After graduation from Kenyatta University, the two friends would spend the next five years hitting the pavements looking for work. CVs in hand and wearing the only official clothes they had, they did it tirelessly.
But at some point Robert Mwalugha and Kennedy Okiya realized that they needed a better plan if they were to survive in the city. It was a long journey to where they are today as co-founders of Pick-Up Mtaani, a delivery service company.
Take us back to the beginning
Robert: Okiya and I were childhood friends growing up in Mombasa. After high school we both joined Kenyatta University. I studied community development while he did commerce, finance option. In fact, we tried out our first business together. A game development company called ScreenArt studios.
What happened to that business?
Okiya: It was not successful. Our plan was to raise capital from investors. The model was flawed because even after creating the game, we could not secure funding. So we called it quits. After that, we attempted to build an e-Commerce platform, a multivendor kind of platform like Jumia or Kilimall. However, this also failed because the industry had very big players who were stiff competitors. We also still had no capital to set ourselves apart.
Were you still looking for employment then?
Okiya: Yes. Unsuccessfully. So we just decided to become riders and make deliveries within Nairobi. And that was the decision that birthed Pick Up Mtaani.
Robert: In 2018, we chose to do the boda boda business, but to exclusively deliver packages. We joined the network of riders and became ‘Watu wa nduthi’ (Motorcycle riders). We were facilitating deliveries from CBD to people’s homes in Nairobi.
How much were you making at the time?
Robert: Each of us made about Sh3,000 every day. Over time we got the urge to do something bigger than us, bigger than surviving in Nairobi.
Okiya: Also, we got feedback from clients who thought that delivering goods to Westlands for Sh250 for instance or Sh500 to Juja was too much. To get a delivery from CBD, the farther away you are the more you have to spend. We began rethinking the model. We decided to set up a network of agents across Nairobi. We wanted to replicate the M-pesa model in logistics; to create a service where businesses can drop packages and where clients can pick up their packages. Plan set, we launched.
Consequently, delivery fee dropped to Sh200 from one ‘Mtaani’ agent to another while from the CBD to a ‘Mtaani’ agent is as low Sh100.
Exactly how does this work?
Robert: Our business is quite simple. We work Monday to Saturday. When a client makes an order to a shop based in CBD, and the shop drops the package to us before 1 pm, the client gets to enjoy same day delivery to the local ‘Pick-up Mtaani’ agent, even if they live as far as Kitengela. At that point you have up to 3 days to pick your package. That collection period is to allow clients enough time to get it at their convenience. For clients buying from sellers outside town, like Ruaka to Kitengela, you may have to wait till the next day but it will cost you only Sh180.
Where did you source the Mtaani Agents?
Okiya: We had no manpower starting out. But we were experienced riders and had pre-mapped locations we knew we could set up agents. We then divided them into sections where we went physically, on a daily basis, to find agents to work with. At the time we still worked as riders so we would do it during our usual working hours or in the afternoon after working in the morning.
Robert: This is something we are still doing. Finding agents that fall within the map, by doing the legwork ourselves. We pay the agents on commission because they cannot do the work for free. But it’s a symbiotic relationship because people are now discovering their local shops. The agents appreciate the traffic to their business.
Where did you get capital for this business?
Okiya: It was difficult getting friends and family to invest in our idea. We even approached our respective banks for loans, but they gave us the run around. Everyone was skeptical. So we found ways to come up with the capital
Robert: We saved up intensely. We would have just enough left over for food and rent with nothing to spare. We had two employees that we negotiated with to cut down their pay by Sh5,000. They graciously agreed and it is these small sacrifices that financed the bigger dream. At the time, the business included door-step delivery as well as rent-a-shelf business in town.
What challenges have you faced in the business?
Okiya: Funding. So many great ideas in Kenya are stalled and small businesses grow very slowly because they lack funding. Money determines how fast you can implement ideas and that is largely lacking, especially to the youth with no networks. The bank denying us the loan felt almost like a betrayal because we were just mark timing in our financial bracket.
Robert: E-commerce in Kenya is also very young and it’s a challenge but more importantly, it’s an opportunity. Like Jack Ma says, when the industry is fragmented, that is an opportunity to create an inclusive environment to play. We realised even with big companies like Jumia, logistics is a pain point and we set out to cure it.
What is your vision for Pick-Up Mtaani?
Okiya: We define success differently. We know we are doing something great that opens up all small businesses to a bigger audience. Their growth is our own and we feel like even high school leavers now have an opportunity to comfortably make money to pay fees for university. Of the nine people in our team, five are university graduates. We all did not get the opportunity to join the workforce and we want to give other people an opportunity to be their own bosses.
Number of weekly deliveries in week one of business: 137
Number of weekly deliveries currently: 1,500.
Number of packages being handled weekly: 3,000
Average price for delivery: Sh200
Of the nine people in our team, five are university graduates. We all did not get the opportunity to join the workforce and we want to give other people an opportunity to be their own bosses.
What we have learnt so far:
1. Failure is good. You will fail more than you will succeed. Schools teach coming last is shameful so we learn to fear it but embracing it and telling yourself it will work out even when you are broke is the only way.
2. Be a dreamer. Sounds cliché but all this started with a vision. We both come from humble families with no entrepreneurs. We had to learn on the job. So envision your world the way you want it then bring it to life.
3. Everything matters. The seemingly negligible thing you do this Wednesday and the next and the next compile to make progress. Trust what you are doing will work.
4. Entrepreneurship requires passion. I was lacking in confidence until I became a boda boda rider. Being able to do something I love and earn a living gave me back self-love. Your business is like a marriage, without the passion there won’t be progress, just existence.