While still at the university, the Economics student told his father that he was getting into business instead of seeking employment upon graduation. His old man wasn’t too happy about this. He wanted his son to get a job and make money first. But Stephen Nderitu was determined. He knew what he wanted, and nine years later, he is happy he chose this path; challenges and involved hard labour notwithstanding. Today, he co-owns Notify Logistics with his wife Hellen, a business that has hundreds of online business under it’s space-for-rent umbrella.
How did your business journey begin?
My first business was a movie shop. I was about to complete university. Then, another idea came to me; that I could start a crowdfunding platform, where startups could list in the platform their capital needs and then interested shareholders would buy shares. But the project, which I did with some friends, failed terribly. I was not able to get even one client. But it wasn’t a total loss, I came out of it having learnt a few things about software development. Also, at that time, we had been given some physical space at the Incubation Hub to work from at the University of Nairobi. It was there that I got to interact with some software developers and I took a keen interest in software development. It was something that piqued my curiosity.
When did you decide to take the plunge?
I just decided to give it a try. I used what I had learnt to further develop the crowdfunding idea. I came up with a crowdfunding software proposal; for small enterprises, where interested companies posted and people could contribute to buy a stake in the business. I could then take a commission of the proceeds.
I then sent proposals for software development to various companies. I got a call back for a meeting by one company. They liked the proposal and agreed to back it. And so the software was developed and commissioned.
We soon got a client. That was our first payment. This was so fulfilling that we photocopied and framed the cheque. This payment gave me immense motivation. From that moment, we buckled down on approaching more companies and presenting our proposals.
How did Notify Logistics then come up?
Notify started in 2017. My wife Hellen, who is the company’s co-founder and in charge of operations, had travelled abroad and while there, decided that she would start importing cosmetics which she could sell online. She did that, but faced one issue. Delivering the product to the customer was very complicated and tiresome. She also had some trouble with storage. One room in our house had already been converted into a store for the stock. So we decided to look for ways to solve these problems. We thought of a cost-sharing space somewhere in town and invited other people that we had known through their online selling ventures to share in our dream. Everyone stored their wares at home before then. The idea seemed to be popular with other vendors, and a business was born. We started a rent-a-shelf for online businesses.
How did you win the trust of vendors?
In the beginning, some vendors would ask us how they could be sure that we wouldn’t make away with their wares. But they trusted us and I think because we were offering a solution to a problem they were experiencing, they took the gamble.
How has the business grown?
We started with 12 customers. Our first shop could accommodate a maximum of 15 vendors. One of our very first vendors was a lady in the US, and another was a lecturer who was selling electronics. They had found an easy way to market their products and concentrate on other issues. Word started going round, and soon, online sellers were seeing the advantages we offered.
Today, our shop can accommodate 800 vendors. We opened this particular spot at Moi Avenue’s Braidwood House just recently and we currently have over 420 vendors. Our vendors do their own advertising and direct their customers to our location. We then do everything else for them. We have attendants who handle the customers and have transporters that we partner with to help in taking the products to the customers. We also cater for all the licences for the running of the business. We also receive the payment on behalf of the vendor. For every shelf, a vendor pays Sh3,000 per month.
We have 21 direct employees. Our Mombasa, Nakuru and Eldoret offices have a total of five employees. We have 82 businesses in our two shops in Mombasa, 34 in Nakuru and less than 20 in our new Eldoret branch.
All along, I had been supported by Hellen, my wife, who got a job immediately after we graduated. She gave me Sh30, 000 to set up.
What keeps you going?
I have an understanding spouse that supports what I do. This absolutely makes what I do easier. We talk about it and it gets doable.
Is there recovery after a suppressed Covid-19 period?
We obviously took a hit because most of the products we have on our shelves were deemed non-essential. For example, our shop at Ebrahims along Kimathi Street would make sales between Sh50,000 to Sh100,000 on any given day pre-Covid times That dropped to about Sh5,000 a day. Now, sales are up by say between Sh30,000 to Sh40,000. The store hosts 200 vendors.
What is your dream for Notify Logistics?
We want to serve 10,000 vendors by the end of the year. We are closing in on 1,000 vendors, most of them in Nairobi. In 10 years, we want to be a big supermarket for small business. We want to bring fashion and clothing together. We want to make it a one-stop shop for customers of imported goods. We want to be an international brand and allow cross-trade across Africa such that a Kenyan can sell a Maasai shuka in South Africa because Notify is in South Africa, and South Africans in Kenya can sell here as well.