From Kiosk Life to CEO
Isis Nyongo is currently the CEO of Mum’s Village, a vibrant online community for mothers. She has had an illustrious career being part of teams that launched Google, inMobi and MTV on the continent.
Isis started entrepreneurship young. When she was about 6, she and her older brothers bought sweets and snacks from the kiosk and set up a small stand on her parents’ parking lot. We caught up with her and asked her to share her experiences as a female entrepreneurs.
What was your first business?
My first business was as a kiosk re-seller as part of a family, rather “sibling business”. I think I was about 6 and two of my older brothers and I would buy sweets/snacks from the kiosk and set up a small stand in our maisonette parking lot. We’d mark the items up and our neighbours were great customers – I guess because it saved them the 500 meter walk or else they just found it entertaining. We even had a framed picture of Former President Moi to comply with regulatory requirements of all businesses having the president’s photo visible.
What keeps you up at night? What drives you?
Far too many things keep me up at night. I actually think that this phrase must’ve been coined by an entrepreneur as one sees opportunity constantly – and that buzz of anticipation of trying something new the next day is what makes it hard to still your mind at night. I’m driven by the potential to make improvements in everyday life for women in Kenya – and that brings so much possibility. Along with a rather unquiet mind.
What does motherhood mean to you?
It’s an evolving meaning for me and perhaps will continue to change. Right now it means learning how to adjust my parenting approach to meet the different needs of my two children.
How are you teaching your kids to be entrepreneurial?
Since my kids are both toddlers, it recently occurred to me that documenting the journey would be helpful otherwise it could all be a blur. I do this by writing email memos to them (yes, they both have email addresses) on entrepreneurial lessons that week that include photos and videos where relevant. It’s turning out to be a lot of fun and forces me to reflect more frequently than I’d do otherwise. So these ‘lessons’ will enable to them to make more informed choices and have a glimpse into the past when they are ready to digest it all.
Balancing family and career is a recurring challenge for many business owners and young professionals. How do you do it?
What you said already -it’s a challenge. I don’t have a magic formula or words of wisdom apart from encouraging people to live integrated lives. Family and career are not separate things for entrepreneurs at the early stages of ventures. One has to get comfortable with these blurred lines and be creative about which boundaries to set and when.
What do you think could be done to help more female entrepreneurs succeed?
Money is the single most important thing right now. Put capital in the hands of female entrepreneurs and then we can talk about everything else.
What challenges do you feel women entrepreneurs face?
I have frequent conversations with female entrepreneurs across sectors and the themes that emerge are fairly consistent
1) Access to the appropriate capital.
2) Inherent biases that prevent them from being taken as seriously as a male counterpart with a similar profile.
3) Work/life balance.
What has been the most rewarding part of running a business?
It’s rewarding to create jobs and opportunities for the incredible women (and a few men!) who have joined me on this journey. It brings a different sense of reward and responsibility as an employer.
What has been most challenging?
Wishing I knew when I started what I know now — I can dwell too often on ‘I wish we’d known X’ when in reality, how could we have known until we tried.
What advice would you give other female entrepreneurs?
Get in the arena. Just insert ‘woman’ in this famous FDR quote “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat
Article by: Isaac Nderitu, Centum Foundation
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