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How my multinational thrived during a crisis

By Awal Mohammed | March 3rd 2021

When her colleagues were strategising ways of climbing up the career ladder, Joyce Mbaya was dreaming up ways she could build a product that would make an impact on many. Well, the dream came to pass. Joyce Mbaya is the founder of Zydii, an online learning and teaching platform that connects people with online courses tailor-made to help them lead a better life. And on any day, there will be about 13,000 users logged onto the site. She is also the author of Gibebe a self-development book. It took a burnout and some tough lessons to get to where she is. Joyce shares her business journey with Hustle.

Where did your journey begin?

I started in the corporate world working with Safaricom PLC. By then it was not this huge company that it is now. I was working in the technical part of the business in product development department. I have an education background in Computer Science and Mathematics. Working here gave me the satisfaction that comes when you develop a product right from the conception point to the final product. It gave me the self-belief that it is possible to start something from idea to creating a final product that can empower people. This feeling is what fuelled my journey.  While my colleagues at that time were thinking of how to scale the corporate ladder, I knew my path would be different. On the weekends I busied myself with my side hustle, which was giving talks as a development coach then report to work on Monday after a productive weekend.

When did you decide to dive in fully into business?

While still working, I came across an opportunity that piqued my interest. I applied to get into the Apprentice Africa programme, a business reality show that was hosted in Nigeria. I got in. I was one of three Kenyans and the only female representing the country. The programme felt like I was attending an intensive and practical business school.  I learnt so much about myself, including my strengths and weaknesses. When I came back home, I was ready to throw myself into the world of entrepreneurship.

Did you start Zydii immediately after the apprentice show?

No. I started my first company called Gibebe as a way of inspiring, enlightening and empowering people to know their potential and become high achievers in society. I started with informal coaching of friends and people I worked with. Then I started to travel to different towns to train and lecture businesses and individuals. I started Gibebe with Sh10,000 and I used to do everything by myself from booking hotel rooms, conference centres, event management, and marketing.

Tell us about the transition from Gibebe to Zydii?

Zydii was born out of adversity. I was the sole captain of Gibebe ship with no cabin crew. Just like an overworked engine, one day I shut down completely due to fatigue and sickness. I was unable to travel to deliver my lectures and do trainings and my business had to sink with me. It is from this mistake of being a lone ranger that I had to find a simpler and convenient way on how my business can survive even when I am not there. So that it is how I decided to start Zydii. Where with a click of a button, you can access all your training without necessarily me being there. You can buy a course for Sh1,000 for individuals and we have customised courses on our corporate section for business’ employee training.

How is the journey so far?

Zydii has grown from zero users to currently 13,000 users. We have trained more than 30,000 people on our platform. I have employed 30 instructors from Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya to help deliver the courses. In 2018, we partnered with Uber Kenya on a growth initiative to empower 5,000 drivers on our platform. We have recently inked a deal with Mastercard Foundation to train more than 25,000 businesses in Kenya on Post Covid-19 recovery. I am happy that my gamble of selling my car to pay off the debt that I owed my developers in India so that I can have full access to Zydii is paying off.

What are the challenges you have surmounted?

Lack of capital is one of the major hurdles I had to jump. No one will pay you for just an idea or a vision you have, so I had to start small. In fact, it took me a year before I finally launched Zydii because I did not have cash to expedite the process of creating a platform. I was doing it in phases due to availability of finances. Secondly, as a startup I had to find a lean management team depending hugely on individuals who had some experience because I did not have the cash to employ people rich in experience. Third, as a woman you have to strike a balance particularly when you have small children who depend on you a lot, most of the time this is a sacrifice you must make.

What are the lessons you have picked along the road?

Don’t start a business with a friend or a family member if you can’t treat them professionally. If you can separate your business from your friends, then you are moving in the right direction. I have also learnt the wisdom behind not getting attached to what you think is the best solution to a problem. With this in mind you will approach each challenge with an open mind and you will be amazed at how many options you have to solve that problem.

Did the pandemic affect your business?

Yes, positively.  During the pandemic, Zydii posted a 600 per cent growth. This is because my business model hugely relies on technology with no or minimum physical interaction, this gave us an edge over other businesses. Businesses came to us and were inquiring about online trainings. We can give to their employees and we also saw a jump in individuals looking for courses online that can cater for their immediate need.

How do you spend your free time?

I value my personal time so much which I spend with my two amazing sons aged four and one. Other times I will hang out with friends and family or listen and dance to some great music.

What are your future aspirations?

My moon shot is to ensure my platform reaches the five million mark in the next five years and I continue to empower individuals and communities at large.

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