Mkamboi Mwakale is a passionate young entrepreneur who is not afraid to dream big. She defines herself as a child of God, a mother, a daughter, a sister to many, a friend to like-minded individuals and a girl with big dreams. You have probably heard of Mwakale in association with Saru Organics venture, which is the current vehicle God is using to teach and prepare her for her destiny. She talks to Destin Africa about her entrepreneurship journey and her desire to make Saru Organics a luxurious global brand.
How did you get started as an entrepreneur?
After college, I teamed up with Liz Lenjo and other creatives to form a lifestyle print magazine dubbed ‘Varsity Phunk’ in 2010. I had seen a gap in the industry at that particular period with no central kind of media that could connect all the college going students and, thus we plunged right into it.
We had great content creators for the magazine, but my dream to have a quality look and feel drove me into a debt hole. Varsity phunk closed shop after a year where, I struggled with its operations cost and increasing expenses that burgeoned more than the income it attracted. At just 23 years of age and being in big debts shook me to the core. I literally ran away from the world to my own cocoon to deal with my fears. Unfortunately, during the same season of turmoil, I was pregnant out of wedlock and from where I stood, the future looked bleak.
I started searching for a job desperately now with the thought of a baby coming soon coupled with fear. It was until nine months later after giving birth that I managed to secure an internship position earning a stipend of Kshs.10, 000 which barely took care of my needs. I had to do lots of sacrifices in trying to live within that budget. I would have to ensure I caught the 5.00 am bus in the morning so as to pay Sh. 20 to town avoiding the rush hour.
I have always been a big dreamer so it didn’t take long before the situation started worrying me. Seeing no much change, I resigned after six months. Soon, I landed another job as a research assistant that had a fair pay and looked promising in terms of growth, but unfortunately, I found myself stuck again. I felt I had so much to offer, but was completely being underutilized. It was as if I reported each day to warm my seat and chit chat colleagues, something that bothered me so much. This pushed me to start searching for another job and boy, how happy was I when I secured a new job with an NGO as a program manager. This was a position that had a lot of responsibilities and I just couldn’t wait to finally roll my sleeves and leave an indelible mark.
Unfortunately my joy for the new job was short lived, hardly a month into the probation period and I was served with a termination letter. This hurt me and I remember crying myself to sleep. I had just seen hope and it was being taken away. That is where the buck stopped. I was done knocking at employers’ doors.
World of possibilities
Back home, I started thinking on my options and I remembered my days doing the print magazine. It had opened me to a world of possibilities. I came to learn much on design and print work and I thought of starting a new business for corporate gifts merchandising. With the help of a designer friend who had been in the business for long – Mr. Joseph Webbo – I came up with a beautiful designed profile for bespoke gifts that I used to walk into offices and pitch to marketing/branding managers. The business was registered as Sheerah Agencies and it took me through the lessons of pitching, presenting, and closing deals. I always feel it was an important journey for me since I had not done any hard selling before. However, it took me three months of persistently knocking on various offices to actually close the first deal. I still remember my joy then that finally, I had one client who believed in me.
What inspired you to start Saru Organics?
While still running Sheerah Agencies, I visited my home county in Taita Taveta where I met a Moringa farmer who changed the course of my business. As I sat home one morning having my usual Moringa Tea, the neighbor farmer walked in and was interested in what I was drinking. On mentioning it was Moringa tea, his face sunk into despair as if I had delivered some bad news. He narrated how he had acres of land with the crop, but was duped by middle men who had the connection to the markets. His story stuck with me as a burden.
Back in Nairobi, I found myself constantly thinking about the farmer and why they were not reaping economic benefits of the plant. I began a thorough research by reading every literature I could find about the crop from the amazing case studies of African countries such as Malawi, who had used the plant to successfully deal with malnutrition cases, to finding out the potent benefits of its seed oil. In the Asian continent, the seed oil had been utilized by the beauty industry to create hair growth serums and highly moisturizing products. I found myself more interested with exploring its potent benefits for beauty. I took the chance to book an appointment with a chemical engineer explaining what I wanted to create and in a nutshell, that was the beginning of this journey.
Tell us more about the company?
Saru Organics is a trademark name for a beauty care range crafted with love, care and from locally sourced ingredients. At Saru Organics, we formulate products handmade by mother nature. Our mission is to change the afrocentric narrative one crown at a time. We launched our pioneer Revitalizing Clay Cleansing Shampoo that became a darling to many naturalists because of its unique properties of leaving kinky ethnic hair clean, conditioned, soft and moisturized. It has quickly become famous with mothers with little ones who after using the product experience less fuss. This pioneer product set the pace for other subsequent products; we are just not creating hair care products, but a beautiful magical experience that you will not easily forget. Our brand has become synonymous with highly performing natural products if the current reviews are anything to go by.
What sets you apart from other players in the market?
We are revolutionizing hair care experience for the Afrocentric consumers. We are dealing with a customer who is exposed and information is readily available at the touch of a screen. You cannot afford to do anything less than excellence if your brand is going to not only survive, but thrive in this era. We have positioned ourselves as that brand that goes extra to give you more than you actually anticipated.
It is also in the way we craft the products from rich botanicals and plant oils. It is in the care taken in packaging specifically for you and in the love to deliver more than your expectation. We have set our eyes on the prize and working at it a product at a time.
What can you say you have achieved so far?
In 2018, we set a goal to increase our access to the market. We have taken that challenge very well and currently, we are in major towns in Kenya including Mombasa, Thika, Kericho, Nakuru and Machakos. Besides, we recently signed our biggest retail partner – the Pharmaplus pharmacies – who have 12 branches across the country. However, our biggest achievement so far is being able to cross borders into the Ugandan market where we partnered with the Guardian Health Pharmacies and Envirizanacho beauty store. Seeing our brand spreading its wings on another soil gives us the confidence to keep flying higher.
Have you faced any challenges?
Our major challenge has been limited resources to enable us to operate effectively. We are however pursuing credit relationships with key suppliers. Furthermore, we went live with our very own e-commerce shop that allows customers to purchase directly.
What gives you the most satisfaction being an entrepreneur?
Impacting lives! There is so much joy when that farmer calls you to ask when you are coming for your next order? Because finally, his Moringa seeds are fetching a good price and he can now see his family through.
I have received tons of very beautiful reviews from customers I barely know in person on how the health of their hair changed ever since they discovered Sar Organics and pushing for even a fuller complete range that is inclusive of gels etc. meeting customer needs makes me realize I’m doing something right.
But its not only consumers that give me satisfaction, I have casual workers who are earnestly praying for the growth of Saru because they can’t wait to be permanent staff and be play a big role in the story. Their hope and kind words keeps me grounded and lets me know I have to work extra smarter to ensure their lives are impacted positively.
What are your future plans and aspirations of the company?
Grow and keep growing! This means being available as a pan African brand. We receive orders from as far as Turkey, Qatar, South Africa, Nigeria, Zimbabwe thanks to our online shop that opened our doors to the world.
We are also busy in our labs formulating more unique products and our aim is to have a more inclusive range for the entire family. Making it a luxurious global brand adored by many is my mission.
Advice to young people looking to start-up?
Do not be afraid to dream. Dream as big as you can, this is your canvas, make it exciting. You are a marvelous creation with a purpose and a great destiny. Just go for it and do it…