Frida Mwangi is living my life. She works from home, gets to see her children, and prepares them for school – at least when they were young. She is what would have been called a mumpreneur. Now, the world calls her an entrepreneur. She has steadily employed five people with her transcription business, Kazi Remote.
Frida cleared class 8 in ‘94, high school in ‘98, had a baby in 2000, 2003, 2010, and 2014. It comes as no surprise that when it came to her life’s work and purpose, she would consider being mummy above all else. “I think I had taken care of my kids on my own. So remote working would have worked best. Remote working was ideal.” And in that spirit, she says “It’s like having two generations: ages 20 and 17, and ages 10 and 6. I’m still the one who takes care of the latter two, gets them into the school bus and they come and find me home.” She says she had the six-year-old when she was much wiser to motherhood. “I knew myself better by then.”
Remote working started out as a trend when COVID-19 first hit. We were all encouraged to work from home. The President encouraged it. Employers felt it was best, and soon, working from X was born. But this was not new to Frida. She brought work to her home and found a sense of satisfaction, where she could plan her life around her family and still get work done.
“A lot of things changed. You have to figure out what time is yours and which time belongs to the business. Of course, in the beginning, there were a lot of complaints, like ‘Mum! Unaishi kwa computer?’ (Mum! You live for the computer!) With time, I have learned when it is my off day. When the young ones come from school, we can have two hours or so. I am with them. When they go to sleep at 8 pm, I get some work done. So I work in two shifts.” It is not as seamless as it sounds because she adds, “You learn the hard way when you are juggling all these things, and then, of course, there is the husband in the picture.”
When she was younger, Frida thought about becoming a pharmacist. “But there was a running joke when I was in high school that I should be a journalist because I always had the 411.” Coming from a poor background, however, shattered those dreams. Her mother could not afford to pay for her high school education so she audited the classes. The headmistress allowed her to keep learning, but she would not get her certificate because her fees remained unpaid from Form Two. “Those dreams disappeared from my mind and I gave up on them.”
Now she does transcription, subtitling, and content writing. And in 2017, Upwork spotlighted her as one of the best freelancers. “Sometimes I do the writing myself. I actually enjoy transcriptions. I get to learn so much. Right now, I am focusing on getting more work and training. I love the latter. It gets me to interact with a younger generation. And so far, I have been able to manage how work is done.”
Could she write subtitles for Netflix, perhaps? “No, as in not yet. But I want to start. We are working towards getting them to think about it and having a partnership. But the problem is Netflix only has one representative here. The others are in the Netherlands.” Do not despair on her behalf. This dream is a little more realistic than dolling out prescriptions. She is currently working with the Kenya Film Commission. “Actually, the point of KFC was to bring Netflix in along with MultiChoice Kenya and many other production companies.” How? I ask, “I just did a proposal. I am a believer. It was all done virtually. I was remote long before the pandemic. For us, what the pandemic did is that it reaffirmed what we were doing.”
When it comes to hiring, she has learned how to vet the wheat from the chaff. “I have learned to ask the right questions. There is a form to fill. What I am looking for, is motivation. Why do you want to do it? Do you have an idea what it is?” She had to do this because she kept training people, who kept leaving. She and I would like to think it is because she does such a fine job of it, preparing them for a career path as it were. “I had to start understanding their psychology. You know the way marketers say you need to understand your consumer’s persona? I say you have to know your workforce’s persona. I get up to 400 applications at a time, and I have to sift through it and select the best. But, I also got burned along the way. I do not want to lie that it is easy.”
She has learned to gauge talent and potential in three minutes flat.
Except, as she said, it has not been easy. “When the moment comes, I give myself the right to cry, scream if I have to, and then take a day or two. Sometimes it would even take two weeks. Then I would be done with the mourning. I have been my own cheerleader, and I find that it helps.” She works with Millennial freelancers who she says will not do eight-hour days. Instead, they work part-time, dedicating about four hours a day to Kazi Remote. She lets them roam the online streets to find more work. It is her core team of five that she relies on.
Small she may be, but even she is philanthropic. Her CSR (corporate social responsibility) work is free training. She covers the cost by looking for a sponsor. “My idea is, they don’t have to pay. I think about the fact that they are jobless. How do I ask them for money?” The training takes 10 to 12 days. She did a training on subtitling with KFC. That one took three weeks. She is not exactly looking for investors saying “Maybe grants, not investors. I know you have to be careful who you bring into the business.” If she got one miraculously, she would streamline the workflow and use some of it as marketing spend. “When you’re doing everything by yourself, you’re just touching the surface. But if you have someone, it allows you to focus on your core business.”
How does she make money? She sources for business, charges you a certain amount, pays the workforce a specific amount and finds that the difference is enough to sustain her and her family.
As for remote working, Frida confidently says this is where the future is going. There is some concern, however, around the personalities drawn to online work. “You have to think about the social aspect. There is a community, and we really encourage the online team to engage. You know, most online workers are introverts. I have to tell them to deliberately go out and meet people. What we have seen is you will work alone, get to the point where you are successful, and then get depression.” Mental wellness is critical to this work, she notes. Prior to COVID-19, there were lunches and hikes. All part of the training and learning to have an online career.
And if you find friends who are not offline, even better.