Let’s Get Fruity! An interview with a Balloon ICS entrepreneur.

Whilst on their own Balloon ICS placement in Kericho, Kenya, one of our Volunteers met up with Gideon Mutai, a former Balloon Entrepreneur, to talk to him about his experience of the programme and how Balloon Ventures helped him to grow and develop his business.

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Gideon, our Balloon ICS entrepreneur, outside his fruit stand

My sweet tooth and I are great pals – I deny it nothing – but one of the weird and wonderful things is that, time and time again, here in Kericho, my fellow volunteers and I opt for a sugar fix of the natural kind. This small miracle is, in no small part, thanks to fellow fruit fanatic and former Balloon Ventures Entrepreneur, Gideon, whose fruit salads and smoothies taste like sunshine itself!

So when we had the opportunity to write a blog post about an entrepreneur, we couldn’t resist the opportunity to grab a mango smoothie and sit down with Gideon to talk all things fresh and fruity.

BV: So, Gideon, what did your business look like at the beginning of the Balloon programme?

G: When I first started working with Balloon, I’d recently let go of a ladies’ clothes business which wasn’t going very well. I’d seen that there was a gap in the market for fresh fruit salads so I took a risk and ran with it – I bought this stall and secured this location right next to the gym. I got to work straight away, buying fruit from the market and making fruit salads that I sold to passers-by and gym-goers. I had just started delivering to an office when I heard about Balloon Ventures. I thought that working with Balloon would be an excellent opportunity to grow my start-up business.

BV: It sounds like Balloon volunteers found you in a strong position, then?

G: Even though the business was still very young, it was going well. That said, I was open to new ideas on how business could go even better.

BV: What were some of these new ideas that you worked on with the Balloon volunteers?

G: Smoothies! Before working with Balloon, I’d only been making fruit salads but it turns out smoothies are my biggest seller! Gym-goers love them because they’re a great pre- and post-workout energiser. The Balloon volunteers also made me poster fact sheets on the health benefits of each fruit, which they displayed on my stall. I really liked the idea, but I wanted them to be more accessible to my customers, so I’ve since made my own which I’ve laminated and put on the tables in the seating area. Another idea we trailed was healthy milkshakes, a blend of milk, bananas, honey and peanuts but these were more expensive to make and didn’t sell as well, so we decided to give up on them and focus on creating a bigger variety of smoothies instead.

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Gideon’s fact sheets, reminding us just how healthy our smoothies were!

BV: Testing is such an important part of the programme, though, and an essential part of the pitch document. The pitch phase of the programme is pretty stressful. How did you find it?

G: For me, it wasn’t that stressful. I felt confident in my business, and so did the pitching panel – they gave me a 25 KSH loan!

BV: That’s a great result! What did you use the loan for?

G: I bought a good quality blender. Before, I’d borrowed a small blender from a friend. The loan also helped me to meet the demand for my fruit salads and smoothies. I used it to buy larger quantities of fruit from the market. Sales increased and, after some time, I was able to pay back the loan in full.

BV: So having completed the Balloon programme, with great success, what are some of the most important things you’ve learned from the experience?

G: I’d never heard of the Business Model Canvas before, but it is a really useful tool. I still use it on an almost daily basis as it helps me to refocus on what is most important – my customers – and how I can meet their needs. The Balloon volunteers also helped me a lot with my financial records, something I’d been doing before the programme but not very efficiently.

BV: How has your business changed and developed since working with Balloon? Any plans for the future?

G: Shortly after the Balloon volunteers left, I tried selling doughnuts alongside my fruit salads and smoothies. As you can probably imagine, this didn’t go very well – gym goers weren’t interested and passers-by still preferred my healthy options, so I took the hint and decided to stick with what I know – fruit. Last year, the lunch stall next to me was set up which has been great, as customers will often buy a smoothie or a fruit salad to accompany their meal. The number of offices I supply fruit salads to has grown so much that I’ve had to employ a member of staff to man the stall while I take care of deliveries. Looking to the future, there are some other projects I’m interested in pursuing, for example farming, and with my employee doing a great job I have more time to look into this. I’m excited about the future of this business and the other business that I might one day have – I’m so grateful to Balloon for supporting me and giving me the tools I need to be a successful entrepreneur.

We ended our ‘fruitful’ chat by comparing, of course, our favourite fruits. Gideon’s is watermelon and mine, for the time being, is pawpaw (papaya). As I left him to serve a growing cluster of customers, I couldn’t help but think to myself that Gideon is well and truly on track to smash the 5 year funk – 4 out of 5 start-up businesses will not make it past the first 5 years.

We’re currently recruiting for Balloon ICS volunteers departing in the first quarter of 2017. If you would be interest in growing businesses and changing lives on a fully funded volunteering opportunity, then visit www.balloonics.org for more information and to apply.

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