know, they’ve gotten used to their routine, the products and the processes and, cause the goat, the goat industry really, you know, is one area that has been overlooked. So there’s never been a, you know,

Sam:                                      35:08                     Did he run, considered it? They haven’t really been thinking about that. Right. If I’m just saying like, are you worried at all that one day, one of these pork producers or cow producers, or beef producers just says, just thinks, Hm, maybe we should try goat and they’ll suddenly be able to do at a really big scale. And does that worry you at all or are there are other reasons why…

Paul:                                      35:33                     It doesn’t, it doesn’t worry me at all. Ourselves, we have an upper edge in the goat industry given our dedication to the, to the industry. So we’ve given ourselves our full focus to the goat value chain, that gives us an edge in terms of supply engagement. Then two also in terms of you know, the room to innovate within the industry. Okay. So we are not preoccupied with you know, many, you know product lines. So we are preoccupied with perfecting, our core product is the goat offering itself. So that gives us an edge as it enables us to, to be more innovative in our product offering. You know, than the general meat processors except to say perhaps the only worry like right now is or as regard to, you know, economic meat processor wanting to add goat, you know, to their offering. The only aspect in which that worries me is yeah, mainly, given their scale, they may get to market much more faster than us. So the only worry is maybe our lack of timely access to scale our lack of timely access to resources to scale up the business. I think that’s the magic. Once we have the right operating scope, I do not see anyone outdoing. Then two, the other thing, again that gives us an edge is our brand. Okay. Zamgoat is a…

Sam:                                      37:14                     I mean there’s no escaping what you do is there?

Paul:                                      37:16                     Exactly, so Zamgoat, I think is already growing into a very popular brand out there it’s growing into a household brand. Everyone who want to eat goat, they would think of Zamgoat.

Sam:                                      37:29                     Yeah.

Paul:                                      37:29                     Okay. So that’s another yeah.

Sam:                                      37:33                     This might sound like a strange question, but is there any issue with you using Zam in your name? So like, isn’t it that there’s a telco company called Zam? Yeah, I did, It is the, does the government have any sort of rights to organizations that have Zam in the name? Do you know what I mean?

Paul:                                      37:57                     No.

Sam:                                      37:58                     It’s not like, cause I don’t, when I, you know, when I see Zamgoat, I might think, Oh that’s like the national Institute for goats. Awesome. So it’s like, it’s a great, it’s a great industry you’ve got, I was just wondering if there are any any issues you have with naming

Paul:                                      38:11                     Yeah, no issues at all. We don’t have any issues. Even that’s, there are number of businesses out there that have got the Zam prefix to their names. Yeah. So for us we chose Zam prefix to own it, to make it Zamgoat, because we wanted to be really the leader of the goat industry in Zambia. Okay. And not only in Zambia, we wanted to be the company here in Zambia to be identified within the region, around the world, you know, as the company that is the pioneer of you know, activity in the goat industry.

Sam:                                      38:53                     Yeah.

Paul:                                      38:54                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      38:54                     I guess if you wanted to go across the border, you’re going to have to know Zamgoat.

Paul:                                      38:58                     Yeah. So if we want to go across the boarder, yeah. So again, depends on, on the, on the particular markets. There are markets that will be comfortable to go trade as Zamgoat, but for some markets we’re also looking at you know, coming up with other brands that are targeting particular international markets to make us more relevant and appealing to those local markets. Yeah, sure.

Sam:                                      39:20                     What are some names you’ve thought of?

Paul:                                      39:22                     So currently there is another food service outfit that we’re working on, which we know we are calling Pizzagoat Africa and this is pizzagoat.

Sam:                                      39:32                     Pizza?

Paul:                                      39:32                     Goat, pizzagot.

Sam:                                      39:34                     P pizza. Have do you spell.

Paul:                                      39:37                     Pizza as in pizza? P I Z Z A.

Sam:                                      39:44                     Got it.

Sam:                                      39:44                     As one word.

Sam:                                      39:45                     Okay.

Paul:                                      39:46                     So this is a brand that we want to use for our international market penetration on the food service side. Yeah. So we are calling it pizza goat Africa. Okay. So what, is what we want to use in growing, in penetrating or in having a physical presence in the, you know, African.

Sam:                                      40:07                     Why did you go with Pizza goat?

Paul:                                      40:08                     So pizzagoat, again it gets back to to our desire to value add and disrupt the distribution of goat meat or good products. So pizzagoat is a brand that is focused on providing exclusive goat pizza and pastries. Okay.

Sam:                                      40:28                     Goat pastries?

Paul:                                      40:29                     Yeah. Pastries. We’ll have goat pies, goat samosas, goat spring rolls.

Sam:                                      40:35                     Yeah.

Paul:                                      40:35                     Yeah. So, but the key product, you know, within that offering is goat pizza itself. Yeah. So we are currently doing a test run on the same, we’re yet to, you know, fully launch it out there. But so far we’re getting a lot of positive responses from our customers who get a lot of, you know, positive inquiries. People looking forward to, you know, to have goat Pizza.

Sam:                                      41:07                     How many goats are in Zambia?

Paul:                                      41:09                     Currently, the population of goats I think is slightly under 5 million.

Sam:                                      41:13                     How do you know that?

Paul:                                      41:16                     Livestock censuses that are normally conducted by the ministry of livestock and fisheries and their last update I think indicated, you know, somewhere around 4.8, 4.9 million goats.

Sam:                                      41:29                     How many people are there in Zambia?

Paul:                                      41:32                     Currently we’re around 17 to 18 million. The last census I think was around 16 million.

Sam:                                      41:38                     Okay. So it’s pretty thin. Basically one goat for every three humans. Just purely out of curiosity, I’m interested if there are, what the goats to human ratio is what, like goats per capita is in other countries. Do you know, do you have any, are there any other countries where there’s a higher goat per capita or is Zambia a particularly goat heavy country?

Paul:                                      42:05                     My recent discoveries, I think I’ve indicated that countries like Ethiopia, Somalia, and you know, Somalis in African countries Tanzania, Kenya do have quite a higher, you know, number of goats as well.

Sam:                                      42:19                     Is that because the…

Paul:                                      42:24                     Because of the religious, you know, factor.

Sam:                                      42:26                     Yeah, I think it’s with like nomadic tribes, looking after goats and so there’s more of a culture of…

Paul:                                      42:31                     Yeah, yeah. That’s another, another attribute. But, the other attribute is on the consumption patterns. You know, most of the mentioned countries, Somalia, Kenya, are Muslim countries. So they tend to prefer, you know, eating more goat than the other regions.

Sam:                                      42:52                     Yeah. Is Zambia more or less purely Christian? Or is there a Muslim population here?

Paul:                                      43:00                     There is a Muslim population. Yeah. But obviously Zambia is predominantly, you know, Christian in terms of population. But we do have quite a big number of Muslims as well here.

Sam:                                      43:15                     Is Zamgoat halal?

Paul:                                      43:17                     We are positioning ourselves to halal, but again, currently given our limited operating capacities, we have not yet reached that level, where we would be officially, you know, certified halal, but we are working on,

Sam:                                      43:30                     Okay.

Paul:                                      43:30                     On certifying, having Zamgoat certified as halal.

Sam:                                      43:34                     At the moment a Muslim customer wouldn’t be able to buy…

Paul:                                      43:38                     At the moment, yeah. That’s another market that we are currently missing out. So part of our plan actually in setting up the planned sloughter house facility is to be able to enable us, you know, qualify to meet that halal standard certification. Sure.

Sam:                                      43:57                     Okay. Do you ever think, would you ever deal with like goat milk, or is that like different?

Paul:                                      44:03                     So again, it gets back to the strata of the industry as a whole, totally under developed, no much activity in any specific area of it, be it milk, skin. So even with new products, nothing much has been done with, you know, goat milk in the country. But again, as a business, that’s something that becomes opportunity for us. So as we keep growing, we are actually seeing ourselves grow into a fully verticallly integrated business across the goat value chain, doing something, you know with everything about goats, including, you know milk products. So we are looking at getting into the nutritional market, you know segment with time, riding on, goat milk as a highly nutritional product as you know, which, you know, some people out there say goat milk is as good as a human milk. So with that…

Sam:                                      45:07                     Do some people give goat milk to babies or is that…

Paul:                                      45:09                     Yeah. I think some do but it’s not yet a popular trend but there’s a lot of positive vibes out there. This is another industry for the future within the, you know, goat value chain. So we are looking at with time we should be able to venture out in coming up with goat based nutrition, you know, products.

Sam:                                      45:36                     Yeah. Like internationally, are there other countries where there is a or other companies that have said we’re going to vertically integrate in just goats?

Paul:                                      45:52                     Yeah, there’s been a few countries where at least it’s recently beginning to be some activity.

Sam:                                      45:59                     There are sort of Zamgoat equivalents. Whereabouts in the world is it?

Paul:                                      46:04                     In Somalia, there are countries that just, yeah, I mean there are companies that just focus on goat processing and distribution.

Sam:                                      46:12                     Are they sort of, are they a similar stage as Zamgoat?

Paul:                                      46:16                     There could be some, I think I must have heard of, I’ve forgotten the name but is one company that is, that is doing pretty well in Somalia. So they’re quite an advanced, at an advanced stage in terms of their development as compared to Zamgoat.

Sam:                                      46:31                     I’m just curious cause it’s always useful, I find, when there’s a company, you know, a country another part of the world where they’re never gonna come and enter the Zambian market, but you can still learn some good lessons from them. I was just wondering if there were, I don’t know. Vietnam for example, you know, pick a country. If there were any companies where you can say, okay, well in five years time we want to be like, yeah, “Indonesia goats.”

Paul:                                      46:58                     I think there’s one common phenomenon across the world. The goat industry. I don’t know for some reason, somehow, it is an industry that has been overlooked. Okay. And for me, I think this is what, becomes the biggest opportunity. It’s a pretty, you know, under developed industry and that to me as an entrepreneur, you know, rings a lot more opportunity than most of these industries that are fully saturated. That the traditional, you know, meat industries, beef, pork and chicken. Then two, goat meat and the other assorted products are becoming the talk of the day, okay. Around the world. Goat meat is seen to be more healthier than these other meat products, goat milk, you know, is also seen to be a very healthy, you know, product, you know, with some data out there equating it to human milk, you know, to be as good as, you know, breast milk, you know, goat skins. Okay, that’s fine leather, it’s one of the most treasured you know, leather out there, but somehow again, to some extent, there’s still some slowness, you know, inactivity not to fully capitalize on these products.

Sam:                                      48:30                     Why do, why do you think that is?

Paul:                                      48:33                     The lack of innovation? Yeah, so this is, this is the time now innovative entrepreneurs, you know, prying their trade in the innovative age, like now to come up with innovations that add value to these products that have got a yearning market out there.

Sam:                                      48:51                     Are there any countries where the goats are not indigenous or the goat, or there’s not many goats? One thing here is like in let’s say one of the biggest meat producers in the world is the U S and they’ve got loads of pigs and loads of cows, so they probably developed all of their machines and factories just around that because there’ve been lots of meats, beef cows and pigs around and so they’ve really sort of like grown the beef and pork industry. I’m just wondering had, if by historical accident, there were goats in America and they, 50 years ago, you know, 80 years ago, started factory producing goats. Whether that would have, is it that the fact that goats aren’t in places where there’s currently been big areas of meat production? Is that why it’s not seen as a popular product

Paul:                                      49:48                     To some extent, yes. In fact you’ve just reminded me, one of the countries in the world that seems to have made headways in processing of goat products is Australia. Okay, there are companies in Australia that have made, you know, serious strides in adding value to goat meat and distributing it around the world. I was surprised during my stint in the US, I found, you know, Australian goat in some supermarkets in the US.

Sam:                                      50:18                     I can imagine.

Paul:                                      50:19                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      50:19                     Any country you go to, you go straight to the goat, to the meat section and you check out where all the goats come from, yeah.

Paul:                                      50:26                     Yeah. So they’ve made strides, and then yeah, their country, I think goats. Goats are there in most parts, but I don’t know. I think it’s just lack of there’s some stereotype perhaps that has been associated, you know, with goats.

Sam:                                      50:46                     I guess as well if, yeah, if you’re saying that most people consume, choose what food to consume by, let’s say going to the supermarkets and if the supermarkets have a barrier where they say you’ve got to hit a certain capacity before we can even enter, then lots of people might not realize that they’re missing out on goat because they go to the meat counter and there’s beef, chicken and pork. Suddenly if goat producers like Zamgoat are able to hit a certain capacity and making them looking at beef, pork, chicken, goats, Oh, actually I’ll try goat. And that introduces it to, and that generates the demand. I can see that. I can sort of see that logically being something.

Paul:                                      51:25                     Yeah, sure. So I think there’s just a general stereotype that is somehow you know underplaying or downplaying the efforts or the opportunities that exist within the goat industry like, you know, experience. Okay. One of the challenges that we have been facing, for instance, even in trying to access, you know, growth, financing opportunities out there is this seemingly unattractive, still unattractive state of the industry as a whole. Not for us as a business, but the Industry as a whole, you know, to attract financing from traditional financing sources that want to find us businesses, operating industries or in proven industries in other words, industries That have got a proven track record. Industries that have got a proven record for commercial viability. Whereas, you know, theygoat industry has never been exploited, fully exploited. So the financial markets out there are still a little bit skeptical, you know, especially the traditional sort of funding or finance.

Sam:                                      52:37                     So where, where do you get your financing from?

Paul:                                      52:39                     So given that reality, we’ve mostly be looking at non traditional financing sources, we’ll be looking at, like here in Zambia, the commercial, the most common source of financing for any start up business would be, you know, to go to the bank and ask for a bank loan. But then the banks look what industry dynamics, the goat industry, they have no experience with it so they don’t have that, or technically, you know, cuts you off their books. So we’ve been looking at nontraditional financing sources like, you know, venture capital, equity financing, we’ll be looking at impact financing and especially like in our case, especially given the impact, the social impact aspect of our business. We’ve been trying to take advantage of, you know, development, financing opportunities that exist out there.

Sam:                                      53:36                     As you say, you, are improving livelihoods of small holder farmers. And that must be…

Paul:                                      53:41                     Sure.

Sam:                                      53:42                     A really big impact push that people want to have.

Paul:                                      53:45                     That’s sort of what I’ve been trying to do. I’ve been trying to ride on, you know, impact aspect as a business in accessing impact financing opportunities, which we hope we should then be able to use as catalytic, you know, financing that help us grow the business to reach a level where at least now the business and the industry as a whole should be able to prove a point and become more attractive to a traditional finances. Yeah.

Sam:                                      54:14                     Got it.

Paul:                                      54:15                     So it needs a lot, a great deal of catalytic financing from non traditional, yeah.

Sam:                                      54:22                     Get it in motion. Yeah.

Paul:                                      54:23                     Sure.

Sam:                                      54:24                     Okay. So we’ll just do a few more questions, that’s right. What have been some of the surprises in running the business? So if you were to say compare, what, how Zamgoat is today with what you thought it would look like today? How is it different? Maybe in a positive way, and in a negative way.

Paul:                                      54:46                     It’s not as easy as I thought it was going. Okay. Yeah, that’s one thing obviously. So running the business hasn’t been as easy as I thought it was going to be. It has been a lot tougher, stressful, and sometimes you know, tempting, you know, you just want to quit. But then again you look at, you know, the time invested and the beaconing opportunity ahead, okay. The fact that there’s no track record for commercial viability of the goat industry does not make it, you know, a bad industry as a whole. Okay. I think there are a lot of positive indicators that this is the next big thing in the meat industry, this is the next big meat industry in the world. The goat meat industry.

Sam:                                      55:42                     Yeah.

Paul:                                      55:42                     Okay. Yeah. So just getting back to your question, my experience has been that, I think still a lot more harder. I didn’t think it was going to take us this long, you know, to grow the business, by now, I was projecting that, we are now doing seven years, by now, my initial projections were that by now we should be able to at least saturate the local market and looking at export markets. But it’s been difficult because it’s been hard to raise, you know, growth financing. Yeah.

Sam:                                      56:18                     Okay. And, if you sort of fast forward, project maybe three years time, what do you think Zamgoat will look like?

Paul:                                      56:27                     So in three years time, especially if we manage to raise the initial $400,000 that we are looking at, one, Zamgoat should be able to fully become a household name on the Zambian market in terms of goat consumption. We’re also looking at changing the consumption patterns of goat among consumers. Okay. For instance, we’ve introduced these revolutionary products, goat burgers. Okay. These are products that have never existed in the Zambian market, but now have, they’re only on the Zambian market. People are getting hooked to our concept, goat pizza, pies and pastries, you know, so in three years from now, yeah, we should be able to really spread our footprint in terms of our distribution outlets across the Zambian market, by the fourth year, there about, who should be looking at exploiting the export market. We have a yearning regional export market, the Congo DR, Angola, is just one of them. Okay. Historically, Zambia has been supplying goats to these markets, but this has been done through informal trade, not through formal trade.

Sam:                                      57:44                     Yeah.

Paul:                                      57:44                     So there’s no really, you know, greater benefit that can be tracked down. And then, yeah. And also in four years we’re looking at increasing our capacity in, you know, engaging with smal holder farmers, in improving their economic wellbeing, giving them an alternative in terms of their livelihoods, especially in the wake of climate change where their traditional agricultural practices are failing. Rainfall has become more predictable. So we want small holder farmers to continue earning a living even at least through raising of goats, which are much more adaptable to the harsh, you know, climate conditions that we are currently experiencing.

Sam:                                      58:35                     That’s good. Okay. Yeah. Cool. And people who are listening, how can they learn more about that and Zamgoat?

Paul:                                      58:41                     So people can visit our website, zamgoatgroup.com. We’re calling it zamgoatgroup.com because we envisage ourselves to grow into a group of companies. You know, it’s time. So zamgoatgroup.Com, people can visit that website and get more information. Alternatively, they can find us on Facebook. We have Zamgoat products limited on Facebook. They can, or simply key in Zamgoat online. There’s a whole lot of information and they’ll get links to sites that they can then, you know more about Zamgoat.

Sam:                                      59:15                     Fantastic. And I’ll put some links to these in the show notes.

Paul:                                      59:18                     Sure. That will be great

Sam:                                      59:19                     Cool. Well Paul, thanks so much.

Paul:                                      59:21                     Thank you so much Sam. Its been a pleasure talking to you.

Sam:                                      59:21                     You too.

Sam                                       59:22                     Much. So here’s a pleasure talking to you.


No credit card to drive! How City Drive Hire have opened up the Zambian car hire market


The landlocked country is just south of Malawi, Tanzania and DRC, and has the great Zambezi river as it’s border with Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia.

Economically there’s a lot of copper and mining exports, and my sense is that the development of local services is most in line with Uganda or Tanzania, rather than Kenya (more developed) or Rwanda (less developed).

In this episode, I speak with Greg, who runs a car hire company from the capital Lusaka.

It started 10 years ago and now has operations across the country.

I really enjoy hearing how businesses in the region adapt traditional business models to provide a superior service to existing alternatives.

Yes, there’s a lot of excitement in developing off-grid solar solutions using mobile money,  but there’s also a lot of merit in running a business with professional service that an emerging economy is going to demand.

In this case, good quality and reliable car rentals.

Greg and I discuss the company’s formation, how they modify their cars for Zambian roads (such as switching out the Japanese cold weather tyres), how their fleet is now over 500 cars through an innovative leasing programme, and how the payback on vehicles they purchase, is just 4-6 months.

There’s also lots of good advice from Greg about building a company organically and strategically thinking about where you can be valuable to clients.


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Social Media Links

Website: https://citydriverentacar.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CITYDRIVERENTACAR/

Twitter: @CityDrive4You

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/city-drive-rent-a-car


Sam:                                      00:02                     Intro.

Sam:                                      02:43                     Cool. So we’re here today with Greg from City drive. Greg, welcome to the show.

Greg:                                     02:47                     Thank you for having me.

Sam:                                      02:48                     That’s all. And so to get started, can you tell us a bit about you and a bit about City drive?

Greg:                                     02:53                     Okay. So my names are Gregory Charmer. I was born in Zambia, Luapula province, but I grew up mostly in Botswana, and I came back in 2004 to Zambia for college. Basically. I’ve been back in Zambia since 2004 and I completed my college in 2007. I did ACCA which is basically…

Sam:                                      03:23                     Accounting.

Greg:                                     03:23                     Accounting, Yes, correct. Yeah. And I did that for three years. When I completed, I went and worked as an accounts assistant for a company called Global Logistics. I worked there for about two and a half years from 2007 to December, 2009. I then left to go and found City drive and run it full time.

Sam:                                      03:51                     Cool. Okay. And City drive is car hires, is that right?

Greg:                                     03:56                     City drive is car hire, but basically what we really are, we are, we consider ourselves to be a transport solutions company. The vision really has always been to provide and develop innovative transport solutions at the best possible prices. But then we had to start from somewhere because transport solution is broad. So we had to start from somewhere and we started with car rentals.

Sam:                                      04:21                     Got it. Okay. So out of interest, where do you see transport solutions? Where could that end up?

Greg:                                     04:28                     So for us really, we consider our transport solutions really covering not just car rentals, but when, and anything that will enable us to help our customers out there, move people or goods from one place to the other, to another from point A to point B, in a much more efficient and cost effective manner. That should include obviously car rental itself. But also we’re looking at a taxi hailing, we’re looking at a courier service, we are looking at several other services that have to do with transportation, but obviously with the aim of making it a different and better in a way that will save our customers money and time.

