Today on Pearls And Heels we feature Nyambura Otieno aka @maumausdaughter on Twitter. Nyambura Otieno says “I’m a self-starter who quit employment around two years back, and I am still trying to find my footing in the business world, with a special interest in the global shipping and logistics industry. I am currently operating between Dubai, China, and Kenya (sounds bigger than it really is). At the moment I’m based in Canton, China as a freelancer in close partnership with Clicks International, a logistics and clearing and forwarding outfit.”
- Describe your typical day.
I mostly work from home, or anywhere really as long as I have an internet connection. I have a yoga/meditation session at five in the morning, and then I get online and reply to queries, get in touch with suppliers, do quotations for clients back home etc. If I happen to have clients who’ve travelled out, I pick them up from their hotels and take them out for breakfast before meeting suppliers most of whom start operations at around eleven o’clock in the morning all the way to eleven at night. On such days, the close of business for me is way beyond midnight. On other days, I have to be at our warehouse to receive purchased goods, or to load containers for transportation to the port of Mombasa. It’s safe to say that I rarely have a day that is much like the one before it.
- What did you want to be when you grew up?
Growing up I wanted to be a doctor, then it changed to wanting to be a lawyer, but I ended up getting a Bachelor of Arts degree from UON as the government decided for me according to my grades. Before university, I worked in a small cyber cafe/gaming arcade for a lady who literally let me run the whole show so I ended up learning a lot from all the responsibilities I held at such a young age.
I’ve worked in different places both during and after my bachelor’s. I started off working in a coffee farm/real estate firm in an agrotourism set-up throughout my campus life. I then worked in a bank after school, and after that a small media company. The last job I held in Kenya was in a major paint company as a Sales Associate for construction projects. A customer of mine from the paint company who has a shipping business (Clicks International) convinced me to visit China, learn the ropes and replicate a similar outfit in Dubai on his behalf because I had been to Dubai before and I knew the outlay. I didn’t want to quit my job so I went on leave and went over to China for two weeks, and I was completely sold! I handed in my resignation and relocated to Dubai in early 2015. I started from scratch and built a working model before relocating to China.
- If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?
I’d stop worrying too much and start earlier. I’ve always been a risk taker but at some point, I was caught up in the comfort zone that I didn’t want to get out of because I didn’t know how things would work without a regular source of income especially being a single mother and at that point, I was handling all the responsibilities that come with parenthood alone. That being said, I don’t regret taking my time, I feel like it was an incubation period and I spent it gathering knowledge and energy to make the much-needed leap.
- What would you say are the top three skills needed to succeed at your job?
People management skills – I work in an environment where I have to deal with people at an interpersonal level. I’m the middle person and I have to mediate between my clients and my suppliers for any business to be closed. I’ve learnt to work with both sides until a mutual point of contact is reached.
Creative thinking – sometimes I’m required to come up with quick solutions to problems that suddenly crop up. For instance, something may be urgently needed in Nairobi and I have to devise a way to get it to the required person without using the usual channels which are rigorous and take time.
Resourcefulness – in this line of work, when people ask questions they expect answers because they might not really understand what goes on behind the scenes. To make clients comfortable I have to think very fast on my feet and I have to always have a lot of information on where whatever is needed can be found.
- As a professional how is it working in Nairobi? Is Nairobi open to what you do or what could be better?
I don’t exactly operate from Nairobi but most of my business, I would say 90% comes from there. Most commodities sold in Nairobi are imported from China or elsewhere. I face some challenges like time differences, sometimes someone has an urgent order from Nairobi, but it’s already nighttime in China, or they need to send money for an urgent purchase especially first-time clients, and a transfer takes three working days and they get impatient and agitated.
There’s also a communication barrier because when you pass all information via a phone to someone you’ve never met or interacted with, some things are bound to be misinterpreted or taken out of context, unlike face-to-face interactions. That’s where people management skills come in. That aside, there are also opportunities as much as there are challenges, in the short time I’ve been in this business, I have interacted with all sorts of people in the business food chain, from the lowest to the highest in the pecking order, which has really expanded my network. I’ve had the opportunity and pleasure of learning different types of business operations because for me to serve my clients better, they sometimes have to educate me on exactly what their business models are. My mind has really expanded and I am gathering so much information as I go which I feel will serve me really well in my future endeavours.
That aside, there are also opportunities as much as there are challenges. In the short time, I’ve been in this business, I have interacted with all sorts of people in the business food chain, from the lowest to the highest in the pecking order, which has really expanded my network. I’ve had the opportunity and pleasure of learning different types of business operations because for me to serve my clients better, they sometimes have to educate me on exactly what their business models are. I have really expanded my knowledge base and I am gathering a lot of information as I go along which I feel will serve me really well in my future endeavours.
