The Fear of Unemployment Pushed me to Start My Own Cafe at 22. – Brian Makori, Whispering Bamboo, Roysambu.

A few months ago, 22-year old Brian Makori made a decision to venture into the food industry as an entrepreneur. Brian now owns and manages Whispering Bamboo an eatery outlet in Roysambu, Nairobi.

He is among the few self-employed youths in Kenya running a business like he is. Many youths in Kenya have great profitable business ideas that never see the light of day in their reality due to lack of support and capital.

Brian studied a Bachelor of Science in Hospitality and Tourism at Kenyatta University and is meant to graduate in 2021. And, like many other young Kenyan, finding an internship let alone a job proved a nightmare.

“Kenya’s rate of unemployment is really high. People used to say that getting a job in Kenya is difficult. I never knew how difficult it was until I experienced firsthand.” Brian.

But unlike the majority, he got an opportunity to start his own business. His small café business makes him a good amount of money that he would otherwise not have.

Brian Makori, Owner Whispering Bamboo, Roysambu, Nairobi.

Conception of Whispering Bamboo

“The fact that there was a very high possibility of being among the unemployed youth in Kenya was a hard pill to swallow. I didn’t want to be another number in the unemployment statistics and so I considered starting my own café business.” Brian says.

Having studied BSc Hospitality and Tourism and having experience in the hotel industry through internships, starting his own café was the only familiar thing he would do.

“My internship experience at Safari Park Hotel me a picture similar to running a café. This experience and my love for cooking good food made my decision-making process a little bit easier.”

Whispering Bamboo was Brian’s idea and plan to hit two birds with one stone: being self-employed and doing what he loves. Not everybody gets to do what they love under their own management.

Most people have ideas but working on bringing these ideas into reality is a challenge for many. Brian wanted to see his idea become a real café but that was not without fear and doubt of whether his idea would fail or not.

“I constantly kept thinking of how things would not work out but then, I was not afraid to try and think of its success. So many businesses die and mine is not guaranteed to succeed. But again, if this failed, I wouldn’t regret it one bit.”

Planning the Start-up

“I underestimated what comes with planning a new business. At 22 years old and being a first time entrepreneur, I had no clue of what I was doing but I was more than ready to learn on the job. And with additional help from my mother, I pulled through and Whispering Bamboo is now a reality.”

Business plan.

“I always knew business planning is very important. All important aspects to be considered while starting a cafe business were in my plan. I came up with a reasonable budget.

However, even with a plan and a budget, things were different on the ground than they were on paper. The budget exceeded and some things did not turn out as I expected on paper. But, I learned to adjust and cross out some aspects when I needed to. ”

Start-up capital.

“Finding capital is one of the many hurdles most entrepreneurs find challenging young or old. Some entrepreneurs have personal savings as a capital option, and others have loans as an option. I was not able to acquire a loan from any financial institution and my savings were not enough. I ran out at some point but my mother loaned me.

Everything including permits, equipment, and furnishing cost me about Ksh.200, 000.

For some people, this might be a lot. However, what you spend as capital is influenced by your business location, size, and personal preferences when it comes to equipment and your café set up.”

Opening Whispering Bamboo

“Once I had ticked all my to-do list, I knew I was supposed to open Whispering Bamboo but I never felt like I was really ready. One of my mentors told me that if I waited to feel ready to open I would never open my café because I would never feel ready.

So if you wait to feel ready to open your business, that day may never come. You just need to put yourself out there and wait for feedback from the market and that’s exactly what I did. Was I scared? Yes. But I did it anyway and that’s a risk I was willing to take.

First Days of Business

“First days are first days. You are excited but business is slow. I had heard this from other entrepreneurs and I expected that for my café too. People don’t know you but the curious ones want to know who you are and what you can offer.  

Some customers came to my café and never came back while others came and stuck around. Most of the returning customers gave me positive feedback. I decided to back on the positive feedback and focused on making a few changes here and there from the negative feedback.

Importantly, I was able to tell which dishes are doing well than others on my menu. My pilau is the bestselling dish in my café. Once I discovered that, I started to make sure I never run out of pilau for my customers.

Your first days are you observing days and a moment of truth. Listening to your customers comes in handy in adjusting your café – your menu basics, specials, etc. And above all, how you attend to your customers.

Key Lessons learnt in running a café

“So far, I have learned that customers want to eat good food every time they come to my café and I must offer that.

Apart from good food, customers want affordability and value for their money and you have to give them that every time they interact with you.

Great customer service is key in any business. Above good food and affordable prices, great customer service is what will keep them coming back.”

Growing Whispering Bamboo

“From the word go, I knew that I wanted Whispering Bamboo to be different from other eateries in the area. Roysambu has many eateries and being the new eatery next door, growing the business is my priority. I had to come up with ways to give my ‘next doors’ a run for their money in the long run.

Even though the days are slow because am still in the beginning phase, I had somehow underestimated the response.

On bad days I make Ksh.1, 000 and on good days, I make about Ksh.2, 500. That about Ksh.50, 000 – Ksh.60, 000 a month and it’s just the beginning. I expect to make double or even more monthly when I expand my customer base.

I am currently doing free deliveries around Roysambu for customers who make their orders on phone. However, I want to expand my reach by registering with Goggle My Business, Uber-eats, Jumia Food, and Glovo.  

I also offer catering services to customers for their events and plan to grow my outdoor catering capacity with time.

Giving customers what they need and a customer experience difficult to find in an eatery next door is my goal.  My key is to give them good food, a great customer experience, and value for their money and their time.”

Final Thoughts…

“Starting a business is somehow a different experience for different entrepreneurs. But, one thing in common. Starting a small or a big business in whatever industry is not easy. However, starting a business in a field you have experience in or expertise is a boost.

Starting Whispering Bamboo gave me sleepless nights, long days, and many ups and downs.  Above all that, I am excited to wake up every morning and head to my café to serve my customers with good food and make them feel good.”