The thought of starting a business and becoming one’s very own CEO has  always all seemed all so glorious to me. I mean, who wouldn’t crave such a life, after being constantly bombarded with news of teenage billionaires like Kylie Jenner every now and then. Unfortunately, you soon realize that starting a business and running it consistently for the long haul are two different ball games.

“Ideas are easy. Implementation is hard.”  –Guy Kawasaki, Alltop Co-Founder and Entrepreneur

Personally, I have struggled with inconsistency and procrastination majority of my adult life especially when it comes to personal  projects. That’s why I’m always inspired by individuals who have managed to defy this and are intentionally making significant strides to build up their businesses.

Meet Jennifer

Driven by her passion to make an impact in the lives of skilled craftspeople in Africa and to promote the artistry and vibrant spirit of Africa across the globe, Jennifer Rahab Nyambogo and her co-founder Paula Kariuki founded Mawu Africa in 2021.This is a leading online marketplace dedicated to showcasing diverse range of African art, crafts, and heritage items, linking Africa’s most talented craftspeople with discerning buyers across the globe. 

Mawu Africa grew from a simple idea during the Covid 19 pandemic into one of the fastest growing  e-commerce companies in Kenya. It boasts of customers from approximately 181 countries out of the current 196 countries globally.  

“I cant believe that we have had customers from over 90% of the world countries. It is mind-blowing how global this platform has become, and is not something we  expected. “

How it started

I have always been interested in all things fashion and design ever since I was younger. This came out strongly during my university days when I would sell local African crafts, bags, and clothing items to my classmates. I would also sell wares to my mother’s friends and her choir singing group (Laughs). By then, I had named the business Muthoni unchained which basically referenced emancipation of Africans towards their potential.

I then decided to participate in one of the university innovation challenges with some of my friends and managed to win a grant for my idea. That was my turning point. It was clear to me that I had the potential of doing something great if only I could believe in it. Since I was passionate about African culture, I decided to take a deep dive into the industry and see how I could grow the creative and culture sectors in Africa.

When Covid 19 hit, most of the artisans I used to work with, were stranded and called on me to help them navigate their wares online since they were forced to close their physical shops. Due to this, their livelihoods were greatly impacted by the pandemic. Resultantly, my co-founder and I set out to create a new way online to purchase African crafts and to expand the opportunities available to African artisans and creators. That was how Mawu Africa was born.

You started out in the corporate world and then switched to Entrepreneurship. What changed?

Yes. I was employed at Cellulant for about two years where I learnt a great deal about running a start up including how to run with projects as well as working with teams. Most importantly, working there made me realize my potential and gave me confidence in my capabilities.

Honestly, I loved working there but with time I realized that I wasn’t really cut out for the 9-5 work lifestyle. I am a generally creative and anxious person who thrives in moving around and doing different things rather than sit behind a desk. Soon afterwards, I decided to venture out on my own and finally focus on my own project full time.

Have you ever felt like giving up on your business and go back to being employed?

Yes! I have felt like giving up several times. When I started off with Muthoni Unchained, I remember buying a number of African bags that I had convinced myself to be quite amazing and that they would be easy to sell. To my shock, I only sold one or two. I was forced to give the rest as gifts to get rid of the massive dead stock I had (Laughs).

However, going back to formal employment was a no no for me.

What are the things you wish you had been taught at school that would have helped you in your current adult life?

Oh Wow! There are so many I could mention here. Personally, I think the 8-4-4 school system didn’t do us much justice as students. This is because it taught us more of what to think rather than how to think. I wish our learning was more practical especially towards running a business. The only solid gain I had from university was probably the social network (laughs).I made a lot of great friends who have been pivotal to my success today.

Critical thinking is also an essential skill that I wish I was exposed to in depth, while back at school. This is because it impacts my daily decision making while running the business.

What is the vision behind Mawu Africa?

As Mawu Africa, we seek to create a more inclusive world through cultural exchange, by connecting global buyers with heritage creators worldwide.We are currently working with African heritage creators (craftspeople).

We want to  revolutionize how trade is carried out in the creative and culture sector in the world. However, instead of just having a simple marketplace, we want to build a community of skilled craftspeople that influence the behavior of economies. 

How has the journey been so far? What have been the highs and the lows?

(Laughs) As an entrepreneur, you tend to have highs and lows almost daily! Its hard to keep up. Furthermore, it is not as glamorous as people think. I mean, look at my nails! I would have easily treated myself to a fancy manicure, but I constantly have to think of where this money could be better used in the business.

However, I would say that our learning journey has been a great highlight for us. Looking at where we started and where we are right now is surreal to say the least. Not only have we been able to understand the crafts industry better, but we have also been able to understand the both the merchants and craftspeople better. It has been fulfilling to see them grow their business through technology. Some of the lows for us include issues to do with copyright infringement, unfavorable customs policies, and shipping costs.

At the end of the day, with a problem-solving mindset, we tend to overcome each challenge every step of the way. We also try to benchmark from successful companies in developing markets such as Elo7 in Brazil, learning from their successes and failures.

What are some of the most important lessons youve learnt about money?

Keep a budget! Working with one greatly guides your financial decisions, showing you how your money comes in and how it goes out. You are able to learn when to stretch and when to show restrain.

You should also have an abundance mentality when it comes to managing the business capital. You have to come to terms with the fact that you have to spend money to make money. Whether in marketing or investments. Don’t be stingy!

What would you tell your 25 year old self?

There is never a right time to start something! Just do it!

While I was still employed, I remember having a talk with my then CEO, Ken Njoroge about my future ambitions and I happened to mention this particular business. He asked me why I had not started it and I gave him this whole excuse of needing to have working experience as well as years of savings for me to actualize my idea. He just shook his head and I instantly realized that my plan was a load of rubbish. I just needed to start!