Sam:                                      05:20                     Okay. Okay. So let’s sort of talk about what the situation was like in Zambia before City drive.

Greg:                                     05:29                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      05:29                     So when you say you’re sort of looking, let’s as we currently looking at car hire, car rental?

Greg:                                     05:37                     Car rental yeah.

Sam:                                      05:37                     So what was, what was the process like before City drive?

Greg:                                     05:42                     Yeah, so the current industry in Zambia at the time that we were coming into the scene was still not very developed. It’s still not that developed, though we’ve made some significant progress. But I think when, when you came into the scene, we had a few car rental companies, and a number of them. We had about two, which were sort of dominant, right. But then one of the main problems that we discovered when we did our market research is that the most of the current companies then we’re mostly catering to expatriates, basically customers coming from outside the country. Because one of the conditions was was that they needed someone to have a credit card in order for them to hire a vehicle.

Sam:                                      06:33                     Interesting.

Greg:                                     06:33                     Yeah. Now, when you look at the majority of the Zambians, majority of the Zambians don’t have credit cards. So what that meant was that a large chunk of the people in Zambia who are not receiving car rental services.

Sam:                                      06:48                     So even if they wanted to.

Greg:                                     06:51                     Even if they wanted to.

Sam:                                      06:52                     The fact that they don’t have a credit card…

Greg:                                     06:53                     They don’t have a credit card, they wouldn’t actually hire vehicles. So that was an opportunity that we saw. And when we founded the company, it was really with the vision of enabling ordinary citizens out there to access affordable and efficient car rental services. So, over the years I think we’ve stayed true to that mission. And we have actually provided services for customers, not only in Lusaka but basically across the country because we operate in four provinces in four towns. And we believe we, we have made significant progress in attaining our mission and vision of enabling ordinary citizens out there access affordable and efficient car rental services.

Sam:                                      07:46                     Very good. Okay. I’m interested why is, I know very little about the car rental market. Why did the, the two incumbent car rental companies, why did they insist on people using credit cards?

Greg:                                     08:04                     It’s much safer, right? Because then the credit card becomes security.

Sam:                                      08:10                     What does that mean? Security?

Greg:                                     08:12                     Yeah. So basically the credit card becomes the security deposit. Yeah. So you say maybe there are damages to the car or the car is a right-off they would actually charge.

Sam:                                      08:26                     So they can get the money back?

Greg:                                     08:27                     Can get the money back. There’s a percentage that they’d actually charge immediately on the credit card to get to, to recover their money. So that was one of the reasons which they, you know, they believe that it would actually be safer for them to actually hire out vehicles to people with the credit cards. The, I think, but I think the other reason was was that perhaps the just possibly, maybe we’re not just not interested. They, I think, they thought that it was more lucrative dealing with people coming from outside expatriates, rather than the local market. I think they didn’t really see much business sense in the local market and also concerned with the fact that local market was much, much, much riskier compared to the international market. Yeah. I think those were the, there could be other reasons, but I think those were the two main reasons that we actually discovered when we were doing our research.

Sam:                                      09:33                     I mean, the first, so the second one, I mean, that’s just, I guess the judgment that they’ve made. With the first one though, I mean, that sounds quite sensible. If you’re giving someone a car that you’ve got a way to get a security deposit.

Greg:                                     09:47                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      09:48                     If you don’t take credit cards, how do you get over that issue?

Greg:                                     09:52                     Yeah, because I think that’s, that’s, that’s a question that we had to think hard about when we’re, when we’re setting up the company because I think for us, the vision was just not to cater to expatriates, but also most importantly to the, to the local market, because, you know, I think we believe transportation is very critical in driving the economy forward. And we really wanted to participate in the growth of the Zambian economy. So, we just really had to come up with a plan. What we call a risk management system, which would actually enable us, to hire out vehicles to people without credit cards. And it essentially involved putting in place a screening process. Yeah. So for example, anyone who has a car, we need to they need to bring forward a copy of their utility bill because we need to ensure that we know where they stay. Okay. So there has to be a copy of a utility bill, which can either be an electricity bill or a water bill or a tenant’s agreement. Right. And then of course also when thEy’re filling in the contract, they need to give us at least two emergency contacts. Okay. And we need to know the names of those emergency contacts, where they stay, their contact numbers, where they work. Yeah. And also when they come through there are just a few questions that we ask them. Yeah. It’s part of the screening process. We developed a screening process to manage that risk which we use to actually assess the credibility of everyone who comes to hire a vehicle. So that is the first stage. If that first stage fails, we’ve put compressive insurance on all our vehicles. So in the event of them being stolen, then now insurance will cover the vehicle and have the vehicle replaced. Yeah. So it’s a two-stage risk management system that you have in place, which has actually enabled us to be able to hire out vehicles to people without credit cards. And from the time that we, we actually started operating, we’ve had very few incidents of you know, vehicle theft clients not wanting to pay. Yeah. Et cetera, et cetera. Yeah.

Sam:                                      12:44                     And I mean, rough, say if, I mean, that sort of makes sense. If you’ve sort of come up with your own risk-mitigating criteria and just in terms of the rough scale, how many customers have you got or have you had?

Greg:                                     13:02                     We operate in four provinces and I think over, over the years our customer base has been growing. So roughly in terms of numbers maybe we are looking at a 200, 300 division, 200 and 300 customers.

Sam:                                      13:22                     Yeah.

Greg:                                     13:23                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      13:23                     Are many of them repeat customers?

Greg:                                     13:27                     Perhaps a quarter of that.

Sam:                                      13:29                     Okay. What’s the, what’s the main demographic or like what’s the main reason that people come to City drive?

Greg:                                     13:37                     The main, our main strategy really has been to provide a unique experience. Right? We ensure that from the time you make an inquiry to the time you confirm a booking, the time you get a vehicle and the time you return the vehicle, we ensure that we actually give you an experience which is unique and you can’t get anywhere else. So we, we are into car rental and you know, transport solution. But what we sell is the experience, a unique experience. And I think over the years, that’s really what has made us to stand out.

Sam:                                      14:20                     So, in terms of the purpose. Yeah, that people use the cars, are they doing it for a holiday, are they doing it to move, to move house. Are they doing it to do a long business trip? Like what are some of the reasons that they’ll hire a car?

Greg:                                     14:35                     Yeah, it really depends because you know, we, we have got about four market segments, right? Basically we’ve got about two primary market segments. So those are the international clients and the local clients. With international clients, mostly they come, they come to Zambia and hire vehicles basically for two main reasons. One, they’re coming here as just, you know, business travelers, so they would want a vehicle to move from point A to B. So other than the business travelers. And then the second one is the tourists, right? So they’re coming here and they want to tour Zambia, they want to go to the Victoria falls, national parks, and other parks. So they would rather, most of them will either hire a plain four by four. Okay. Others would hire what we call a fully equipped four by four safari camper. So this basically, the camper basically comes with all the company equipment you need on there. It comes with a rooftop tent, a car fridge, comes with cooking utensils, everything that you need for you to go out there camping. So yeah, so those are the main two reasons for the international market. They’ll come either as business travelers or as tourists. On the local market, we have really clients hiring vehicles for two main reasons. The first one obviously, is for, is for them to, you know, get around. Right.

Sam:                                      16:16                     Just like, like day to day, getting around or?

Greg:                                     16:19                     Yeah. If they want to travel from one town to the other and they don’t want to use the bus.

Sam:                                      16:27                     Okay. Yeah.

Greg:                                     16:28                     They’d hire a vehicle some, if the, they’re coming from one town to the other, perhaps the, they get they use a bus. If they’re coming from Livingston, they’ve come into Lusaka, they get a bus, and then when they get here, they’d want to move around using a vehicle. So they’d actually hire a vehicle. The second reason is now the B to B business. And here we are looking at companies who don’t want to tab their funds in bank vehicles and maybe they’re doing a project. I saw they’d rather hire a car for two, three months for the duration of the project. And yeah, so they’d hire a vehicle as opposed to buying it. And then also we also provide services to insurance companies, so if you’ve got a if you’re insured with an insurance company, and your vehicle is involved in an accident your insurer would hire a vehicle from us for you to use.

Sam:                                      17:39                     You’ll have the replacement.

Greg:                                     17:39                     The replacement, exactly. So you would actually utilize that vehicle as you wait for your vehicle to come out from the garage. Yeah. Yeah. So basically those are the main reasons why people hire vehicles on the internet, on the local market. Yeah.

Sam:                                      17:54                     Very cool. And the, how regular does the insurance one happen?

Greg:                                     18:01                     Every month.

Sam:                                      18:02                     Really?

Greg:                                     18:02                     Yeah. Cause we have accidents every month. Yeah. Actually, I think it’s two fold. It’s sad that you know, your vehicle is involved in an accident, but again, it’s good because we still, the insurance to give you a vehicle to use.

Sam:                                      18:19                     Yeah.

Greg:                                     18:19                     Yeah. You know, there’s continuity on your part in terms of transportation. Yeah.

Sam:                                      18:27                     Did you go to the insurance company and say, I think you should, like, I think this is a service you should provide, or did you, did you displace an existing car hire?

Greg:                                     18:40                     Actually when, when we started and I think we are, we are proud to, to actually have, having you know, contributed to the growth of the insurance market, with regards to replacement vehicle because when we started, most insurance companies used to payout. Right. So if your vehicle was involved in an accident, they’ll say ok, you know what, sort yourself out, go and hire a vehicle, just brings us the bill. But then what we did is that we, we came up with the proposal. Yeah. And we visited most of the insurance companies and we presented to them that look, would be more beneficial for you if you hire a vehicle on behalf of your policy holders as opposed to letting them, you know, just giving them a blank check and telling them to go and hire a vehicle because one, you won’t have control over the costs. Right. And then you also won’t to have control over the quality of the vehicles they are hiring. So if you hire a vehicle for them from a reputable company like us, you can be assured of, one, ensuring that you have control over your costs because you only pay, you will know what you’re paying for upfront. Right. And then we have a good fleet of vehicles, cyclists, you know, you can be, you can rest assured your clients will have access to quality vehicles, which they can, you know, continue driving around as they wait for their vehicle, which in turn will also, enhance your reputation as an insurance company. So in the beginning, the majority of them liked the idea. And I think a couple of them, we, we started off a world of them, decided, you know, getting vehicles. And over the years the industry has basically moved to that. So insurance companies don’t actually pay out any money today. They would rather hire a vehicle for you because they’ve actually realized that they get to save money, and it’s more beneficial in their part. And also they are, their policy holders get to have access to a vehicle much quicker as opposed to the way it was before. Because the way it was before, they would just tell them, look, go and look for a vehicle. Right. But then if they call us and tell us, look, we’ve got this policy, please arrange for a vehicle, we say ok, fine, there’s a vehicle we can deliver to where they are. So it’s much quicker. So yeah, it’s been an interesting and good journey.

Sam:                                      21:22                     Yeah, that’s really good. Great. Can we talk a bit about the economics of car rental? So I’m interested sort of roughly, how much did it cost to buy a car and then what’s your sort of expected payback in terms of being, and maybe some other additional costs that might have to be considered when you’re buying a car to hire as opposed to just to, to drive for yourself.

Greg:                                     21:50                     Yeah. So, you know, buying vehicles in Zambia is quite expensive, especially if you’re going to be buying new cars, right. Because, you know, like say Toyota, Alex, the new Toyota Alex will cost you between $40,000 and $50,000, which is a lot of money. So when we started we started with basically, because, you know, we had to start from somewhere, right. And we started with basically buying second-hand cars yeah, so we would buy second-hand cars from Japan and those are the cars that we were actually hiring out. And so, buying a second hand, a good second hand vehicle from Japan would almost cost you a quarter of the price of a new vehicle in some way. So because of that, we were able to actually you know, grow our fleet over time. And we actually had the payback period for the second-hand vehicles from Japan, the payback period is between, is between four and six months.

Sam:                                      23:08                     What?

Greg:                                     23:09                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      23:10                     Four and six months?

Greg:                                     23:11                     Yeah, between four and six months. Yeah. So you’d get back all your money.

Sam:                                      23:14                     What’s the, what utilization do you need for that? Like how often does the car need to be in use?

Greg:                                     23:19                     Well, the utilization in a month, if you can have at least a utilization of at least 20 days.

Sam:                                      23:27                     20 days in a month?

Greg:                                     23:28                     20 days in the month, between 15 and 20 days in the month, you should be able to get your money back between four to six months.

Sam:                                      23:36                     Are you calculating the total cash amount? Or are you saying, are you factoring in a depreciated value of the car if you were to sell it?

Greg:                                     23:47                     Yeah, so basically the initial investment on the vehicle.

Sam:                                      23:50                     Okay. So let’s say, let’s say it costs $10,000 to buy the car. Are you saying you’ll recoup $10,000 in six months?

Greg:                                     23:58                     Yeah, six months, guaranteed.

Sam:                                      24:00                     Really?

Greg:                                     24:00                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      24:00                     Okay. So it’s not, cause it’s not even, cause you might, cause even after six months, you want to say, right, I know I want to sell this car. You might be able to sell the car for $5,000. Yeah. Get some cash back or…

Greg:                                     24:11                     After six months, yeah. Possibly you might sell it for three quarters of that. Yeah.

Sam:                                      24:17                     Yeah. Wow. So how much does it cost for a day?

Greg:                                     24:21                     For a day, it depends on the vehicles. So our smallest vehicle, which is basically the hunchback vehicles, that the likes of the runx those their costs are 33 Kwacha per day. 33 Kwacha, which is which is about $38.

Sam:                                      24:41                     $38?

Greg:                                     24:42                     $38, So cause I think that’s the other thing, one of our strengths is that we, we actually have got very competitive rates. We have got one of the lowest rates in the industry. And it’s deliberate because we believe that it’s the only way that we can enable people out there to, ordinary people to access car rental. Yeah. So they range from $38. The sedans range from $38 to $55, and then we have the four by fours which range from $90 to $130.

Sam:                                      25:18                     Okay.

Greg:                                     25:18                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      25:19                     Wow. So with this, with a sedan, you were saying in six months, thats maybe a hundred days driving. So it’s about $5,000 to buy car?

Greg:                                     25:27                     To buy a car from Japan?

Sam:                                      25:29                     Yeah.

Greg:                                     25:30                     Yeah, you can, you can buy, you can have it landed for about that much, basically between 5,000 and 6,000. Yeah.

Sam:                                      25:38                     Are there any things that you need to do to the car? I mean, you said one is to prepare them for Zambian roads and the other is to prepare them for being rented out. So yeah. Are there any, so are there any things, I’m trying to think. There might be more potholes in Zambia, there might be, the roads might be hotter. Are there any sort of changes or modifications you need to make to the car?

Greg:                                     26:07                     For the majority of the cars, no. The only thing you need to do is really just when, once, once it arrives, have it registered and maybe at that time what we found is that the tires that the vehicles come with, they are mostly meant for the cold environments in Japan. So once they get here, you need to change them. Yeah.

Sam:                                      26:29                     What do you do the old times?

Greg:                                     26:31                     What we do with the old tires, usually if there are people who are interested in buying them, we sell them, but we explain to them the look, this tires came from Japan. So you’re gonna have to buy them at your own risk. Yeah.

Sam:                                      26:43                     I would say that, is there any use for cold tires? What would you call it, cold surface tires. Have you?

Greg:                                     26:52                     Yeah, in Zambia, usually the tires just don’t work, because if you continue with them, they usually, they’ll either burst or the top part will just come out.

Sam:                                      27:04                     Okay.

Greg:                                     27:04                     Yeah. Just shut off. Yeah. Which is not good.

Sam:                                      27:08                     So is there any other purpose for cold weather tires?

Greg:                                     27:12                     Cold weather tires, here in Zambia we haven’t found any.

Sam:                                      27:17                     Ok, have you just got a pile of these tires?

Greg:                                     27:21                     Yeah, we do have a, I think what we usually do is that we try, by all means to get rid of them. So if we have, if we can find a buyer, we sell them.

Sam:                                      27:34                     Okay. Yeah. But I mean most of the people who are buying them are kind of doing it slightly risky.

Greg:                                     27:41                     Yeah. You usually, it’s usually those who live in the, the, in the rural areas they’ll use it for what we call, this, in a way, you, you have a trailer and then it’s been pulled by either a cow, donkey.

Sam:                                      27:56                     Like a cart.

Greg:                                     27:57                     The cart, exactly. So they’ll usually use them for that.

Sam:                                      28:00                     They’re not going very quickly. Okay. And then are there any other things that you need to do to the car before you start?

Greg:                                     28:08                     I think the other thing that we’ve discovered also is that usually the engines come with what they call a thermostat.

Sam:                                      28:15                     Okay.

Greg:                                     28:15                     Because of the cold whether there. Now, the thermostat, usually only works best in cold weather in Japan. When it comes here it tends to expand and blocks the radiator.

Sam:                                      28:29                     Okay.

Greg:                                     28:29                     Yeah. And if you’re not careful, it might actually lead to the car over boiling and then it might damage the engine, So one of the things we do is that we actually remove it.

Sam:                                      28:41                     Okay.

Greg:                                     28:41                     Yeah, we remove the thermostat.

Sam:                                      28:43                     Alright.

Greg:                                     28:43                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      28:44                     Okay. And does that have any adverse effects?

Greg:                                     28:47                     None.

Sam:                                      28:47                     No. Okay.

Greg:                                     28:48                     The car continues to operate.

Sam:                                      28:50                     And so that’s kind of, you get the car from Japan and you kind of make it Zambia ready.

Greg:                                     28:55                     Yep. And customize it.

Sam:                                      28:56                     Do you need to then put anything like a tracking device in the car or anything? Any other things like that?

Greg:                                     29:02                     Yeah, so yeah, we do, we do. We do actually install tracking devices in our vehicles. In fact, I think that’s one thing actually left out as part of our risk management system. So we track all our vehicles. Yeah. Because obviously, I mean, if, you know, God forbid someone who’s not credible has the vehicle and they’ve got other plans. I would actually be able to track the vehicle. And just if they’re still not continuing. If they’re not bring back the vehicle, we would actually track the vehicle and switch it off, yeah.

Sam:                                      29:47                     Switch it off? So, so, wow. So how does it, so what, what, what data can you collect? So this is like a little device you put in the car.

Greg:                                     29:54                     Yeah, it’s a tracking device that we install on the vehicle, which enables us to track the vehicle and…

Sam:                                      30:00                     So you’re getting the GPS location. It gives you…

Greg:                                     30:04                     So it will tell us the real time location of the vehicle at any time. It will also, it’s able to tell us the speed at which the car is moving to be able to tell us whether the vehicle is stationary or it’s moving as well. It’s about to also tell us,some devices are able to tell us how much was in the vehicle? Yeah.

Sam:                                      30:30                     So have you, have you got sort of a theatre border or like a bit on you on your computer where you can sort of click a button and you see a map and you can see where your car is? Yeah, yeah. We’ve got an admin panel where we’re able to track all our cars. Yeah. And I think I’ve asked you, how many cars have you got?

Greg:                                     30:49                     Yeah, so that’s a good question because the model we use is one which, which we use our own cars and also third party vehicles. In 2016, we launched an online platform, which enables people from the public to list their vehicles. So you list your car and then we hire it out for you. Right. so our own cars, we’ve got very few cars, which are our own.

Sam:                                      31:18                     Really?

Greg:                                     31:19                     Yeah. So our own cars, they’re just about 25.

Sam:                                      31:23                     So you’ve got, on your City drive balance sheet.

Greg:                                     31:26                     Balance sheet?,

Sam:                                      31:27                     You know, under assets, 25 cars.

Greg:                                     31:29                     Just about 26 cars. Okay. Yeah.

Sam:                                      31:31                     How many is in your fleet?

Greg:                                     31:32                     Yeah. So basically on our platform, we’ve got a close of about 500 listed vehicles.

Sam:                                      31:41                     500?

Greg:                                     31:42                     Yeah. 500 listed vehicles. Yeah. So those, those listed vehicles in our own cars, when we combine them that’s the fleet that we basically used to hire out.

Sam:                                      31:54                     Wow.

Greg:                                     31:54                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      31:55                     That’s interesting. Okay, so 25 so, the initial ones that when you started the business, did you own all the cars?

Greg:                                     32:02                     When I started the business, we started one vehicle.

Sam:                                      32:04                     One vehicle.

Greg:                                     32:04                     Yeah. And yeah, and we did own it. Yeah. That’s in 2009 yeah.

Sam:                                      32:09                     25 and then say, well wow. So you’ve now sort of invented this marketplace for people to, so the people who are listed, who’ve listed their cars, what do they, do they kind of drive and then they get a phone call from you saying, can you, can you rent it for a week or have they got extra cars? What’s the sort of demographic?

Greg:                                     32:33                     So the way it works is that when you have your car listed, you get to keep it, right. So the, the, the, the marketplace is not a peer to peer marketplace, whereby a vehicle owner gets to actually just get to interact with the customer and then the, they handle everything, we’re not there yet. But basically what happens is that you have your car listed and then when there’s a booking on your vehicle, we give you a call, okay, we’ll give you a call and then we make arrangements.

