Karen Korir started Beautiful Watamu to open up tourism to Malindi and give her students more opportunities. She talks more about the venture with a greater cause.
I have a Bachelor of Science degree in Biomedical Science. While studying for my Master’s degree in Counselling Psychology, I volunteered and taught at various secondary schools in Malindi.
As a teacher, I constantly encouraged my students to work hard in school, so that they would have a good future. But the reality was that many of them were idle after high school.
I’d meet them after they had sat their KCSE, and I’d be saddened by the fact that they were jobless and/or could not further their studies because of their families’ limited income.
I decided that I was going to market Malindi as a holiday destination to help increase the job opportunities in this area.
What happened next
I started by booking holidays for family and friends. My thinking was that when they came, they would provide income for families directly and indirectly, from the money they spent in hotels, restaurants, tuk tuks, curio shops, and so on.
These people told other people about their holidays, and soon I was booking holidays for bigger groups. Some of these visitors went even further; they loved the place so much that they wanted to buy property here. So I learnt about real estate too, and helped them find their ideal homes.
Running a start up
Nothing is better than the satisfaction you get from starting a business from scratch and seeing it grow; it’s like raising a child. For me, the best part has been the impact on people’s lives.
Every time I refer clients to taxi, tuk tuk or bodaboda operators, recommend restaurants or entertainment spots, and book guests into hotels, villas or cottages, I know we are creating employment. Many of my former students earn a living from the tourism industry.
There have been challenges too. For example, some people believe that property sales are a male domain so they do not want to deal with a woman. I take this in stride, and have changed many minds about the ability of a woman to successfully handle real estate deals.
There’s also the issue of long-running land wrangles at the Coast. If you’re not careful, it’s easy to get caught up in a dispute over ownership.
Where I am now
Beautiful Watamu is a fully-fledged agency handling holiday home sales and management, as well as long and short-term rentals of the same.
With time, I have grown a thick skin; this industry leaves one no choice.
I’ve acquired knowledge on documentation of property, building materials and PR skills. I even learnt to speak Italian, to better communicate with clients who are not proficient in English or Kiswahili.
Importantly, I’ve learnt to manage my finances. We do not sell villas every day, but there are regular bills to be paid.
When you decide to go into business, follow your heart. Find something that brings you satisfaction and that you do with passion.
Then start with what you have, whether it is your laptop, car boot or backyard. Passion will drive you to excel.