By Shirley Genga
I have always been independent and after high school at Hospital Hill in Nairobi, I started my first business, which involved selling yoghurt to the International School of Kenya and Loreto Convent Msongari High School, Nairobi.
I also worked as a hairdresser and my clientele was mainly high-end. I saw an opportunity to do business so I saved some money and travelled to London on a regular basis to buy luxury merchandise, which I would sell to my clients.
During one of my travels to London, I decided to stay on longer. I later travelled to Greece, Italy, Canada, Spain and the US. At one point during my travels, my dad came looking for me, but didn’t find me. I was busy globetrotting.
While in Greece, I attended Lavern University to study Computer Science with a bias in Marketing, but I did not stay for long. I am a visual learner and the classroom set up made me restless.
I came back to Kenya in December 1994. My grandfather had passed on and I felt very distant from my family. I was living in the US at that time and everyone thought I was crazy to want to return home. But I had seen the world and felt it was time to return home.
I got into my next business venture as soon as I got home. I used to export products from Dubai and sell them at Free Mark and at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre, Nairobi. Afterwards, I moved to Haco Industries where I worked as a salesperson. I would drive to Donholm, Kahawa West and Eastleigh to sell hair products and cosmetics.
I later joined Form-Net Africa, a web company, where I worked as head of corporate solutions and marketing. While there I was called by Inter-Connect Limited to work in the sales and marketing department.
These experiences not only helped me grow as a businesswoman, but it also opened my eyes with regard to entrepreneurship opportunities.
In 1999, I saw a market opportunity and together with a friend, we founded the region’s first mass market Internet service provider, Wananchi Online.
The Internet sector was slowly becoming a formidable market segment and we fought many battles because we had to challenge the assumption of regulators, government officials and competitors who believed the Internet was only for the elite.
Wananchi Online was successful and has become East Africa’s leading cable, broadband and IP (Internet-based) phone company.