Sam:                                      33:07                     Is it basically, so let’s say that you’re paying $50, let’s say that the customer is paying you $50 a day. Do you then go to the people, the five, people who’ve listed and say, we’ll give you $25 a day.

Greg:                                     33:19                     So, so basically the rate in our commission on the vehicles are actually prearranged, right? Yeah. So we usually typically get between 20% to 35% commission or niche higher.

Sam:                                      33:34                     Okay.

Greg:                                     33:35                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      33:35                     And out of that 25% to 35%, that’s all your servicing costs. So your, the team who come and do the initial checks, all that sort of stuff that gets paid out tt that.

Greg:                                     33:46                     Yeah. That gets paid out to you, so that, well our commission is, does cover all our operational costs. Yeah,

Sam:                                      33:54                     Yeah, yeah. Wow. Okay. That’s interesting. So 500 cars, is it 500 people or like to certain people have multiple cars, have some, some people like made a little sub business out of this.

Greg:                                     34:08                     Its actually quite interesting because when we launched the platform, some people started one vehicle. Right. And over time they actually had to buy extra vehicles from the money that they were making on the platform. So it is not, it’s not like, you know, one-to-one, but you have a number of people who have got maybe two, three, four, five vehicles listed on the platform. Yeah.

Sam:                                      34:35                     Nice. And all in Zambia?

Greg:                                     34:37                     All in Zambia, currently we’re just operating in Zambia.

Sam:                                      34:39                     Okay.

Greg:                                     34:39                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      34:40                     Do you have plans to go elsewhere?

Greg:                                     34:41                     Definitely. Definitely. We’ve had plans to go abroad. So yeah, that’s what we are working on.

Sam:                                      34:46                     Where do you want to go?

Greg:                                     34:47                     Well, you know, we really want to focus on, for the meantime, we want to focus on Africa. So we are looking at Southern Africa the neighbouring countries. Yeah. You know Botswana, Malawi, and then the other countries.

Greg:                                     35:05                     And how are you gonna, what framework are you going to use to decide which country to go to next?

Greg:                                     35:11                     Yeah. You know, obviously we need to start with a country which has got an investor friendly environment. Yeah. And…

Sam:                                      35:28                     Because you’d be coming in as foreign investors?

Greg:                                     35:30                     Yeah. We would become foreign investors. And obviously a place where, you know, it’s the, the people, the people there are more accommodative to technology. Yeah. Because our platform is a technological platform and we’d want to ensure that wherever we go, it has to be a place where you know, people are accommodative to technological things. Yeah. Because in many parts of Africa you know, people, this is when people are just getting to learn about these things. Yeah. So, yeah, I would want to go to a place where, you know, it would be easier for us to, you know, get established and have our platform be welcomed into, you know, people will find it easier to use, technologically.

Sam:                                      36:32                     Yeah. And when he’s talking about technology, is this because City drive is a website where they, people go on and select their cars?

Greg:                                     36:39                     Yeah, well actually we actually working on a mobile app because currently the platform is a web app. So you go, you go on the site, on the web and then you can list yoUR vehIcle there. But what we are currently doing that we’re working on a mobile app and yeah, once it’s ready then, you know, it’d be easier for us to scale the service, it’s, easier to scale, the service using a mobile app as compared to using web app so once the mobile app is up and running, then we’ll be able to then look at how we you know, have it exported outside the country.

Sam:                                      37:27                     Hmm.

Greg:                                     37:27                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      37:29                     So most people, most customers, how do they, do they hear about you through a friend? Do they, are they Googling Zambia? Car hire? Like how do they find out about you?

Greg:                                     37:39                     Well, so we, we have we market our products in many different ways. One of them is obviously using Google ads. Yeah, we use Google ads a lot, drives traffic to our site. And then also we have got listings on a number of sites as well. We’ve listed our services. And then also on the, on the local scene you know, we do do a lot of we put billboards we put billboards around and then we just have got a sales team which goes around just doing direct marketing. Yeah.

Sam:                                      38:26                     Cool. How big is your team?

Greg:                                     38:30                     So our team is basically spread across the four provinces. So we are talking about a 10 man team.

Sam:                                      38:43                     10 man team. Okay.

Greg:                                     38:45                     10 people.

Sam:                                      38:46                     10 people.

Greg:                                     38:46                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      38:47                     You say 10 men, are they all men?

Greg:                                     38:48                     No, sorry. Both. Both men and women.

Sam:                                      38:53                     Okay. And we’ll go, we’ll just do a few more questions if that’s all right. So City drive has been going for nearly 10 years.

Greg:                                     39:02                     Nearly 10 years, yeah. This our 10th year.

Sam:                                      39:04                     Yeah. Since you started, what have been, if you sort of think about yourself 10 years ago, if I was to sort of ask you, when you started the company, what will City drive look like in 10 years? How do you think today is different from what you initially set out? Both positively and negatively.

Greg:                                     39:22                     You know, in initially the vision was really to be an international company by the seventh year. Yeah. We’re supposed to have at least opened up branches outside the country. But I think one of the main hurdles we faced is that I think we realized as we went on that some of the assumptions we made were wrong. Yeah. Some of the assumptions we made were wrong and…

Sam:                                      39:48                     Such as?

Greg:                                     39:50                     Well, you know, we discovered that it is going to take a bit longer for us to actually you know, open offices outside the country. Mostly because of two main reasons: One, we found it extremely difficult to access capital to grow at the pace at which we had, we actually wanted. And then the other thing also is that we found it also difficult to, you know, to find skilled personnel who’d from whom we’d actually build a team that will enable us to scale the company quickly. So, because of those two main challenges we faced, we’ve taken rather longer than we thought to, you know, grow, grow quickly and open offices outside the country basically. Yeah. That’s what we faced. So we are currently operating in four provinces. Our hope is that in the next, in the next two years, we should open an office office office outside the country.

Sam:                                      41:09                     Okay.

Greg:                                     41:09                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      41:11                     Well how have you, how have you financed the business? So I guess you’re having to, well, at least with 25 vehicles you’ve had to buy them upfront, how have you financed that?

Greg:                                     41:22                     The acquisition of the vehicles has been done in two main ways. The first one obviously has been, we’ve been reinvesting our profits into the company, so I think the majority of the profits we make we’ve just been reinvesting in the company, in buying more vehicles. And then secondly, we financed the acquisition of vehicles through loan capital. Yes. So we’ve been fortunate enough to have to maintain a good credit rating. And we’ve been able to get loans from the banks and from private individuals.

Sam:                                      42:05                     Okay.

Greg:                                     42:05                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      42:06                     Is this, are you, is this a kwacha financing or dollar finance?

Greg:                                     42:10                     I think when we started in the early days, we were able to get kwacha.

Sam:                                      42:13                     Yeah.

Greg:                                     42:14                     But, over time we also managed to organize and negotiate for dollar loans. Yeah.

Sam:                                      42:23                     Do some of your customers pay you in dollars?

Greg:                                     42:26                     Yes. So we have, I think in terms of ratio dollar to Kwacha revenue, we have, it’s about 40 to 60.

Sam:                                      42:37                     $40. 60.

Greg:                                     42:38                     Yeah. 40% dollar revenue, 60% Kwacha revenue. Yeah. So because of that we’re able to actually get dollar loans, because then we just match the two right, the revenue against the expense.

Sam:                                      42:54                     Yeah.

Greg:                                     42:54                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      42:55                     Very cool. Nice, great, people who are listening at home, how can they learn more about City drive and also, yeah. What’s your presence online like? How do people find out more about the company?

Greg:                                     43:06                     If you just Google ‘City drive rent a car’ or ‘City drive,’ we’ll definitely pop up. So you can find us on Google business. You can find us on some other listings that we have. You can go to our website, www.citydriverentacar.com. You can also find us on Facebook. ‘@city Drive rent a car’ and then you can also find us on Instagram and Twitter.

Sam:                                      43:32                     Oh, you’re on Instagram?

Greg:                                     43:33                     Yeah. We’re on instagram.

Sam:                                      43:34                     What’s your, what’s your, like what has been a popular recent post?

Greg:                                     43:38                     A popular recent posts has been we recently hired out a camper to some tourists who came all the way from Netherlands and yeah, they had no problem in us getting photos of them with the camper. So we managed to share that on our instagram.

Sam:                                      44:02                     Whereabouts was the photo taken?

Greg:                                     44:05                     The photo was taken at our office.

Sam:                                      44:07                     Really?

Greg:                                     44:07                     Yeah, when they were collect the vehicle at our office.

Sam:                                      44:09                     Nice. Yeah. And then they took it all around…

Greg:                                     44:11                     They took it around and actually they still have it. It’s they’ve had it for three weeks. Yeah, they’re touring Zambia.

Sam:                                      44:20                     Oh, nice.

Greg:                                     44:20                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      44:21                     Very cool. Nice one. And that is City drive on Instagram. Just like City drive.

Greg:                                     44:25                     Yeah, City drive Instagram, yeah, so @city_ drive.

Sam:                                      44:31                     Awesome. Very cool. Nice. Well Greg.

Greg:                                     44:34                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      44:34                     Thanks so much.

Greg:                                     44:35                     Thanks a lot.

Sam:                                      44:36                     Cheers.

Greg:                                     44:37                     Thanks a lot for the time.


How a Kenyan couple captured the Japanese market in Kenya, with Wangari Wachira


Near to where I live in Nairobi is a Japanese cafe.

Whenever I’ve been the food has been delicious, and the small place is full of people from Japan, enjoying Ramen bowls and cold imported beer.

I thought it would be interesting to interview the owners to learn about how the business started.

It turns out that the owners Wangari (the other, her husband) have cornered down a niche market in the city.

Both were born and raised in Kenya, independently decided to learn Japanese as kids and ended up getting married after a mutual friend introduced them so they could connect on the shared love for Japan

Today they run a diverse portfolio of businesses to serve Japanese consumers in Kenya.

In the interview we discuss how their businesses came to be, the interplay of owning a safari company, supermarket, cafe and farm all geared towards the Japanese market, and practicalities of, for example, selling Bento boxes in Nairobi.

It’s a really interesting example of finding a business area that’s aligned with your personal interests and skill set, and then occupying that niche to very high standard.


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Social Media Links

Website: https://jinya-foods-ltd.business.site/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/japanesestorenairobi/

LinkedIn: Wangari Wachira


Sam:                                      00:00                     Intro

Sam:                                      01:43                     Cool. So we’re here today with Wangari from Jinya, Wangari, welcome to the show.

Wangari:                              01:49                     Thank you very much. Welcome to Jinya.

Sam:                                      01:50                     Thanks. So we’re currently sat drinking Japanese tea in your Japanese supermarkets. Did you call it Japanese supermarkets?

Wangari:                              01:58                     Yes, yes, we do.

Sam:                                      01:59                     Fantastic. And then there’s the cafe just around the corner as well. In the same sort of block.

Wangari:                              02:05                     Yes, that’s right.

Sam:                                      02:06                     Yeah. Just to get us started, can you tell us a bit about Jinya and a bit about yourself?

Wangari:                              02:12                     So Jinya is I started to run Jinya about five years ago after the original founder retired back to Japan. She had been doing this for around 10 years and she wanted to retire and go back to Japan. And so she was looking for people who would either take on, take it on and continue as a way of having continuity and also taking care of the Japanese community that was in Nairobi. At the same time I had sort of also established that I wanted to start a food business and through my husband who has interests in the Japanese community where he runs a safari company that handles Japanese tourists. He had known this lady Reiko for many years by giving her business of the Japanese Bento box. And so when they had known each other for a long time and she mentioned that, you know, she was going back to Japan and she needed to, to get somebody else to continue with the business. And at that point David knew that it will be very suitable for me first because of my love of Japanese culture, Japan, the Japanese people. And he knew that you know, this is something that I might want to try. And so he came and asked, would you be interested to do this? And and I jumped at it and I was like, this is a wonderful idea. Let’s, let me go and see what it is. So I went into her kitchen for around two months just to intern with her and learn about the cuisine and what she was doing. And spending time with her, you know, as I saw that, you know, I could do this I can challenge it and learn more. And and that’s how it started.

Sam:                                      04:15                     Very cool. Okay. So Reiko so she started maybe 15 years ago.

Wangari:                              04:21                     That’s right.

Sam:                                      04:22                     Yeah. So she was in, she was based in Nairobi as well?

Wangari:                              04:24                     That’s right. Yeah.

Sam:                                      04:26                     And did she have the same premises that we’re sat in now?

Wangari:                              04:29                     No. So she’s been in several premises. So the last premise that Jinya was, it was on Riverside drive.

Sam:                                      04:37                     Okay.

Wangari:                              04:38                     It was a house that was, she used it, a multipurpose, it was a geo house. She lived in it and downstairs was the shop. So when she left I also had the same, I didn’t have a premise to set it up in. So I sort of set it up also in my house for a short time as I tried to get a place to position it or a little store like this. In one afternoon when I was doing a delivery and I was on Lenana road I saw the sign of shops to let, and now I, I jumped at the, at the opportunity because in this area that’s where a lot of the Japanese people and Southeast Asians there’s a big number of them who live in this area. So it was the area that I was looking for. And so when this came up in 2015I jumped at it and then I got the space.

Sam:                                      05:37                     Very cool. Okay. Well there’s going to be lots of things sort of for us to talk about with the business, but I think, you know, the thing which I sort of struck with at the beginning was you said that you’ve always had an interest in the Japanese culture and where’s that, where’s that come from?

Wangari:                              05:52                     I’m not sure. Sometimes I say, I think in my past life I must have been Japanese, because I studied the Japanese language when I was studying for college. I was it was an added advantage to have an extra language. So I studied French and I thought to myself, I want to do something different from everybody else. And I think a crazy idea came to my mind. Why don’t I study Japanese? I often ask my mom, so when I said I want to study Japanese, why did you even respond? Because she responded instantly came to the Japanese embassy and asked, is there a place where if somebody is interested in learning Japanese language, they can get? And the funny story is that this I always try to think what an interesting story this is. My Japanese language teacher, the first person who told me about Japan and anything about it is actually was married to Reiko who ended, who I ended up 25 or 20 odd years later buying her business as, so I learned language and culture from Weda Sensei and I learned the food from Reiko Weda interesting cycle.

Sam:                                      07:16                     I know it’s a very influential family.

Wangari:                              07:17                     Yes, yes. They have had a very big influence on me. So back then I just studied the language, a bit of culture, then went into work as work happens, I really did not use…

Sam:                                      07:34                     What did you do?

Wangari:                              07:34                     So I was in the safari business. So I worked in a, I actually ended up in the hospitality section of the safari business where I worked for several camps in Maasai Mara. And a few years, maybe 13, 13 years ago, I left that to come and join my husband in his safari business. And we set up a camp in Maasai Mara also. But,,or everyday work, that does not, didn’t involve me every day. So for, I needed something that I would do something everyday. And being based in Nairobi, hat’s why the food business sounded like a good thing to do. But also, he safari business over the last couple of years has been facing a lot of challenges from terrorism to drop maybe I think a difference of interest in tourists around the world. Having more options to go to, aybe a little bit of under development of our tourist product. So the, the safari business changed and the numbers of tourists that we would receive several years ago really dropped. And so we were thinking that we needed to diversify because we were 100% in that. And that’s where we depended on. And we needed, we felt that we needed to diversify into something that’s not affected by terrorism, that’s not affected very much by political, different political incidences. Something that we could have a little bit more control or predictability to. So we needed to diversify into that area. But with our strengths being in the tourism and hospitality business, e still wanted to be, some way, in that sphere. And also, he investment that we could afford to put in felt, you know, the food business in Nairobi sounded, ooked like, you know, the low lying fruit that we could be able to harness. So we, yeah, so basically that’s how, how Jinya has evolved to where we are today.

Sam:                                      09:53                     Very cool. Okay. So you sort of always had this interest in, in Japanese culture and then various turns and luck, you’ve sort of ended up being here. Is, I mean, the businesses you’ve got, you’ve got the sort of supermarket, which we’re sat in now and the cafe as well. Who were the main customers at in both and did the base sort of differ as well?

Wangari:                              10:21                     So we, we started with, the first people who knew about Jinya was the Japanese customers. They depended on Jinya for certain things. A lot of the handmade foods. Before we did not have the fresh produce. And this is something that I started. Reiko did not have fresh produce. Being business people, we had also ventured into agriculture, agribusiness growing local vegetables, trying to grow flowers for the European market. So we have a farm that we’ve always said we are hobby farmers, but we wanted to end up being a commercial farm that actually works. And we tried various things that didn’t work. And so, the way Jinya was when I took it over, it was also facing challenges in its structure, because there was a lot of influx of supermarkets that were bringing a lot of things that, you know, the Japanese could depend on.

Sam:                                      11:27                     So previously, was it sort of a, a specialists store and so that it would import particular Japanese products?

Wangari:                              11:36                     Yes, there was a little bit of import and very targeted just to the Japanese community. But for it to survive, it needed us to go more beyond just the Japanese community and we needed also to give them more than what was being offered then. So, we still have pretty much a number of things that Reiko used to, used to supply, you know, the sliced meats, the miso, the miso paste and the tofu and various other things. But we then added the fresh produce. So I just went onto the internet and I asked myself, you know, do the Japanese eat other things, other vegetables that are not available in Nairobi. And I went to the Internet and I saw, wow, there was a whole list of other vegetables that I could grow.

Sam:                                      12:32                     Alright. So someone had made a list of these are the main vegetables eaten in Japanese cuisine?

Wangari:                              12:38                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      12:39                     And you could then sort of go through them and see if they were already being grown in Kenya?

Wangari:                              12:44                     Yes. So that’s what I did. And then we started to, to try, so growing different things.

Sam:                                      12:56                     What did you grow?

Wangari:                              12:56                     You know apparently the Japanese have their own radish, a particular radish that is predominantly used in Japanese cuisine. The Koreans have their own radish. So I started to grow the Japanese radish. I started to grow some of the, some bottle cruet. I started to grow some different salads that we have them here. But one of the things you know, the Japanese are very particular about what they eat and they prefer a lot of highly good quality, highly well grown food. So when, when I grow the food on my farm I’m able, they are able to get the traceability of what they eat and then they can trust what they eat because it’s all been grown on one farm. We use good. We are not, we’re not an organic farm, but we use good agricultural practices. You know, we do a lot of positive things like that are in organic farming, like using organic manure pesticide control through pest control, through plants like different plants that that keep away pests. There’s one Japanese vegetable, the Chrysanthemum greens, which is very, a very good pest controller. And so we now grow it on the farm as a vegetable and as a pest, pest control. So we adapt those kinds of things. We have a good water source, so we were able to offer them, we are able to offer our customers, good fresh vegetable, which we bring every once a week from the farm, and we sell on our Saturday vegetable market. And that changed immediately that changed the trajectory of the business. Just bringing in the vegetables because now the Japanese people who are in Nairobi and even others who came to hear about it and they, you know, once in a while they like to eat southeast Asian food or they change a little bit of their food. I mean, you can also get cabbage or lettuce, things that are in continental cuisine, but because of the freshness and the, where they come from and all those guarantees, we’ve grown outside of just the Japanese market. And then we have more.

Sam:                                      15:18                     Alright. So have you, have you always had this farm?

Wangari:                              15:20                     Yes. We’ve always had it.

Sam:                                      15:22                     And before you were saying you were just growing sort of local foods that…

Wangari:                              15:26                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      15:27                     But now you’ve, now you’ve got this shop that’s, yeah. That’s a great synergy where you’ve had this, this farm before and now you’ve got the supply on the and the vehicle to deliver it.

Wangari:                              15:39                     That’s right.

Sam:                                      15:39                     Yeah. You can now you’ve got this, this market’s delivering suit. Yes. Sounds really great,. Okay.

Wangari:                              15:44                     Yeah. So, it was a struggle to get a consistent market when we grew just for the local market because the local market has a lot of other external influences that you cannot be in control of. So for example, you can plant lots of cabbage and everybody else planted lots of cabbage, so when you come in the market, nobody needs your cabbage. So I started sort of stopped farming first to, to be able to understand which direction that I wanted to take it to. I tried various things like I had, I had had a little stall in one local market, but it was still very difficult to predict what to grow, when to grow it and all that. But then now when we created our own market here that had a specific kind of food that you would find I found that now that made sense and we have gone, we can continuously now plan based on that. And even our growth, we can easily plan based on that because we have seen the trends that has been said.

Sam:                                      16:51                     Alright. So, the Japanese community that was there before you, where they unable to get Japanese radish?

Wangari:                              17:01                     Yeah. You know.

Sam:                                      17:03                     How many people, roughly how many Japanese people are roughly living in…

Wangari:                              17:06                     I understand that about probably 800 of them families, many children and adults and children.

Sam:                                      17:14                     Yeah.

Wangari:                              17:14                     Not very many, but we expect you know them to increase because, you know, Japan is increasing its, position in Africa and interest in Africa and Kenya being it’s hub for a lot of this. I have seen you know, increase in Japanese companies, so I expect that the growth shall continue. Yeah.

Sam:                                      17:38                     Okay. So roughly 800, is it roughly 800 people?

Wangari:                              17:43                     Yeah.

Wangari:                              17:44                     Okay. Doesn’t sound very many, does it? No, no. It’s a very small number. How many have you, how many different Japanese people do you think have come to your cafe?

