NAIROBI, KENYA: As entrepreneurship catches on in a job market that’s not friendly to the youth, a growing number of 25-year-olds have ‘CEO’ on their business cards.
Alyana Popat, who runs Uva Wines, happens to be one of them. She got the idea to start a wine sales business a little over a year ago and set up shop in June this year.
But what is she banking on in an industry already flooded with diverse brands of wine?
“Originality,” she says simply.
Market research showed her that there was a shortage of Portuguese wines in the Kenyan market.
“I discovered that Portuguese wines weren’t in the market – at least not in the levels other brands, such as those from South African, had penetrated the market,” says Alyana, whose father is Indian-Kenyan and mother Portuguese.
“The word ‘Uva’ is Portuguese for grapes. Importing Portuguese wine into the country is, therefore, sharing part of my culture and heritage with other Kenyans.”
Despite Uva Wines being months old, Alyana expects the profits to be flowing in by December. She spoke to Hustle on the steps she took to actualise her dream.
How did Uva grow from an idea to a business?
The idea to start Uva, as an affiliate within Simba Corporation – a business with investments in motoring, hospitality and financial services – was solely mine. There are strict processes within the parent company that are followed for an idea to be funded, so I drafted a proposal and presented my ideas to the board. They adopted it.
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When Uva starts generating money, the plan is to repay the capital received to start the business.
What did you need to do to set up?
In March this year, I was in Portugal to see about seven or eight wine suppliers. I spoke to them and also got in touch with the Portuguese trade department, which helps with business advice in Portugal. My questions were basic: What do you suggest? Which companies do you think I should visit?
The companies I toured ranged from small to big producers. Eventually, I narrowed down to three suppliers based on their presence and success in Africa.
How did you identify a market?
The first thing I did was to know who my competition was. I spoke to some of them, asking about challenges and opportunities in the market. From them, I learnt some valuable lessons.
For instance, I discovered that for one to be successful in this business, you have to be in hotels, restaurants and supermarkets. You won’t make much with individual customers.
Aside from the Portuguese link, what else is unique about Uva?
Every brand of wine we offer is unique. For instance, Casal Mendes Blue is the only original blue wine available in East Africa, and in Kenya you will only find it at Uva outlets. It’s important to be original.
Does it feel strange to be a CEO at your age?
There are a couple of millennials developing very big businesses. For me, I think it is a combination of luck, passion and drive. I work for a family business so the wines fit in very well.
We have three hotels already that we can supply, and we have Simba Corp Aspire Centre in Westlands. The directors understand my passion and have given me the opportunity to start a business and see where I can take it.