Biogas business in Kenya: Carolyne Wanjiku had been employed for five years before she took the jump into entrepreneurship. Her journey started in 2010, a few months after sitting for her 2009 KCSE exams. “I was employed as a waitress at the Village Market for one year. My monthly salary was Sh. 15,000,” says Carolyne, who is in her late twenties. “I was employed on a temporary basis to stand in for an employee who was away on an extended maternity leave.” She was relieved from her job when her 12 month contract expired.

Luckily, she found another job at a petrol station. “I was employed as a pump attendant with a salary of Sh. 10,000 per month,” she says.  This, though, was not the place where she wanted to settle and build her career. “I wanted a more fulfilling and financially rewarding job. But I couldn’t be too choosy and stay at home in wait.” In 2010, lady luck smiled at her. She quit her job at the petrol station and jumped ship to join a company that dealt with the production of biogas and the installation of biogas appliances. “I moved from earning Sh. 10,000 per month to Sh. 35,000. This was more than I had ever imagined I would make,” she says.

Three years later, in December 2013, the biogas company shut down. “The company owner decided to close the enterprise down and venture into the capital intensive road construction sector in Uganda. This left me and other employees stranded and jobless.” The job loss left Carolyne in a territory that she was not used to. For a start, she would not be getting the monthly income that had been cushioning her. “I nonetheless felt lucky that I had gained an all-round experience; from being a tea girl, office administrator, and sales and marketing officer. My resume was rich and I was confident that it would not be long before I got another job.”

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Her intuition was spot on. Before the end of that year, Carolyn secured a job at an animations advertisement company. She was asked to report to work the following month. It was within this period that she encountered the entrepreneurship bug. “I had created a healthy relationship with customers at my former biogas workplace. They kept calling asking why we had closed down business and how they could access biogas services,” she says. Some of her former clients began to suggest that she opens her own biogas outlet. Carolyne says that she was afraid at first. She had never thought of opening her own business, leave alone direct one. “I felt more comfortable within the realms of employment. After all, employment was clear cut. I work, I get paid. I would not need to sweat day and night chasing after clients,” she says.

Nonetheless, she started to consider pursuing a business in biogas when her spouse joined her former clients in urging her to start her own business. “Everyone around me said this was a golden opportunity. The more this was repeated, the more it awakened me to the realization that perhaps I could give it a try,” she says. In January 2014, Carolyne registered her own biogas company. “I started with Sh. 100,000, which I got from the savings I had been making in my previous job. I also managed to convince one of my friends to give me a small space in her office where I could operate from.” A few weeks after settling in her new shared office, Carolyne met her first client. “I managed to convince him to place an order for the supply of biogas products and give a down payment. Within a week, I delivered his goods and walked to the bank smiling with a good profit. It was a vindication to my budding entrepreneurship.”

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Over the past four years since setting off, Carolyne has built a biogas firm that is self-sufficient. “The business today operates with a stock of around Sh. 800,000, with monthly sales turnover of over Sh. 300,000,” she says. She has also opened a warehouse, and an office at the Nairobi Central Business District.

But raising the business from infancy to where it is today has not been a stroll along the beach. “When I started, I quickly realized that there’s a difference between people telling you to venture out, and supporting your venture,” she says. Also, after getting started, not too many people believed that a cow-dung related business could sustain her. “Most of those who heard about my new business changed tune and thought I had bitten more than I could chew.” Due to her limited capital, she was not able to have sufficient stock to build a consistent flow of customers. “There were times when I would keep my customers waiting while I hustled to get a motorbike to go and fetch more items from suppliers,” she says. As her income became steadier, she applied for a bank loan that helped her to start importing her own biogas appliances more affordably.

But this was not the end of her rocky ride in entrepreneurship. A year down the line, she was conned goods worth Sh. 300,000. “In 2015, a customer bought goods and paid via a cheque. The cheque was rejected by the bank and I ended up losing my stock,” she says. “I started from scratch, and gradually ploughed back the profits into the business until I recovered the lost amount.” To accelerate her growth, Carolyne is now looking to open branches in numerous towns across the country. “I am also working on partnerships to create awareness on the benefits of green energy and expose my business to more clients.” Over the next five years, Carolyne says that she is hoping to be importing biogas appliances in large quantities in order to cut down on import and transport costs.

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Carolyne’s takeaways

  • Learn all the aspects of running a business from your current job before venturing into business.
  • You will mostly do well in business if you start a business whose structures and dynamics you are familiar with.
  • Those who tell you to start a business will not always help you run it. Many will take off when the rubber meets the road.
  • Create a healthy relationship with customers even when working for someone else. You might need them to get your new business off the ground.

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