Joan Kavuisya, 35, tells Shirley Genga how she used her technology experience and education to help farmers get a better deal for their produce
I have a Bachelors degree in Business Information Technology and a Masters in project management. Also, I am a certified project management practitioner and business analyst. I worked in the USA for 5 years in technology companies before returning home and joining the banking industry in Kenya.
I believe that agriculture is the backbone of our economy. However, despite this, farmers often get a raw deal when selling their produce due to a chaotic supply chain that includes poor infrastructure, market glut and unscrupulous middlemen. In the end, what it boils down to is inflated prices for the end consumer and poor buying price for the farmer. Realising this, I conducted my research and found out that in Nairobi nearly, all fresh produce is sold in kiosks run by women vendors known as Mama Mbogas, of which there are over 80,000 in this city alone. So if we started a business that entailed going directly to the farmer to sell to mama mbogas, we would pay the farmer cash, create a ready market, plus get the produce at affordable prices and get a consistent supply. This way, we would be able to supply at cheaper prices than the market, and in turn this would help mama mbogas become more competitive and ultimately sell their produce at a lower prices to the final consumer.
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I began my business in April 2017 and it is called Taimba Ltd. Taimba is a mobile based e-commerce platform that links farmers to retailers, restaurants, and other institutions while using data to predict market trends. Our current clientele include mama mbogas and a number of eateries around town.
RUNNING A STARTUP
Someone once told me that when it comes to business, sometimes what you start doing may not be what you end up doing, and so far this has proven to be true for Taimba. Our go-to market strategy has significantly changed due to our learnings on the environment we operate in. We have had to learn not only what and how our customers want to be served, but our country’s infrastructure.
Further, in any start up, you need to have the passion for your idea as it will keep you going even when your closest friends don’t understand what you are doing. It is hard to start a business. You have to merge resources and you are basically not making any profits because you have to put up structures, pay salaries, figure out the right quality price, and figure out consistent and quality supply etc. When we started, we were barely getting any sleep; we used to sleep past midnight because we were still setting up and learning how to run the business. However, it is a price that we gladly paid because we are passionate about what we are doing.
WHERE I AM NOW
We are still at the start-up phase but the market has responded well. I believe that we are definitely at a good place; so far customer retention is at 70 per cent and we have determined there is a huge need.
I love what we are doing - everything from our satisfied customers, to the relationships we have built with our suppliers, to interacting with mama mbogas and walking their journey with them. It’s a wonderful feeling seeing them smile when they get our quality products without having to wake up at 5am to go to the market like they previously had to do.
Invest on what is necessary and what will give you return, and be ready to take the risk to start your business. In a start-up you cannot afford to be risk averse, however that does not mean that you take any risk that comes your way, you have to be strategic and instead take calculated risks.
Secondly, you need to be ready to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty and walk the journey with your customer as it will give you valuable lessons as an entrepreneur that no research paper can give you. Lastly, don’t waste time trying to convince your friends about your idea, just start and you will find strangers being your first supporters!