Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Kenya business moving online?

Apologies in advance if this blog post comes over as more of a stream of conciousness...

For some time, I have been thinking about website based businesses and how they can generate revenue (unlike let's say - a blog, or rather, this blog).  Somebody I met for the first time last night, who by some miracle had read a post or two on this site, had a quick answer to my whinge when I said I wondered why I bothered with writing a blog for7 years since it can hardly be viewed as a revenue generating exercise.  He said; "well, not everything in life is about making money is it?"  I was firmly put in my place - but I am still fascinated by the question; how do websites make money - is it luck, one good idea or is there simply a huge amount amount of leg work involved in any successful business, be it web based or no. (I'm always on the look for the easy option, obviously....)

Apparently (for now) the highstreet is dead and ONLINE is where it's at.  Globally, shopping online has gone wild.  This trend is facilitated by a plethora of websites that sell things, websites that offer a market place for others to sell things through and websites that just offer free information (sponsored by advertisers), oh and there are also online magasines - (but do online mags every actually make any money? Really?)

Last weekend I spent time with someone visiting Kenya who has a business selling made-in-Kenya sandals online via a UK based website.  She loves her business but constantly struggles with issues of consistency, quality and challenges of matching up supply with demand.  Getting things made in Kenya involves dealing with local suppliers and producers and from what I can glean from friends involved in small, creative businesses here, a lot of heart ache is involved when suppliers fail to replicate the high quality expected from overseas online shoppers who are used to buying near perfect, low priced stuff from China.  In my opinion, the US, UK and Europe still have a long way to go before they are ready to accept authentic 'ethical' fashion from Africa - but that's another blog post.

Online Market Place:
So I moved my focus to web based businesses that are not actually selling their own stuff - but acting as a vehicle for other sellers.

I got interested in the big, successful UK based website called; - because I was reading about the founder of the business in a UK newspaper supplement.  She started her website (rather creatively - from her kitchen table) with a friend in 2006 (at around the time I started this blog).  The concept behind their web based business is to create a market place for quirky gift items that are not readily available in the shops.  Their business is now HUGE - but when I read the terms and conditions for the small scale suppliers who use their site - it got a bit ugly, with rules such as;  Do not approach customers directly with your own marketing material, do not use any sites similar to ours or you will be in breach of your contract - and so on...

I have looked at the website called Closet49 - that is doing a similar thing here in Kenya.  They are a fashion website offering Kenyan clothes, accessories and shoes from various stores locally.  You can pay via MPesa (rather than credit card - not everyone has one here in Kenya) and I guess the delivery is by courier (in the absence of the lovely door to door service of the UK Royal Mail).  The concept behind Closet49 is similar to - another successful, global online brand but I wonder how it will do?  Is there enough of a market here?

Doubtless, the number of new Kenyan web based businesses are increasing, reflecting trends that are happening around the rest of the world - but how successful are these sites and how many fall by the wayside after a year or two?  For instance, I think that the buy/sell website uzanunua that was launched in 2010 has now disappeared. 

My guess is that generating online revenue is a tough business.  My non-revenue generating attempt at moving this website to has been rocky so far and a bit of a waste of time, mainly because it seems only to act as a spam magnet.

Exciting new Kenya Fashion websites that I've just heard about:
Watch this Space - a Kenyan online fashion magazine by Cranium Ink
Blogs I know that have evolved into successful business websites:
Rock n Roll Bride

Let me hear your thoughts on this thorny matter?... The turnover of online businesses that crash and burn must be huge globally.  In the meantime, Best of British to all of those fledgling online businesses in Kenya that are popping up - I hope that you overcome the challenges and succeed!  No doubt I'll still be sitting at my crossroads to wait and watch....


Anonymous said...

Interesting post. A huge value is placed on the data online businesses accumulate and this can also be used to generate revenue. As well as mailing lists this includes Twitter and FACEBOOK(!) followers....your hatred of social media might mean you're missing a trick!!

Anonymous said...

If you are looking for ideas, look at If you are doing physical products really start small. What you are taking on is becoming an expert in logistics. Not a small task, but one best taken on gently. Sort of like starting a restaurant, cooking is just one of the skills really required to run a restaurant.

I would suggest looking at the lean startup ( approach. The premise is that a small startup business is not like a big business, and that what you need is to focus on is validated learning to reduce the amount effort and funding required.

I like this approach, because as it allows for the fact that approaches are constantly changing.

Also maybe you could start from where you are , i.e. your current audience. How many expats coming to Africa would like to be able to pay for a "first week survival kit" in a posting? I would imagine they would be willing to pay a premium, if they can order it online, and then on a given day, go to a location and pick it up.
To sell to a Western audience, I would think unique one of a kind gifts that have more meaning is what would be the way to go. There is a thriving business done on Have a look, might give you ideas.

Once you do decide on the business, look at,, or These are online businesses that help small businesses build out an online business without having to fork out so much money upfront.

Jason Stanley said...

Love your background on your blog :) lve from the deisgn team at scratch map

Humaun Kabir said...

I am deeply in love with every single piece of information you post here. Will be back often to read more updates!
business online

Harrison Adams said...

There's so much financial opportunity online, from creating ad-sponsored blogs to e-commerce websites. However, there are of course a lot of challenges posed by such. Though huge opportunities are available online, take note that there are several people who will take advantage of it in the most harmful ways—credit card fraud, for instance. Regardless, what you've posted here is very important. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Nice post. The online business is up and coming but still slow. These are some of my favorite shops/initiatives when it comes to online shopping in Kenya:
Fashionable high quality bags made in Kenya!
Shop groceries and have them delivered to your door.

Serah said...

Thank you for mentioning us here at Closet49 and we look forward to developing this market.

Anonymous said...

Miss your blog! Come back!

Richard said...

Great blog. Would be good if you could let us know of any expat events, bars, things for kids to do, etc in Kenya. Please add to British Expat Events
and feel free to join the community at <a href=">British expatriates online community</a>.



Anonymous said...

2 critical questions:
1. why still having this blog, you don't write regular any more.
2. you still consider yourself as an expat?! after so long in 1 and same country.

Anonymous said...

2 critical questions:
1. why still having this blog, you don't write regular any more.
2. you still consider yourself as an expat?! after so long in 1 and same country.

Anonymous said...


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Zainulth said...

Informative post. It is good that businesses in Kenya is coming online. The traders in Middle East countries can now check the businesses online.

Dick said...

I'm sorry you've stopped blogging.
I found your tales of life in Kenya very interesting.