- What made you take the leap into entrepreneurship?
After working for over 20 years, I was really looking for more freedom and independence in my working life. I also wanted the opportunity of trying to build something from scratch and seeing where that could go.
- What were the biggest initial hurdles to building your business and how did you overcome them?
The hurdles have really been different at different stages of the business. In the very early days the challenge was identifying the right suppliers and hiring the right staff. Now that the business has grown, the challenges have changed to things like managing cash flow, building systems and learning how to be more of a leader and less of a micro-manager.
- Did you ever deal with contention from your family concerning your entrepreneurial pursuits? How did you handle it? What would you do differently in hindsight?
Not at all. None of my family are entrepreneurs and to be honest, they have been very supportive from the beginning. One of my brothers even invested money in the business, long before we knew whether it would succeed. So he did it more to support me, and not because he was guaranteed any return.
- What was your business’ original mission? How has that mission evolved in the time since?
Initially our mission was really just to provide great clothing to women. Now that we have better understood our potential impact, we have a much bolder vision – to “Change the way Africa sees herself through Fashion”. And this is because we believe that we are playing a small part in building our confidence in ourselves, in our capabilities and in our worthiness as a people.
- Do you prefer to pursue funding or build organically, and why?
We have grown organically for the first 6 years of the business, largely because we did not want to borrow at the very high interest rates and we didn’t think that investors would value us high enough at that stage. However, now that we are bigger and have demonstrated our potential, we have raised a small amount of external capital – just to speed up our growth.
- Did you have major competitors when you started, how did you plan to compete with them, and how did that plan play out?
There have always been and there will always be competition – that’s a given in business unless you have a monopoly. So we are always assessing what is there now, and what we think will be there tomorrow. This is a very dynamic space and people are always entering the market. All we can do is to keep being very clear about our value proposition and revising up when necessary to ensure that differentiate ourselves.
- What do you look for in a business partner?
I have only ever had one business partner, my Vivo co-founder, Anne-Marie Burugu. I think what works for us is that we share a similar passion and enthusiasm for the business, we agree on the vision and we deeply trust each other. In our case, we have very clear and differentiated roles though. I run the day-to-day business, and she is the Chair of our Board and provides leadership at that level.
- How do you facilitate a positive work environment that attracts and retains talent?
This is a constant work in progress. Our company is growing quickly and so the culture is changing. Now that we have over 60 staff, it is important to be clear about things such as our corporate values – to make sure that they are consistent across the organization. These are the kinds of conversations we are having right now.
- What would you say was the single most influential factor in your business’ success?
That is such a tough question because I don’t believe it is any one thing! I think success is often a combination of many different things coming together at the same time. And you can never underestimate the role of luck – which can come and go. Touch wood, we have been very lucky so far. But other factors that have contributed to any success we had include a great team, positioning our product right in terms of pricing and style, and lots of great support and loyalty from our clients.
- What is the biggest mistake you’ve made as an entrepreneur?
Hmmmm…. Another tough question. Again – I don’t know that any ONE stands out but I’m sure I make lots of mistakes all the time. I just choose not to see them as mistakes and instead as lessons learned. For example, when I choose a design that turns out to be a complete flop as far as sales are concerned, instead of seeing it as a mistake, I try and look for what that experience can teach us. What about it didn’t work? Did we get the design wrong or did we not market it right? Was it the design or the fabric we chose to make it from? Did we price it too high or too low? There are always lots of questions to ask from any so called “mistake” that can help you be better informed next time.
- What has been your greatest moment of success?
When it comes to work, I am most proud of the fact that out of what was just an idea we have built a business that has created over 60 jobs. And as we know in Kenya, each job is probably supporting at least 7 other people. So that makes me incredibly happy. But there have been many other moments that I am grateful for. Mostly in my personal life though… which I guess wasn’t your question J.
- How do you approach marketing your business?
Our marketing is almost 100% on social media. That’s what we can afford and that’s the easiest way to reach the bulk of our clients (present or future). We try and create content that will inspire and speak to the people who follow us.
- How do you believe evolving technology will impact the way we do business over the next 10 years?
Wow. The speed at which technology is changing its hard to tell what changes it will bring in one year, let alone 10! Right now we are looking at the ways in which technology can help us better understand our clients and our products (e.g. using data analytics). We are also taking advantage of new and improved fabrics and tools for manufacturing. And of course technology constantly offers new ways to reach and communicate with your market.
- What do you know today that you wish you would have known when you first got started as an entrepreneur?
Nothing really. I’m truly okay with the entrepreneurial journey I’ve experienced so far because I believe that each step has been necessary. I’m learning things as and when I’m ready to learn them, and that learning never stops. If someone had told me how important it is to have a solid board 5 years ago, I wouldn’t have known what to do with that information. But I’m a true believer in the saying “when the student is ready, the teacher appears”.
- What’s the most important thing you’re working on right now, and how are you making it happen?
Right now we are really focused on building our e-commerce business, and we have a great team leading our strategy in this area. All I want to say about it right now is “watch this space”! J
- How do you help people grow to the next level and be their best.
Ultimately I believe that everyone has to take responsibility for their own progress and fulfillment. But we are trying to create an environment at Vivo where people take initiative and then are given the resources and tools to explore their ideas. In a growing business, there are plenty of opportunities to grow with it, and that is what we are encouraging.
- If you sold your company today, what would be the tone of the conversation? What would you want to gain? What would you want to avoid losing?
Well, just to be clear, I am not planning to sell any time soon! But if and when I do, I will want to be sure that the staff are considered during negotiations. I would not want to see people who have been with us for a long time loose their jobs or livelihoods.
- Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I hope that within 5 years I will have handed over the day-to-day running of the business to someone else, and I can spend more of my time on big picture issues, as well as in things outside of Vivo, including investing in and mentoring other businesses.
- How do you keep up with the changing trends of the industry?
We have a design team that researches trends – however we always try to have a Vivo-spin to anything we create.
- What kind of person will succeed in this industry?
I’m not sure that this industry is that different when it comes to the basics… to succeed in business (and many other aspects of life) you need grit and determination, to work hard and to have honest conversations with yourself and with other people. I don’t really believe it overnight success… even when it might appear that way. Apart from a very few exceptions most successful people have worked REALLY hard to get to where they are.