Prior to Supamamas, Christine had a tours and travels company that unfortunately didn’t take off. She also worked at an auto mechanic company. She served many roles in her 2 ½ year tenure in the company, including the role of tea girl. It’s not every day you hear of an MBA holder doing such a job, but Christine did just that, learning the tools of the business trade there prior to founding her award-winning company.
We sat down with this Supamama to find out about her journey.
A little background about you.
I am a mother of one. I am an entrepreneur. I have been in business for about 3 years. My company is called Supamamas. My inspiration behind it was to come up with a platform that will inspire, inform and connect mothers. My focus is moms. The reason behind this was because the moment I became a mother I realized that there was a gap, information-wise for mothers. So I wanted to come up with something holistic that would empower mothers, personally and professionally.
What prompted you to start a company solely focusing on mothers?
My background is in marketing. My degree (B.Com) (USIU) is in Marketing. For my MBA (Liverpool) I also did Marketing. So for me marketing became a part of who I am. When I became a mother I wondered who was providing information to other mothers. Which companies are churning out products/events for mothers and how I can I connect them to mothers? So I felt there was a gap in terms of how events are done and the kind of information available to mothers.
Most of information for mothers is from other countries: the UK, South Africa, and the U.S. I wanted to create a local platform that catered to mothers.
How did it feel coming from an employment background and plunging into business? It must have been scary at first?
People react to things differently. My kind of personality is such that when I decide to do something my focus is how it is going to end not on how tough the journey will be or where the money will come from. My initial focus was to hold a few events and eventually build a website.
I had a few false starts but for me they were lessons. Even now I don’t prefer to call them failures they were learning opportunities for me. When starting out a business a lot of people prioritize capital and having connections for the business to work. My focus was that I had an idea called Supamamas and I knew it could make a difference and that I was going to make it a reality.
I started off with a few people, about twenty or so. The number dwindled down to about six. The six of us brought the mothers that we knew to the very first event we held. However the partnership didn’t work and I had to go back to the drawing board.
I regrouped and rebranded the company. I then held my first event, got twenty three mothers to attend and the rest is history.
How much was the start-up capital for your first event?
Kshs. 60,000. That was back in 2011.
How did your marketing background/schooling influence your business?
For my MBA, being around international students from all over the world really opened my eyes. I was classmates with authors of books and I wondered what was so different about my country.
We are brought up with the mindset of get an MBA, get a job, become a brand manager and then head of marketing. The influence and diversity of my classmates gave me the guts to be different and to think differently. My MBA classmates and also at USIU challenged my way of thinking and were a key part in urging me towards being the best I could be.
So for me education is good but don’t bank entirely on your degrees. We are gifted differently, so your gifts should help your earn a living. It doesn’t matter what papers you have.
Your first partnership didn’t work out. What lessons did you draw from it?
I learnt that if you ever want to go into business understand what you want to do. If you are to involve people be concise about their roles.
If you are to create a partnership, company e.t.c, it needs to be documented very clearly and each person’s roles spelt out. The problem with women is that we tend to do a lot of our things emotionally. So we tend to mix friendship and business which doesn’t bode well most of the time.
If you are going to pay someone, first find out whether you can afford them. If you can’t afford them but are offering them a certain stake in the business, you need to understand what that entails.
Structure needs to be in place and you need to have your paperwork done.
“Being a mother doesn’t mean that we put our dreams on hold.”
What has been your biggest challenge and how have you managed to overcome it?
My biggest challenge has been or let me say was people’s inability to understand what Supamamas was all about. Some people thought I was doing it for fun others thought it was a huge chama (welfare group) of women and they wanted to join. Guys emailed thinking we had a database of women for them to date!
What has helped is the continued education of what it is exactly that we do. People come to our events and they start to get what the company is all about, that we have a website catering to mothers and babies.
You had your baby right around the same time your business was starting out. It must have been difficult juggling a business and a baby?
Being a mother doesn’t mean that we put our dreams on hold. Having a husband who may have a better well-paying job doesn’t mean you have to scale down for him. I was going to become a mother, a professional and a business owner either way. All I needed was to find some balance.
I can assure you I put in a lot of hours in the beginning. My day used to start as early as 4.am, researching on ways to better my business both locally and abroad. Around 7 am, after checking that the baby and everything in the household was fine I’d go for my meetings.
Coming back at 5pm I would go to the gym, supervise/cook supper and most of the time instead of going back to bed I’d go back to work.
