After 13 years in employment, Jemima Nzola called it quits to start a value addition business. What informed her decision? Gardy Chacha sat down with her and here is what she had to say.
Growing up, I wanted to be a medical doctor. However, fate had other ideas. I ended up studying business management at Moi University, majoring in sales and marketing.
For 13 years, I worked for various companies and organisations in finance, strategic management, and general management.
Around 2016, my husband started experiencing unexplained stomach problems. He was the most adversely affected but it was something that seemed to affect the whole family.
Conventional medicine did not quite help in solving the problem. I figured that perhaps I needed to read more on nutrition and good health.
I came across works by an expert called Dr Ark. He has a reputation in functional medicine. Functional medicine is a branch of health science that focuses on use of nutrition to heal the body.
Through reading, I found out a lot about healthy living and I implemented the lessons. To my amazement, it worked.
As a family, we continued to eat well and eat right: following evidence based information on healthy nutrition.
In January of 2018, I made the decision to start a business. After 13 years in the corporate world, I had come to the realisation that maybe employment was not what I was meant to be doing at that point in my life.
I wanted to be around my family more but I also realised I needed to supplement our income. A business was an enticing option and one on healthy nutrition just seemed right. It would make me my own boss and I would determine my paycheck and control my time.
What happened next
But what business exactly? Initially it had not been clear. But then I realised healthy living was something I loved. It had been more than two years when we began practising healthy living as a family -- so much that healthy nutrition started feeling like a calling and not just a lifestyle. In fact, I had even written and published a book on healthy living. My friends called me ‘Doctor’.
It dawned on me that I could convert my love for healthy nutrition into a business. That way, I would not just be running a business: I would be living my purpose at the same time.
Gem’s Juice Bar was born out of that thought process.
At Gem’s we do value addition on farm produce. Mostly, we blend fruits and farm vegetables into healthy juices and drinks. We also crush sugarcane for its juice.
Our clients are people who still want to enjoy tasty juices but without preservatives, chemicals or any additives.
We also sort, process and package honey, nuts and other healthy food options like chia seeds and Kombucha tea.
Running a start up
It hasn’t been easy. First up there is capital. How much do you need to start?
And is it available?
In my case I needed at least Sh500,000. But I did not have that money. I tried to apply for a loan but I did not have a viable collateral to qualify.
So, I decided to start small and grow little by little. I started with smaller equipment, like a blender, then worked my way up to bigger machines like sugarcane crusher, juicer, fridge and then freezer.
In total, I think I spent close to half a million shillings buying equipment and setting up properly.
My biggest challenge was finding the right staff: individuals with the right skill set and attitude. It took me a while to have the people I was looking for.
For a business like mine, you need staff who are motivated and will do everything by the book since it is about healthy nutrition.
Where I am now
Gem’s Juice Bar has two outlets. We first opened shop in March 2018 in Syokimau. Later, we opened another outlet in Athi River.
By March 2020, the business had picked up and weathered the initial challenges of running a startup. We were growing fast. And we were attracting new clients day by day.
We never saw Covid-19 coming and when it hit our shores everything crumbled. The better part of 2020 has seen us make a lot of effort just to stay afloat. We hope for better days as we start going back to normal.
Today, we continue selling our products through the two outlets. Anyone can walk in and order juice. We have also expanded our reach to Glovo – the digital platform - from which customers can place orders and we deliver.
My target is to recover from the dearth of 2020 and get back to profitability. Thereafter, I can maybe expand into franchising.
Resilience is the stuff successful startups are made of. The Covid-19 pandemic has killed many businesses. It nearly claimed ours too. But we survived because of resilience: the ability to hold on and bounce back.