Saturday, July 2, 2022

Fridah Wilumila: What I learned after investing too much money in fixed assets

Dr. Fridah Wilumila Mugo is the founder and managing director of Motozero Ventures, a firm that specializes in producing energy saving devices for cooking and warming known as fireless cookers.

I have been previously employed in many capacities. I am currently the Chair at the Department of Urban & Regional Planning at the University of Nairobi, where I am also a lecturer. I have also worked as a consultant in Natural Resources Management for various organizations locally and internationally.

I got trained on how to make my energy saving devices while working at the Ministry of Energy. This was early in my career in the early 1990s. I was trained by the Bellerive Foundation, which is now a part of the Aga Khan Foundation.

The idea was to develop these devices at a low cost so that we could assist households to reduce their energy costs, save on time, and improve on health. From this training, I went on to train all Home Economic Officers in the Ministry of Agriculture at that time. Thereafter, I began training women around my area of residence and realized that this could be a lucrative business.

The venture was then born.  Strangely enough, the business was only incorporated in 2018. Before that, it was more of a hobby and something I was moonlighting on.

Because the business began with very meager resources, it broke even almost immediately. It has since grown into a large venture over the years with clients on every continent. The nature of the product is such that the investment is recovered the minute the product is sold. There are really no large fixed costs. The huge chunk of cost is the labour required to mend the devices.

However, there have been challenges. The biggest has been the lack of product awareness. There are people who think the product is a basket for putting clothes or a puppy’s bed. To dispel this lack of awareness, we have been creating and sharing videos on social media on what the product is, and how it is to be used. This has resulted in increased uptake of the technology.

I save through the business. Most of the money the business generates is ploughed back into the business in form of materials and production equipment. The business also sets a certain percentage for saving through cryptocurrencies. This type of saving has seen the portfolio jump by over 450 per cent in just one year.

Investing too much capital in fixed assets that are not productive and not bringing an equal return has been my biggest money mistake. I constructed a modern facility even though there were no adequate sales or revenue to justify such heavy construction expenditure. Though most of the spending was from my savings, I would still have, in hindsight, put those resources to better use and scaled slowly as I developed.

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The business would be in an even better place if I had put emphasis on marketing. In all our years of operation, we have never seen the kind of growth that we have experienced in the last 2 years, thanks to the keen advice of my son, Samson Ngure, who has been instrumental in developing a thorough marketing strategy with specific focus on social media.

In this day and age I do not think it wise to just have one source of income. Having a couple of well managed sources is the safest route. But I would put an emphasis on management. This is critical. You must be able to manage all your affairs lest one begins to hurt the other.

I love both my job(s) and my businesses, of which I have a couple. From my years of career and business experience, I would tell women to focus on solving problems and serving others in their ventures. In this, there is no failure. It is as simple as that.

This profile feature was first published in the Saturday Magazine. The Saturday Magazine is a publication of the Nation Media Group.

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