What you need to know:
- I went through moments of self-doubt when I looked at the statistics and considered the harsh realities of managing a start-up
- It's partly the fear of being part of the failed statistics that kept me going since there is a sense of pride and emotional attachment to something you've created from scratch
Two years ago, when Ivynne was 22 and a fourth-year student pursuing a Bachelor of Commerce in Finance, at the University of Nairobi, she founded her business, Kairo, using a capital of Sh50,000 from her savings.
She would import women's handbags from China and use social media to sell. Things however didn't go smoothly for the first three months, which is how long it took to sell her entire first stock. Thereafter, having learnt the ropes of marketing on Instagram, sales picked.
But it didn't happen at the wave of a magic wand, as this wasn't even her first attempt at launching the business. Just before she turned 21, she tried importing bags which ended being auctioned because she didn't have enough money for the clearance fees. Undeterred, she saved up again to bring a second batch one year later.
Today, with a community of over 31,000 on Instagram and high engagement on the @KairoOfficiall stories, her bags always seem to sell out fast. She brings in new orders every first week of the month and has eight employees who handle delivery to customer service. This has led her to expand the business into apparel (Kairo Couture) furniture & home decor pieces (Kairo Home) and The Global Entrepreneurship Hub which nurtures a community of young entrepreneurs building empires.
"I went through moments of self-doubt when I looked at the statistics and considered the harsh realities of managing a start-up," she shares. "For instance, it is estimated that 20 percent of start-ups never live to see their first birthday, and that half of those that survive do not make it to their fifth anniversary," Ivynne says
"It's partly the fear of being part of the failed statistics that kept me going since there is a sense of pride and emotional attachment to something you've created from scratch," she adds.
Social media has been very pivotal in growing Kairo's customer base, helping them set up a profitable and reputable brand in less than five years. "It has leveled the playing field between established brands and SME's, and for us, it generates about 80 percent of our sales. I spent a significant amount of time creating a community of like-minded people with a love for uniqueness and fashion," says Ivynne.
Through social media, Ivynne was able to get referrals. "It is cheaper advertising online if you target a specific base," she quips.
Through Instagram, she tackles issues such as the types of businesses one can start with a capital of under Sh50,000 to how to import goods from overseas. "Kairo is more than just a business; it is a thriving community of the most ambitious young women I have ever met."
People start businesses for various reasons, often to advance something they are passionate about. "My business was born from my love for fashion. Therefore, it was easier for me to understand the industry, its competition, and the value I could bring in to thrive," says Ivynne. "For me, it is how unique your products are...that's what keeps you going. I have to credit my online community and social media for always providing insights into what they'd like, and most importantly, how much they are willing to pay for it. It all comes down to basics, and that's understanding the market."
One of her challenges was setting a boundary between the business and her personal life. "I also needed to create the right processes, such as purchasing, packaging, and logistics. Business involves repeated processes, and if there is no coordination of activities, nothing can be achieved," says Ivynne.
Finding the right business partners and suppliers is also an issue. "Do your homework. Quality is critical, and getting someone who offers this doesn't come cheap; you will have to pay a premium, and most importantly, know what you want since these suppliers cater to different classes of customers," she advises. Freight and shipping partners are key players, and any delays in delivery or damage to your goods could be catastrophic. Customs clearance can also be a challenge due to the bureaucracies involved, Ivynne, says.
Like many businesses, Covid-19 dealt a major blow to her enterprise. "I was cushioned because I had a full-time job," she shares. But she knows that as the business grows, she will need to dedicate all her time to the venture.
The Global Entrepreneurship hub was borne out of the need to provide answers to young women who wanted to know how to get into the business. She has an academy that provides online courses for those who want to start and scale their businesses but don't know how to go about it. "We teach entrepreneurs on how to ship in goods, price products, the best businesses to start with limited capital, marketing strategies, and taxation."
The monthly courses cost between Sh1,500 to Sh30,000 depending on when one takes them. "I want to expand it into a private business club where members will network with other like-minded individuals while accessing finance and business opportunities," she says.
For young people who want to venture into business, but are held back by fear, she advises, "You may not have all it takes to start, but it is only through faith and a willingness to learn that you can fully figure out the bigger picture. Enjoy the process and quickly learn from your mistakes. Take chances when still young; if you fail, you have plenty of time to bounce back."