Wangari:                              17:58                     When we said the cafe, I have seen Japanese people who were never customers of the shop, the supermarket come to the cafe, which has been wonderful because they mainly, they were local. They know how to survive here with, without necessarily their Japanese favorite ingredients. They have figured a way to survive. But somehow the cafe has brought them out. And I’ve got to meet the new, new Japanese people that have been here. You know, some telling me they’ve been here for so long and I’m like, I’ve never met you before. How come? So I mean we, we’ve gotten a good number of them coming through. The goodness about the thing about the cafes that we are doing home home-style cooking and, and that’s very close to a lot of Japanese people’s heart,so.

Sam:                                      18:57                     What are some of the popular dishes? Yeah.

Wangari:                              19:00                     Some of the popular dishes they keep changing because I keep changing the menu but you know I have a lot of, a lot of Japanese people are our bachelors. They haven’t yet come with family. Some, some don’t have families. We are seeing also very many young, younger Japanese coming. And one of our most popular is Katsudon. So katsudon is a, dong is a bowl of rice with something on top. So this one has a cutlet, a pork Cutlet and it has an egg sauce. So that’s real home cooking and it’s comfort food. There’s also shogayaki. Shogayaki is pork in ginger. Also very easy to make at home. And probably eaten a lot. There’s a Japanese curry and we can have various twists to the curry. We can have a cutlet in it, we can have a curry soup. So there are many other options. And, and the good thing that I’ve also found out is that when I introduced them to non-Japanese people also, because one of the aims of creating the cafe was I realized that my store might not have a big influence or a big impact if I do not reach out to more of the local people and they would come to the store and, you know, they would look at all these strange things to them. And I would tell them, I know this, I mean, you could cook this at home, you can eat this at home. It’s not complicated. You can adopt a Japanese meal once a week in your menu, and they would look at me and say, well, okay. And they would walk out of the store. And so I thought to myself, you know, if I could only cook this food and get people to taste it then they would see the, you know, when I was talking about and so to take care of people who asked me for Bento boxes and, and food in general, and also to take care of growth for us. We thought, you know what, let’s put up a cafe. So when the space came available, just here, you know, it’s perfect to have it just here. So if somebody enjoyed something at the cafe, they could come and pick it up from the store and then they could try it at home.

Sam:                                      21:30                     So who does the, whose the chef, who does the cooking at the cafe.

Wangari:                              21:36                     I have a team. I have a main chef who, we, we searched for with our history, knowing there was a Japanese restaurant several years ago that was run by a Japanese chef. He was a chef and he ran the business. And so we, it was shut a few years ago. So we went out all the way to Kitengela, to go and look for some of the people that he had trained. And we had one, my husband had one.

Sam:                                      22:08                     What were they doing in Kitengela?

Wangari:                              22:08                     They, you know, they would, now they’re doing different things. So we tracked them down through one waiter that was in one of the Japanese restaurants and he was a colleague to one of their chefs and we asked him, so where is so and so, do you know where so and so he was there. He was their manager at the it was called Nihonjin club. Nihonjin club means a Japanese people club. And so he was the manager at Nihonjin Club. And we were told that you can find him in kitengela. That’s where he has a school.

Sam:                                      22:44                     Kitengela is like, maybe an hour drive from…

Wangari:                              22:46                     Yeah. Or towards Athi river. So, you know we got his contact and we met and we went and met him there. And, you know, so we asked him, you know, do you have contacts of the people who you worked with who could be young, who are younger then, who had been trained how to make Japanese food and where could they be and what are they doing? And he had the contact of two of them. Unfortunately one was not interested in coming back to Nairobi, he had already settled in his rural life. And I think we didn’t entice him enough. But his specialty was also making Sushi and we really were not geared to making Sushi because Sushi is not Japanese home food. It’s also for special occasions, even in Japan. So we were not very keen on having a Sushi, just a Sushi chef. We wanted somebody who was more, who wouldn’t be, who knew more about the Japanese traditional foods. And then, that’s how we ended up with the chef John. The other rest of the team was the junior team, so we used to do Bento boxes.

Sam:                                      24:00                     What was a bento box?

Wangari:                              24:01                     So a bento box is a traditional lunchbox in Japan. It’s very popular to have a boxed lunch for lunch. So it’s either from home or from the train station or from the convenience store. So when you go to Japan, you’ll see these lunch boxes all over the place and they are wholesome, very delicious. You know, it’s, it’s an everyday.

Sam:                                      24:24                     What’s in there?

Wangari:                              24:25                     It will have, there would be, they have a variety of them. And you know, in Japan they see four seasons where, which they use to even change their cuisines. So because, you know, in different seasons you get differentdifferent ingredients. So they change, they sometimes change based on the four seasons, but you get the regular karare, which is the fried chicken, the tonkatsu, which is the breaded pork. You get the shogayaki, you know, so you get the daily kind of food, but you know, emphasis is into food that is not soupy, that will not leak, that will still be enjoyable cold because it’s enjoyed at room temperature. So a lot of emphasis is based on that. You will find a rice ball in it or a, or just some rice some vegetables. So it will be a nicely balanced boxed lunch that you can enjoy in different places in Japan.

Sam:                                      25:23                     So do you sell bento boxes?

Wangari:                              25:26                     Yes, yes.

Sam:                                      25:29                     Do people bring their own box and then you fill it up or do they do…

Wangari:                              25:34                     There’s disposable. So there are disposable boxes and we arrange depending on, so you, what you do is that you choose the main, the main that you would want to have. So let’s say you want to have fried chicken and then we choose the other accompaniments to go with the fried chicken. So there’s, we balance the textures, the flavors, the colors, you know, we have to pay attention to lots of details in Japanese, when you’re making Japanese food. There’s the rule of five, five colors.

Sam:                                      26:06                     Five colors per meal?

Wangari:                              26:07                     Five tastes and five methods of cooking.

Sam:                                      26:10                     Really? So five methods of cooking for every meal?

Wangari:                              26:12                     For every meal. Yeah. But somehow they get it. I guess you can, you could have about four, but you know, you can try. The five colors sort of help you to know that you have a balanced meal and that you have taken care of all your nutritional requirements.

Sam:                                      26:31                     Did you do like a different lunch each day that people get?

Wangari:                              26:34                     So we have about, I think there are five, five different sets that we have made just to make it easier for lots of people to be able to order a bento box, and also coming from for the Japanese people they’re used to it. You know, whatever is in the Bento box, you look at it and they have a lot of variety in their convenience store. So you look at whatever you want. But here, because we don’t have already so many people, who are taking different, bento boxes, we tried to create about five. So you can get around five of them from our option, you just pick what you like.

Sam:                                      27:09                     Do people come into the store, coming to the cafe everyday and pick it up and then go, or do they do the pre-order?

Wangari:                              27:15                     So they pre-order, you know, a bento box needs to be pre-planned because there are little other things in it that take time to be prepped. So, you know, it’s it’s always we say that you have to order your bentobox before 10 o’clock. If it’s for lunch if it’s for dinner, you have to order it before three o’clock. So that we can be able to make it a complete bento box.

Sam:                                      27:41                     How much does it cost?

Wangari:                              27:41                     So they vary from I think our least bento box goes for 950. And the highest is about 1,500.

Sam:                                      27:49                     Okay. So between 10 and $15.

Wangari:                              27:51                     Yes.

Sam:                                      27:53                     Is that quite expensive?

Wangari:                              27:54                     Well, it I think it is, it’s reasonable.

Sam:                                      27:59                     OK.

Wangari:                              28:00                     In Nairobi, it’s reasonable. What we’ve also done is that we’ve also, one of the things that I keep challenging at the cafe is to be able to have reasonably priced food that’s well balanced, that you know, where you get value for, for what you’re paying for. So we’ve, it’s something that I have that we have worked very hard on to try and make sure that, you know, it’s, it’s something that you can afford for a daily lunch. You know, like when you go to the other cafes you, you spend about the same amount of money and, and you don’t even get the variety that you can get, that you get in a, in a bento box. So yeah, it’s great value.

Sam:                                      28:41                     Yeah. Cool. How does the, how do the businesses interplay with the safari business? You mentioned that you’ve diversified, but I think you said you still, you still kept the safari business. Is, is David having a lot of Japanese tourists?

Wangari:                              28:59                     So yeah, so we still maintain that. And that actually is David’s core business. The cafe and Jinya, he, he supports but his core business is the safari business and the comp in Maasai Mara and, and his business is still 95%, almost 100% Japanese clientele.

Sam:                                      29:24                     How did he get into that at the beginning?

Wangari:                              29:27                     So it’s a very interesting story also. I mean, he also out of we hadn’t met, I hadn’t met him and he also went to study Japanese.

Sam:                                      29:36                     Roughly how many people go to study Japanese in Kenya?

Wangari:                              29:43                     It’s not a big number, but it’s been growing. When we did it, we were very few.

Sam:                                      29:50                     Yeah,

Wangari:                              29:51                     I know about, to this day, I know about five people who we went to school with around the same time. But it’s been growing. The numbers grow, slightly.

Sam:                                      30:04                     Yeah.

Wangari:                              30:04                     I think it will grow even more because of the plans that the Japanese government has. And it would be an advantage to learn the language because there are opportunities there are big opportunities with working for Japanese businesses or even working in Japan or even going to school in Japan. So, yeah. So expect that to.

Sam:                                      30:32                     You and David both, so I’ve got to ask, how did you guys meet and did you, and how soon did you realize that you both learnt Japanese?

Wangari:                              30:42                     I always, I think of our interest in Japan and Japanese culture is what brought us together because one of his friends or colleagues was talking to me on the phone and where I worked. And he’s, and you know, he told him, you know, there’s this girl that I know who also speaks Japanese. Like you. Yeah. Oh. And I think David, out of curiosity must’ve said I want to meet her. That’s, that’s unique. And I think our love and our passion for many things, Japanese brought us together. And the rest is history. So we’re, so it’s been a, it’s been a wonderful opportunity to be able to bring together that passion and it has brought us this business opportunity to also venture into.

Sam:                                      31:40                     So the fact that David could speak Japanese, that kind of meant that he was a natural fit for yeah. Being, run safaris for Japanese tourists.

Wangari:                              31:49                     That’s right. Yeah. Yeah. So he was employed at the time. He worked for a safari company that had a lot of Japanese tourists but was not employed for very long because then he started his own company. And just last week, 1st of July, we celebrated 20 years.

Sam:                                      32:07                     Wow!

Wangari:                              32:08                     Of his, of that company of Great Land. And so we have continued, so we, we still make Bento, so now we make Bento boxes for Great Land.

Sam:                                      32:18                     Yeah.

Wangari:                              32:19                     And their customers, and other safari companies that have Japanese tourists. We still make the Bento boxes cause they, you know, when Japanese tourists come, sometimes they really miss their home food after being in in, out on holiday for maybe 10, 10 or so days. So it’s always a good opportunity for them to eat something that’s close to home.

Sam:                                      32:47                     Yeah, definitely. So did you make them in the cafe and then sort of distribute them? No, no.

Wangari:                              32:53                     Yeah. So we make them at the cafe and then when the, depending on what itinerary the customer has, they either come and pick it up from here or we drop them, it off to some convenient place to them. So it all depends on, on the nature of the, of the safari. Sometimes we do them when they’re departing to, to the airport, you know, they’re like, oh, I’m so tired of this continental food. I would love to have some Japanese food on my way back out. So,

Sam:                                      33:24                     Yeah. Okay. So you’ve got sort of like, you’ve got safari, you’ve got the farm, you’ve got the, the supermarket and the cafe, all sort of seem to have synergies with each other. Is there something which is missing? Is there, from doing this, are you like, oh, there’s an opportunity here. If we, I don’t know, started a tea company or your, or your something, is there anything that you can sort of, you can see how this trend might continue?

Wangari:                              33:53                     There’s lots of things, but we are also at a point where we, we want to focus our attention to developing the supermarket because there’s potential to develop that. The cafe we’ve just started and we can see the potential in that. So one of the, this, to take you back a little bit in 2016 as we were trying to, think we, you know, we could see the dangers and what was happening to the tourism industry and the way it was becoming unreliable and undependable. So we decided to take a trip to Japan to go and learn what were the Japanese trends for the safari business. We went basically for the safari business. And I also went on a, we also went on a culinary journey to try and get different tastes of the Japanese food and to understand the Japanese food better. But our main agenda was to try and go and understand where the Japanese tourists’ mind was. So that we could come back here and prepare ourselves for that. And but there had also been a lot of talk of diversify the tourists, the Kenyan tourist product, you know, that it was getting tired and same old, same old. So we weren’t, we constantly had this question, what does that mean? Diversify and different and because, you know, everybody was doing safari or a hotel or a safari company and now we could see where the challenges were. So we kept on asking ourselves, what can we do? We don’t have the kind of money to start an amusement park. That’s a diversification, that’s a product that can be put out here, but you know, that needs big money. So, so we went on this trip not knowing what we were gonna find. And so we went for Japan travel fair, one of the biggest in the world. And in that there was some side meetings and for love of food I picked one that had to do with gastronomic tourism. I was, I didn’t know what that meant. I didn’t even know what it meant until I attended the meeting, but it, you know, had food and it had tourism. So I was like, you know, that’s a good mix. Then we also attended an outbound tourism one and an inbound tourism one. We wanted to understand everything. And the gastronomic tourism side meeting is what inspired the cafes. We’re gonna do this. We always played with the idea, but, you know, we didn’t not, maybe have the thing, the drive, the push, the reason, the confidence to go for it. And, and in that meeting, I went and learned that food in Japan is their tourist product is the product that they sell. So every, every tourist around the world going to Japan, goes for food. And I was like, oh, there’s diversification right there. So let’s go and diversify the product and let’s make a restaurant. And maybe we shall attract the tourists to our restaurants also. But more so attract the local people. And then this is not dependent on terrorism. It’s not, it doesn’t get hurt by terrorism much because the locals, once they know to the Japanese food, they will still come to the restaurant. And so that’s how we diversify the tourism product that needed diversification and improvement and our own having another business that we could rely on for ourselves. So at that meeting we learned a lot. Then we came to implement more confidently that, you know, we were not just targeting the Japanese who are living here and that this is something that we could grow into various, into various directions. So in Japan, there’s so much good food, different kinds of food small restaurants. So, you know, we came from a background of you have to have big restaurants to make economic sense to make business sense and you know, we went and so very small, tiny restaurants with six seats or nine seats or 15 seats. So that really was helped us to be able to bring down our, to set up you know, at a point where we were comfortable. I don’t like big, I never imagined having a very big restaurant, but when I went to Japan and so that, you know, what I have in my imagination can actually work. I’m always afraid of mass. I’m afraid of mass production of especially food. So I couldn’t do, I think if I saw 50 people I would shut, I’d have a mental shutdown. But when I see a few people and I can control the product and the quality, that’s very important for me. And that’s very much the way they do it in Japan. So I was able to see firsthand how I could actually actualize something that was just in my mind or just in our mind and how we could do it at our scale. So the restaurant is just a 25 seater. In Japanese numbers, it’s almost two restaurants. So we are happy with that.

Sam:                                      40:03                     Okay. Well, just a few more questions if that’s all right. I’m interested, since you’ve sort of started working on this full time what have been some of the surprises that you’ve had? So if you sort of compare what it was like when you started compared to what it is now, like what are some of the ways in which it’s different?

Wangari:                              40:25                     The surprises, can I think of some surprises some pleasant surprises from especially from our Japanese customers is they have said that our, in Nairobi, they think we are the most authentic. Even visiting Japanese people who will live in Japan most of the time and they’ll be just visiting, they’ve also made that comment and they’ve also made comments like some of the foods you get here is in Tokyo quality. So that’s, those are pleasant surprises. I don’t know. I don’t think that we expected too match that. I always wanted to do, my aim, I always aim for the best. So I always tell my staff we have to be the best Japanese restaurant. But that’s just saying it. Actualizing it is another thing and I didn’t know what that meant. And you know, the standards in Japan are so high that, you know, when the Japanese say that, then you know that you’ve started on the right footing. Other surprises is that not just Japanese people come to the restaurant.

Sam:                                      41:41                     Yeah, myself included.

Wangari:                              41:43                     Yourself included. You know, I did. I was, I have been surprised where did this people, where were this all this people, but I know from having attended that meeting in 2016 that the Japanese government or the Tourism Department of the Japanese government about 30 years ago made this policy to make Japanese food known around the world. And so when you go to America, if you go to Europe you go to Asia Japanese food is slowly becoming very, very popular among the people not just Sushi. Even other different things. At that meeting we were showing how Japanese food names that are in Japanese are found in some of the haute cuisine, French restaurants in France or…

Sam:                                      42:38                     What do you mean?

Wangari:                              42:38                     So, for example, maybe I remember one was hamachi, hamachi is a type of fish. So you would look at the menu in a French restaurant, fine dining French restaurant that is selling hamachi, but they don’t call it the French name or the English name, yellow tail. It is named in the French restaurant, whatever, hamachi something but in a French restaurant or different Japanese ingredients you would find being adopted in other cuisines. So they have successfully managed to get other people to adopt, other chefs around the world to adapt Japanese styling, Japanese ingredients into their restaurants. And so that’s the reason why everybody now they, they can attract around 2 million tourists into Japan and almost all those tourists are not going to see the temples and the old, and the other different cultures there. One of the biggest thing is that they want to go to all these ramen restaurants, tonkatsu restaurants, Japanese tea ceremony or the much longer kaiseki, which is a, you know, like the haute cuisine of Japanese food. So yeah.

Sam:                                      44:01                     Alright. Any challenges?

Wangari:                              44:04                     Yeah. I think the farm is the biggest challenge of all of them. Farming is, has a lot of enemies. I think from the sun, the African sun you know, the heat.

Sam:                                      44:22                     Is it too hot?

Wangari:                              44:24                     It’s too hot for some the vegetables. I have had to put infrastructure there to be able to help my veggies grow peacefully and happily. But slowly, we have overcome some of those, but I don’t think there’s anything like overcoming farming challenges because the different seasons present different challenges. Other challenges, just the strings of business, you know, when you have to, when you’re running the business yourself and you’re thinking everything and setting it up. So, you know, from start up of, I’m not Japanese so I have to read a lot, so that I do not make, any blunders or any obvious mistakes that would offend the Japanese people.

Sam:                                      45:18                     Have you done any of those? Have you made like a little blunder or like something in the menu?

Wangari:                              45:24                     I think so, but they’re very gentle with me.

Sam:                                      45:28                     They don’t take offense?

Wangari:                              45:30                     They don’t take offense, some are very nice. They come back and they tell me, you know, that’s not the way we do it. You could try this or the other. And so they if you go to the cafe, you will see, I have another second menu that I’ve never really printed on the proper menu. And that second menu has been developed by our customers and they came and suggested different things. And so they would come and say, what I did is when I launched the cafe, I sent a message to all of my customers from the store. And I told them there’s a Japanese drama series that I love to watch and it’s based on a little restaurant. It’s called midnight diner. And the story behind Midnight diner is that the chef does not have a menu. And what you do, you come in, requests whatever you want and provided he has the ingredients, he’ll make it. And so I told my customers I’m going to have a simple menu, but please come to the restaurant and if you see, if you want something just request it and if we have the ingredients, we’ll make it. And so the second menu has actually been developed out of that. Because I wanted to you know, when I opened the restaurant I wanted I was not very sure what to put in. You know, if you think about all the Japanese food that you could put in a menu, then you would not be able to run a restaurant. So I needed to start with some of the favorites, some home favorites and also some not so home favorites because people go to restaurants to eat some of the things that they can not enjoy at home that you know, are only made in restaurants or are best made in restaurants. Not necessarily that not made at home. And various other things. So my, I’ve been fortunate that the customers have come forward with different suggestions and they think about it, you know, they come and tell them, you know, you can make this, it’s not so difficult and everything is available and people love it. And then I’m also very responsive to my customers because that’s actually how we have grown the store. By listening to them and talking to them and asking them lots of questions about what’s, what don’t we have, what do you need and what can’t you find and we can provide it. And so we’ve developed the many that way.

Sam:                                      48:05                     Fantastic. Very cool. And people who are listening at home, how can they learn more about Jinya? How can they, where can they find you in Nairobi? What’s sort of the best way for people to try and sort of learn more?

Wangari:                              48:16                     We have online presence. You can find us on the social media. We are on Facebook, we are on Google maps. I have, I’m not very tech savvy, social media savvy. I have an Instagram that I don’t remember to upload photos on. My daughters tell me I don’t know how to do it. So I think I’ve lost the confidence to do it at all. So yeah, but we are here on Lenana road both the restaurant and the, and the shop. So you can easily find us there. I love to cook and I, and I want more people to adopt one or two Japanese recipes in their menu. It’s really it brings variety into your weekly dinners or weekly meals. If you could adapt a few Japanese tricks, you could be much more healthier and you would feel very good.

Sam:                                      49:16                     Well actually, I mean I’m, I need, I need to decide what I’m going to have for dinner tonight. So what, what would you recommend that I could bare in mind. I don’t eat meat, so what would you recommend? What’s a good Japanese which I can mate. I can make my sleeping.

