As the world of internet has grown, the potential and popularity behind blogging has skyrocketed and it has become a growing trend. As a result, new genres of bloggers have appeared on the scene with only one aim in mind: an easy way to manage and place content on the web, and as a bonus make a killing out of it. 24-year old Makena Njeru is one of the few who have opted for a better use of her bundles. Other than Facebooking and Twittering all day like those of us in her generation, she instead focuses on a venture that can add a few shillings in her pocket. Having discovered her passion of food during a training with Lapid Leaders Africa, she has taken to food blogging. Two years into the blogging world, Makena has blogged for the greats in the food industry. Her major clients include Sankara Hotel, Villa Rosa Kempinski, Marula Manor Mercantile and Serena Hotel. As we speak, she is in the process of forming a long term relationship with one of the major players in the industry.
Makena Njeru is the last born in a family of three. Having been raised by a single mum since the tender age of seven, she always took matters in her own hands. Having grown up in Ruai, she attended Moi Girls in her high school years and then she pursued Biochemistry at the Kenyatta University. This was not in her line of thought but since the joint admission board had called her for that, she decided to go along with the course and hopefully start a business related to what she had studied. However when the time came to start said business, it turned out that the capital required was a tad too much. She shelved the idea and moved on to do an internship at the Nairobi Chapel church where she served for a year. During that period she realized that employment was not her thing, and she became more interested in being an entrepreneur. The 8 to 5 was clearly not working out.
Her journey in entrepreneurship goes way back though, back to her younger years, staying in the outskirts of Ruai with her mother. Her mum is an entrepreneur and Makena took to learning a thing or two from her. As early as high school, Makena had learnt the art of selling. During her high school years, she would carry a box of biscuits to school and sell them to the students especially when everyone had finished their snacks and visiting day wasn’t in sight. This gave her an impressive amount of income in school and she was able to survive without asking her mother for any pocket money. After her high school, she remembers a time when she was home, back in Ruai and they had just dug a borehole, due to water shortages in the area. As the shortage became severe, Makena’s business spidey sense once again kicked in, and she begun to sell water in the neighbourhood and its environs. Her mother was really impressed by this and supported her by buying water containers to further her business. She took the water business to another level and that is what she used to support herself and take care of her daily needs without having to ask her mother for pocket money. All this at the tender age of 18.
This stopped, as she joined campus, leaving her mother to continue with the business. In her second year of campus, realizing that her money was running out, with tuition fees and books, Makena was at it again and started a jewellery business. She would make bangles, earrings and go hawking door to door to other students in the ladies hostel. She then opened a Facebook page for her jewellery and started getting orders beyond campus. This took her through her campus years as she would make Ksh.20,000 a month. After campus, she decided to go into the wedding industry and sell wedding dresses, as this would go with her jewellery. She did this for six months before the market became saturated. She then took up an internship hoping to get into the corporate world.
Having engaged in a number of businesses at an early age, with a degree in her hand, she needed to think of her next step. In between her internship she met Esther Mwaniki of Lapid Leaders and she enrolled for the program geared for young emerging leaders. During the program, the beginning modules talk about discovering self, and Makena realized that she has a passion for food. She laughed at that though, as she did not see how she could make money through food. During her one on one session, they dug deeper on the food story and how she would make money with her passion. This was in 2016. In the process she began to think through her business plan.
She started small and using social media to its end, she began taking photos of the food she had made and posting them on Instagram. This gave her some ground and people would ask for recipes. She then tried blogging about recipes but after a while she got bored. Writing recipes was not something that she was cut out for. So she decided to rethink the plan. Luck had it that she was to travel for Zambia, a benefit to the leadership program that she was attending. While in Zambia, she was taken by the food tastes, and differences in that country, and started learning about the food culture. So she would take a picture of the food they were eating and say something about it and the dining venue and post on Instagram. This piqued interest from her followers and that is when she realized what she wanted to do with her food passion.
Back from Zambia, she developed a business model about marketing restaurants and hotels. She encourages cheap fine dining. So any hotel that has fine dining and it is cheap, she wants to market that. She has defined cheap as in the range of Ksh.1,000 – 5,000. Sometimes though she understands that one may not want fine dining, or want to eat fries, or hang out at the local Java join. As a result most people don’t know where to go. She takes the time to find out what you want and gives you suggestions. She is also big on using healthy ingredients in preparing food.
Her first gig was at the Marula Mercantile, and this opened up new opportunities for her. From there she got contacted by Kempinski Hotel, where she did a review of their high tea events, and got paid a handsome amount of money for it. she also got called at Serena Hotel, and during the Nairobi Restaurant Week, she did the review for Sankara Hotel. Currently she is working on a partnership with a major food chain in Nairobi that will take her right to the top.
Blogging may seem easy, it certainly is very cheap to start. All you need is a phone, a domain name and words. However the challenges can be immense and Makena has experienced a few of her own. When she was starting, pitching her idea was hard. She realized that she was talking to the wrong people, because they were employees, and truthfully, they were not interested. Getting the relevant people to talk to has been daunting and challenging to say the least. Another challenge she encounters is getting the hotel to pay, and on time. Sometimes she is paid in the form of food, and she has to pay her photographer and her videographer and when that happens she is left to wander how to sort her team, and herself included. Other challenges includes, days when you have posted something and no one likes, so you keep refreshing your feed hoping to see some activity and nothing. This really can be a downer and a put-off because when you are pitching to clients, they look at the engagement levels in every post. On days when no engagement happens, you can lose a prospective client in the process.
Blogging is profitable, and once established, one can get an income of Ksh.50,000 – Ksh.100,000 weekly, Makena says; especially if you are established as an influencer. Her income monthly from blogging is sustainable and she’s working towards growing it.
Her marketing tactic is aggressive. She writes over 20 emails to various restaurant owners and event organisers daily, and diligently, and she never tires of knocking on doors. After all the entrepreneurship stints she has done over the years, this she says is the most fulfilling of all, and she wants to build it and grow it. When asked about her five year plan, she wants to fearlessly and passionately tell the African story. The beauty of Africa, through food, highlighting the food cultures and rich destinations that we have that the world out there has no idea of. In addition to that, she plans to start a food magazine too, and then from there, who knows?
Her greatest inspiration is definitely her mom hands down. As her number one supporter, Makena acknowledges that all the entrepreneurship stunts she has pulled over the years would not be possible without her mother, and for that she is eternally grateful. Crossing beyond borders, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Aliko Dangote come in at a close second. She admires the laser focus and the passion they all to seem to have, to make whatever they do work, and for Dangote, the simple fact that he used something cheap to change the world always seems to baffle her, therefore earning her respect. John C. Maxwell is her favourite author. She loves how he can use his passion to make profit and at the same time inspire people. Other books she recommends to every entrepreneur include; The Lean Startup by Eric Ries and Good to Great by Jim Collins.
And finally, to aspiring bloggers out there, she advises to “let google be your friend. Use the internet to research everyday about that which you are passionate about, and looking to blog about.” She also recommends that for this industry, you really need to be aggressive. “Blogging may seem easy but it is not for the faint hearted,” she says. “Market yourself to your friends and neighbours, always market yourself, and finally, love what you do and go for it!”
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