How a Kenya Diaspora entrepreneur built Sh10m online venture
As a student at Virginia Tech in the United States, Mogaka Mwencha would stock up on local Kenyan crafts while on holiday, and display them proudly in his room. His friends would gape over the artefacts and in the spirit of entrepreneurship, Mogaka sold selected pieces at a tidy profit.
Little did he know that his passion for Kenyan art would culminate 12 years later in a business worth over Sh10 million.
The first venture that the budding entrepreneur embarked upon was in 2000 with college mates from Zambia and Malawi. Through a website called ezuri, they sold African art to the Western market.
However, the challenges of importing items, trade restrictions, packaging and transport prevented ezuri from growing. “But the opportunity was there; that was clear,” said Mogaka.
Seven years later, he returned to Kenya with his eye keenly trained on online business opportunities.
“When I returned, I found a few guys setting up Internet-based businesses to facilitate trade. One of them was Tips online,” said Mogaka. An online business directory, it collected information on businesses and presented it in an accessible format.
Around the same time, he discovered Online Duka, which catalogued products online.
“I thought why don’t we combine these two ideas,” he said.
Eventually an idea was created that offered value that could be charged, Mogaka explained, adding that one of the biggest problems facing Internet businesses in Kenya was they didn’t operate according to a business model that included an income stream.
At this time, Kenya’s infrastructure was fast developing and the days of dial up modems had been replaced by fibre optic technology.
This strengthened the avenues open to businesses, and set the stage for an online platform that traded products and services.
In 2010, Mzoori was launched. The genesis of the name grew from Mogaka’s first business, ezuri.
In addition to being founded on the Swahili word mzuri meaning good or beautiful, the double ‘o’ was a throwback to the web 2.0 style of business which relies on user generated content and is typified by Google, Facebook and Yahoo – all of which incorporate the double o in their brand name.
When Mzoori first entered the market, it depended on numbers; getting as many products and services online as possible in order to attract eyeballs, and in turn draw advertising from large corporates.
“Then we discovered that Kenyans are not comfortable clicking ‘Buy.’ They want to see the thing and hold it,” said Mogaka. “And it’s not yet part of our culture where if you’re shopping for something you check online. People would look online and then go away.”
In short, the business model was not what the Kenyan market required.