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Debbie Oyugi: My search for a job pushed me into business

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For years, 30-year-old Debbie Oyugi has been fascinated and involved in entrepreneurship. In fact, she was hit by the entrepreneurship bug as a child. “In 1995, I made a Sh. 50 pledge in church. I was six years old.

I asked my dad for a Sh. 5 capital, which I used to buy jaggery – popularly known as Sukari Nguru – from a wholesaler in our village. I would sell it to my friends at a profit and use all my earnings to buy a bigger chunk of the jaggery for sale,” she says. Within a month, Debbie was able to earn twice the amount she had pledged in church and repay her dad the small capital she had borrowed.

Flying high with my own business after losing job at KQ

Her charge at entrepreneurship did not stop there. At the university, she would sell bags and shoes to her fellow students to make an extra coin. But after graduating, it all seemed so easy for her to get a well-paying job that she put her entrepreneurial pursuits aside. She had a highly decorated resume that included a Bachelor of Science degree in accounting from USIU-Africa, and a degree in mathematics, economics and counseling psychology from Kenyatta University.

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Just like thousands of other graduates, her search for a well-paying job soon proved to be an arduous task. She attended close to ten interviews but feared that they were not really capturing what she wanted.  “There was an interview I went to and was told that I was too valuable for the accounting position that I had applied for. Other interviewers told me that they outsourced forensic accounting services since they were not among their daily needs. And it made sense!” she says. In between the interviews, Debbie would solicit for modeling jobs.

In the end though, Debbie got a forensic accounting job in South Africa. She would start on probation, and based on how valuable her skills would prove to be, she would be elevated to a managerial position. “I was excited at first. But as the reality that I was about to be formally employed hit me, I began to have doubts. Even as I applied for jobs, deep down I knew I was called to something more.  Not just sit in an office, earn a salary and pay bills,” she says.

She turned the job down and decided to start her own business from scratch. From her side hustles, Debbie had managed to save Sh. 300,000 which she used as start-up capital. “I started the business in 2015 and named it Baby Shower Kenya. I would create authentic unique wear for children from newborns to age 16 using local materials,” she says. “Most of my start-up capital went into research, sourcing of fabric and labour.” In 2016, she expanded her business and started doing talent development. “In august 2016, I rebranded and named the business Debbie Oyugi Kids (DOK),” she says. As her business grew, Debbie started offering ready-made productions. This presented the biggest challenges she has faced in running her business.

“I ventured into ready-made wears without enough research. I jumped in thinking that I could recoup all my investment within a few months. Shock on me!” Apparently, Debbie Oyugi produced so many ready-made materials that left her with a mountain of dead stock. She incurred a Sh. 100,000 loss. “This was my wake-up call. I reversed my production strategy and started making pieces based on orders only,” she says.

She also started to personalize her materials in a bid to add value and improve on her income streams. Her efforts started to bear fruits and two years down the line, she broke even. “In November last year, we show cased our products at the Nairobi Fashion Week where all our stock was ordered,” she says. This, though, has not been the only feather in her cap. Since she incorporated talent development in her business, Debbie and her trainees have featured in numerous talent shows in Africa and Europe and returned home with top awards.

Despite running a profit streak, her business has not been free from challenges. “I have learned that there is no business that succeeds without challenges. Currently, I am struggling to get a bigger and more child-friendly space for my talent development section,” she says. She points out that finding trustworthy employees has not been easy. This problem has been particularly prominent with tailors. “Not too many tailors are able to work unsupervised and deliver great productions on time. Neither are many innovative. Instead, most of them prefer to follow instructions and routines,” she says. Nonetheless, Debbie’ focus is on the next five years, within which she hopes to transform her business into a regional kids fashion and talent development powerhouse. “I am hoping that by 2023, I will have developed an amphitheater for my talent section,” she says.

Looking back, Debbie says that although she had her bad days when launching her business, she never considered pursuing employment. “Getting the first client was easy, but getting more recurrent clients was very hard. But I did not quit or consider taking employment or juggling the business as a side hustle,” she says. Nonetheless, there are things she would do differently if she could go back in time and restart her journey in business afresh. “I would go deeply into research and create better relationships. Relationships are a key ingredient for the success of any business,” she says.

Debbie’s takeaway

  • Before you start a business, identify what you want and how you want it.
  • Challenges are inevitable in entrepreneurship. Sometimes, it will get worse each day. To get by, keep an open mind and do not give up.
  • Let people work with you. Allow them to buy into your idea in order for them to deliver for you with conviction.
  • Constantly encourage your employees to be innovative.
  • Research before you put in your start-up capital. Understand your target market well and how regularly goods or services are consumed in that market.
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