Chebet Lesan, 28, started her first business in college and has never looked back. She shares the secret to turning an idea into a successful business with EveWoman magazine.
I studied Industrial Design at the University of Nairobi; this course is all about creating solutions for local needs, so in a way I’m still practising it. Although I have never been fully employed, I have always been an entrepreneur. I started my first business venture in my campus room. It was all about developing African inspired creative designs to showcase Kenya’s rich culture. It has been running for the past 10 years and I’m still involved in it although not so heavily. I felt I needed to use my talents to make social impact.
I have always wanted to be a manufacturer. Even while I was in campus studying industrial design I was the type of a person who wanted to know who was coming up with innovative solutions. Being an introvert I guess I thought that being a manufacturer meant that I will not be on the limelight, but Bright Green has proved me wrong. I’ve always wanted to come up with something that will make life easier for the ordinary Kenyan. I knew that most people in the lower income bracket used charcoal a lot because gas and electricity were probably too expensive. Most of them didn’t care about conserving the environment but rather the most cost effective way of providing meals for their family.
At first I was apprehensive about the idea and so I told no one apart from one of my mentors. This person persuaded me to act on it because as she put it; in the end it’s not the things you do that you will regret but the things you don’t do. So I just decided to put my mind in it and I started producing the charcoal. My first clients were basically testing the product because it is hard to convince people to use a product they have never used.
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT:
It is these first consumers who referred the charcoal briquettes to everyone else. Social media also helps in marketing the product and most people heard about it through this avenue. We have never really formally marketed the product. I had just completed university and I was still running my other small business which I had started earlier so it wasn’t that hard to concentrate on it. I had to put in everything I had physically and financially because it needs a lot of hands-on activity.
We have people who collect raw materials from the farms or the field, then there are those who carbonise it or burn it, then there are the people who deliver the loose by product to us then we compress it and come up with the cylindrical sized charcoal briquettes.
RUNNING A START UP:
Every day is a learning process for me and we have had to do a lot to improve on the product over the last three years. We have selling points all over Nairobi in the most populous areas like Eastleigh, Langata, South B and South C, Highrise, Imara Daima and along Ngong Road. We usually sell a kilo at Sh 45. There are some clients who come for them personally or they are delivered to them. Although there are some supermarkets that stock the charcoal briquettes my main aim is to serve the common Kenyan who doesn’t get to visit the supermarket as much.
WHERE I AM NOW:
I have received numerous awards because of Bright Green Kenya, from a commendation from the queen to a Nelson Mandela Fellowship. I have had the opportunity of giving numerous talks to various people from all over the world and I am always happy when I leave a positive impact in people’s minds. Our production has also gone up and currently we produce up to two thousand tonnes in a day.
If you want to begin a start-up begin with the little you have. Eventually people will notice what you have put into it and investors will come in. It is rare for financial institutions to invest in a radical idea but if you begin with something small then someone is bound to notice your effort.
Never think that your idea is farfetched, invest in it and it will bring in good results. Surround yourself with positive people who will propel you into greatness. Your age or gender will never determine your success. Always be patient and give in your best.