Shirlene's Manufacturing Business Born From Sadness

Crystal River Products

Her business idea was born from one of her lowest moments. In 2014, after doing her undergraduate program at the University of Nairobi, Shirlene Esther Nafula had plans of doing her masters at King’s College London in the UK. Unfortunately she was denied a visa because her parents couldn’t meet the financial requirements. Shirlene was crushed. She had previously left her job as the project she had been working on had become frustrating. Heartbroken, she couldn’t leave her bed most of the day. In the afternoon the young Christian woman turned to God. “I told Him ‘What next?’ In his still voice he told me I could make toilet cleaners, hair shampoos and hand sanitisers.” The idea of making hand sanitisers had crossed her mind for the first time while in campus during a science practical. Shirlene got out of bed and informed her mother about her new found business idea.

Shirlene Esther Nafula
Based on standard formulas she got from a professor at a renowned university in Kenya, Shirlene started making and testing the products, modifying the formulas step by step. Crystal River Products was born.

Crystal River Products is a manufacturer of quality bio based beauty and clean care products, for personal, household and corporate use. Their registered trademarks are Bio Pearl, Gran’Mas, 7 degrees, Bethels, Shanea and Fab Soft. The company also offers cleaning and maintenance services in partnership with Rene Super Clean services.

Shirlene who is just 24 years old says she knew she was meant to be an employer, not an employee because entrepreneurial thoughts and ventures always crossed her mind while growing up. She still hopes to pursue her masters at King’s next year either through a scholarship or from good business returns. She shares her journey with Mkazi Magazine.

  Shirlene Esther Nafula  Crystal River Products logo
 Crystal River Products gift hamper

When I started my business, no one had ever told me about savings; so I basically started with zero money from my end! My biggest financier has been my mom. I think I heavily contributed to maxing out her pension. My grand-mother – whom I branded one of my products after (Gran'Mas), my dad and aunts have also provided me with financial support. The money received was used in perfecting formulas, registration, purchasing chemicals and plastics and running stuff. I started manufacturing my products from our dining room, and I later moved to my own workshop as chemicals are not safe in a residential set-up.

The most effective way of raising awareness of my business and getting new customers has been social media; WhatsApp especially. Networks and trade fairs have also been really helpful.

Finances have been my biggest challenge. Having started with no savings, keeping borrowing from my mom wasn't a pleasant affair as she had also taken a break from work. Money kept going out and yet nothing was coming in. At first, I was running my business as the CEO, thinking that with a big degree, I had no business doing all the ground work. I hired employees whom I was paying way more than I could afford. At the end of the month salaries had to be paid even if no revenues had come in. This gave me terrible ulcers and I slipped into depression a number of times. I learnt the hard way that ''No matter where you envision your businesses in the next few years, it’s not yet there. Work hard, get dirty before you get there''. I released all of my employees for a while and then I started enjoying some profits. After getting on my feet I got new people whom I pay on commission basis. Once bitten twice shy!

Shirlene Esther Nafula
My team is made of
myself as the Managing Director, my sister (a lawyer) and my mom (a legal and financial consultant) who are directors. We have a total of 15 employees at the moment and we are growing by the day as we endeavour to enter new counties and have our products at every Kenyans' nearest retail outlet.

I love everything about running your own business! From managing my own schedules, setting and achieving targets, empowering people and of course, that amazing feeling when you walk in a supermarket, seeing your products on the shelves and thinking “I am actually the brain behind that.” It is absolutely awesome.

To keep motivated through difficult times, I spend a lot of my quiet time with God.I pray a lot, I meditate on His word and at times we just talk. To top it all up I sit under very anointed and strict pastors who preach to us but also take a lot of time talking to and mentoring us.Crystal River Products

The biggest lesson I have ever learned is that anything and everything has the capacity to make money. It just depends on how you look at it and how hard you are willing to work for it. 

Entrepreneurship has opened doors for me that no job ever could, like sitting in round table meetings with presidents, ministers and CEOs of big corporations to discuss matters world trade; or being hosted on international TV stations as a role model for African women in business, just to mention a few. I am also really careful nowadays about how I spend my money as I know the value of each coin. I am still on the process of learning and trying to save.

Since getting into business, my life has changed in many ways. I had to separate with most of my friends as I figured I needed to take time to build me. I didn’t make the decision in bad faith and I hope they didn't take it negatively.

If I could go back in time, I would do a lot of things differently. I would undo all the business mistakes I made as a startup.

Shirlene Esther Nafula Crystal River Products

In five years from now I see my business with a team of over 500 employees and an established presence in most if not all countries in Africa. I hope to have my products in each and every homestead, our brands being THE BRANDS by Gods' grace of course.

Keeping a good work/life balance is pretty simple because I still stay with my parents. I use my moms' offices to run my things so I have my family around me most of the time.

My advice to other entrepreneurs? You have an amazing idea? Start now!!! Don't give up. If they haven't laughed at your dreams, you haven't dreamt yet.


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Did you enjoy this story? Post a comment below, on our Facebook page or Twitter#MKAZIShirleneNafula and you could win a FREE product from Crystal River Products.

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+1 #14 MKAZI 2016-08-29 13:08
Congratulations Simon! You've won yourself a product from Crystal River Products. Please send us a phone number on which we can reach you and give you details on how you can claim your prize.

Quoting Simon:
It's not enough just to say the story is inspiring, it is a lesson to all of us waiting for perfect conditions to get started.
Do you sell online? If yes , kindly let me know how I can pay coz I want to try your products
0 #13 Simon 2016-08-28 23:01
It's not enough just to say the story is inspiring, it is a lesson to all of us waiting for perfect conditions to get started.
Do you sell online? If yes , kindly let me know how I can pay coz I want to try your products
0 #12 Ray 2016-08-16 17:27
Wow inspiring little sister.
0 #11 zelpha 2016-08-16 17:04
Good job
0 #10 zelpha 2016-08-16 17:02
Great job.glory to God. May you prosper
0 #9 zelpha 2016-08-16 17:00
Great job. Glory to God
0 #8 solo sucre 2016-08-16 14:07
0 #7 solo sucre 2016-08-16 14:05
0 #6 Repha 2016-08-16 13:20
I love the post. Truly inspiring.
0 #5 Brenda Kilonzo 2016-08-16 11:21
Wow..... Soooo very inspiring. That's a beautiful soul right there. Her humility and positive demeanor are definitely taking Shirlene past the skies!

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