Wangari:                              49:30                     Yeah you know, Japanese food is very, very healthy. Actually, you asked me about challenges at the cafe. Taking care of vegetarians in Japanese cuisine is a very big challenge because the Japanese are not vegetarian. They are, they have a very healthy cuisine that knows how to consume the red meats and the meats and all but they don’t have much emphasis on vegetarian. But you can get various vegetarian options. You know, tofu is very healthy and very nutritious. And you could do so many things with tofu. You can have it for a meal, you can have it for a snack you can have it with your salad. And it can be a very good source of your protein. If you stir fry with mushroom and then just add the teriyaki sauce or just soy sauce to it, you, have a good vegetarian, well balanced, delicious meal.

Sam:                                      50:34                     Right. It seems we stopped recording. I’ll go buy that.

Wangari:                              50:37                     Yeah,

Sam:                                      50:38                     Very cool and well Wangari, thanks so much.

Wangari:                              50:40                     Thank you very much for coming.

Sam:                                      50:41                     Cheers.

Why did the home of running not make running shoes? Nava the co-founder of Enda Running explains


If you think about brands that different countries have, most people probably have two strong associations for Kenya.

Safari and running.

The safari industry is well established, with innumerate tour companies able to take you on your dream holiday seeing the Big Five.

Running, however, is an industry which is much less developed.

In fact, until Enda, there were no running shoes made in arguably the home of running!

As we discuss in this episode, Nava, the co-founder of Enda Sportswear wanted a way to promote sports in her country and settled on building shoes as the biggest impact way to do so.

In the process, Enda has become a vehicle for promoting local industry, with all of the assembly taking place in Kenya, and many parts, such as shoelaces, being produced in the region too.

Nava and I talk about all sides of the business, including where and how the shoes are currently sold, the global (ahem) footprint that the brand has, and the practicalities of setting up production of high-end footwear in East Africa.

The Enda offices are in the same place as a number of artist workshops. 

We’re doing the interview outside, and so there may be a bit of background noise from people moving stuff, as well as some chickens who wandered over at some point.


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Social Media Links

Website: https://ke.endasportswear.com

Facebook: EndaRunning

Twitter: @endasportswear

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/enda/


Sam:                                      00:00                     Intro

Sam:                                      01:58                     Cool. So we’re here today with Nava from Enda, Nava welcome to the show.

Nava:                                    02:02                     Thank you so much. Happy to be here.

Sam:                                      02:03                    So to get us started, can you tell us a bit about you and a bit about Enda?

Nava:                                    02:07                     A bit about me, I studied law. I am a lawyer by profession. I did accounting as well. I haven’t practiced either for a really long time and right now I’m making running shoes in Kenya kind of just working with athletes, create running shoes because I think it’s time to really make shoes in Kenya, by Kenyans who totally understand running and sharing that culture with the world. And I think I’ve also answered about Enda, so Enda is the company that does that and Enda is a Swahili word that means go which is basically we thought the best way to encompass a company that is like advocating for Kenyan running and sharing that culture around the world.

Sam:                                      02:50                     Correct.

Nava:                                    02:50                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      02:50                     So Enda is the first Kenyan made running shoe in the world.

Nava:                                    02:56                     Yes it is. Not Kenyan made, Oh yeah, running shoe, yes. I thought you were like saying other shoes. Yeah, it is the first Kenyan made running shoe in the world and also nobody is doing it in Africa. So we are also kind of…

Sam:                                      03:07                     Really? The whole of Africa, no one’s making running shoes?

Nava:                                    03:09                     No, nobody’s doing that. Like they are making different types of shoes but not pro-running shoes.

Sam:                                      03:14                     Why are you not seeing running shoes?

Nava:                                    03:16                     I don’t know. That’s a good question. I think it’s just a matter of maybe who are you producing for? What are you producing for? What’s the, I can’t answer that specifically. I just know we’re doing it. Yeah.

Sam:                                      03:29                     Okay. Yeah. So the market you’re in is selling running shoes. So these are, who are you selling to? Are you selling to athletes to casual? Wearers like…

Nava:                                    03:40                     Both I’d say runners definitely are the first crowd that got really attracted to us. There are also other people who are buying it in Kenya for the pride of it. Like something that’s made here locally and supporting us. And then there are people who are wearing it just for everyday wear. Like I’m going shopping or going to an event, like looking for something comfortable and wearing them. So I’d say we kind of cut a broad spectrum of of customers, but we do basically appeal to runners a lot.

Sam:                                      04:12                     Okay. And so how many, like how long has the company been going?

Nava:                                    04:16                     Our company is going, been going for about three years right now, roughly, getting there. So, but of course the earlier years were more of just setting up structures and in terms of production, they started in I think August, like mid 2017, so I’d say 2017 is when we really started operations. Before that, was just a lot of planning.

Sam:                                      04:37                     Okay. So you’ve been sort of coming up to two years. Yes. Sort of shoes being made. Exactly. How many pairs of shoes are out there at the moment?

Nava:                                    04:44                     That’s a good question. I would say right now about the first run, we did like about 2,500. We’ve done quite a bit, I would say about like over 4,000, 4,000 pairs are out and about all over the world. So, but our goal is definitely to increase that number because we know we have capability to reach so many people. And make so many shoes.

Sam:                                      05:08                     Yeah. Very cool. Okay. So lots of things to talk about. So I thought maybe we’d sort of start on the, on the demand side.

Nava:                                    05:16                     Okay.

Sam:                                      05:16                     So you said that, sort of these runners are the first types of people who you sort of started aiming at. What’s your sort of split between selling in Kenya and selling internationally?

Nava:                                    05:30                     Kenya, I would say about 10% internationally, most of it is international. Yeah.

Sam:                                      05:37                     And these are athletes who are famous or sort of like keen runners?

Nava:                                    05:44                     Yeah. It’s like runners. I would say it cuts across a broad spectrum because we do have like people who are like really athletes running lots of races and they’re wearing them. We do have people who are starting out and they’re wearing them. So we do have quite a variety of different people who are wearing them.

Sam:                                      06:01                     Okay.

Nava:                                    06:02                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      06:02                     What type of shoes did these guys wear before?

Nava:                                    06:05                     So a runner typically has like different types of shoes. So you have like a daily trainer, you have a light-weight trainer, you have like spikes, you have trail shoes. So people, right now our key products are I light-weight trainer and a daily trainer. So those are the categories where we kind of like entered into and most of the people who are wearing our shoes are people who are in those categories, right.So they would be wearing them for running, for walking, for comfort that specific category.

Sam:                                      06:37                     Okay. Once you have a, if you’re serious about running, you have different shoes based on the type of athlete.

Nava:                                    06:41                     Yes. Yeah.

Sam:                                      06:42                     Why is that?

Nava:                                    06:43                     Because different shoes are for different purposes. You know, if you are going for a 42 kilometer race, you’re not going to use the same shoes that you go to the gym with. Right? Like you need something that has more cushion, it’s softer. It’s kind of taking you the longer ride because it’s also kind of like endurance, like your body needs, like the best support mostly in terms of just the cover, like the rubber between you and the ground. And also like the consistency of the EVA, which is the component that is used to make the mid-sole. Like it has to be soft and yeah, like you, whatever you use has to be different. If you are running like a hundred meter, it’s a different shoe. Right? So basically there’s different types of runs and you want to make sure that you’re using the best shoe for that. So for example, I wouldn’t use a road shoe for trails. You’re just going to go break your neck or something, you know, a trails shoe would need something that has more like more rubber that is basically really avoiding the friction, like having more friction to keep you stable. So it’s different runs, different shoes. Yeah.

Sam:                                      07:51                     Alright. So there’s different, different times. Okay. And so is it the case that the people buying it they’re like they’re just adding Enda as like another pair of shoes they got? Or will they be like switching out from Nike or whatever.

Nava:                                    08:05                     I mean the thing is like as a new brand already there were people wearing other brands when you come in. So of course they will switch your product with something and that’s the beauty of running because a lot of people who run, they replaced their shoes a lot. So that means that also, are keen on seeing what’s new and also the way the industry is, is created is that there’s always like new product releases or something like that. So the runners mentality is geared towards trying something new. Right. Which has a good side and a bad side. But from the market entry perspective, it worked for us because they were willing to try something that was different and was new in their daily rotation. Yeah.

Sam:                                      08:45                     That’s really cool. And then how much do they cost?

Nava:                                    08:48                     They cost $100, which is like 10,000 Kenyan shillings.

Sam:                                      08:51                     Okay. Is that expensive for a pair of running shoes?

Nava:                                    08:55                     Nope. I mean if a pair of running shoes would go, at least for the light-weight trainer, would go from like $80 to $250. So it really just depends on like what you’re investing in. But if you compare us to other brands in that specific category, we are basically like right at the affordable level. So from, if you’re looking at is from a competitors perspective, we are basically just price right for the market for that kind of shoe.

Sam:                                      09:21                     Alright. And then how do most people like actually physically buy?

Nava:                                    09:25                     Most people mostly two ways: online, that’s our key method of selling. We’re direct consumer brand, so we sell online and do deliveries and the other one is we also do a lot of popups, especially here in Nairobi, just being at places where people can see the shoes, touch them, try them on. And of course the long-term plan is to get into stores. Yeah.

Sam:                                      09:47                     Why have you not decided to try and get into stores earlier on?

Nava:                                    09:51                     In the US we actually are in three stores. So kind of just a good start and hoping to expand and get into more doors. In Kenya, it’s also, I mean, one of it is linked to resources and capacity. Like basically we have to it’s a small team and we have to figure out how to do this in the most efficient way possible. Secondly, it’s also a new brand. So a lot of the re-sellers or stores especially locally would want to already sell something that they know the customer knows about, right? So they want it needs more investment in marketing so that it’s not just based on the re-seller to say, oh this, there’s this new shoe, it’s about x, y, z. It’s much easier for them if someone says, I am coming to look for this particular shoe. So it’s kind of part of the, our plan in terms of just getting more one out of the marketing and creating demand to get to a point where the retailers are actually being asked for shoes and then they can be able to stock because they have the confidence to say, people are asking for this products. Yeah.

Sam:                                      10:58                     What’s the benefit for going in stores like that?

Nava:                                    11:00                     Because people, people, especially in Kenya, we are not yet an online society. Like a lot of people still prefer using hard cash. A lot of people are not comfortable with online purchases. I think it’s just a, it’s a new thing, right? We do use M-Pesa but M-Pesa is not an online purchase, like it’s mobile. Whereas going on a website and doing all of that, a lot of people, it’s a new experience for them. So that’s why we tried to do pop ups as much as possible so that they can also come and for other people they also just want to try the shoes fast before they buy them online. So what we did is just essentially say free exchanges and returns. You can try as many as you want and we’ll literally just be bringing them over so as to give people that comfort of knowing that they can still order online and not feel bad, or not be afraid that the shoe won’t fit. Yeah.

Sam:                                      11:55                     Do many people do that? Do many people actually send them back.

Nava:                                    11:58                     So not really. I mean one of the things we’ve really been working on is getting the sizing right. So a lot of people do get in touch and say if they have any concerns they would ask us and we would recommend for them. But we have also translated our sizes in UK, EU, and basically all other sizes and US as well, so that it’s less confusing for people. Like, whichever your size regime you, you can find yourself there. Most people have a problem converting one into the other.

Sam:                                      12:26                     Yeah.

Nava:                                    12:27                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      12:27                     Cool. Okay. And so this is people will be going on the website, pick out, I want the lightweight or daily… Did you call it lightweight and daily?

Nava:                                    12:36                     Right now we just have the light-weight, the daily one, we are producing it as we speak. Yeah.

Sam:                                      12:42                     Does it have like a name? Is it called like Enda light-weight?

Nava:                                    12:45                     The lighter it is called the Iten. Yeah. So Iten is a small town in Rift valley.

Sam:                                      12:49                     So not E number 10?

Nava:                                    12:52                     No, no, no, no. Like I T E N.

Sam:                                      12:56                     I T E N.

Nava:                                    12:56                     Yeah. Someone would say I ten but in Kenya its Iten. Yeah. So Iten is a small town in the rift valley. It actually has the world’s highest concentration of gold medal winners, as I really.

Sam:                                      13:07                     What do you mean the highest concentration of gold?

Nava:                                    13:09                     In athletics. In running like, yeah, it’s a small town up there in high altitude and everybody trains there. Everybody. Everybody from around the world goes to Iten if you’re running.

Sam:                                      13:22                     What is so good about it?

Nava:                                    13:22                     The altitudes, the altitude and then also the fact that everybody’s there. So there’s like a very strong running community over there. And you’re not alone. Like in the morning there’s group runs, there’s athletes staying in like camps. So it’s really much a running town also called the home of champions. Yeah. So we basically named that Iten then the new one, the daily trainer that we’re working on right now is called the Lapatet. Lapatet is a Kalenjin word for run, it means run.

Sam:                                      13:54                     What’s Kalenjin?

Nava:                                    13:56                     Kalenjin is a local language. In Kenya we have about 42, but most of the runners come from the Rift valley and they speak Kalenjin. So the term lapatet is very it’s very common in running in the running world, in the Rift Valley. So when we were naming it, we knew like they, they, they are happy about that. Yeah.

Sam:                                      14:19                     Do you speak Kalenjin?

Nava:                                    14:20                     No, no, no, no. I don’t speak Kalenjin, but one of the things we do, and we are trying to name our products, we always reach out to our community and kind of, even Iten was a suggestion by someone through Facebook because we were going to give it some other name. And someone was like, no, no.

Sam:                                      14:35                     What were you going to call it?

Nava:                                    14:36                     I cant even remember, one of the animals.

Sam:                                      14:40                     A cheetah perhaps.

Nava:                                    14:40                     Exactly. And then, you know, it’s always amazing, someone is like, you know what, we kind of like know about tourism but we are in running world. So like, let’s keep it like closer to the running culture as possible. And same for Lapatet, we were like, hey guys, we’re trying to name this shoe, what do you think we should and we got like lots of ideas. But the person who suggested naming it Lapatet had a really compelling reason why we should call it that.

Sam:                                      15:07                     What was that?

Nava:                                    15:07                     Basically the, you know, like there’s North rift, South rift, you know, there’s like all this demarcations we have internally, but also just the fact that a majority of the runners understand the word Lapatet and also using the shoe to tell a story. It’s not just a product, but someone who’s buying it has to ask, what does this mean? You know? So it’s a medium to have a chance to educate or to share the culture of the Kalenjin, of the running culture with someone else in a, in another part of the world. So the whole cultural exchange thing was also very interesting and also just the linguistic aspect, like he had a really great explanation of how the whole, the word lapatet is linguistically different anyway, we have a video on Facebook about that. Yeah. We actually called him, it was like, you know, you do this, you’re like the best at explaining it. Yeah. Go, go for it. But it also does the story of Enda, like using the shoes not just to be products, but also as vehicles for social mission and also for like fostering a culture of empathy and like knowing what other communities around the world are doing. Like kind of like an education of sorts. Yeah.

Sam:                                      16:27                     Okay. When people talk about sort of Kenyan runners, is it basically kalenjin runners?.

Nava:                                    16:34                     Yes and no. Majority, yes. Because of course the Rift valley and the high altitude is like a big plus. But we do have lots of runners who are also not from the Rift Valley. So, for instance Henry Wanyoike he’s really good, broken like, lots of records and wins a lot we had the late Samuel Wanjiru, who also did not come from the Rift valley, came from the central part of Kenya. We do have another one. One of our athletes actually is called Daniel Simiyu, who comes from the western part. So, predominantly they are, but not all of them. Yes.

Sam:                                      17:14                     At the moment, you said 10% Kenya. 90% international.

Nava:                                    17:17                     Yes.

Sam:                                      17:19                     As you sort of project forward, what do you think that might start looking like?

Nava:                                    17:23                     Oh, I think it will grow. You know, I feel like the, I still meet a lot of Kenyans who haven’t heard about our brand, so I know for a fact there’s a growth margin that we still haven’t captured. I think it’ll grow both ways. You know, like in the US also we aren’t known that much. Like those who know about us, know, about us, but I still feel like there’s a whole world out there that has no idea that Enda exists. So I do see also growth from, I’d say from both perspectives. I do see a lot of growth opportunity.

Sam:                                      17:54                     Nice. Okay. And what’s the sort of pitch to people? Is it, can you rely on Kenyan running shoes or did you need to say… I kind of get it if you’re living in Kenya and you’re like, you know, you want to buy running shoes that are produced here and you want to support the Kenyan economy. Does that pitch work as well internationally or do you need to sort of change it around abit?

Nava:                                    18:19                     Really? I think it works because even if you check the Hashtag #runlikeaKenyan, you know, like it’s, it’s actually, it is a legit Hashtag. It’s not used mostly in Kenya. It’s like a global thing. Like, so the fact that you just said running shoes made in Kenya, it’s an automatic click for anyone runner or not, you know? So I do feel like the running culture history tradition of Kenya has been so solid over the years that it is unquestionable. Right. So I think it’s kind of still keeping it simple and saying Kenyan running, but also, you know, like for us, producing quality products that match that excellence as well so that people associate that excellence with our products and the fact that we are working with athletes to develop this products. Yeah.

Sam:                                      19:09                     Okay. So let’s actually talk a bit more about the production side of the shoe, So company started about three years ago, kind of went into production about two years ago. What’s that process been like?

Nava:                                    19:23                     It’s, it wasn’t easy to be honest. It was a lot and it did take us a long time because we were essentially trying to establish a lot of things over here from fact finding a factory that could work with us because we knew from the outset we would be a contract manufacturer. The resources required to set up a factory…

Sam:                                      19:43                     Contract manufacturer.

Nava:                                    19:44                     Yes. It means you go to a factory, you lease out their lines you make what you’re making and then you exit.

Sam:                                      19:52                     You don’t have to like buy a factory?

Nava:                                    19:54                     No, you don’t have to buy it and have to build it, you don’t have to make it, which I think is really great, especially if you consider how manufacturing industry is so exclusive, if I can call that, like you need money to get into manufacturing. So if you, if more people are to get into manufacturing, I think contract manufacturing, especially in Africa is like a really good thing because you have one side with resources and you have another side with demand. So I may not be able to operate a fully functional factory for a year, but I can lease it for like two months or five months of the year. So it works both ways for both the factory and the entrepreneur.

Sam:                                      20:31                     Okay.

Nava:                                    20:31                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      20:31                     So first of all, first thing you have to find the factory.

Nava:                                    20:34                     Yes.

Sam:                                      20:34                     How easy or difficult is that?

Nava:                                    20:36                     It wasn’t easy to be honest. Like we literally went to every person who makes shoes or thinks about making shoes.

Sam:                                      20:43                     Is there like a list of factories that make shoes. How do you, how do you find out?

Nava:                                    20:49                     Google, talking to people. In Kenya, you talk to people a lot, yeah. People lie online. A lot of things are on the ground. So the thing is though, that networks already exist. So if I’m making shoes, I’ll tell you about someone else who makes shoes. And that’s how we basically went around. Went to Limuru. We went to a few places in Nairobi. Like we, we went to a lot of places and they were like, okay, I may not be right fit but talk to this person or this other person I know has something going on. So we spoke to a lot of people and we did hear a lot of people saying no, I think just the whole concept of contract manufacturing was, is new in Kenya. And also the fact that, you know, like people were like, why would you want to do that? You know, like, like it just felt like whatever we were trying to do was so big and so impossible that they were like, you know, like, okay, that sounds like really amazing and all the best, you know? Yeah. So we did…

Sam:                                      21:47                     This is the concept of making a Kenyan running shoe?

Nava:                                    21:50                     Yes. Yeah. So it felt like it was like a big order for a lot of people. And we did actually find the factory we are working with through someone read about us online and he was making shoes in Ethiopia. Right? Yeah. Shout out to Tal, Tal Detya. He was formally Olubate. They closed down, which I was, I found personally sad because they, they, they really came through for us and we didn’t even know him, like literally came through for us in terms of just giving us connections, he was like I bought my stuff in Kenya, this is what you need. Like talk to this person and that person. Yeah. Like he, he’s really good.

Sam:                                      22:36                     And how did he know about you if you hadn’t made, hadn’t started making shoes yet?

Nava:                                    22:40                     Kick-Starter I think. Yeah. I think by then we’d launched our Kick-starter.

Sam:                                      22:44                     Alright.

Nava:                                    22:45                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      22:46                     So where does kick-starter fit into the story?

Nava:                                    22:49                     Kick-Starter fits in, we did it in 2016 actually. Right. So we essentially got the prototype and then decided to launch it online as a way of raising funds. Also, we didn’t have all the funds and the, it had like really great momentum and I think there’s a lot of sharing on Facebook and stuff like that. And that’s how he read about us. And then he got in touch and he then at that he got in touch, we spoke with him and then after Kickstarter we were not able to continue with our previous manufacturer and Tal basically introduced us to Umoja. Yeah.

Sam:                                      23:32                     Umoja is the?

Nava:                                    23:32                     Umoja is the company that we work with here in Kenya. Yeah.

Sam:                                      23:37                     In Nairobi or where are they?

Nava:                                    23:37                     No, no, they’re in kilifi. Kilifi is one hour from Mombasa. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Sam:                                      23:45                     So the shoes get made in Kilifi? Okay.

Nava:                                    23:49                     Yeah. Which is particular also, because Kilifi is also, I like places where, and that’s Also one of the reasons I respect Umoja, Kind of going to a place where you’re actually making a difference because it’s like deep in Kilifi and you are providing employment to residents around, so…

Sam:                                      24:08                     Kilifi is kind of like, like a sleepy beach town, sort of thing. Yeah. Yeah.

