6 September 2017

Kenyan Entrepreneurs Find Inspiration, Profit From China's Jack Ma

Photo: New Times
Jack Ma.
opinion

Nairobi — When Jack Ma, the founder and chairman of China's online retail giant Alibaba, visited Kenya in July, big names in the country's business sector jostled for space to hear his speech.

As the country's attention turned to the eloquent entrepreneur who founded the world's fastest-growing e-commerce giant, Jane Kimunge, a clothes seller in Nairobi, thought Ma was a Chinese government official who might had come to oversee one of the infrastructure projects funded by China.

Being one of the many business people sourcing clothes for sale in Kenya through Alibaba, Kimunge's fortune, however, is closely intertwined with Ma's company. On the day Ma arrived in Kenya, Kimunge's order from China had just landed in Nairobi. From the order, Kimunge made a whooping 400 U.S. dollars.

"I was introduced to Alibaba.com by my sister in-law who live in the United States. Initially I used to get my clothes from Uganda where most sellers buy from. It took a while for her to convince me to start shopping through Alibaba, which is way cheaper and the profit margin much higher," she told Xinhua.

Kimunge, who is celebrating her 15th year in the business, has for the last four years been buying all her goods through Alibaba. She regrets why she never discovered the e-commerce website early enough as her profits for the four years have tripled.

"I feel bad that for over 11 years, I would have made much more than I made, I would be very far now but I am happy I now know better. All I need is a laptop, internet to get rolling ... One of the reasons I like Alibaba is the convenience and its wide range of choices on offer," said Kimunge.

She expects her 3,000-dollar order, her biggest in a long time, to arrive into the country in a fortnight.

"With December round the corner, I had to make a big order since most Kenyans now shop for Christmas towards the end of November which is less than two months away," she said.

As for John Ngetich, a school uniform seller in the northwest Kenyan town of Eldoret, Alibaba is the foundation upon which his business is anchored.

Ngetich stumbled on Alibaba three years ago, a time he almost gave up in life after an elusive search for a white collar job.

"Having sent over 100 applications and none coming through, I spent most of my time online and it is during one of my online jaunts in 2014 I came across Alibaba. At first I didn't know how to go about it, I did my research and started chatting with sales agents online. I made my first order six months after and from the order I made 360 dollars after investing 600 dollars," he recalled.

Ngetich said when he settled on selling school uniforms, he sent a sample to China where he sourced for a range of school uniforms.

"I call it (Alibaba) my theater of dreams, since until now I don't think I would have gotten any of the jobs I had applied for and anyway, no employer will be willing to pay me what I make from my business," he further says.

Ngetich, a computer programmer, said even though he didn't manage to attend any of Ma's meetings in Nairobi, he managed to learn from the little interaction he had with the Chinese billionaire on his TV screen.

And like Ma, who got turned down many times by potential employers before he started Alibaba, Ngetich believed his star too will shine one day.

"Ma's story is replete with lessons for millions of Kenyan youth who are complaining about lack of jobs, if you have an idea don't sleep on it, it took Ma the first step to build Alibaba, which is now helping build millions of businesses like mine," Ngetich said.

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