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My chronic disease inspired my business idea

ENTERPRISE
By Caroline Okello | April 1st 2020

In 2010, Dennis Andaye set up Organic Farmers Market, a platform where organic farmers and healthy value addition food vendors come to sell directly to customers. The business was born of his health challenges.

He developed myositis, an autoimmune disease that nearly ended his life, 10 years ago. He found that beyond the prescribed supportive medication, he could manage the condition by eating healthy organic foods.

“I thought all foods grown in Kenya were organic. That wasn’t the case,” Andaye says.

He started growing his own food and noticed gradual positive changes in his health. That’s when the idea struck.

“I kept asking myself, what if we provided great, healthy foods to people, wouldn’t that be perfect?”

However, Organic Farmers Market was way ahead of its time. It took more than three years for him to start getting desired business traction. He first set up the business in Karen and today, they have been instrumental in setting up other markets run by interested individuals. He explains to Hustle why he kept going.

How much capital did you start with and how did you source it?

The business grew organically. Facebook was key in marketing. I did all the content generation and photography.

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I did all farmer and vendor recruitment. I am a great negotiator. I have negotiated for deals that ended up saving the business lots of cash.

So, I really cannot put a figure. But there were other mandatory direct costs like storage, tables, chairs, tents and shed structures among other things.

It took more than three years to start getting desired traction. How did you know to keep going?

Sometimes you believe in something so much and you can actually visualise, feel and touch. That’s what kept me going. People might think you are crazy and even question why are you doing what you are doing.

You must believe in yourself. Of course, there are times when something doesn’t work however much you try, and at some point you need to accept that and move on. But this wasn’t one of those times.

I never felt like giving up, but I got frustrated at some producers were making losses. As a farmer, it is not fun seeing wastage after months of hard work. The farmers had to buy into our vision and stick with us by seeing and believing in what we were seeing.

The business started taking shape in 2013. What do you attribute this growth to?

There was a wave of health awareness and a rising awareness of safe and organic food as well. And at that point we were ready for the consumers.

Great work had been done at the farm level by the farmers, and so we were ready to ride on that wave.

What challenges did you face when setting up the business?

Recruiting the right producers is critical to the growth of a business. Finding passionate producers that buy into our concept of health can be challenging. But over the years, we have come up with a rigorous selection process that has been instrumental in guiding us to achieving this.

Finding the right partners has also been a challenge. We like working with partners we are in love with and who are in love with us as well.

At policy level, there isn’t anything in legislation that can authenticate a particular product is organic or not. But I am not worried so much about that provided we keep doing our part in ensuring that customers get what we promise.

What business mistakes did you make and what did you learn from them?

If you aren’t making mistakes and failing, especially at the infancy stage, you aren’t doing much. I had not mastered how to say no and that came with heavy costs. I have worked with businesses that have presented opportunities that sounded great, but only for a certain time.

 It was clear from the onset that the engagement was set on a wrong foundation and I could smell it or see but kept on. I am generally a nice person and that can be taken advantage of, both at business and personal level.

I am always trying to help out without thinking through how that will turn out. In distribution, I have sometimes had products pushed to me and because we are friends, I accept. Then because it was a trial, they dump stuff at you and I discover the product isn’t moving.

The supplier, though, wants full pay. Nowadays, I’ve developed systems for transactions – we have to go through details and have everything clear.

No more grey areas. Also, if I am not interested at all or it is not in line with the business interest, I decline right away.

What’s your advice to people who want to start their own businesses?

Never copy. I see people try to build businesses on the weak foundation of copying. You’ve got to be original or ‘copy’ with style by being totally different. It takes years to set up a thriving business.

There is no magic about that. However much you know what you want right from the idea stage, it might take years to figure out what you are doing. But you must keep believing and grinding.

Also, the goal of starting any business is to make money. But money should precede a higher purpose. Other than just making money, add value to people’s lives by solving their problems or pain points and if you can get that right, the money will follow you.

How is the coronavirus pandemic affecting your business?

We have had to shut our operations. Coronavirus has paralysed everything and there is a question of, do we save the economy or do we save human life?

But what we are going through now is always giving us an opportunity to think differently on how to do business.

However, the human mind is so special, we will emerge from this pandemic in a bigger and better way with new and better ways of doing things.  

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