When Parvis Swan, 42, got busy in her kitchen in search of natural solutions for her skin, what she came up with was such a big hit with friends and family that her sister Diana Swan, 37, teamed up with her to create Akusi Organics. They talk about their journey into entrepreneurship
Parvis: I was born in Kisumu, but I lived most of my life in Nairobi. I was once working in Rwanda and in 2011 I decided to move back to Kenya. I settled in Bondo where I did a bit of farming. After spending a few years farming, I relocated to Nairobi and set up Akusi Organics.
Diana: I was born and raised in Nairobi. I have been in the corporate world for most of my working life, so I consider myself a sales professional. I’ve worked in different sectors, like Telecommunications, Human Resource, Business and Tech Sales. At some point, aware of the vast knowledge and experience I gained from my work commitments, I approached Parvis and suggested we combine forces so we can drive the business and turn the brand into something bigger. Accordingly, I jumped from the corporate world, this past April, to work full-time in Akusi.
Parvis: I decided to start Akusi Organics because I’ve had eczema all my life and nothing was helping. When I went to the doctors, they prescribed steroid creams, which did not work. So, I sought a natural solution for my ailment -- Akusi Organics started in our kitchen. I started by making products for myself, then shared them with family, then with friends, before my sister, Diana, proposed that I turn it into a business.
Diana: Akusi was born out of necessity. Parvis had to find a solution, somehow, someway, so she went and whipped something in the kitchen, and that’s it. For me, Akusi is all about helping people. If we were able to solve Parvis’ situation, and also help our own family, why not share it others. Akusi is not about making money, it’s about assisting people. Eczema, like other skin ailments, can get very severe. It can affect a person’s self-esteem, bogging them down. So, we thought, why not go back to nature for a non-toxic, non-chemical solution people can to embrace.
What happened next
We decided to work from home. To start our business, we used our personal funds. We began building our customer base by going to popup and organic markets like the German School Fashion and Beauty Market and Hairitage Chronicles. We attended these events with our products and interacted with people to find out what types of other products they would like. These types of interactions helped us build our product line.
Running a start up
Parvis: Running a startup has had its fair share of challenges. When Akusi started, I worked alone and my major challenge was time management, because I had to do everything. Once Diana joined me, we were able to divide and conquer. Diana now focuses on the marketing and sales, while I am charged with production.
Diana: Accessing capital and funding has been a major challenge in running the startup. As a young business there is very little financial assistance out there to aid early stage businesses. You hear about venture capitalists and private equity firms funding startups after a certain level, say post-revenue or after you’ve grown a certain amount, so, if you are a startup business, it is very difficult to get these funds. We had to bridge that with personal funds from employment, routing some of that money into the business.
Getting the right product was also difficult. There was a time we had 20 separate products, but we had to whittle that down to the select few. We were able to cater to several types of select skin at one go. This was a time-consuming and frustrating process. However, with the challenges we encountered, we feel we are currently in a good place.
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Where we are now
Compared to a year ago, we have grown, whether in terms of product quality, packaging, or our visibility in the market. We are able to comfortably say we have grown as a brand.
Our short-term milestones are to go online fully and have a delivery and logistics arm to enable us fulfill orders and to grasp a big chunk of the Kenya’s and regional organic market. Our long-term milestone is to become a well-recognised African brand in organic skincare products.
Parvis: You have to persevere and understand that starting a business is hard and not easy. You should not complain for you are not the first person to struggle. Because you are not being the first person to struggle, know that there are resources out there to help you build a successful business.
Diana: I’d say, do what you love. If you can monetise that, you will be in a happy place. For example, Parvis is a creative and as much as Akusi was born out of necessity, she is doing something she loves. She loves solving a problem. On my side, I love sales. I love interacting with people. I like ensuring our products are stocked in a particular store, by a particular time because that’s the kind of person I am. Sales is my world and now I’m applying sales in the business.
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