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A chance internship opened doors to my dreams

HUSTLE
By Awal Mohammed | February 3rd 2021

Koola Waters Founder Ruth Mwanzia. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

Ruth Mwanzia was always thirsty for success. Only she didn’t know she would end up owning a company that quenches people’s thirst. At 24, she threw herself into the deep waters of entrepreneurship and started Koola Water Company; a firm which manufactures, distributes, treats and packages drinking water. Seven years into the business and still going, she shares her journey with Hustle.

Why did you decide on the water business? 

I was born in Kitui, a region that experiences a semi-arid type of climate, we faced many challenges to do with water; scarcity, drought and shortages. As a girl, I saw people trek for kilometres to find water that most of the time wasn’t even safe for drinking, and this bothered me a lot and I wanted to make a difference.

What is Koola water company?

Koola is a company that specialises in manufacturing, distribution, treatment and packaging of pure drinking water. Through Koola waters, we supply water to eight regions in Kenya, including Kitui. We have a lean permanent staff of 12 and we outsource some duties. including accounting, designing labels and photography. We package water in 500-millilitre, 1.5-litre, five-litre, 10-litre and 20-litre bottles, and we do home deliveries plus deliver water for special events like wedding and funerals.

 How did your journey start?

I went to Africa Nazarene University to study Mass Media and Communication. Unfortunately, after seeking every media house, I couldn’t secure an internship opportunity. I got an internship at Water Resource Management Authority where I learnt a lot about the water industry. While there, I interacted with stakeholders in the sector. Luckily, I secured employment there after the end of my internship, which meant more time for me to understand the water business and start my company. I worked in the water industry for four years before quitting. By then, I had saved enough to be able to register and buy a small machine that I would start with.

What are the challenges you faced when you started out?

Like everyone in business, I started with shaking hands but my mother kept pushing me on. I remember a client asked for delivery of 500 cartons of water and I had to deliver in two days. When this order came I had to increase the number of my staff from three to 12. Luckily, we delivered the orders, but the money I got I had to spend it all in the repair of my machine after it broke down due to overload. I also struggled with packaging. The packaging is a sensitive matter in this business and I had to invest so heavily after I lost some good orders due to poor or bad packaging. The first two years in the business, I was technically broke because I was ploughing back the cash to my business, it’s the sacrifice I made for my company to take root and my product to be on shelves and in homes.

 How big have you grown now?

I now have a machine that has the capacity to purify up to 1,000 litres of water in 15 minutes, which translates to about 20,000 litres a day. The machine I previously had was struggling to do half of that. I also managed to dig a well that cost me Sh2 million. The borehole is connected to storage tanks via pipes to boost my efficiency and quality. I have managed to buy delivery vehicles and I have increased my staff from three to now 12. In a good month, I sell 12,000 cartons from a paltry 10 cartons in a month.

 Has the pandemic affected your business?

Yes, it has. My sales have dropped a lot considering the number of events have really reduced due to the Ministry of Health guidelines so few people are ordering the 500ml bottles. Interestingly, my best seller during this pandemic has been the 20-litre used at home, because more people are spending time indoors hence drinking more water.

 How did you learn how to price your product right?

Early in the business, I realised my management skills were wanting. I quickly enrolled for short courses in business management, coupled with my experience working in the water industry, I managed to get my footing right in the business. For pricing, I already knew how the market prices were from my experience in that sector, you can get my products at the current market rates.

 What lessons have you picked over the years?

Before you venture into any business, do thorough market and product research, this will help you in knowing where to exactly place your product. Secondly, be patient with your business when you are starting out. You will be expected from time to time to plough back into your business for it to remain afloat; don’t hesitate because this will come to pay back in a big way in the future.

 How do you motivate yourself and stay motivated?

Faith in God is key and involving God in every decision is very important, keep your family close and share what you are going through, you have to be present and show up even if you don’t feel like it, when you fail don’t remain down, rise up, trust God and try again. I keep the fire burning by prayer, going on vacations when I get a break, having chats with family and close friends and listening to worship songs.

 What are your future plans?

In future, I hope to fully automate my company right from manufacturing to packaging. I am also looking to open a few branches in some major towns.

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