Mwingi Kenya Limited is a social enterprise in Kenya that was incorporated in 2019 and is establishing a unique last-mile franchise chain in Kenya. By this, MWINGI empowers local entrepreneurs and increases the availability of affordable quality products for thousands of families in rural areas.
Manuela, one of the co-founders, shares how MWINGI started the journey and what are their future plans.
Thank you for taking the time for this interview Manuela. Can you describe your enterprise?
Mwingi Kenya Limited is a social enterprise in Kenya that provides essential food to very remote rural areas in Kenya. Many people in such areas don’t have access to essential food like maize meal or cooking fat because the few shops in those areas often run out of stock. As a consequence, people are often malnourished. Women sometimes pass away during giving birth because of malnutrition and even the babies start their life journey malnourished. The communities in these areas are threatened by different serious illnesses that are present there and malnutrition makes it difficult to fight against those diseases.
MWINGI wants to solve the problem of undersupply by establishing its own franchise shops in very remote rural areas where there are no car roads, no electricity, and no fluent water. These villages are somehow forgotten by the world, nobody goes there. But MWINGI is going there, and we open shops with the promise to our customers that we will never run out of stock (MWINGI is Swahili and means "plenty"). Last February we had eight shops, now we have already 92 shops, and we are further growing by 10 shops month by month. We always choose a woman from these villages as a shopkeeper, very often, this is the very first job in their life. This helps them to earn their own money, and they really appreciate it, as it changes their life tremendously.
Why did you choose Kenya to start the journey of your enterprise?
We plan to go to other African countries as well, and maybe even to Latin America. Our goal is to be present in all countries where people are suffering because the demand for food can't be fulfilled. However, we are still a start-up and first need to become profitable before we can reach out to other countries. We chose Kenya as our first country because Kenya has a big population, and people are very entrepreneurially and hard working. But as soon as we succeeded in Kenya, we will move to other countries as well.
Were you doing other business before you started this social enterprise?
I worked for a solar company in Africa. There I learned about the problems in very remote areas. Many companies offer solar solutions but nobody is really trying to solve the undersupply of essential food in very remote areas. That’s why I started this company together with three other founders.
When did you first learn about Loyverse?
I think it was in 2020. We started our business in 2019. In the very beginning, we used another point of sale system which we found was not optimal. Then, in 2020 we moved to Loyverse. We found Loyverse on the internet. Our main requirements for the point of sale system were to be able to work on- and off-line and to connect to a mobile printer as connectivity and power are not always available in Africa. Loyverse was the only POS in our price range that could meet these requirements and also run on Android phones.
Another important feature that we checked when choosing our POS was that you can buy a full sack of rice and then partition it into smaller pieces. This is important because we deliver to our shops full sacks of rice or full sacks of sugar, but they need to be repacked and sold in smaller packages. People in the villagers have 1-2$ to spend per day for the whole family, so they usually buy eg. 200 grams of sugar and cannot afford a full kg or even a sack.
Are you managing all your 92 stores under the same Loyverse account?
Yes, we manage all stores under the same Loyverse account. We have actually 2 accounts, one that we use for testing and training and one that is our productive system, which we use in our stores.
Have you created profiles for the employees in your Loyverse account?
Yes, we have added 50 employees to our account who work with Loyverse's back office. In addition, we have 92 shop operators who are managing our shops. The 50 employees in Nairobi manage all the processes: adding products, doing purchases, transferring items to the stores, changing prices and so on. We have created profiles for them in Loyverse and give them different access rights according to their role. However, I need to say that growing further, we would need larger variety of access rights as we have many different roles in our company.
How do you manage the stock in Loyverse?
We are using the Advanced Inventory subscription. We use the Purchase order functionality, which is created by our managers in Nairobi, who receive the stock in the main warehouse. Then, they use the Transfer Order to transfer the stock to each of our 92 stores, where our shopkeepers continue with the selling process. We also use Stock Adjustment to record adjustments made to stock eg. for damaged goods.
