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Why I gave up on becoming the hair industry’s java

By Oyunga Pala | April 12th 2017
By Oyunga Pala | April 12th 2017

Maureen Murunga is the founder and proprietor of Amadiva, a hair and beauty salon franchise. After seven years, Amadiva occupies a premier position in the country’s natural hair movement, and operates two outlets in Nairobi’s uptown areas of Prestige Plaza and 14 Riverside.

But as Maureen explains, it has been a journey of a thousand steps to get to this point.

What is the inspiration behind Amadiva?

When I started this journey, I spent a good part of my time thinking about marketing and branding. The first thing I knew was that I had to identify a name that would carry the brand. I threw around so many names, and eventually a friend of mine said I should use my name. My other names are Kadieza Amadiva. My dad is Murunga, but my mum’s last name is Amadiva. Amadiva is my grandfather’s name.

I thought it was a play on ‘I am a Diva’ ...

I had real issues around the diva aspect. The definition of a diva is not always positive or flattering. Everyone still reads it as, ‘I am a diva’. But to have a name that was so perfect was serendipity.

What’s the life of an entrepreneur really like?

Every day you have choose whether to be positive or sad. That is the life of an entrepreneur. In terms of challenges, just recently I had to let go of staff because I am cost cutting. I lost staff members and took a hit on my revenues. At my second branch at Prestige Plaza on Ngong Road, the footfall diminished because of the road construction. I had to make a tough decision and let go of people.

What has been your most difficult decision?

When I have to admit that I have done something wrong because as an entrepreneur you are juggling so much and sometimes we do not do research before making a decision. Like overlooking obvious red flags.

Give me an example?

The biggest one for me was admitting that I brought in investors too early. It was flattering when people signed up and agreed to be part of the business, but frankly, I had not locked in the concept yet. It took a long time for me to finally admit that my business model needed a fresh approach. I could not be the ‘Java’ of the hair and beauty industry.

How did you get into the natural hair space?

I was a naysayer at first. I thought women who had really gone natural were trying to make a statement, to be disruptive and were attention seekers. Eventually, when my two daughters were born in July 2014, I realised I did not know what do with African hair in its natural state. I had not even seen my own natural hair in decades. Around this time, something caught my attention. I was starting to see all these stylists in the US talking about procedures they use on natural hair.

How did the turnaround happen?

In 2015, I was in a tight corner. I had twins, my business was tanking and I had investors on my neck. In two years, I could see no growth. I was panicking. I had a real Come-to-Jesus moment around May 2015 and I knew I had to do something. I spent two weeks studying the natural hair market in the US and stumbled on a website that sold beautiful natural hair extensions. I asked the company if I could be its distributor in Kenya. They ignored me. I found the owner on Linkedin, a Nigerian woman called Ngozi. She blew me off. I refused to give up and looked up others leads and found a supplier in China. He sent me samples in three days. I wore them for my daughters’ first birthday. It was my big unveil, a social experiment. Everyone, men and women, loved it and that was the turning point. That was August 1, 2015.

How did you market this new direction for your company?

I decided to bring in a natural hair specialist, Felicia Leatherwood, the world’s leading celebrity stylist for natural hair. She was coming to Nairobi to run workshops on natural hair, so I jumped on that bandwagon. It happened at the same time my supply was landing from China. We hyped Felicia Leatherwood, but the response was lukewarm. It went from lukewarm to cold the moment I announced my new line of natural human hair extensions. The backlash on social media was crazy. I made it worse by recruiting the most popular influential Kenyan personality at the time, Sharon Mundia. She looked amazing and the naturalistas were not amused. But guess what, we sold out.

Who is your greatest influence as an entrepreneur?

My mother. My mum unwittingly turned me into a business person. I learned tough lessons early. She taught me hard work, endurance and humility. From the age of 10, I was already in business. My mum worked for an airline as part of the cabin crew, but she was bumped off after she got children. She did a secretarial course and came back to the airline to join as a secretary. As a single mother, was paying a mortgage so she needed an extra source of income. She took advantage of the free tickets her employer offered, and we started our business called Maureen, a little shop. We would go to London, buy clothes and sell them in Nairobi.

What is the best reward you have ever got for Amadiva?

The number of lives that this work has transformed. My best story is Alice. She came to me from Revlon School four years ago and had come straight from Bondo. She worked hard for two years and asked to be part of the natural hair crew. Her sales shot through the roof. In September the same year, she asked me to sign some papers. She was taking a mortgage to buy an apartment in Ruaka. I never thought I would see someone buy a house from the sweat of their hands through work that I had created.

Last piece of advice?

Do not waste. Mind the pennies, they add up. I once found out that I had lost Sh170,000 in miscellaneous expenses.

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