Lessons on hustling from a fruit seller

Open air fruit market in Nairobi.
It is a good thing my mother raised us in a business environment. She used to sell fruits in Nairobi’s Industrial Area, along Enterprise Road to be exact, and she would wait for customers over lunch time just outside Mama Ronnie’s hotel.

She invested in the saying that an apple a day keeps the doctor away, and going by her sales, there were many believers in these words.

I think I fully understood what she did when I brought a school form back home for her to fill some day, and under the occupation slot, she wrote ‘businesswoman’.

She is my role model for having raised three boys with her crate of fruits, and I’ve picked up important business lessons from her.

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Most people ask her what the secret is to doing what she did. What many don’t know is that I got to be business oriented because I was her intern, and I took good notes.

Most Saturdays, I’d go to Enterprise Road to assist her and just learn the tricks of the trade. And during weekdays, immediately she got home from work, I was the accountant. I’d separate the buying price from the selling price and note down the profit margins.

I kept detailed balance sheets, and I think that’s one of the reasons I took up accounting in university.

Branch out and take risks

My mother would insist that whatever I was doing to help out was really important, but what struck me was her calling me in for a meeting.

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My aunt, who resides in Migori, had pointed out an opportunity, a one-time chance at expansion. My mother consulted me and then over weekend travelled to Migori using the money she’d been saving.

She believed the secret to growth is the level of risk you’re willing to take.

High risk, high yields; low risk, low yields. Anyway, she met with my aunt and they bought land that they later used to grow sugarcane.

Several months later, my mother asked me to meet her at her stall. So, after sports day at Eastleigh High School, I went home, changed out my uniform and took the Sh10 matatu to Enterprise Road. That particular day, my mother was leaving work early, so I helped with the general cleaning and we said bye to Mama Ronnie. It was unusual timing.

We went straight to the Machakos country bus terminus to a stall similar in look to what was at Industrial Area. It became clear that we were expanding.

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The sugarcane harvest had given birth to a second fruit station, and managed to pay school fees to all of us.

What I learnt from my mother is that you should always invest and find ways to expand a business. It doesn’t have to be in the field that you’re in. And keep in mind that risk will give you room for expansion.

My early years of business were a direct application of what I learnt from her fruit stall, from keeping accounts to what to save after sales, how to spend money, and how and when to expand.

Making it work

I didn’t go to any business class, but I carried my mother’s syllabus with me, and she remains one of my biggest mentors.

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Before I applied any of the lessons I learnt from her, I would make sure I had the necessary structures in place, and just before getting everything done, I’d involve her for advice.

I started by selling merchandise in school and used what I had, which was talent. I went to the second-hand market, Gikomba, bought plain T-shirts, and since I could paint, made portraits on the T-shirts and sold them. I invested the profits and bought printing materials from a friend whose business was dying. I revived it and expanded into printing quality polos.

I then saw the need to venture into graphic design and a few months later, after attending ‘YouTube University’, I got to the point where I could confidently use the software, Corel Draw.

My first clients were Toxic Dancers, whose logo I designed, and I went on to make promotional posters.

This created another need, which was printing. A year later, I’d saved up enough to set up an office with two compartments: one for design and the other one for printing. I employed four people.

I didn’t stop there. I got into music, started a clothing line, and later on signed artistes and expanded into a management company. But to be even more diverse, I’ve invested in mining, real estate and the restaurant business.

However, one pillar that motivates me and remains constant is my mother. I told her that I wanted to buy her fruit empire, so she sold me a share.

As much as I run one of the biggest music businesses in the region, the one move I’m proudest of is this partnership in my mother’s fruit empire.

The writer is an award-winning artiste and entrepreneur.

FruitsAgribusinessKing Kakaking kaka empireBusiness tips