Kate Kibarah was obese as a child and endured body shaming when she joined high school, as bullies nicknamed her “balloon”.
“I started discovering a lot about my body. I realised l was actually fat, weighing 95kg. But this was a family problem, as both my parents and siblings were heavy,” she told EveWoman.
The humiliation became a blessing in disguise as it made her research widely on natural remedies for her weight problem.
After high school, Kate was to study Law at the University of Nairobi, but opted for a degree in natural health. Unfortunately, no Kenyan University offered the course. She instead studied Diet and Nutrition locally.
“I started practising what l studied; changed my lifestyle — eating the right kinds of foods, exercising. Slowly, I started to lose weight. Many people noticed and asked me what I had done to lose the weight,” she explained.
She later got a chance to study for a degree in Clinical Nutrition and furthered it into natural health, which includes colon hydrotherapy. After training, Kate realised she could make a business out of her passion and started a consultancy firm, advising individuals and small groups about eating natural foods
She spoke to Standard about her entrepreneurial experience over the years.
Let me guess: you wanted to own a business then came up with Kate Organics?
No. Kate Organics is the result of passion. I was not actively pursuing entrepreneurship prior to founding the company. The idea came to me while I was out and about consulting for corporates and organisations.
So, Kate Organics was a consultancy?
No. Kate Organics was non-existent then. I was just speaking as a consultant clinical nutritionist. There weren’t much organic food products on our supermarket shelves. In 2009, I attended the largest trade fair on organic food in Germany. I came back and began doing research on how to start such a business. The business was registered in 2013.
How did Kate Organics’ products land on the supermarket shelves?
I put together my company profile, brochures, a price list, and company registrations then walked into Nakumatt head office. I was granted an ear by the managers. I pitched and they allowed us on their shelves. It is the same way we approached the other major outlets and we were allowed on their shelves.
How did you market your products?
The company started with very little, if at all there were, resources. We couldn’t afford billboards or to buy space in mainstream media. So I did what I do best – speaking about the company’s products wherever I went. I would say 99.9 per cent of our marketing was word of mouth.
How do you maintain customers?
By giving the customer exactly what you promise to deliver. Do not promise to deliver two but then all you can give is 1.8. Be honest and truthful from the word go.
Why do you think Kate Organics has experienced the success it has this far?
It is first and foremost passion. Nutrition and health are dear to me. I love helping people put their diet issues in order and helping them live a healthy lifestyle. Secondly, I would say the belief in myself: that I have something of quality to offer.
Name and explain the greatest challenge you have faced maintaining relevance in the face of increasing competition?
The greatest challenge I have faced is keeping up with the current demand for organic products as people become more health-conscious. Organic farming is not as easy. We have a few organic farmers in the country.
On competition, I would say, in my own opinion, competition is healthy. Just make sure your products are of good quality and do your part in marketing. Also, always be innovative to increase the value of your products.
How do you tackle cash flow problems?
We have a system where we engage different clientele with different terms and incorporate both the big and small. This makes it easy for us to have a projection of our cash flow and are able to manage, we also have a digital platform and export. All this put together allows you to have a consistent cash flow.
How have you pivoted the business in the times of Corona?
The curfew plus closure of the borders limited our movement and that of our products. But we re-strategized and have come up with a raft of ideas to meet our client’s needs without breaking measures put forth to curb the spread.
How do you structure a business to get funding or position your business so that investors are interested?
Have a proper business plan to guide the investors: for them to easily see that the business is viable for investment. Have all regulatory documents in place – get everything needed by law to run a business of your kind. Pay your taxes: it shows that your business is legit. Keep proper records as the investor will need proof that business plan matches the actual day-to-day running of the enterprise.
Don’t forget to have a proper marketing strategy in place as this determines your growth. The investor needs to believe in the future of the company. Also, show areas of future projections in innovation: how will your business stay steady with emerging new trends or will it become outdated and die?
Lastly, ensure that your business strategy shows you researched the market and studied client needs and that your business is existing to offer this solution.
Do you think this is the right time to be entering entrepreneurship?
There is never a right time to be an entrepreneur. The time is now. Start with what you have. But I will add that with the Covid-19 crisis it is a good time to research and take advantage of this ‘new normal’. What can you create whether a product or service to compliment the current situation? It is always a good time to enter entrepreneurship if your idea is relevant.
You pitched to supermarkets to be allowed on the shelves. What makes for successful pitches?
You need to offer quality and value. Have a product that is well packaged and that meets the demand for the consumer and don’t go around copying others, create your own niche. Also, honesty and transparency are key, deliver what you promise. No short cuts. Lastly, ensure that you have all the regulatory documents needed.
How has your business grown since 2013?
Kate’s Organics has significantly grown. There are many selling points we have acquired over the years. We are working with more organic farmers and our sales have never been higher. We started off with just a handful of farmers at the beginning. Today we have thousands from whom we source raw materials across East Africa. We used to sell locally but today we also export.
How do you know a business is growing in a healthy way?
When demand is still higher than supply. We have seen businesses expand and then die.
What are your tips to avoid this kind of death?
On the trader side, I would advise, “Do not have all your eggs in one basket.” Exhaust all options of selling: from shops and outlets to selling online and even exporting. Open your own outlets as well if need be.
On the retail outlets’ side, I would say have a strong business strategy, maintain steady but constant growth, make your projections accurate, and steadily move from one level to the other according to your strength and capacity. Also, ensure that your cash flow is less than your overheads as this guides you on how far you can stretch your expansion. Avoid the habit of copying the competition. Focus on your business and what should be done solely independent of external forces.