Nava:                                    24:12                     So having factories over there is really good for the population.

Sam:                                      24:16                     Okay. Yeah. So is that an, I mean, what’s the, what’s the, the requirements that you need? So you said that no running shoes have been made in Africa. Are there like fundamental things, which prevent you from doing that?

Nava:                                    24:28                     I think especially you need to know kind of like understand the science of making running shoes. So you wouldn’t necessarily use any type of EVA. Like you, you need to know what consistency of the EVA you’re using. What’s the…

Sam:                                      24:46                     Don’t mind me, that’s the…

Nava:                                    24:47                     The mid-sole. Like it’s the kind of I’d call it plastic that makes, it’s basically the sole, the white part, like before the rubber at the bottom, like the soul. So you need it to be a certain density and a certain consistency. You need it to be. We make it through as a process called injection molding. So you create a mold and then you kind of inject the EVA into the mold. So you kind of need to have the safety requirements for that and stuff like that. You need to be able to know how to cut the patterns, how to stitch them because it’s a kind of like a special stitch. If you’re not careful, then you have a lot of mistakes that can happen. So there’s a whole process to it. And we basically were very ambitious at the beginning, but then we also realized the capacity of the factory depended on us kind of showing them and also us creating a demand that was worthy for them to also invest, invest in the process.

Sam:                                      25:44                     I see. So is it like, if they’re already gonna make a thousand pairs of shoes, if they’re gonna make 10,000 pairs of shoes, it might be worth them investing in a piece of, a new piece of equipment.

Nava:                                    25:55                     Exactly.

Sam:                                      25:56                     Got it. Okay, how do you know how to make shoes? It sounds quite complicated. Is there someone in the team who like, is a shoe expert?

Nava:                                    26:04                     So we basically had to look somewhere for someone to help us do that. And we were looking for someone who fit a certain criteria, would understand the mission that we are doing so that they would, they would understand where we, it’s important to make the shoes in Kenya and not in China. And we also needed someone who had the experience of making footwear for the global industry so that we weren’t going to spend a lot of time recreating the wheel, but essentially working with someone who has already made shoes for all the big brands and understands the process of making the shoes.

Sam:                                      26:35                     How do you find that person?

Nava:                                    26:37                     E-Mail, LinkedIn. You just ask people.

Sam:                                      26:41                     What’s that? What do you search for on LinkedIn? Like do people call themselves like shoe experts?

Nava:                                    26:44                     Shoe developers like you remember when you’re like searching on Google and you just create this like different things that might land you near where you went to be. So you’re like looking for a shoe maker shoe developer, shoe like everything under the planet that leads to that. And then you kind of meet people or you find people and then you email them and then they either get back or they give you a reference or they don’t get back. So it was a lot of networking and a lot of just asking anyone and everyone like, hey, we are looking for this specific skillset. Do you know someone who fits that pier? Yeah.

Sam:                                      27:28                     And these people typically work freelance.

Nava:                                    27:31                     Yes. We did meet a lot of freelancers who were basically either engaged in something or they were like, this is great, but I don’t have the bandwidth for it. Or like I’m interested or talk to this person. Yeah. There are actually a lot of freelancers in the industry.

Sam:                                      27:46                     And how did you structure your contract? Did you sort of say, this is your deliverable, we’ll pay you X. Or was it like, we’ll pay by hour?

Nava:                                    27:54                     Not really. You know. And that was why it was important to find a specific fit, right? Because we needed someone who understood why we are doing this. Right. So if you’re, if you’re purely like I want profit a thousand percent, you’d be like, I want to peak process, let’s make it in China and done, finished, show’s over, you know. So the kind of person we were looking for was very specific in terms of what motivates them and what drives them. So right now we do work with Dan Richard Designs, they’re based in the US and they are also we do have someone here in Kenya. You met him Cyprian and he’s also kind of working with them to make sure that we are getting the kind of products that we anticipated. Yeah.

Sam:                                      28:41                     So are there some, I don’t want to say things you have to compromise on, but what are some of the differences you’ve had to make by the fact that the shoe was made in Kenya and not China?

Nava:                                    28:52                     I wouldn’t say much. I think in the whole process, definitely time. I would say time. It took us much longer, much, much longer than we anticipated. That includes also just delivering the Kick-starter orders. We took so long. It took so long, I’m embarrassed about it.

Sam:                                      29:12                     These are people who went on Kick-starter and they said I’d like to purchase some of the first pairs and you now have to go and make them. And there was just a few delays.

Nava:                                    29:25                     So I’d say time. It took us a really long time.

Sam:                                      29:29                     What were the main reasons for delay?

Nava:                                    29:31                     First of all the supplier who we were supposed to work with essentially said no, I need bigger numbers. So we weren’t able to work with them. So we had to literally start.

Sam:                                      29:42                     And find new suppliers.

Nava:                                    29:43                     Yeah. Post Kick-starter. You know, like how everything is like all drawn out and it’s like back to square one. So it means shopping for a supplier discussing the terms, like getting to like to get to the point where you’re like, okay, now let’s, let’s do this. It, it took a really long time.

Sam:                                      30:00                     What are the sort of supplies that you need to get?

Nava:                                    30:03                     So you basically need someone to make them molds. You need someone to make the mid-sole in someone to make the uppers.

Sam:                                      30:12                     What’s the uppers?

Nava:                                    30:13                     The uppers are the up part of the shoe. Yeah. And then you also need here like the factory to be able to do certain processes like the stitching, the labeling, like the packaging. So there’s, it is actually a lot of people who are involved in like the whole supply chain. Yeah. Yeah. Okay.

Sam:                                      30:36                     So you’ve got to kind of source all these, but you’re basically sourcing these three bits that the sell that…

Nava:                                    30:43                     Yeah, we, so we source mainly the upper and the mid-sole and the idea is to move it progressively. So like now we are making shoelaces here. Now we are…

Sam:                                      30:56                     How’d you make shoelaces?

Nava:                                    30:56                     Is a factory that does that, you know, so it’s just giving them a specification of what we’re looking for.

Sam:                                      31:01                     Yeah. Is it basically just like some fabric that’s turned over? It’s like stitched together?

Nava:                                    31:06                     No, I think they knit it, like there’s special knitting machines for making that. Yeah. Cause otherwise if it’s fabric, then it can tear, you know, like, yeah, they have most of them are actually woven. And yeah. It’s also quite a process. Yeah. So…

Sam:                                      31:25                     Fascinating. Such a process to like make shoelaces.

Nava:                                    31:28                     Appreciate your shoelaces ladies and gentlemen. A lot of work went into it. Yeah. Yes. So, and then now we are experimenting with uppersto make them here. We actually also doing a local shoe, I’ll show you when we go back to the office. That is 100% locally-sourced. I’m very proud of it. Can’t wait for us to launch it.

Sam:                                      31:48                     What’s that one going to be called?

Nava:                                    31:49                     We haven’t had a name yet, but it has a really cool story. I think people will love the story behind it.

Sam:                                      31:57                     Can we get a preview of the story?

Nava:                                    31:57                     No, no. But we’ve worked with a few people on it, so their thought process has been really inspiring about what they’re putting into the shoe. It’s literally, I don’t know how to, it’s a work of art. Let me call it that, yeah. That’s as much as I can go. Yeah.

Sam:                                      32:24                     So same thing. So sort of, the philosophy with Enda is to just use like with each of the different components that go into this.

Nava:                                    32:31                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      32:31                     It’s just like how can you be, I might be putting words in your mouth here, promoting Kenyan business and industry to sort of help in…

Nava:                                    32:39                     Yeah. Because right now, for instance, that company is making shoe laces specific for our type of product because we asked them to. Before they were not doing it. The other companies that are providing other stuff, for example, the leather, the all these other, like, we, I feel like we play an important role in expanding the supply chain because business is about supply and demand. So if we are creating demand for another business to supply, then we are creating business. It means those people have jobs we like. It’s, it’s like a whole step by step process and I think that’s essentially the whole idea of establishing this industry locally, that there are people who are able to tap into it and benefit, that it’s not just the athletes, but we are literally bringing the benefits of running of the running industry locally.

Sam:                                      33:24                     What’s some of the challenges you’ve had in the industry?

Nava:                                    33:27                     Financing of course, that’s why we go to Kick-starter because Kick-starter is a good way to basically get money.

Sam:                                      33:34                     How much did you need to get started?

Nava:                                    33:35                     To get started? I’m trying to remember. Kick-Starter, we raised like about 140, but that was post.

Sam:                                      33:46                     $140,000.

Nava:                                    33:46                     Yeah. That was post like our own investments and getting family and friends to pitch in. I can’t remember the exact, but you do need like I’d say maybe like $250,000 to start up. And I’d say funding is a challenge and also it’s one of the reasons why I feel like we haven’t been in front of as many people as we can because it’s an investment to basically like marketing is a big deal and the running shoe industry is essentially a marketing industry. You know, it’s all about storytelling. So how do you get your story out there? So I’d say funding affects that. Challenges. Also just understanding because we are a direct consumer company, like understanding the whole digital marketing landscape. Like just how, you know, there’s just so much going on in that world. How do you optimize what words do you use, what pictures, how do you put all these things? So we are like doing it as we go. But we haven’t like found the, you know, we haven’t found the sweet spot. Exactly. I can’t wait to get there. But we are basically, right now, we are experimenting a lot of things and just seeing what sticks and what doesn’t. Yeah.

Sam:                                      35:04                     What’s looking like it’s going to stick?

Nava:                                    35:08                     I’d say at least we know it’s definitely going to be a lot of digital. We know that there’s a lot of like micro influencing. Yeah.

Sam:                                      35:19                     That means like getting YouTubers to talk about it?

Nava:                                    35:22                     Yeah. But there’s influencers and then there’s micro influencers, right? Influences are like the people with like huge accounts, but they don’t necessarily, like having a person with a huge following talk about you does not necessarily mean that they’ll convert, you know. People, I think, they’re assaulted by so much information that if you’re not coming off as genuine like people can smell it. They know what’s authentic and what’s not. So I feel as though A) because of our size, we also can’t afford some of the expensive stuff, but B) I would rather that people are hearing about us from people that actually care or are dedicated to their thing. And I feel like a smaller crowd is more intimate than it used to be in a big crowd. Right. So that’s some of the stuff we’re looking at. We also, like, we have a huge marketing plan that we want to, to execute. We have challenges but we’re like, at least we have a wish-list and here’s what we’re doing. But if we kind of get to the point where we need to be like, this is like us going full throttle.

Sam:                                      36:31                     The challenges are more on the demand side than the supply side.

Nava:                                    36:34                     Yeah, I feel like the supply side, we’re at a good position. We were, we had a lot of challenges when we started out. Absolutely. But I feel like right now the ducks are kind of like lined up on that side for now. It’s to now get more word out that about the product.

Sam:                                      36:50                     Yeah.

Nava:                                    36:51                     But that’s took close a lot of time, to get that sorted out. Yeah.

Sam:                                      36:56                     How big is the Enda team?

Nava:                                    36:57                     Not big. We are literally five and we have we have two volunteers, but it’s like in and out and that’s why I’m like hesitating because they’re leaving soon. Like, no. So we have, we have two volunteers. We have an intern and there’s the core team, which is about five of us right now. We are about to eight. This is the biggest, the team has been. And the volunteers are leaving. So I’d say we’re usually like about five, five, six.

Sam:                                      37:32                     So basically, you’ve been able to sell 4,000 pairs of shoes, with just like five people?

Sam:                                      37:34                     Yeah. That’s why I tell them they’re like a million dollar team because they, they have executed like even the last Kick-starter, it was the team that executed it. We raised $99,000.

Sam:                                      37:46                     Was it deliberately $99,000 or we’re you just really close to getting to $100,000?

Nava:                                    37:49                     We were really close to getting $100,000. We hit our first target was 80. Our next target was 110. Yeah. Yeah. But it’s still these people who are seated around that tiny table who did it right. So I’m kind of always telling them like they did it. It wasn’t anybody who walked in with this massive silver bullet. Like it was them hustling. So I think, I think the team is good and, but there’s definitely more room for us to be, for example, in the markets we need to be because we are here, our key market is the US. I don’t even think we’ve scratched the surface of that market because even most of the stuff we do is around here because we’re available. So we definitely are planning on expanding in the US market, kind of getting, at least setting up something or having a small team there that is also waking up and thinking about how do we everyday, how do we make and at least be known or grow in this market.

Sam:                                      38:49                     Yeah. Yeah. Cool. Okay. So if you sort of look forward next year, 12 months time, what do you think Enda would be looking like then?

Nava:                                    38:58                     I think we are going to be, I’m just smiling because I had the vision in mind. Like I’m definitely like I’m not, I see it in terms of growth in terms of customers and just numbers and people who are running in our shoes and kind of talking about our philosophy and understanding. So definitely more sales in terms of achieving our sales targets, and yeah, like more social impact, you know, like more. Cause the more we sell, the more the supply chain grows, the more we give to our community foundation. So I see that also as an opportunity for us to be a brand that cares, you know, like that people actually even locally associate us and they know that we are different because we’re not just paying lip service, but we are actually saying let’s invest back in communities. So I see a lot of like bigger, bigger social impact, if I could call it that.

Sam:                                      39:57                     Okay.

Nava:                                    39:57                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      39:58                     So you mentioned that the community…

Nava:                                    40:00                     Foundation.

Sam:                                      40:00                     What’s that?

Nava:                                    40:02                     So 2% of our revenues, we give them to a foundation which essentially invested money in community projects, right? So when we were starting out, getting funding was such a problem, you know, and we met so many people who are doing amazing stuff, but we also feel as though we were lucky in some sorts and have grown and we basically decided to be on the lookout for community leaders or people who are just doing something that is worthy in the community and they need an extra hand and kind of investing in that be it for profit or nonprofit. And also just the opportunity to engage our customers, like to be like a part of our community. So that is, you know, like there’s so much in the news going on about Kenya, but then do you know about this amazing stories that, leave the news aside? Like there’s actually really great stuff that’s happening on the ground. So we do involve our customers to make sure that when we have routine and saying, where should the money go? But it’s also, I feel like the world needs more empathy right now. Like there’s just so many I don’t know how to describe it. It’s like when you, when you’re in a city and there’s like bad news coming out of it and you turn on the TV and it’s like, I dunno, it’s like apocalypse or something. And then you stand outside and it’s like, oh my God, the sun is so beautiful. It’s like two conflicting, you know, things at the same time. So I feel like there’s there is, the world has gotten to a point where there’s just so much, there’s a lot of echo chambers. There’s a lot of mistrust. There’s a lot of all this stuff just because we think of the other people as the other, you know, and I think part of the community foundation thing and the whole essence you’re trying to create is that, to show that people’s stories at the same, regardless of where they live. We are all, we all want to achieve our dreams. We all want to like raise our kids in a clean world. We all want to like, there’s just different, there’s things that bind us together. And the whole idea of that community is to also kind of bring that empathy as we share the running culture and help people also run and become better.

Sam:                                      42:13                     So we’ll just do a few more questions and that’s all right. Let me see, since, so you’ve been with Enda since the beginning, since it’s started, what have been some of the main surprises you’ve had, both, both positive and negative that you’ve had?

Nava:                                    42:28                     That’s a good question. I think a bigger surprise, like a positive surprise has been the fact that the longer you go, the more you meet people who are aligned. Like when you start, it’s very difficult. You’re by yourself and you’re doing things and like it uses, It was Weldon and I for the longest time and the more we grow, the more you find that we have allies. And I think that’s a really cool thing. I love that because sometimes you’re like, I’ve been thinking about this problem for so long and then you find someone who purely like for no, no reason or anything that like people just want to help and to support. So I would say that has been like a pleasant surprise and also a proof for me in my personal life as well. Like sometimes you just jump, you know, like you, if you spend too much time analyzing you won’t do it. So maybe you’ll jump and maybe you’ll fall or maybe you’ll find other jumpers mid air and you’ll hold hands and like land together, but the process is through the fall. It’s not at where should I fall? Am I going to fall in this particular area or that? What are the pros and cons for this? Like it’s great to plan, but once you have the plan, like execution is more important because in the execution, then you find the, you find the helpers. So I would say that was a pleasant surprise that I feel like sometimes it gets hard, but I’m like, I need to hang on for tomorrow’s helper because I didn’t know who’s going to come through tomorrow. So it gives me that, you know, I need to just get through this day because,yeah. So I think that’s a pleasant surprise and another surprise, maybe not so pleasant. Is just people have different motivations, you know, like you have what drives you or what motivates you is not what motivates another person. So kind of just the disappointment of that and recognizing that there are people who you don’t necessarily agree on some fundamental things and that it’s okay to let go of that. That’s hard. I think that was had for me because I think relatively now that I can look back, I think I grew up in rather happy childhood. You know, like we, like I grew up in a place where I’d say there’s a lot of trust and a lot of people you don’t really second guess because you believe that the your neighbor or everybody has the best interests of everybody at heart. So I grew up in that environment and I think you kind of grow, go into the world and you realize that’s not how people are. Like some people just don’t care, you know, other people just have their own problems or other people have their own prejudices. So for me the surprise has been that, you know, like kind of, it’s, people are different and it’s okay. You know, it’s OK to, to know that not everybody thinks like that and it’s, you know, you can’t judge them because you don’t know where they came from, why they are the way they are. But just,I just learned that people like, we trust a lot here. We trust quite bit.

Sam:                                      45:44                     “We” Being Enda?

Nava:                                    45:44                     I think Enda, also just Kenya, like where I grew up, I grew up in a place that just does a lot of trust. Like people did stuff for people, like not just, not because of anything. Like I would, it would be raining and I would like remove your clothes even if you’re not there, because I know that you, your clothes would get rained on and you washed them, you know.

Sam:                                      46:06                     If they’re out on the line.

Nava:                                    46:07                     Yeah. So, yeah, I’m just thinking about it mentally, if they’re like on the line. Like if you see like someone’s kid, like walking around and without their parents, you would be sure that their parents would know that by the end of the evening. So there was a lot of support, I would say and trust in the community. And for me, the surprise has been that’s not how the world is. And it’s like sometimes you’re like, why would people choose to be miserable? But then I also realize that I just grew up in a corner of the world. I was like that and it’s not everybody’s like that. And that’s OK too.

Sam:                                      46:43                     Okay.

Nava:                                    46:43                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      46:44                     Just quickly. What’s the how’d you end up starting Enda like, are you a runner?

Nava:                                    46:51                     I say that question, don’t ask, if I’m in the Rift Valley. I’m not a runner. Like, no, no, no I don’t run yeah because you don’t want to run with those guys. But I mean you do, but they’re really good. So I met Weldon. I’ve always been interested in sports.

Sam:                                      47:10                     Weldon’s your co-founder?

Nava:                                    47:10                     Weldon’s my co-founder, I’ve always had a deep interest in spots. I don’t know why. I just like sports. Like I like the atmosphere. I like the competition. I like the personal stories, the triumph, the defeats. I love it. And at some point I had a dream of starting a sports academy in Kenya because I was like, oh my gosh, you know, like imagine if we had and I love tennis like now, Wimbledon is going on. And I’m like, oh my gosh, it would be so amazing if there was someone from Kenya, you know. But then the challenges are that barriers to sports, especially in the sports that are technical, You see we’re good at running cause you literally just wake up and run, Right. If you introduce a sport that is expensive, then it becomes so much harder for people to join. Right. Because they need to have a court, they need to understand the rules. There’s just like so much that goes on. And the idea was how about starting a place where kids wouldn’t have to worry about that and they could literally start training as early as other kids in the world. And we would like offer really good competition. And I was talking about this at a place like it was it was, an accelerator. Was it? It was, basically I was talking somewhere. Yeah. I was talking about…

Sam:                                      48:23                     In Nairobi?

Nava:                                    48:24                     Yes, in Nairobi, about the potential of sports and how Kenya we are so good, we’re so good at sports but we don’t do much with it other than just celebrate and that’s it, you know, and like engage with it. But from a more commercial perspective and Weldon was in the audience at that time. He was with change.org and literally, I think he was, he was like winding up with them and he was like, yeah, like the, the problem statements are like really compelling. Like, Kenya is so great, but we haven’t like done much with it. And when you, our conversation just turned to run running shoes and I think that was just like, a eureka moment of, you know, like why hasn’t this been done before? It makes so much perfect sense and saying, okay, let’s make running shoes and yeah, met a couple of days later and really had a long chat about it. And I think that was the day we’re like, okay, we are doing this. Yeah. Yeah. Sounds like something to try and yeah. Many days later, here we are.

Sam:                                      49:31                     That’s the history. People who are listening, how can they learn more about Enda?

Nava:                                    49:37                     They can check us on our website, www.endasportswear, e n d a. People usually type Edna. I’m like, no, its Enda, endasportswear.com. We’re also on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter as well.

Sam:                                      49:55                     What’s been a popular Instagram post you’ve had recently?

Nava:                                    49:58                     Lupita, Lupita wore our shoes at some point. Lupita Nyong’o, the Kenyan actress who won an Oscar.

Sam:                                      50:09                     The chess movie?

