Michelle Ntalami, CEO and Founder, Marini Naturals has developed products to cater for women with natural hair. She has managed to create, grow and build the brand in Kenya, Africa and beyond.
By MURUGI NDWIGA
What made you venture into the world of entrepreneurship?
From my childhood, I have always been fascinated by the idea of creating things from scratch. I have never been so great at following the norm. My inquisitive and creative mind questions everything. So naturally, I feel drawn to business as I get to create things from the very beginning, determine its journey, and literally my own success. It fascinates me.
Why did you decide to go into this specific line of business and not any other?
Marini Naturals was inspired by an actual need for these products in the market. So many women were suffering with natural hair, wondering how to maintain it and take care of it. It came so naturally to me to fill that gap and provide a quality solution for all Africans with natural hair.
What has been the good, the bad and the ugly side of your entrepreneurial journey?
It has not been easy! I have managed to create and grow the brand in Kenya, Africa and around the world. The bad, though just more of a challenge, is there is so much more that I would like to do for the brand but financial constraints handicap me. The ugly – we have sometimes faced a lot of discouragement and malice. It can get abit disheartening in the beginning, but I’m used to it now. Someone once told us that our brand would never make it beyond the borders of Kenya because it is a local product. But one year later, I can refer them now to the “good” part of this journey.
Did you get it right (with the clientele) from the onset or have they had to change with time?
I feel quite lucky to say we pretty much got it right with the clientele right from the get go, mainly because we did our homework and research well before we launched into the market. To date, our clientele has grown expansively from single user customers to distributors across Africa supplying to other retail stores.
What challenges do you face on a day-to-day basis?
Sometimes I wish I had 48 hours in a day. My days get busy- but I have learnt to balance it all out, know when to drop my tools and call it a day. Another challenge is ensuring we retain our quality consistently with each production. Local manufacturing has its own challenges hence we are very keen and strict on all the labwork and research before we release a product. Finally, there is also the issue of meeting the demand. Our demand to supply ratio is currently 4:1 but we are working on new ways and expansion plans to close this gap.
What are some unique pros and cons of going international?
Going international grows the revenue base quite significantly as most retailers will order larger quantities of products based on our Minimum Order Quantity (MOQ) to avoid paying for shipping every other time. Growing a brand in your country is easy, but it is an entirely new concept growing it in say, France. The psychographics of consumers is very different hence it has helped us improve our products in several ways, such as, our brand positioning and communication. The cons is that you somewhat lose control of your brand in certain aspects, such as brand communication and pricing. While we do give a guide as to what Marini Naturals should be sold for, you can never be sure of the situation on the ground.
Do you feel that women, being your key clients, have supported your venture and/or do they still need to do much more?
Mostly, yes. We get support from women from all walks of life. Established icons in society such as Julie Gichuru and Caroline Mutoko have supported and endorsed the brand on their social media pages. On the flip side however, there will always be the select few who would rather say and do things to try and tear you down. We have experienced it. My skin (and hair) is too thick for that though.
If you were to define success, what would it be?
Success for me is achieving the perfect balance in my life- my balance being love, happiness, health and my career. I feel successful that I have managed to move a concept from idea stage to proof of concept to a real revenue-generating venture. That in its own, is my own little achievement.
What has been a defining moment in the course of the business for you and the major key lessons?
Being listed by CNBC as Top 10 of the world’s hottest start-ups as well as by CNN as Africa’s Most Promising Start-Up. This opened up our business to new markets, including Burundi, South Africa, West Africa and even the Caribbean. I learnt to always be ready with enough stock to supply your demand.
What have you learnt in terms of leadership in the course of running your business?
- Look after your team’s needs, both personal and career-wise. They will help you build the empire. Their role is to serve the customers. Your role is to serve them.
- Delegation and trust. True leadership is not about creating followers but creating more leaders.
- It all starts with an idea. An idea which is power-charged is called a vision. If your vision as the founder and leader is not clear, don’t expect it to be clear to your stakeholders, your staff, your customers and the world in general.