Being such a big enterprise, I believe that you have workflows that require specific functions that are not available in Loyverse. How are you managing this?
We are using Loyverse API and Integrations service to add functions that we need for our business. Via API we get the data from Loyverse which we then use in other apps.
One program eg. uses an algorithm to automatically calculate the replenishment for all our shops. It automatically generates delivery notes for our shops as well as purchase orders for our purchasing department.
Another example of how we use the API is for the Inventory counts. In retail, it is a good practice that the one who is counting, should not know the correct numbers. We, therefore, developed an app for the shopkeepers to count some items in their shop every day. They enter the counting result into our app which is then automatically compared with the stock in Loyverse. If there are variations we implemented further processes to deal with it. Very often, the shopkeeper just forgot to enter a sales, which she will now correct. Such functionalities are very helpful for us and we only could create them by using API. So the API is very, very important for us.
A big plus of Loyverse is that you can configure the POS in a way that shopkeepers don't see the amount of stock that is in Loyverse. We don’t want them to see the stock, because you cannot ask a person to count the stock if they already know the stock, that is supposed to be there. That’s why for us, it is really important that you can manage the access rights in such a way that the salesperson can make sales but cannot see the remaining items. To still be able to let them perform stock counts we created this app via the API so that they do an inventory count every day without knowing the expected stock in the system. This is the reason why we appreciate a lot the API feature, as otherwise, we could not program such additional business processes.
That’s good to hear. Did you face difficulties teaching your employees to use the Loyverse system?
Not at all. Even though our employees are not so high educated, because we are in deep Africa, the app was relatively simple for them to learn it. We also have to teach them how to use the POS quickly because they are not used to smartphones. Using Loyverse for them is simple, more challenging is to teach them how to use a smartphone. If they know how to use a smartphone, then learning how to use Loyverse is very easy for them.
What other features in Loyverse were helpful in your business?
I personally like the response of the support. Another big advantage is the availability of Loyverse. There are other systems that are down from time to time, but this is never the case with Loyverse. If there is a maintenance, we always get notified and the maintenance usually takes place in the middle of the night for a very short time without interrupting our operations. The availability and consistency are extremely good, I must say. Loyverse is very reliable, and for us, this plays a huge role. We have used other software and they might be down for a day and nobody is getting back to you, so we didn't know if the system is gone for good or if it is ever getting back.
What are your short-term and long-term goals?
We want to continue with additional 10 shops per month. We then will open other regions in Kenya and plan to have 2000 shops within 5 years. And of course, we want to become a major retailer in Kenya and later in Africa.
Who are your investors?
We have investors mainly from Europe, Asia, and US. Our investors are impact investors who invest in companies that provide impact but are also highly scalable. Scalability is important, not only because it increases the returns but also because by this also the impact becomes scalable. All our investors want to end poverty in Africa and they see MWINGI as an important player to get closer to reaching this goal.
What was the biggest challenge that you faced in your enterprise these three years?
The biggest challenge was the drought last year. Many cows passed away because of the drought. People did not have money anymore and they could not afford to buy items from our shops. This was for us a very challenging moment. Luckily now the drought is over, and we are now on a good track. Also, for a startup, a big challenge is to raise money to further grow. We have really great inventors on board, they are all impact investors. It is really amazing and inspiring to work with such people.
What is your advice to other entrepreneurs in the retail business?
Retail business is all about knowing the details. Therefore, a point-of-sale system with an inventory system is very important. If you don’t know how many assets you have, you will easily get lost. You also must be very disciplined. You must update all data like purchase orders, transfers etc. timely and accurately. Then the system becomes extremely helpful. If you have a larger organization like MWINGI, to set-up all processes accordingly is an absolute must. If you start losing this traction, then the system loses its purpose. But with tight internal processes and a good and stable system, you will be able to run a successful business.