What would you do with an extra Sh80 that you had left over at the end of the day? This is the question Elizabeth Wambui found herself contemplating in August 2011. At the time, she was a housewife in Nairobi’s Dandora estate.
Her husband expected her to take care of their daughter, cook, clean the house and purchase products for the household. Before he left the house in the morning, he’d give Elizabeth Sh200 to take care of the day’s budget. “I loved taking care of my daughter at home and presiding over a lively household, but I always felt like I could do much more with my life,” Elizabeth says.
She was a careful spender. Of the money she received, she’d use just Sh120 buying groceries and other essentials. That left her with Sh80.
One day, tired of days that changed very little, she made the decision to start a business with the cash that had been left over. She purchased a packet of cigarettes worth Sh75, carried her daughter out of the house and set up a makeshift stall on a street near her home.
Within an hour, she had sold all the sticks in the pack.
“From that packet, I made a pro t of Sh55. I saved that money under the mat- tress and waited eagerly for the following day so I could do it all over again,” Elizabeth says.
For her, it was a dream come true – she was finally making her very own money. Still, she was worried about whether the business would last and what people would think about it, so she kept her hustle a secret from her husband and friends.
“It was also important for me to focus on the business without having people interfering with it in its early days with their analysis and opinions,” she says.
When she realised the business was holding steady, Elizabeth decided to grow her capital to set up an even larger business. For this to happen, she needed to sell more than cigarettes.
“I added sweets to my stall. After this, I slowly added crisps, mobile phone credit cards, buns and mandazis.” Her list of products grew depending on what her customers would ask for. And, of course, the more she added based on market needs, the bigger the profits became. “Some men, heading to work, would buy my mandazis and ask if I had tea as well. So I started preparing tea for such customers.”
By this time, her business had grown to the point where she could no longer hide it from her family and friends.
But as she had suspected, not everyone was happy for her. There were ‘friends’ who thought of her business as waste of time, and others who congratulated her for keeping busy but didn’t think her stall would amount to anything significant.
Nonetheless, Elizabeth kept her eyes on a goal she had set early on: Setting up a fully edged shop. Her greatest challenge, however, was where to store the profits she was making. “As a housewife, you’re not exposed that much to the financial system, but it doesn’t take an educated mind to know one exists,” she says.
Elizabeth, who made it through to Form 4, was told about the benefits of a chama by one of the friends who truly meant their congratulations once they found out about her business. In 2011, she became part of a women’s group that had been set up to improve the livelihoods of vulnerable groups.
And just two years after she started out with a pack of cigarettes, Elizabeth was able to set up a shop that has eventually grown beyond physical goods to offering money transfer services.
“What I have managed to do is the convergence of luck and hard work, accomplished with passion,” she says.
“I used money for business when it felt right, and saved what I had in the absence of a sensible idea. The stock I have now is worth thousands of shillings. I don’t know what I’m worth, but it sure is a lot more than what it was four years ago when I set up this shop.”