This was the business idea from heaven!
“So Hellen, you’re a primary school teacher; what days will be good for us to meet?”
“Only on the weekends.”
“Right… and how far away do you live?”
“About one and a half hours from Kericho.”
The first conversation with Hellen did not sound very promising, especially when coupled with the fact that Hellen wanted to start a poultry farming business- an oversubscribed sector within Kericho offering very little chance of growth. It took a couple of days for the three of us to muster up the courage to attempt the journey to Hellen’s home- consisting of a cramped matatu journey and a 3km walk across fields and over streams. We all swore this would be the only time we would ever visit Hellen- hoping to convince her that it was her that needed to make the effort to see us. However, when we arrived at Hellen’s farm, we were greeted with outstanding views of the Kenyan highlands and an even more outstanding view of the shy and reserved lady whom we had met once animated at the prospect of us visiting her in order to assist her in starting her business venture.
After our first session of hammering out a business model canvas and working through the curriculum, we were offered a cup of (home-grown) tea and a tour of Hellen’s farm, which produced everything from maize and timber to mangoes, avocados and tea! Our initial attitude had been lifted by this visit and we returned to Kericho much happier than when we set off- although we were still faced with the daunting prospect of trying to create a poultry business that would prove successful in such a competitive market. As the next few weeks went by and we started to talk about ways of innovating the business we were again starting to lose confidence- Hellen’s idea promised little return and, truth be told, was lacking in ambition. In one, rather unfruitful, session however Hellen mentioned something which changed the game entirely:
“I can make my own chicken feed.’
Upon hearing this all three of us stopped in our tracks. Everyone who has had dealings with poultry in Kericho says the same thing; “Commercial feeds are so expensive.” This was the business idea from heaven! One problem: Hellen could not see it- not through lack of interest or belief, but a lack of confidence- she asked how could she aspire to such a business- in her mind this was a venture for someone else.
It took time to persuade her to test the idea- one-day, after constant nagging she relented; “Ok, we can try it!” By this point we were behind schedule, pitching was approaching fast and we were effectively starting a business from scratch- hurriedly Hellen, and ourselves researched every element of chicken feed: ingredients, current producers, how its mixed, the nutritional necessities for chicks, egg-layers, and birds for meat. The four of us ran around town finding prices for the raw ingredients. We sent Hellen home with 21kg of ingredients and a promise that we would meet her at the market at 12 the next day and try to sell her produce. After a sleepless night wondering whether we were right in asking her to try an idea she was not initially confident in, we received a phone call at 11am. This was it; sink or swim…
“There’s no need for you to come. I’ve sold it all!”
The excitement in her voice couldn’t be contained- and neither could ours! We met in the afternoon to discuss how she did it and how she felt about it. She told us that when she started the programme she looked around the room at her fellow poultry farmers and her heart dropped- look at all this competition. Now, however, those farmers are not her competition but her customers! They loved her feed- it was local, it wasn’t as expensive as commercial feeds, it was sold in requested amounts instead of excessive 80kg sacks. We still have a lot of work to do before she stands in front of the pitching panel but as we left she told us that within 12 months the Kenyan volunteers would see her feeds on the shelves of agrovets in Nairobi and within 24 months the UK volunteers would see it on the shelves in London. We are now faced with the opposite problem as when we started; before we were desperately trying to get Hellen to search for bigger horizons- now we are struggling to contain the energy of this dedicated and ambitious entrepreneur!
Matt Taylor, ICS Volunteer, Kericho, Kenya 2015