Navalayo Osembo is the CEO of Enda, the first performance lifestyle running brand not only in Kenya but Africa as well. She is also a London School of Economics graduate with vast international experience, having worked in the United States, the United Kingdom, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Kenya. Professionally, Navalayo is both a trained lawyer and accountant. The young CEO recently emerged third in one of the most prestigious start-up competitions in Africa; billionaire Jack Ma’s Africa Business Heroes award (ABH).The mother of two is passionate about social entrepreneurship and shares her story with us.

Did you always want to be an entrepreneur? Did you get into employment first? How did it all start?

I would say entrepreneurship is as Kenyan as ugali is! Everyone is doing it. Almost everyone here in Kenya seems to have a small side business and I am no exception to this craze. I have tried so many different things before finally focusing on Enda which has grown so immensely. I was employed during the company’s formative years and only moved to Enda full-time about 3.5 years ago.

Is this your first entrepreneurial venture? If no, what other businesses have you ventured into?

As I mentioned, I have tried my hand in a number of ventures. Previously, I ran a tennis academy in Bungoma, Western Kenya with the hope of grooming the next big talent in tennis for Kenya. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out and I pivoted to Enda instead after assessing other opportunities in the sports sector. I have also tried farming maize and sugar cane, selling clothes (when I was a postgraduate student), fish farming and much much more.

Is entrepreneurship as glamorous as people think? What are some of the pros and cons?

Absolutely not! Entrepreneurship isn’t as glamorous as people think. In life, nothing comes easy. Regardless of how fulfilling entrepreneurship is, it has its fair share of cons. I’d say some of the pros include being able to be the master of your own time and destiny, having a lot of creative freedom in your work, and a deep satisfaction in the actual work being done. Some of the cons include the fact that you end up working so much harder and even longer. This is because all the stakes are on you. Unlike employment where an organization already has built in processes and infrastructure such as IT, you have to develop all those things yourself from scratch. In addition, you may also not have enough money to attract the top talent needed to make the systems work.

Looking back on your entrepreneurship journey, is there anything you would do differently?

I would definitely take less time thinking and spend more time doing. Half the time, the plans you’ve thought about so intensely don’t work out in the real world. There is no sense, especially in a start up environment where so much changes in an instant, in taking too long in the planning stage. The faster you fail, the faster you’ll get to your solution.

Tell me about a tough time that your business went through and how you pulled through it.

We are still in the growth stage. (Sighs) It’s a lot, especially since we are continually building as we go. I would say at this point that almost everyday is tough as it not only involves taking the business to a new level operationally, regularly reviewing our products but also hiring more staff and much much more. However we always pull through because we believe in the vision for Enda so much. All the tough times have been worth it since they have pushed us gradually towards our vision and goals.

What is your motto? What drives you?

Life is short! I am always driven by the awareness that time is limited and that I do not know when my last day on earth will be. I certainly wouldn’t want to be on my deathbed thinking about opportunities that I didn’t pursue.

As Nyashinski says in his song “Mungu Pekee”, ka[ma] ningali na uwezo wa kuifanya nitaifanya hadi mwisho.

What advice would you give to your 25 year old self?

You are right. Do more, doubt less!

You're very articulate and confident in your speech. Are there any moments when you doubt yourself? How do you handle that?

Doubt and fear are cousins of risk-taking if you ask me. Those three usually always go hand in hand. When I find myself in such situations, I just make sure to go back to people who I look up to and have achieved so much despite experiencing the same fear. They didn’t relent and that encourages me immensely.

I mean, if you think about it, we would never have had the Psalms, if King David didn’t experience fear and other tribulations in his life. Therefore, I see doubt and fear as things that are always with us. However, they are not enough to stop us from doing what is necessary to achieve the goals ahead of us. Beautiful things are on the other side so just buckle up and enjoy the ride.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

Absolutely nothing! I have grown to really love myself with all my flaws. I am perfect for me and that’s all that matters.

What advice from a friend or family has stuck with you throughout your journey this far?

My dad would always tell us when we were younger that  you have to train hard in order to fight easy. That has stuck with me till now and has applied in all facets of my life; be it academics, work or play.

Nothing beats preparation and I have always wanted to be prepared in case any opportunity arises.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Travel! I like experiencing new places and cultures. While most of the material things I own are at least 5 years old, travel is the one thing that I continually keep making new investments in.

What makes Enda so unique from other shoe brands in the market?

Enda is the only performance footwear brand not only in Kenya but Africa as well. That says a lot considering just how many great sports men and women come from Africa.

We are also a certified B Corp and  climate neutral company. We donate a percentage of our revenues to community projects. All these factors ultimately make us a brand to watch. They make us stand out in the market.

Do you manage a team? What advice would you give on managing people successfully?

Yes, I manage a team and I have learnt that doing the actual work is way easier than managing people. (Laughs)
People are different and no single approach fits all when it comes to managing them. I would say that this is an area that I am still learning and through it all, I try to apply the golden rule of doing unto others what you would like them to do unto you. If it’s not good for me, it’s not good for them. At the same time, I expect my team to work hard and deliver to the best of their abilities.

How do you manage juggling entrepreneurship and family?

I don’t juggle per se. I try to be fully present at any given time. Whether at work or at home. I try to keep those two as separate as I can. It does help too that I have an extremely supportive partner and extended family so whenever I need an extra hand, help is usually nearby.