Njeri: I love the people, their originality and of course the opportunity for growth in Africa, and in East Africa in particular. You can do anything in Africa if you believe in what you are doing and you work hard, and there is so much still to be done. It’s an exciting time to be in business on the Continent.
W4A: At 20 you were already selling, was this desire? Compulsion? Or something you felt you had to do?
Njeri: My first business was selling yoghurt from a friend’s car trunk to the International School of Kenya and Loretto Convent Musongari High School over their school breaks. I saw a business opportunity and acted on it, determined to turn it into a reality. This sounds like an obvious thing, but it’s basic to every entrepreneur – taking an idea that’s on paper or in your head and moving it forward into real, tangible action, and it’s something that I have continued to do throughout my life. I was also working in a salon as a hairdresser during this time and soon recognised another business opportunity selling luxury merchandise to my high net worth clients. To buy re-sale luxury goods, I used to fly regularly to London using discounted courier tickets.
I would not say I felt a compulsion to take these business opportunities, I would simply say that I had a passion for selling and for creating a business.
W4A: As an African Woman, did you not think it was a Man’s world?
Njeri: I think that there are lots of opportunities in this world, and a lot of opportunities in Africa in particular for both male and female entrepreneurs, and I’ve demonstrated that being a woman is not a barrier to success here in Kenya. I have a portfolio of companies (The Business Lounge, Ignite Consulting, Insite ltd) and more businesses in the pipeline. If you are determined, are passionate about what you do and work hard you can be successful no matter what.
W4A: When we read about you making millions, can you share with our readers, did you have a million dollar mindset or did you just sell and it turned to millions?
Njeri: Success for me is defined by increased value – not simply financial rewards. I think it is important to focus on the growth of African businesses and leaving a legacy rather than just trading in the moment for short term financial gain. So no, I’m not driven by a ‘million dollar mindset’, but rather by a strong passion to see businesses grow, reach their potential, and contribute to society and the economy as a force for good. In fact my portfolio of businesses today is focused on driving and supporting the growth of other businesses.
W4A: We know that with trying to accomplish anything in life, there will be challenges and the higher you climb the greater the challenges. How did you deal with the challenges you faced?
Njeri: Each company that I have been a part of has been a huge challenge. I often describe Wananchi Online as a rollercoaster ride because we had to challenge the assumption of regulators, government officials and competitors that the Internet was not only meant for the elite. Ignite has been the most challenging but looking back, Wananchi Online was probably the most fun of them all.
My career is about business, entrepreneurship and investments. I think I will spend a lot more of my time as an investor going forwards. My future aspirations are focused on building capacity for future entrepreneurs to build successful, indigenous businesses.
W4A: Looking at our Continent and the fact we are lagging behind other continents, what in your opinion can one do to contribute to help bring Africa forward?
Njeri: Africa is the next economic frontier. 8 out of the 10 of the fastest growing economies in the world are African so clearly there is a huge opportunity ahead for family business and for existing businesses that have been around a long time. But we have to create a work culture, ensure that we have integrity in our processes and remain passionate about doing the right thing.
I believe in Africa’s potential so strongly that this year I’m creating a Summit in Nairobi (the inaugural event is 18-19 September) focused on local business development, Scaling Your Business Upwards, which is sponsored by my company Ignite Consulting. We have a lot of talent here in Kenya and we create good businesses locally, but we do not have the frameworks or structures in place to grow them effectively. The Summit will bring together business leaders and successful entrepreneurs to talk about how they succeeded, the battles they have fought, what worked and what didn’t work. It’s going to be a practical event which offers the budding entrepreneur and small and medium-sized enterprises real advice on how to grow their business.
W4A: What words of encouragement would you give to other hard working women that want to be like you and are still finding it hard?
Njeri: It’s like learning to ride a bike or driving a car, it takes practice and you are bound to make mistakes, but you must keep going. You will need to develop a clear plan, keep it simple and implement that plan step by step, trust your gut feeling and above all, believe in yourself. You will also need to be open minded and flexible enough to change course when needed, and of course, always remember who your customers are and make sure you listen to them.
Thank you for granting W4A this interview.
For more info on Njeri go to http://www.njeri-rionge.com/
Follow Njeri on twitter: @njeririonge