Nava:                                    50:10                     Yeah, yeah. She did Queen of Katwe she also did 12 years a slave, and she’s really popular here. So she…

Sam:                                      50:17                     She wore a pair of your shoes?

Nava:                                    50:17                     Yeah, she did. So that was like really…

Sam:                                      50:22                     Did she go for a run or did she just…

Nava:                                    50:22                     Oh no, no, no. She just wore them out. Yeah. She was at a festival in New York. Yeah. So that was really cool. That was very popular yeah, I’d say that one was, it was quite popular.

Sam:                                      50:34                     Okay.

Nava:                                    50:34                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      50:35                     So endsportswear is how people find it. Yeah. And then go on and, you ship around the world?

Nava:                                    50:40                     Yes, we do. Yeah. We do have fulfillment centers here in Kenya and in the US around the world we ship from Kenya. But we basically work with DHL and, but you can still order on our website and we’ll be able to put your order through.

Sam:                                      50:53                     Fantastic, cool. So Nava, thanks so much.

Nava:                                    50:55                     Nice. Thank you too for having me. Enjoyed it.

East Africa’s first board game cafe, and why most Kenyans don’t know how to play, with Bao Box


There are certain business models or concepts which seem to be universally popular.

One big one recently has been creating a public space where friends can meet up for some food and drinks and play board games.

In this episode I speak with Sumit Dodhia who a few years ago had the realisation that Kenya was missing such an institution, and so, along with 5 friends, decided he would start one.

Two years later and Bao Box is a great success.

There are over 100 board games on offer, and the business can attract custom throughout the day, compared to other places which are concentrated solely on after work and evenings.

We talk about the costs and practicalities of getting the cafe set up, how they source their games from “board game dealers” operating in Kenya, and how his staff are paid to play board games in their downtime, as many never grew up playing them.

It’s a really interesting episode that, to me at least, highlights how different types of businesses can survive and thrive in this part of the world.


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Social Media Links

Website: https://baobox.co.ke/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/baoboxcafe/


Sam:                                      00:00                     Intro

Sam:                                      01:54                     Cool. So we’re here today with Sumit from Bao Box. Sumit welcome to the show.

Sumit:                                   01:58                     Thank you.

Sam:                                      01:59                     So to get us started, could you tell us a bit about you and a bit about Bao Box?

Sumit:                                   02:03                     So yeah, a bit about me. My childhood involved a lot of I like to believe a lot of outdoor activities and all. And in terms of education, I always enjoyed mathematics as a subject. I did make sure I took it further to university as well where I studied economics at Northumbria university in the UK and then just like everyone else, did not use that knowledge from the degree ever again. So after uni I left the UK, came back to Kenya and joined the family business. We do plastics manufacturing. So, was part of that business, I guess learnt how trade is done in Nairobi in a way. And two years back a random conversation with a friend of mine led to the creation of Bao Box. Now, of course, I guess with this friend of mine we’ve had we discussed many times about how generations have changed or how the upbringing of generations has changed in Nairobi. And this time we we’re talking about a whole generation of Nairobians where they were only exposed to food, alcohol and Shisha. And we felt it was such a shame because when we were being brought up in the same Nairobi, we were exposed to a lot more outdoor activities, a lot more activities that promoted socializing, that promoted a different Kind of bonding with friends. So this same conversation led to my friend asking me, do you think a board-game cafe can work in Nairobi? And, yeah, from that point I said, why not? We can’t be the only ones who think that Nairobi needs something more from your evening out or a timeout at friends that doesn’t just involve food and alcohol. It needs something more. And it’s not the entertainment only, it’s just that fulfillment from your timeout. And that was the birth of Bao Box As an idea. Then from that, luckily, speaking to the right people at the right time. February was inception of the idea and…

Sam:                                      04:22                     This is February, 2017?

Sumit:                                   04:24                     2017 yes. And by December, 2017 we managed to open the place.

Sam:                                      04:30                     So Bao Box is a board game cafe, is it Nairobi’s only board game cafe, Kenya’s only?

Sumit:                                   04:39                     So we are lucky enough to have the claim of being East Africa’s premium board game cafe. So again, it’s a shocker that no one else. And we are grateful, I guess at the same time, perplexed. Why hasn’t this been questioned by someone else before? About Creating a space where people can do more than just eat and drink.

Sam:                                      05:04                     Okay. So you’ve other than university, you’ve lived in Nairobi?

Sumit:                                   05:11                     Yeah. Okay. I grew up in Nairobi, went to the UK for the uni for higher education. Finished that, back here.

Sam:                                      05:18                     Okay. Have you, Or before starting Bao Box, had you ever been to a board game cafe?

Sumit:                                   05:25                     Never.

Sam:                                      05:25                     Really?

Sumit:                                   05:29                     No. Never. Never knew what it would look like. Never knew what is the expected and never knew how it would be run. Just…

Sam:                                      05:38                     Alright. Well, I mean, how did you figure it out.

Sumit:                                   05:42                     So as I said, meeting right people at the right time is of course a big help. And a lot of so we’re six partners in this.

Sam:                                      05:52                     Six of you.

Sumit:                                   05:53                     Six of us, yes.

Sam:                                      05:54                     Equal partners? In terms of people who have put in the same…

Sumit:                                   05:58                     Yeah. In terms of effort and all, in terms of what we bring to the table. It’s quite different. I think that’s what helps. And so, in terms of from inception to actually creating a place and opening and running, it really helped to have six friends as well. Five other friends of mine. And it’s in a way, at the same time people advise against opening a business with friends. But these are friends I knew I can work with. So that made it slightly easier to get confidence to take off the idea. And everyone brought something very different to the table, to the word that when it comes to board games, perhaps there’s a personality of associated people who play board games to be universally upped with technology. And that’s where I fall. So technology was never my strong point or the other friend who had this conversation with. So we have another partner who is very good with technology. Someone else who’s very good with technical systems and all.

Sam:                                      07:14                     What technology do you need to run a board game cafe?

Sumit:                                   07:18                     Well I mean in terms of even social media, that itself to me is part of technology. It’s a very, to me technology is a lot, it’s a broad spectrum. In terms of software technology, then I have another friend who is very technically able and understands back-end systems very well. So he normally handles that aspect of the business. But at the same time, in terms of setup, that ability of his really helped us in terms of choosing the right POS system in terms of making sure that that POS system leads to…

Sam:                                      07:55                     POS is point of sale? Point of sale. Where basically the cash register…

Sumit:                                   08:02                     Exactly. So the cash register of the business, the… But its, It’s about more than that. It’s, for the waiters, it’s the point of entry in terms of orders. But which also defined them order per table. At the back end, it also allows us to link our sales to the consumption of raw materials as well. So the system does link the sale to the usage as well. And you can input your buying, your purchasing as well and all. It’s a good guidance in terms of your position as an establishment.

Sam:                                      08:41                     Yeah. Very cool. Okay. So we’ll sort of talk about a few of those, a few of the different aspects, but just to sort of paint a picture Bao Box, can you sort of explain, so it’s in Westlands in Nairobi. How would you describe Westlands to someone who’s never been to Nairobi?

Sumit:                                   09:01                     So Westlands is the upcoming part of the city. We have what we call the Wall Street of Nairobi is on Westlands road, which is the road we are based on where most of the investment banks are placed in the area. The Stock Exchange for Nairobi is just across us, so, so to speak, we are the heart of the financial district of Nairobi and that’s the best way to describe Westlands. The location we’re in. However, to point out. Also it’s, it’s an area which has a lot of, it’s got a high intensity of restaurants and restaurants, clubs as well as cafes. So one way is to say that that’s competition, but on the other hand it’s to say that there’s a lot of spending in the area. And hence why one of the decisions to choose Westlands as a starting location. Although we would say we are slightly off the heart of Westlands, and initially we were actually looking at a place down the road in the heart of Westlands luckily didn’t work out. And so we got the space we have now and the network of roads and all and accessibility has helped us still be in the picture and be considered part of the main Westlands.

Sam:                                      10:33                     And you basically, it’s a, how many stories are in this building?

Sumit:                                   10:37                     So it’s an 11 story building.

Sam:                                      10:38                     And you basically got the eighth floor.

Sumit:                                   10:40                     We’ve got the full eighth floor, which has got a nice balcony, with Nairobi weather, made a lot of sense because we have like 11 months of the year where we can actually sit outside and one month of rain that really hinders everything. But apart from that, yeah. So we chose the floor with the balcony and it came to us as more obvious choice than otherwise.

Sam:                                      11:05                     And was it completely bare when you got it?

Sumit:                                   11:08                     Yes, we got a shell. So as in when someone walks in to the cafe, we had to construct our we had to construct certain walls, the kitchens. We actually created, we had to create and construct walls inside for our storage and everything. We literally got a square box.

Sam:                                      11:30                     Okay. All right. How did you think about like the start up costs of doing something like this?

Sumit:                           11:41                     So we’ve got big help because we’re involved with someone who is, whose job was to install kitchen equipment into restaurants.

Sam:                                      11:53                     One of the six?

Sumit:                                   11:54                     One of the six.

Sam:                                      11:54                     That’s very helpful, isn’t it?

Sumit:                                   11:55                     Exactly. So he, that is, and that margin is, was the largest cost for starting of a project like this. So as soon as you understand your largest cost, and it’s very simple nowadays you have experts in the industry who can give you a rough quote from day one to say, look, if you’re looking to do something like this, with woodwork and this much cement work and all, it will cost you within a range of x and y. But if you’re looking to do a bit more high end where you only use tiles and this and this, then your cost will go up to this amount. And yeah, it works with, it all works with estimated costs and taking it from there. Of course, projections are a lot lower than the end cost that we faced, but we had a rough idea of how far it would go.

Sam:                                      12:50                     Okay. And when you were sort of deciding, did you basically say, okay, it’s going to take us, it’s going to cost x to start it up. Did you sort of factor in how long it might take to pay back?

Sumit:                                   13:06                     Yes and no. Yes, because like every other business you want to know in how long the return to a project. Like this would be, but at the same time we had accepted that, look we are diving into this. It can go either way. So if we dive in with two feet, you know, you just accept that perhaps it might not work out. Perhaps it will. There might be, we might not hit the targets we want to, whether the return of investment would be three years up to even three years. We are very okay with it, but the more important thing was to set up a well established, well running cafe. The biggest aim was that once we can do that, once we can control all the loopholes, we know that eventually it would be something that would pay back. So again, these are things you realize much after you get through to open the place as opposed to when you think about the idea itself.

Sam:                                      14:10                     Good. And you don’t need to go into specifics, but roughly what’s, what was the range you were given of the upfront capital that it would take to set up a cafe?

Sumit:                                   14:23                     It was varied but can go because the space was a lot bigger than what we initially planned as well or the initial space we’re looking at. So yeah, given quotes from roughly 30 to 60 million, shillings easily.

Sam:                                      14:39                     Okay, so that’s like 300,000 to 600,000 USD?

Sumit:                                   14:42                     Roughly yes.

Sam:                                      14:44                     Okay. So it’s not very…

Sumit:                                   14:47                     Because it’s very varied. Again, what you want to do from the place, what, how you want to serve. Even like in terms of the glass as well, you go for the industrial look with metal glasses cost you a hundred shilling, like a dollar for a glass, you go for a nice finished, branded glasses, it can cost you up to $7, $8. Now I can’t put a budget on that, but I can tell you that there’s, it depends on what you want to, how you want to do it, what you want to do, what’s available, what’s not. Yeah. Yeah.

Sam:                                      15:24                     Okay. And how did you come to a decision? The six of of you. Was it sort of one person was responsible for the interior? Or if there was any big decisions you’d have to, all six of you, do it or was it…

Sumit:                                   15:39                     Yeah, I guess it works. Initially it took all of us. So with any idea it would take all six of us to pitch in the ideas, then one person will be allocated to carry it through and then make a up to a final decision. Then presented back to the team and say, okay, look, I’m going with this. And generally there’s a good understanding between the six that these are six very able, very capable, very smart individuals. So then you have, like for me, I know the people i’m partners with they’re brilliant people. So if they make a judgment, it’s not, it’s not a rash decision. It’s after they’ve given it good thought. And having a thought process in mind is how they came up with choice A over choice B and C, when we had presented choice A to Z, they filtered out four and from that they chose one. So why did they choose that? They will be able to justify it and we support that. And that’s how decisions are made and that’s how work was carried forward. So, if some certain people are in charge of certain decisions. They would filter out, make the decision present to the team and say, look, I’m going with this. If there is no major objection, let’s do it. And Yeah, and then the follow through depends on where they in charge of the follow through as well or was another department in charge of that then that person takes over and support the decision made by everyone now.

Sam:                                      17:07                     Yeah. So were you like having a weekly meeting for these sorts of things or was it just kind of a bit ad hoc?

Sumit:                                   17:14                     Those when needed would meet up based on the activity or event, but there would be a compulsory of course weekly meeting to summarize, to set timelines, to set dates to set well just to get all sorts of details on progress. And on during the week I would perhaps meet with the relevant people or if we had to meet our contractor, then all six of us would turn up to the place to decide. Maybe because of the pallet furniture we have got involved in the place. This was designed specific for us, it’s not readily available furniture. So even the six of us had to sit down and decide what’s going to be the length and the width and the height of the table. So stuff like that, we’d sit down and say, look, if you are seated here, if you’re a customer, this it’s going to be, you’re playing a board game. Is this height okay? Is it too low or too high? So we’d have a practical discussion with a sample or a model and then decide, okay, this works, this doesn’t, yeah, no, we should go higher in this lower than this, sometimes if it comes to it, majority vote to like if majority decide this is the right height you take it.

Sam:                                      18:32                     Yeah. We’ve not yet spoken about board games despite being a board game cafe. How, so when you, when anyone walks into Bao Box in the center, is this sort of almost a tower, almost sort of middle shelfing almost like a tower of board games. Where do you source board games from?

Sumit:                                   18:54                     Anywhere and everywhere. We have had limitation in terms of Kenya itself, but there are lots of agents nowadays who do source from everywhere in the world. And it’s, it’s available for you. Yeah.

Sam:                                      19:10                     What was, did you have like a minimum number of board games you felt you had to have before you could open the doors?

Sumit:                                   19:17                     So as opposed to saying we needed a minimum number, what we did is we all did research and shortlisted that look, these are the games we need in our place. So some of the Games are the ones we have played before. Some of them you go YouTube and you go to Facebook, you just go look at the games, are they practical, what’s the response of people and every kind of research is possible.

Sam:                                      19:42                     You had, you would go on YouTube and you’d watch videos of people playing board games and think, is this the type of game I want in Bao Box?

Sumit:                                   19:52                     As part of the research. Anything is research.

Sam:                                      19:57                     Yeah. That’s cool. I had no idea that, yeah, haven’t really thought about it actually. Okay. And then there’s, then there’s someone’s job to go out and say, right, we want to get connect 4 or cards against humanity. You then just go out and well go to a few go to shops and stuff.

Sumit:                                   20:16                     Yeah. So then we have then we look, then we ask the people who are sourcing these things and ask them listen, these are the game they want.

Sam:                                      20:24                     When you say somebody who sources them, that means there’s someone who, someone’s job…

Sumit:                                   20:31                     Correct. There are companies here that already selling board games in shops. So you would ask them and they wouldn’t know. Some of these games cannot do well commercially. So they’ve never stocked them or some of these games have never been heard of in Nairobi, so they wouldn’t stock them. Yeah. But then we would request them that look we are looking for these games please get them for us. They would have of course the links with the international suppliers and all that about board games. So they will make sure they get it for us.

Sam:                                      21:02                     Alright, so there are some games in Bao Box that can’t be found elsewhere in Kenya?

Sumit:                                   21:07                     Yeah. I wouldn’t be surprised.

Sam:                                      21:09                     Do you know what any of those are?

Sumit:                                   21:11                     Well, interesting. Carcassonne is one of them. I have not seen it here before. Le Havre is another one that I’ve not seen here before. There are variations of Jenga which I’ve not seen in Nairobi before cause only, the standardized Jenga is common. Everyone knows about it, but there’s only variations and twists to the game. So those are difficult to come by because I can imagine even for any commercial toys outlet, they would never know if that would sell or not. And I guess it sounds, it’s one of those games as well. You wouldn’t pick it up everyday to play. So it’s one of, you can’t, they’re not family friendly. Some of the games are adulterated so I don’t believe many families would buy into the game then in that case. Yeah. So stuff like that I guess. Yeah.

Sam:                                      22:09                     Yeah, alright. How many board games do you have?

Sumit:                                   22:13                     We started off with, just above a hundred. Right now we are almost hitting 200 different board games. Yes.

Sam:                                      22:20                     Do you have any repeats?

Sumit:                                   22:22                     From the 200? No. We make sure that for every game we have we have at least two to three copies to allow those many different people to play the same game at the same time. Yeah.

Sam:                                      22:31                     Do your board games sit as an assets on your balance sheet?

Sumit:                                   22:39                     Yes they do.

Sam:                                      22:41                     I can’t imagine there are many businesses that have got a line…

Sumit:                                   22:45                     It’s very tricky for even the accountant because there’s, it’s a very unique situation for them as well.

Sam:                    22:52                     And how do you place a value on a second hand board game?

Sumit:                                   22:55                     And it’s, because if you even use it as a raw material for the generating of income, how do we phase it? Because it is a sitting asset that is generating income. So is it rental income or is it actually…

Sam:                                      23:09                     You have to like charge it back to the company or something.

Sumit:                                   23:13                     It’s a very tricky situation as well for us. Yeah,

Sam:                                      23:17                     I guess that’s a problem for accounting. Yeah. Yeah. What’s your favorite board game?

Sumit:                                   23:25                     Good question. It’s, it’s, it can’t, it can’t be just one.

Sam:                           23:31                     Yeah, as soon as I said It, I thought it’s like asking what’s your favorite book or what’s your favorite film? Cause it depends on the mood.

Sumit:                                   23:39                     Exactly. Depends on the mood, who you’re with, what do you want to achieve out of it?

Sam:                                      23:42                     Okay. What are some things you want to achieve?

Sumit:                                   23:48                     So let me explain when I say what do you want to achieve out of it? Sometimes if I go there with one or two friends, yeah, you want to play, and it’s a Sunday afternoon or something. You don’t want to play a drinking oriented game. You want to play something that involves a lot more strategy or thinking so to speak. So you want to achieve a bit more engagement from your brain in a way or engaging yourself thinking, the thinking aspect of it. So then I would choose a game that is strategically oriented for simple example for that would be monopoly.

Sam:                                      24:27                     Okay.

Sumit:                                   24:28                     But let’s say it’s a Saturday night, i’m there with some friends, we’re having a few drinks, then I’ll not go from monopoly, I would go for something like Jenga or drink Jenga or cards against humanity where the fun is or there’s a lot more, it’s a lot more lighthearted fun. It’s a lot easier to play. It doesn’t involve your thinking too much and it contributes or it works well with the noise around you as well. Yeah. It depends on time, day, mood, who you’re with, certain friends would not like to engage in games that involved thinking, then you, even if it’s a Sunday afternoon, you’d rather play a little more relaxed, easy going game. Some people enjoy reading rules, making sure they learn a new game. People who are adventurous with board games, then you pick up a game that none of you have played before and try learn the whole game from scratch. So even that has its own kind of joy and sometimes those kinds of games become your most favorite game as well for the moment. So yeah, it depends what you want to achieve and when. So yeah.

Sam:                                      25:41                     And then when people come to Bao Box, they’ve got, obviously they’ve got the board games. They can also get a nice drink. They can get some food. What do you, what percentage of people are you seeing coming to Bao Box will be playing a game on that visit or will people just be using it as, it’s like quite a nice space to, to hang out.

Sumit:                                   26:02                     So I’ve seen, I can’t put percentages on this, but I’ve seen if its someone after work, they’re not coming there for board games. They’ll come for a nice drink or a quick meal with their colleagues and then they’re off back home. But any other crowd that comes up generally, they’re here to play board games or rather interact with friends. And the easiest way to do that mostly is board games. So yeah, that’s what we have seen. Or we’ll find a lot of groups coming in. Part of the group is playing the game. The other part just wants to chill and talk, cause a lot of places in Nairobi, perhaps are not offering that ambiance which promote people to think or promote people to talk.

Sam:                                      26:52                     Okay. And so that means, okay, so what, what hours of the day is Bao Box open?

Sumit:                                   27:00                     We open from seven in the morning till midnight. Yes. Yeah. Being a cafe and being in business central area, it helps to be open from seven in the morning because then at least you do encourage a coffee the breakfast crowd coming in for a quick coffee, a croissant or something and anyway, we have to be there quite early in the morning for supplies and prep, cleaning and everything anyway, so if you are going to be there, might as well open doors and allow people to come in for a quick fix of a coffee.

Sam:                                      27:38                     Great. Okay. So it seems though, I don’t know actually I kind of wonder whether the utilization, I’m not sure if utilization is the right word, but the, the times at which people are coming to Bao Box and engaging, spending money and buying things, whether you have an advantage over a normal “normal cafe” is the fact that you’ve got the board game attraction. Does that mean that you feel more and more people are able to sort of utilize the, the space about the day?