So for me being in business eventually became my lifestyle.
What has brought you the most joy from the business?
We do several events, some for babies and others focused squarely on developing mothers professionally. When a mother tells me that I inspired her or that a certain event made her to better herself or even made her view things differently, it means a lot to me.
I’ve built personal relationships with the mothers who come to the events and that personal touch has been of great importance to me. It enables the mothers to email and get in touch with me at any time with comments and suggestions on how to better things in the future.
Did you have any mentors?
The higher you go professionally, the busier you become. So when you approach someone to mentor you they’ll tell you they’re busy or they may just be unavailable. Human nature is that we tend to assume that the person is arrogant, ignoring you or is simply acting high and mighty.
You can’t be mentored unless you approach people to mentor you. In my case, my approach was that I looked for someone in my field who has excelled and whom I would like to emulate. I thought of approaching Joanne Mwangi, CEO of Professional Marketing Services (PMS) Group, one of the best marketers in the country.
By the time I sat down with her, it was approximately one and a half years from the time I had first approached her. I had sent her emails and messages. Eventually, I had a 30 minute sit-down session with her. That small amount of time I had with her saved me lessons I would have taken roughly a year or so to learn.
So when you get that opportunity to be mentored, try learning as much as possible from the person. Honour your mentor’s time by implementing what you have learnt from the person so that they can see the amount of progress you’ve achieved.
I didn’t go for single mentor. I had to go search for and approach people who were brilliant in their respective fields and try to learn as much as possible from them. Joanne is good at marketing so I approached her for her expertise in that field. I had to approach people good at financial management, people relations, and all aspects of running a business.
Secondly, I invested in books. As Kenyans we don’t have a reading culture. I believe if someone wants to improve in a certain field, you have to read books on it. So I invested in a lot of books and even if I am not exactly reading a book, I read online: blogs, websites, etc.
Would you advocate for mentorship?
I do. I have mentored a few people. In my company Supamamas, I have created a group called Supasistas. These are ladies excelling in their chosen fields, either in employment or business.
We have done a mentorship programme at USIU. We hope to do more. Mentorship is something I am very passionate about.
However, whether a potential mentor acquiesces or not you shouldn’t give up. Keep approaching them and continue communicating with them. And that little time you eventually manage to get, make good use of it. It really does change your life.
Describe your typical day
At the moment my day begins at 5:30am. I read emails, do some research. From 8:30 to 10:00 I do a lot of office work. I have a lot of meetings as well.
I try my best to end my day at 4:30 but if not, I usually end it at 5:30. On good month I go to the gym at 5:30 do some aerobics. I am currently doing boxing.
I try balance office time, personal time and of course family time.
I don’t take work home as much as I use to.
Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
My company will have been in top 100. I will have built it to be one of the best platforms for companies that target mothers and kids to market through both live (this is at events) and also digitally (through the website).
Any resource/book/app that you use that has influenced you that you would recommend to others?
An app not so much, maybe websites. Entrepreneur.com, Forbes.com and Forbes Woman are my cup of tea. Social websites too so that I can see what others are doing.
If you could give any advice to an aspiring entrepreneur what would you tell them?
Keep your eyes on the ball because it can get very rough. One can get easily discouraged.
Build your confidence because entrepreneurship is very lonely because you have to have complete faith that your idea will work out.
Spend time with yourself, get to know yourself, know your strengths. If you have weaknesses that you think will be detrimental, find people who will mentor you or partner with you in that respect.
I did learn to be my own friend.
Gratitude is important. Remember to always go back and thank the people who built and supported you when you were starting out. Thank them in whichever way. Work on and build your relationships.
If you have detrimental relationships, just walk away. Time is a great tool. It’ll tell you what was worth and what was not.
Never ever burn your bridges. At whatever cost, never.
Family is important. Building a business can be so consuming. It is the only thing that is on your mind, first thing in the morning, last thing when you go to sleep. So one can be easily neglect family. Never let go of what’s important, and that is family.
“We are gifted differently. Never try to compare yourself with anyone.”
Any words/saying that has influenced or is a mantra for you?
Napoleon Hill’s “What the mind can conceive the mind can achieve.”
Stephen Covey’s “Begin with the end in mind.” If you can’t see the end, there really is no point of beginning it at all.
Any parting shot?
Success is perceived differently. We are gifted differently. Never try to compare yourself with anyone. You just need to find your gifts and if you embark on that journey to know yourself, it will be one of the most worthwhile journeys one can take in this world.