- August 28, 2020
28-year-old Pamela Muriuki is the founder and CEO of Gift Chain Africa Limited, a fintech company that aims to transform the retail landscape in Africa by eliminating inefficiencies around processes in the sector. A data scientist and enthusiast tech-prenuer with a sharp focus in retail business development, Pamela began to appreciate the critical pain points in the retail industry after having worked in it for five years. This motivated her to come up with solutions that would benefit both the retailer and end consumers. Gift Chain Africa not only simplifies the processes of buying and distributing e-vouchers, but it also enables retailers to convert physical cash into e-money at the point of sale.
The 2020 Standard Chartered Women in Tech finalist shares, with Damaris Agweyu, some insights from her entrepreneurial journey.
Pamela, How was Giftpesa born?
After graduating from Maseno University with a degree in Economics, I got an internship opportunity at Tuskys Supermarkets, where I later got confirmed to work as a data analyst. I worked on analytics and data and then moved on to supply chain. I began to appreciate the challenges in this sector and realized they presented a viable business opportunity. I worked at Tuskys for three years before moving to another supply chain firm, and by then, I had gained a lot of insights about the retail space.
Additionally, I was attending a lot of weddings, baby showers and birthdays and most conversations in these spaces revolved around gifting…what do you gift someone on these occasions? People were relying heavily on vouchers as an answer to this question. Indeed during my wedding, I got a lot of vouchers, shopped for all I needed and still had some leftover. I wondered what to do with the remaining vouchers that had an expiration date. I didn’t want to waste them. What if they got lost? Those are real challenges that many people face. So I went ahead and did some research.
I could see that there were plenty of gifting companies around, but their methods were not convenient. Firstly, you have to have an email address, and secondly, your gift comes in the form of a physical card which can get lost, damaged or stolen. If I could buy airtime with my phone, why couldn’t I buy a voucher using the same method?
I wondered why no one had come up with something different, and that is how Giftpesa was born, one Sunday afternoon, after church.
How then does Giftpesa address these challenges?
Giftpesa is a management gifting platform that allows someone to have a voucher on their mobile phone and use it anytime and anywhere. It can only be lost if you lose your mobile phone and even then if you still have your number we can re-credit your voucher to your new phone. It’s a little like Mpesa- if you lose your line, its replaced and you still have your account intact.
With Giftpesa, you don’t have to keep wondering where your voucher is. It’s easier to send a voucher to your mum who lives in the rural area- because it’s all done via a mobile phone. It has also opened up the retail space to allow users to shop for whatever they want, wherever they want. In short, Giftpesa gives people a lot more options than traditional vouchers.
What challenges have you faced in your entrepreneurial journey, and how have you overcome them?
Entrepreneurship is a tough journey, especially before your start-up takes off. You need a lot of patience, you need consistency, and you need to have that ‘never say die’ spirit. You will have clients who never close on business, funding that fails to come through and promises that are broken – that’s why I say it requires a lot of patience.
Last year was especially challenging for me because that was when I was expecting my first child. But the good thing is that my office is close to home. And when COVID happened, everyone started working from home which was also an opportunity in itself- for me as a new mum. And being a tech firm, with or without COVID, I don’t have to be physically present. I only need my laptop and can work from anywhere.
I also have a family that brings out the best in me and a very supportive team that I work with. For that matter, I would advise anyone who is starting out to get the right people to work with; people that have the same vision as you.
Have you ever felt like giving up?
Of course! When I was starting out. Sometimes I would ask myself, do I just go and find a job where I will be assured of my salary at the end of the month? Then I would remember the reason I started this- it was not so that I could give up when things got tough. And so I kept telling myself if others have made it, why not me? That allowed me to persist on my journey. I also am a staunch Christian and believe God has come through for me in so many ways.
Do you enjoy what you do?
I really enjoy what I do. Running the company as a young mum and a wife has its challenges. But I have found a balance. You see, it’s all intertwined, and you need to find a balance that will bring the best out of you in all that you do. I need to be a good mum, a good leader, a good wife and a good role model- I have been given all these opportunities, and it’s up to me to make things work.
What’s your advice to young people who might want to get to business?
The first step is terrifying but do it anyway. You may have an idea but if you don’t execute then its worthless. Just be bold. And make sure your business is sustainable because sustainability is key…and that comes with giving your customers value. If a client sees the value you are offering; they’ll most likely come through. Personally, my customer is the most valuable asset I have. Because it is this same customer that what will give me repeat business and recommend my services to other potential customers.
For many people, COVID 19 has been a considerable obstacle in business, is that the case for you?
I wouldn’t say it has been an obstacle but rather an opportunity, an opportunity to evolve. I refuse to let any challenge bring me down, and COVID wasn’t going to be any different. I know many people have been afraid. I realized budgets would be cut, gifting would slow down and no one would be entertaining clients because profits would decrease. Despite all that, I told myself, Pamela, why don’t you take this as a chance to focus on marketing your business, the idea of people moving away from paper would work perfectly for our e-gifting solutions. And so I took this opportunity to market Giftpesa more and sure enough, we have been getting clients wanting to buy e-vouchers. I saw COVID as an opportunity for Giftpesa to thrive.
When do you know that you have succeeded as far as business is concerned?
When I get repeat customers. I work with the 20-80 rule, I would rather get 80% of revenue from my 20% repeat customers than exhaust my resources chasing new ones; because working to acquire and retain a new client is a whole other nightmare. So if I get a good number of repeat customers, then I would define that as a success big for my business.
What are you learning about life from running your business?
I am learning that life is about the relationships you create. In business, you have to ensure you develop good relationships with the people you work with and for- because that is what will define you in years to come.
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