- What motivates you?
I’m motivated by young people especially women who are my clients, who have managed to build their import businesses from scratch against seemingly impossible odds.
- How do you define success?
To me, success is when your input meets your expectations whatever they may be. Success for me is not a profound state of things at the end of a long winding road. Sometimes it’s me pushing myself to do a certain yoga pose until it becomes part of my routine. Sometimes it’s managing to have a cake delivered to my boy on time on a special occasion, or picking out the perfect dress for my little girl. Whatever the case, I’ve learnt to pat myself on the back for a job well done and to receive the joy it brings me.
- Who has been your greatest inspiration?
My greatest inspiration is my mentor, a savvy businessman, one Mr. Ken Otieno, who prodded me to venture out into the world when I wasn’t sure of myself and taught me the ropes of what I’m currently doing. I remember meeting up with him when I first landed in China and how amazed I was that he could speak Mandarin, I had no idea. He told me, you got this, give yourself time and here I am two years later not speaking Mandarin. I can hear some though. I still have a lot to learn from him in terms of business and he’s my go-to person whenever I have a crisis I can’t solve by myself.
- What is your favourite aspect of your job?
My favourite aspect of my job is that I get to travel and see the world, meet different people, and handle large sums of money that isn’t mine (sic). On the real though, there’s so much to learn about business and life in general from other cultures. Not a day goes by that I don’t see something that could change someone’s life somewhere back home. I don’t always act on it, but whenever I can, I spread the word, especially through social media and amazingly, I’ve seen people improve their livelihoods from the little morsels of information I broadcast from time to time.
- What would you say are the key elements to being successful?
I would not say there’s a map to success and if there is, I haven’t found it yet, but I’d say commitment, ethics, patience, determination, and confidence play a big role in growth. It takes a lot of time to grow something from nothing and there are days you want to mute the alarm and not get up, but then sleep doesn’t pay the bills, I can still hear my mom’s voice dropping this signature statement every morning.
For me, I just keep pushing and going towards both my immediate and my long-term goals, but I’ve also learnt when to quit because it is possible to find yourself in situations of wasted energy and zero results. It is necessary to understand when to redirect your energy to things that matter.
- What advice would you give somebody just starting out in your line of work?
What I do is tough, there are long financial dry spells sometimes, as in any business. I’d advise somebody to first research and understand the business model, don’t get into something before you understand the pros and the cons in great depth. Also patience, knowledge of market trends, knowledge of your customers, vigorous and strategic marketing, and building trust with your clients for return business and for fresh business through recommendations.
Also, be patient, be knowledgeable about market trends and your customers. You also need to learn about strategic marketing, and building trust with your clients for return business and for fresh business through recommendations.
- What has been your most satisfying moment in terms of career?
My most satisfying moment was loading my first container in Dubai. I started my operation there from scratch, it felt so good to be trusted by people with their goods worth so much, some of whom I had never even met, they just came by recommendations and referrals. That was the first tangible result since I got into this line of work and I’ve never been more grateful.
- What makes you happy?
Being in a healthy state of mind. I don’t take it for granted in today’s world of chaos and I try as best as I can to take care of myself as an entirety, in the best way I’m able to.
Also, noodles. Actually any food. I’m always a hungry East African Girl.
- What are your hobbies? What do you do in your non-work time?
Street food and Canton is a haven for this, every few metres from where I live is a local cooking something different from his neighbor right there on the street. I like long walks at night, (it’s very secure out here so on the days I can’t sleep I walk since my body takes forever to adjust to a new timezone), so I wander off most nights when it’s really quiet and watch traffic lights and cars from footbridges. I also happen to love reading (not necessarily books) but I don’t engage in it as often as I should. I also enjoy sitting on the rooftop of my building whenever I can to watch the sunrise, I draw a lot of needed energy from nature.
- Where do you see yourself in around 10 years?
+In ten years if all goes well, I’d love to be in manufacturing, preferably building materials like flooring, doors, and windows. I think it’s time we took manufacturing in Kenya seriously, not every little thing has to be imported. Hopefully, the government will endeavour to create an environment where citizens can get involved in manufacturing at affordable costs because I believe the market is there and people are ready to support local businesses.
If you would like to find out more about importing from China you can find out more from Nyambura. Find her on her twitter @maumausdaughter & you can also email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also get in touch with her on the following number 0722708563 or her Chinese line +8613229463289.
Pearls And Heels: Sandra Chepngeno Belyon