Tuesday, February 27, 2024

I quit my job to start a business, went broke, then recovered, became profitable

Lilian Nyaranga is an educator and the founder of Elimu Shop, a social enterprise that deals with the creation of interactive game-based mathematics and sciences learning resources for children aged 6 to 18 years.

I resigned from my employment in 2016 and enrolled for a 4-month entrepreneurial training at Sinapis. This was the year that almost half of all KCSE candidates got the E grade in mathematics. In early 2017, I founded Elimu Shop. As a mathematician, I found this troubling and wanted to make a change in how students interact with sciences.

I started by creating an eCommerce marketplace for teachers to create, buy and sell resources in STEM subjects amongst themselves. I was very ambitious and started big before doing thorough market research, and the business model did not work. The uptake by teachers on this model was slow.

Most teachers were not tech-savvy or comfortable in using the platform. I ended up exhausting all my capital without generating any revenue by the end of 2017. It was a devastating moment for me; my company went down, I was now broke and depressed but I learnt the importance of good market research and starting small.

After my business failure towards the end of 2017, I had to pivot in 2018. Using my learning design experience, I researched innovative resources and game learning, networked and took relevant online courses. In April 2018, I started work on the disruptive tabletop MathFlash board game and piloted it in two schools in 2019.

The feedback was largely positive, and I sold out the first units of the game to parents and schools. This game targets children aged nine years and above. It is a collaborative game and played at school or home with family and friends.

In business, it is critical to find and partner with like-minded individuals. I met my current co-founder in January 2020. She comes with a technology and project management background, which has been beneficial in our growth.

In September 2021, we partnered with Naivas, the leading supermarket in Kenya, to have our six published puzzles and journal books on their shelves.

They are now available in ten of their outlets across the country. Our math puzzle resources are also available online and have been downloaded over 300 times at the Teachers Pay Teachers platform, which is the USA’s leading teachers’ marketplace.

I was a top 5 finalist of the 2017 Sinapis business plan pitch competition. This competition later selected me for the Sinapis Fast Track accelerator program. I am also a pioneer Metis alumnus, a fellowship program for education leaders in Kenya to reimagine education.

In addition, I was among the 15,000 African entrepreneurs selected out of 400,000 to pitch for the 2021 Tony Elumelu Foundation.

In my career, I have about 15 years working as a mathematics and chemistry teacher in various high schools in Kenya, including Keveye Girls, Alliance Girls, and Nova-Pioneer Academy.

Besides teaching, I have also worked as an instructional coach and mathematics learning designer for Dignitas Kenya. I am also a CBC mathematics author and education consultant in learning designs for institutions and educational organizations.

I was scared when I quit my job to go into entrepreneurship. The thought of no money coming in at the end of the month was tough. There were many times I felt like quitting and going back to employment. I even applied for jobs at some point.

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But I have no regrets, and given another opportunity, I would still choose entrepreneurship. This is not to say employment is bad. On the contrary, I highly value the experience I gained in my employment period, which I am applying to my work at Elimu Shop.

We often think that our businesses are not growing because we have no money. We spend a lot of our time chasing grants and investors and giving excuses instead of building our products or services. I did a lot of this in 2017. I have learnt that as an entrepreneur, I need to do the best with what I have first.

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