Straight out of university, Wanjiru Kiiru, 23, plunged into the world of business.
She says she chose to pursue this path because she had already experienced the feel of the business environment when he was at the university.
“At the university I was introduced to business by someone who was selling a tyre sealant product,” she says.
“I got to know someone who used to sell the product. As a student trying to make a bit of pocket money, I asked him to train me. I started by selling to people around college.”
Once she finished her Bachelor of Commerce studies at Strathmore University, Ms Kiiru opted to continue selling the product, leveraging on her experience in campus. She set up a company known as Autoseal Limited.
She says the prospects of doing big business with the product were bright as there was little competition.
The product is inserted into tyre tubes to form a fibrous film which prevents flat tyres in case they are punctured by sharp objects such as nails.
It has not been a bed of roses for her. When she started out last year in February, Ms Kiiru would carry a backpack full of products to Industrial Area, Nairobi where she would convince boda boda riders to buy the product. The sales were very low as she was dealing with a new product.
When I arrived at her premises for the interview, I found her in overalls, removing the tyre valve before squeezing the sealant into the tube. She explains that when the car is in motion, the liquid revolves around the tube and forms a film. The liquid’s chemical composition allows it to form a fibrous plug in areas where the tyre is punctured.
Her business attained a milestone when she sought and secured exclusive rights from a US-based company to sell and distribute the tyre sealant in Kenya. Initially, the enterprise would service only one car per month and sell 10 packs of the product, which made it difficult to service the Sh1.5 million loan that Ms Kiiru had borrowed from her father to start the business.
However, the start-up’s fortunes have improved tremendously. She currently services between 15 and 20 cars a month as well as sell the 40 to 50 packs of the tyre sealant.
In addition, Autoseal has secured corporate deals which means it gets a chance to service and educate more people about their product. Out-of-town events such as Rhino Charge means a lot of business for the company since participants want to insure themselves against punctures. Another reason is that a good number are foreigners for whom the products are not new.
“These products would make so much sense for people at the Rhino Charge because your tyres are going through such a rough terrain,” says Ms Kiiru. Prices range between Sh1,700 to Sh2,000 per tyre. The larger the tyre, the more the sealant needed and thus the higher cost. The firm charges between Sh6,800 and Sh10,000 in total to service all the tyres of car. She says one of her challenge with the business is that since it anticipates punctures rather than repairing them, people have a harder time understanding why they would need the product.
She says corruption is another hurdle in the business world, noting that her uncompromising stand against the vice locks her out of some major tenders.
“We supply our products to corporates. You are dealing with a client and they say I will give you a tender of Sh10 million but Sh5 million will be mine,” says the entrepreneur
“What do you do in that situation? I am 23, Sh5 million would be nice. It would solve a lot of my problems but I am a person of integrity and also I don’t want someone to attack me and ‘shoot’ me because I did not pay the right transfers,” she says.
Ms Kiiru says she is interested in finding new and more effective ways to do things and loves that the product insures against a problem that people think they have no way out of.