Sumit:                                   28:13                     I’d like to believe so. But then again, we are never, or we aren’t the biggest cafe, in Nairobi or the busiest cafe or busiest restaurant as well. I think as long as you give people a unique experience or a different experience or rather even a good experience, you’re going to get a crowd because you can’t do board games everyday. The same way, you cannot eat Italian everyday, you’d want to change. So I cannot say that I am, board games is what’s making me better than others, but at the same time there are good Italian restaurants in Nairobi that…

Sam:                                      28:57                     People, I don’t think, would go for an Italian restaurant at 4:00 PM whereas they might come to Bao Box.

Sumit:                                   29:02                     If they have a nice bar. People just want to relax, they want ambiance, they want service that as long as they get that I don’t have, I don’t have the biggest after-work crowd as well. There are other places which definitely pull a bigger crowd than us.I guess as long as you provide what people are looking for, then that crowd will come to you.

Sam:                                      29:27                     Okay. Is this, do people have to be over the age of 18 to come into Bao Box?

Sumit:                                   29:33                     No, it’s board games. Board games…

Sam:                                      29:36                     It’s not like a licensed premises or a bit, there’s no, for example, in some countries well like in the UK at least. I think if you go to a particular bar they will say because they serve alcohol then you won’t be allowed in because of that, is that a thing?

Sumit:                                   29:52                     No, there’s a bigger responsibility on us as Bao Box to ensure that we are not serving minors drinks, but here generally most cafes, bars and all, operate with the bar, food and cafe. So on that basis it’s some, there’s, something they have for people of all ages. There is no legislation here that if you are serving alcohol, you can’t have minors in the premises. But if in your premises you are caught serving, a minor alcohol, then it’s a problem. So for us it’s a bigger responsibility. And if we have any doubt on someone not looking the right age, to approach them and tell them do note that we’ll have to ask for an ID from you to confirm your age. And if you cannot present it, then unfortunately we cannot serve you any alcoholic drink. Yeah. So we make sure that we don’t, we do not serve alcohol or if we aren’t sure we make sure that this information has been conveyed and the customer has been able to provide proof, then only we move forward. Otherwise the managers have been strict. There’s no two ways about it.

Sam:                                      31:08                     Why is it called Bao Box?

Sumit:                                   31:10                     So ‘bao’ is a traditional Swahili game, a board game, more formally known as Mancala in the rest of the world. And being a board game cafe in Kenya, and we could have called it all kinds of weird names or different names, but then we thought a sense of originality and a touch of the local aspect had to be there. And bao is a game we have played as well, many times growing up. And so we thought, how else can you link what we have something brilliant that is this Kenyan culture and touch with us and incorporate it in our name. And so we had to ensure ‘bao’ had to appear in the name to make sure that the local board game has been taken into account and given its respect, you know.

Sam:                                      32:06                     And what was the second choice?

Sumit:                                   32:09                     They’d come up with some very funny names. One was the social box because in essence I think what we were looking at is more than just saying it’s a business which is, which is going to attract people by having board games and food and drinks. It was more of us, the whole idea evolved, started with the board games and the cafe was built around it to say that no, the core of the business was board games and why board games? Because we believe that we wanted to promote and encourage this socializing and bonding, which existed, it existed 10, 15 years ago. But at that time, it wasn’t something that had to be pushed or encouraged it was such a normal thing. Now to bring back such kind of nostalgic sort of socializing, nostalgic feeling, board games. So every other name we thought of was linking to that.

Sam:                                      33:16                     Understood, okay.

Sumit:                                   33:17                     Yeah. So we went quite far, came back and settled with Bao Box, For the reason that we can’t, as much as we’d like to use all the different puns around the world and all that regarding board games and this and that. But it made more sense to us to simply go with a board game we all know and a board game we all relate to and a board game that is very Kenyan, very us. And that’s why.

Sam:                                      33:44                     Very cool. So we’ll just do a few more questions.

Sumit:                                   33:46                     Sure.

Sam:                                      33:46                     What have been some of the, so the inception for Bao Box came just over two years ago. What have been, if you sort of compare today with two years ago, what have been some of the surprises or surprises that have that have happened?

Sumit:                                   34:12                     Good surprises. Bad surprises. Start with the bad, I guess. Again, not being from the industry gave us surprises or gave us challenges that we did not foresee or we did not think would have been a problem. And so service is one of them. Always trying to ensure that we are giving top notch service. We are ensuring that board games itself, we have a lot of people taking souvenirs from the board games.

Sam:                                      34:46                     Really. So people would like to steal a piece of…

Sumit:                                   34:48                     Yeah. So we don’t know why, but when they do, unfortunately what it does is it breaks or it spoils the experience for the next person that picks up the game. And so many of these board games you take one piece away, the whole game is ruined. So those are the kinds of challenges. We did not expect it to be at the scale it was.

Sam:                                      35:08                     How do you stop?

Sumit:                                   35:13                     I don’t know if…

Sam:                                      35:17                     Just get a bouncer.

Sumit:                                   35:17                     His job would be very interesting.

Sam:                                      35:20                     A lot of these pieces are quite small.

Sumit:                                   35:24                     But yeah, the only way to prevent I guess is, it’s difficult to control and prevent the stealing or the, I guess, the people taking souvenirs. I don’t like to use the word stealing Yeah. So the only way to curb it is look at the bigger picture that you don’t want to spoil the experience for any other customer who comes in. They don’t want to know why someone else took a piece. They would’t want to understand that. So just to me surely have enough buffer stock for the games. We have to ensure that we have a regular audit of the games going on. So my mornings the staff team that comes in in the morning, they do the cleaning duties and they’re blue zone plus for the day is actually to ensure they can go to as many board games as they can and check if everything is in order.

Sam:                                      36:17                     Right. So you’ve got like a little less of in monopoly. We need to make sure that all these cards exist.

Sumit:                                   36:24                     Correct.

Sam:                                      36:25                     Really.

Sumit:                                   36:27                     It really helps as well. So being in Kenya, unfortunately, and, or rather fortunately being in Kenya, but unfortunately with the staff we get here, they’ve not been exposed to board games before. So as opposed to being in the UK or Canada perhaps where they have the largest board game cafe in the world, they will have access to people who can be naturally considered to be game masters. Here we didn’t have this luxury and a lot of my staff, the first time they’ve ever played a board game was at Bao Box. So it was really good. Some of them are very excited as well. A couple of my staff are actually, they know how to play roughly 80 to 90 games now, which is impressive because I am learning games from them now and so it works two ways as well. For us, it’s nice that we gave our staff a chance to experience this whole wave of culture. That to them was completely new. It’s again, being a low income economy, you have people who have, waiter jobs here are not fillers for students and on it is more of a life time career for many of my staff, they’ve been doing it for 10, 15 years and this is it for them. They’re trying to grow in this field as much as they can. But that’s. So the problem, the problem is because of their background, they’ve not been exposed to this. So we feel that perhaps it’s never too late. So we give them a chance.

Sam:                                      37:59                     It really is. Is that part of people’s schedule almost is if they’ve got some downtime they are kind of expected to play board games, well expected sounds a bit harsh but you know what I mean?

Sumit:                                   38:13                     Earlier when we met today I don’t know if you noticed because we are not too busy and I had a big team off stuff. I had my manager…

Sam:                                      38:22                     I did see. I thought they were having like a team meeting but they’re just out playing board games.

Sumit:                                   38:25                     Carcassonne actually

Sam:                                      38:25                     The one which can’t be found nowhere else.

Sumit:                                   38:31                     And Yeah, so they were playing that game because all the staff were not needed on service. And to me I would like them to learn the game as well because it provides me an added benefit as opposed to getting someone else from outside to check on the games. My own staff can look after the games, they can know when something is missing, something is damaged because if they have played the game, they know what’s needed in it. And at the same time, to me, another aspect that I get covered when I teach them board games is that they can give my customers a better experience as well. So when someone knows roughly 80 to 90 board games, they can teach a customer walks in a game they’ve never played before. So that itself really is really helpful for us as well because we tell the customer that, look here, we have very capable staff who are going to teach you a game you have not played before to give you a different experience in your evening tonight. And that can allow us to take a step back and as opposed to, as opposed to different customers waiting for one of us to go teach games to them. So yeah, it’s Killing like three birds with one stone.

Sam:                                      39:43                     That’s great. And what’s been like a positive surprise or another…

Sumit:                                   39:48                     Another positive surprise would be how much people have been wanting to do things like this. So this is not just board games. I’m talking Nairobi in general. There’s a lot of places that different experiences have been created. Like, what’s the name? Like mystery rooms.

Sam:                                      40:12                     Escape rooms,

Sumit:                                   40:13                     Escape rooms. Yeah. So a lot of people have, I think that two company that actually set up escape rooms in Nairobi as well. So that means that people are looking for new experiences. There’s a bowling alley that reopened in Nairobi again and it’s been quite busy. So again, it’s just that generally it’s a good surprise to see that people actually, were not happy with just the option of food and drinks. They wanted more from it. It’s just that the market, was not giving it to them and now and all these places are coming up. It’s good to see that people are exploring and making the most of them. Cause otherwise the o to places would always be clubbing. And with the go to lace being clubbing, it doesn’t in the long run, I feel that that generation that comes through clubbing will not be challenged very differently or their thinking will be very monotonous over a long period of time. But when people go off on new experiences is when they start growing and they start seeing the world differently. We have a zip line in place that’s opened up in Nairobi, an hour drive from Nairobi as well. Accessible, professionally run experience. So I think that all contributes to allowing Nairobi to create a culture for people who want more out of their timeout or…

Sam:                                      41:41                     Yeah, the experience economy, is that what they called it?

Sumit:                                   41:48                     So I guess a lot of people, when we came back to Nairobi as well, that we had a, had a lot of friends we had left back in the UK and people from Kenya as well. And they would always say that Nairobi is very dull. In Nairobi, what, the only thing going for us was being a small city, everything was accessible. So what was the everything that was our friends, so there’d be a lot of opportunities to meet up friends very easily. I don’t have to plan like, to me London is a good example because I’ve been there, I’ve visited and I can tell you like people working in London had to plan that after work we’ll meet in the city and then you go your way, I’ll go my way. In Nairobi, I could go to work, get home, have dinner and then plan to meet up with friends and still be home at a good time to get a good night’s sleep and be back to work the next day cause everything was accessible. Whereas in London what they were enjoying was when they do meet up, there’s a lot more for them to do, they don’t have to repeat the same activity again. While they can still get a bite to eat, they can get a drink. So think Nairobi was missing that and that is a good surprise to see that as opposed to looking at other entertainment places as competition. It’s to say that look together we are all responsible for creating a culture and that culture itself will change a generation which will be so used to just being out and about and getting more from their evening or day basically.

Sam:                                      43:21                     Fantastic. And so Sumit, people listening at home, how can they learn more about Bao Box?

Sumit:                                   43:28                     So we have a website www.baobox.co.ke, we have a Facebook page Bao Box cafe. We have an Instagram page as well. They are the best sources I guess to just get a brief on what we are up to, who we are in a way and what I normally say is the best place because what we’re doing with Bao Box, being a passion project with friends, we’re always trying to create events that we would personally enjoy. So if people want to try a different experience from a night out or an evening we have random events coming up, which have been very, varied to what you see in Nairobi normally. But just things because these events we are creating because of of the fun of it more than what is the return if I do this, the time I spent on it for that reason, like recently we had a dirty bingo night,

Sam:                                      44:29                     Dirty bingo night.

Sumit:                                   44:30                     Exactly.

Sam:                                      44:31                     What is dirty bingo?

Sumit:                                   44:33                     That’s a brilliant question. It’s Bingo for adults and yes that night we had to have age limit, you know? But yeah, it just bingo played with dirty words, but it is absolutely brilliant. It’s just funny like, you know, when someone can comfortably shout out the dirty words because it’s part of a game, it’s a very different atmosphere in a place. Recently we had start-stop night probably known as animal kingdom. It was in different parts of the world. We put our own twist to it to allow it to be a group game. And that’s that. These are games people haven’t played for years since childhood, just getting a piece of paperback in the day, it was simple, getting a piece of paper, writing, name, place, animal, thing and someone chooses a letter and they start filling it in. Here we created a twist to it and all but more importantly it was a way for us to take people back in time, to get them to start thinking about those memories again. And that’s what we’re trying to do again and again. So hopefully yeah we’re hoping more people would buy into more of what we are trying to achieve more than just say come play board games.

Sam:                                      46:01                     Yeah. Very cool. Well, I’ll link to all of those in the show notes as well as a link to where the cafe is. So if anyone’s in Nairobi, they can see

Sumit:                                   46:10                     Thank you.

Sam:                                      46:11                     But yeah, Sumit, thanks so much.

Sumit:                                   46:13                     Thank you very much man. I appreciate it.

Big retail CEO Daniel Githua explains the role of supermarkets formalising the East African economy


Some of the biggest and most visible players in any country are the supermarkets.

They employ thousands of people, have a wide geographic presence and interact with many aspects of the economy through supply chains and products sold.

Tuskys is one of the biggest in Kenya, and East Africa, and in this episode I interview Daniel Githua the CEO.

The interview was pencilled in to take 30 minutes, but there ended up being so much interesting stuff that we continued recording, meaning it’s one of the longer episodes on the show to date.

I think part of the reason was the depth of insights that Daniel had, and the frankness with which he spoke about both opportunities and current downsides in running the business.

Some highlights from the interview include: the macro trends in formalising the retail sector in Kenya and how reaching new towns transforms the local economy, the biggest opportunities he sees for retail products across different categories, and how the market may change in the coming years, with the introduction of large international retailers like Carrefour and Shoprite

If you’re interested in other interviews about food and retail, look to episodes on Cooked BeansInvoice Financing and especially on Coconuts which talks a lot about the struggles manufacturers have with payment terms when selling to supermarkets, something Daniel recognised that the retail industry has to address.

At times there might be a bit of shuffling, and sips of tea (the Tuskys staff were very accommodating) and so please excuse and slurps or shuffles which exist at the beginning – or at least when the tea was still hot.


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Accountant by background

Daniel started as an auditor with Deloitte. He then wanted to look at entrepreneurship, and considered the two companies Nairobi Women’s Hospital and Tuskys.

Tuskys is a mass-market supermarket

Furniture, clothing, amenities and fresh food. Currently 63 stores in the region, looking to grow to Ethiopia and the east of DR Congo.

My Mum is a milk farmer

She sells her milk to a local processor which then has it appearing on the shelves in Tuskys. For this, you need advanced IT systems and processes.

Tuskys began with a small grocery store

A few hours from Nairobi in Nakuru. The focus was on training local people, his sons joined and they grew from there.

We open shops to empower communities

Many times Tuskys becomes the largest employer in town – it transforms the local economy.

What determines opening a new store?

1. settlement patterns 2. trade routes. A high volume of traffic is what makes a new site attractive. This was helped by Kenya’s devolution of power, which gave greater power to local government, such as with Narok.

How Tuskys transforms a town

By creating jobs for 300-400 employees there are ancillary services (such as housing) which need to be met.

Increasing demand through availability

In the case of Narok, there historically wasn’t the option for premium products such as, say, mouthwash. By Tuskys opening there is some simple switching from the informal sector (fruits) and others are products which previously only existed in the capital Nairobi.

We don’t have many own label products

This loses our focus. Our main objective is to create the market where consumers meet the manufacturers. Whilst the market is yet to be exploited we don’t wish to conflict with our suppliers. When you have your own product, you begin limiting what the consumer has.

Listing as a supplier

Quite simple really. Starts with having government approval. Then want clarity on the types of customers that you want. Can you show in your product that you’re going for. How does this compare with the competition? How do you match with them?

Gross margin on foodstuff

Is roughly 16-18%. The time it spends on the shelf differs by category. Fresh is for 2-3 days. Dry foods 14 days. Clothing 45 days.

“The best yoghurt in town”

This is how a Dutch Private Equity investor sold his vision of creating one of the leading brands of yoghurt in Kenya. He said it’s going to be expensive, but it’s going to be the best. He’s doing very well.

Other opportunities lie in…

Processed meats (bacon, sausages), cooking oils (premium olive oils are now on every table), premium pasta, fruit jam, personal care items (shampoos, lotions)

Human capital gap

It’s impossible to find a good buyer locally. The skills to negotiate with buyers are low. There isn’t the experience, and so Tuskys have decided to train them, often on projects abroad.


This is a big issue for retailers as there are no established processes in place. How inventory moves around is still quite informal.

International retailers are coming!

This brings a different kind of competition to the market. The biggest effect is that payment terms needs to be more disciplined. Manufacturers no longer tolerate the long payment terms and so retailers need to get better at paying on time.

Consolidation in Kenya retailers

There are likely to be “Tier 2” retailers in the sector who will merge to get better buying power with manufacturers.


Certain standards for being good retailers: payment terms, transparent payment terms, treatment of workers, CSR etc.

e-commerce opportunities

Electronics, personal brand items and textiles are moving quickly. Logistics isn’t an issue, as customers want to come by to the Tuskys store.

Lessons & Insights

Surprises: gaps in human capital and pilferage of stock

Biggest lesson: “It is shocking how much opportunity exists in food retailing in Kenya”

Biggest insight: only 30% of retail in East Africa is formal. This is increasing 2% each year which presents a big opportunity.



Overview of Food in East AfricaLessons from interviewing Food entrepreneurs in East Africa.

Booming factory business. Tales of growth, expansion and toilet paper, from Darshan Chandaria


Manufacturing is one of the major value drivers in an economy.

In this episode, I speak with Darshan Chandaria, Group CEO of Chandaria Industries, the company founded by his grandfather in the late 1940s and which has now diversified into other areas.

The core business is hygiene products: recycling waste paper and turning it into tissue and other products.

This episode is slightly longer than usual, mainly because there just seemed to be so much to talk about. This includes the set up of their fully integrated operation, the thought process of building a new factory, hiring strategies across the group and Darshan’s management strategy for leading the team. Essentially: find people on the same wavelength and leave them to it.

There are also other tidbits of information in there around designing detachable roofs in the new factory, the comparatively high cost of transporting goods, as well as Darshan’s strategy for building his Instagram following.

The interview took place at Chandaria HQ which is a working factory and so at times there might be some background noise of trucks moving around. I’m sure you’ll agree though that it adds to the effect.


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Other notes

Family business established since the 1940s. Established in 1964.

Diversified portfolio of companies. Hygiene is the main. Largest tissue and hygiene products company in East and Central Africa: a fully integrated operation.

There are 30,000 Kenyan families employed in the paper collection. Often these jobs stay in the family: there are generations of people in collecting of paper waste. 3,000 people are employed across the group.

Toilet tissue is the biggest seller. It’s the entry level product to hygiene.

Leadership team have to be on the same wavelength, the same vision.

There a few major channels they work with, the crux of the experience the customer should feel is: does the customer feel comfortable enough to call you late at night, because you will sort out the issue they have.

Meeting ISO standards, and the way in which that is measured.

It’s a capital intensive company with high barriers to entry.

Transport cost takes up a higher percentage of the margin.

The expansion of building a new factory will be a $50m investment. Part of this will be a detachable roof in the design. Most of this new factory will be taken on with debt.

Raw materials is a big thing. Less things being printed means availability of raw material is a concern.

Transition from Family Office to Venture Capital firm. Early stage companies to then scale up.

Lessons and Insights

Biggest learning: the leadership team has to be on the same wavelength

Biggest insight: future proof your investment decisions i.e. does your factory need a detachable roof

What keeps you up at night: as paper usage reduces, raw material costs will increase

Social media etc.

Chandaria Industries

Website: http://www.chandaria.com/


LinkedIn: https://ke.linkedin.com/company/chandaria-industries-ltd-

Darshan (personal)

Twitter: https://twitter.com/dchandaria

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/darshan.chandaria/

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/darshan-chandaria-7143a57/

Other links

SuperBrands: http://superbrands.com/

Mobius Motors:https://mobiusmotors.com/

Where does hair comes from? The global supply chain of human wigs and weaves


This is an episode I’ve been wanting to do for a long long time.

One of the things I’ve found bewildering working in the region is the frequency with which the females I know change their hair style.

From month to month it can change drastically and, dare I say it, unrecognisably. On occasion I have momentarily re-introduced myself to new colleagues on account of a completely different hairstyle changing their appearance.

Anyway, this episode is all about hair.

Luxury hair to be specific which, as you’ll find out means it comes from the real hair of other humans.

It’s honestly one of the most fascinating interviews and businesses on the podcast so far.


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Gisela, founder of Zuri Lux Hair and I discuss the global supply chain of human hair,the huge sums paid for it in their Congolese outlets and how she has grown this enterprise from a side hustle to a fully fledged operation.

Gisela and I discuss her luxury hair business, one which began as a side hustle, and now employs people across the region.

The main focus is the hair extensions that Zuri sell.

Their brand is all about luxury, and this means that the hair extensions are made of real human hair.

We discuss the global supply chain involved in this, and how hair from Brazil is considered the best. She often goes to China on quality control, to ensure that the “bundles” of hair are high quality won’t go bad once they have been made.

Time is spent covering the demand side too, and how people will spend a fortune on good quality hair.

Each wig/ weave costs $100-300.

Zuri is looking to expand their offering beyond just luxury hair and into other luxury beauty products. They’re currently in Congo, Uganda and Rwanda, and will be looking to expand beyond this through their sales agent network.

Lessons and Insights

Biggest lesson: How big (and underserved) the market is

Biggest insight: “Our hair extensions are like cocaine”

Find them Online



Website:  http://www.zuriluxhair.com/