Born and raised in Lamu, Rachel Ndung’u had a rather auspicious beginning as an entrepreneur. At the age of 10, her parents tapped her as the child who ran their retail shop during holidays and evenings after school. “I don’t know how they recognised that there was an entrepreneur out of the five of us. But they picked me and I was very small. I was barely 10.” By the time she got round to high school, they had expanded to other businesses. “We had gotten into apparel. I had suggested that. I thought we had a lot of potential in this area and somehow they listened.” While the rest of the siblings had holiday fun, she had a different kind of adventure.
Some of the most successful family businesses always make plans or think of planning for a future where their children will take over the business, involving them from as young an age as possible. It makes the transition into running the business easier once they are adults. In Rachel’s case, she may not have ended up running the family businesses, but she had a great training ground that gave her traction when it came to being an entrepreneur.
In university, she studied Computer Science and Mathematics. At the time she ran a retail business that she later sold at 19. “Running a business was very natural and I am very fortunate that my parents nurtured that while I was barely 10. It was quite natural for me to run a business.” As a top student, she felt it made her parents more trusting of the process. And even when she got a job, as far as she was concerned she wasn’t really an employee. Despite rising as far as senior management.
“I owned a P&L, and I was back to my natural self of being an entrepreneur and controlling the business unit.” Then she formed Biasara Africa, a business that focuses on small African businesses, allowing them to reach customers online, keep business records and monetise. “I think I am more of a natural when it comes to entrepreneurship, but I have also learned along the way that it is good for an entrepreneur to equip yourself. Have mentors. Have coaches so that you can also equip yourself possibly with experience and exposure.”
Again, she points out, gaining any training is equally important, whether it is formal or informal. With an MBA from the University of London, she wanted to take the business international, giving it a more universal approach and appeal as well as a varied client base while managing business globally.
Running the family businesses inevitably impacted her, opening her up to a certain value set. “You need to be disciplined, focus, have purpose and a goal. You have to keep records and learn what is going in and going out.” While running the businesses with her parents taught her to be accountable and conscious of sussing out what came in and what came out at the end of the business day.
“Running a business teaches you to be humble. And I tell this to my friends it teaches you to be human. You can be arrogant when you have a monthly salary. And you can survive. Not for long in these times but you can survive. As an entrepreneur, you have to appreciate life in its simplicity. You have to have a vision beyond self.” As a result f this, every small business she comes across feels almost personal because she is rooting for them, wanting them to grow and to be successful. She wants them to thrive on social media, their varied platforms, and even offline via SMSes.
What the small business gets is a website link, their own e-commerce shop, all in under 10 minutes. They can use this to monitor where their traffic is coming from be it social media or their site and use these to make better business decisions now that they can curate data. They can also see where their customers are from whether it be globally or county-wide. Biashara Africa, though targeting small African businesses, has also built an infrastructure for shipping as well as a payments system. These options are available locally or internationally.
We have made our platform simple, it is easy to use, and is affordable. “The small business owner has very limited experience and expertise to use some of the platforms mentioned. We made it so simple that even if you have zero know-how, you can use it. We have a saying – “we start with your wherever you are.” Then we grow with you.”
If you’re thinking, why not simply use social media platforms that have shops embedded in them such as plying only Facebook and/or selling just on Instagram, Rachel says “These have a limited reach for small businesses. What our platform has been able to do, is, by enrolling in our platform, they can access all social media platforms instead of banking on the one. They will be on WhatsApp, LinkedIn, Twitter to marketplaces such as Amazon and Jumia. Some of these platforms don’t provide local shipping providers or options that serve you from wherever you are.”
They piloted for six months to integrate with other platforms. Having been an entrepreneur running small businesses, she struggled with reaching customers beyond her physical location. She struggled with a solution to this problem, turning it into a reality. “Anyone who has run a small business will tell you it is always a headache how they receive money and ship products and how to optimise the two. She is looking a having all the African businesses mapped online.
Last year, she and her team came up with a motto. ‘No small business shall close because it is failing to reach an online audience.’ Wherever these businesses were located did not matter. The goal was to make sure their targeted clientele did not struggle. Their services, indicates Rachel, are designed to be extremely affordable.
“Entrepreneurship,” says Rachel, “is the only journey one can have because it helps you address difficult real-life problems, bigger challenges, down to giving you an opportunity to impact lives.” She concludes succinctly that this is “what keeps an entrepreneur going.”