After graduating in 2019 from the University of Nairobi, Ivynne Okoth founded Kairo Ltd, an online business that deals in fashion, furniture and home decor with a seed capital of Sh50,000.
A few months after setting up shop, Ivynne has crossed borders with her merchandise and employ eight people. She advises that to succeed, every entrepreneur must create a wide berth between friendship and business.
Tell us more about Kairo
Kairo is a fashion, furniture and home decor online company which deals with importation and retailing of haute fashion items for the modern woman. We also deal in contemporary furniture and home decor.
Our focus is to provide apparel and furniture and position ourselves as the top retail store serving this particular market locally and internationally.
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What was the idea behind Kairo?
After I was done with my studies, I thought of ways of eking out a living using the skill set I acquired from my undergraduate training which exposed me to dynamic perspectives of the world of business. In college, I started off by managing a client’s social media account for pay. While at it, I would source for goods on sale online then resell them for a profit.
I started to make imports of apparel I could sell locally, experimenting to see how the market reception would be. I drew, and continue to draw, inspiration from my parents Dr Patrick Okoth and Dr Annette Okoth. My father is a molecular scientist and my mother a mathematician. They encourage me to keep going.
Was the business an instant hit?
No, it wasn’t. The first month was a struggle but being a start-up, that was expected. I actually did not make any sales that first month. But after studying the market very carefully, I was able to identify my niche. With time, I broke even.
What is the spread of your customer base?
Kairo has a wide customer base spread all over the world. We ship globally, though a majority of customers - around 90 per cent - are in Kenya. The remaining 10 per cent are mainly spread across Africa. We serve about 100 customers a day locally.
What are the most important business lessons you have learnt along the way?
My business philosophy is founded on service above self which gives Kairo a sustainable and strategic advantage. I listen and seek to understand. I focus on things that bring returns and keep me afloat. I have also learnt that business is a competitive race and one has to be ready to scale the heights.
How many people does Kairo employ?
I have directly employed eight people: Three in charge of sales and five in charge of logistics and distribution.
How do you handle criticism from your customers?
I always seek honest feedback and opinions from outside my inner circle. Family and friends aren’t always going to be brutally honest. Feedback from your target market in the early stages can help you engage the brakes on a bad idea before you get too deep.
Has business been so down that you needed to inject funds from your pocket?
Like I said, I started with Sh50,000 from my personal savings. The business is self-sustaining but occasionally, profits may fluctuate. Consequentially, we hope to diversify to mitigate on this in future especially now that Covid-19 has shown just how badly times can change.
Talking of Covid-19, how has Kairo been affected?
Consumer spending has declined since many people have either been sent on unpaid leave or lost jobs. Our sales have dropped by about 50 per cent. When many countries closed their borders in an attempt to flatten the curve, the flow of goods was interrupted.
We are basically striving to remain afloat by preserving the little cash at our disposal. To navigate this rugged terrain, one requires to innovate. Online business is one such way. We need a paradigm shift from the traditional way of doing things.
Do you have physical shops?
We are purely online at the moment though we have a warehouse in Parklands where we store our consignments. We plan to launch our first pop up store in three or so months.
What should young entrepreneurs know about business?
Controlled patience. You can give a venture a three-year trial period. If you’re still not earning money in three years, then that is not a business. It is a hobby. It’s important to know when to let go.
Know when to cut your losses if the venture is not profitable. Whatever you pay attention to grows. Your business requires your full attention. Everyone knows that one person full of ideas but he brings nothing to fruition because they are chasing too many things.
Businesses are not social clubs. Don’t hire friends or family unless you have the guts to fire them. At the end of the day, it’s the business that matters. And for it to have longevity, be careful about family ties and friendships.