Q&A: The ‘supamama’ who saw the potential in Kenya’s mother and baby industry
I am sitting in a small coffee shop in Karen, an affluent suburb in Nairobi. I am meeting with Christine Khasinah-Odero, a Kenyan entrepreneur who has taken a somewhat unusual road towards business success. Instead of engaging in ICT, agriculture, real estate, or finance – which are viewed as Africa’s top sectors – she has found a profitable niche in Kenya’s widely overlooked mother and baby market.
Her entrepreneurial journey started in 2010. She was dissatisfied with her marketing position as an employee, and with a baby on the way felt a huge urge to change direction. Today, Khasinah-Odero is the founder and managing director of Supamamas – an events and marketing company based in Kenya. Her mother and baby occasions are attended by over 200 professional mothers at a time and receive sponsorship by the likes of Procter & Gamble, Microsoft, Johnson and Johnson and others.
While we chat Christine is ordering a whole-wheat flour muffin and a big cup of hot chocolate.
Christine, you are the founder of Supamamas in Kenya, tell us a little about the very early stages of the business and what motivated you to start it.
The inspiration came when I was expecting a baby in 2010 while trying to start a business of my own. There was no-one to turn to. No support system or source for advice or inspiration. It was a lonely position to be in, and this is when I figured out many professional and entrepreneurial mothers in Kenya must feel the same way. This is how the idea of Supamamas was born. I wanted to create a platform that would connect mums through regular events with experts as well as baby brands. I finally started the company in 2011. Today, our events are held every month and vary in themes. These include baby nutrition, skin, sleep and safety, pampering events, financial planning events, networking, mentorship, fun days and so much more.
What was the most difficult part during the start-up phase? Which challenges did you encounter – maybe completely unexpected?
The early stages of starting Supamamas were not easy at all. It seemed difficult to get the word out and get mothers, partners, and sponsors to participate. My first two events were not successful. Hardly any mothers participated, so the exhibitors that I had invited were giving me a hard time. I remember how rains poured down during the second event almost crashing the exhibition tents. It was a disaster. Huge doubts kicked in, and I was about to give up. I had quit my job and things were falling apart. It took me a while to reflect into what direction I wanted the business to go, and this new-found clarity kept me going. My third event was attended by 30-40 women. This is when I became optimistic again.
You are targeting the mother and baby market. Do you consider this a dynamic growing market in Kenya and maybe the rest of Africa, or is it only slowly taking shape?
It is a dynamic, ever evolving sector. The need for information and access to expertise, products and services is certainly there and continues to rapidly grow not only in Kenya but across Africa. It is a widely overlooked market that includes so many sub-industries and opportunities.
How long have you been in business now and how do you generate revenue?
Supamamas has been in operation for three years. The company established a major presence online very early on. We have created a portal that acts as a hub for information and products including everything around mother and baby in Kenya. Revenue comes from related business and brand advertising on our website and social media platforms, from ticket sales to our events, and sponsorships.
How would you describe the wider role you play in society as a female entrepreneur?
Winning a lot of recognitions has given me the responsibility to educate and give back, especially to the younger generation through mentorship. Supamamas has a mentorship group called Supasisters. We work with university students and support them in starting a successful business or career. I am also part of other mentorship programmes such as Mara Mentor, providing online mentorship to aspiring entrepreneurs. I believe mentorship is a major way we can impact on the next generation of women and young mothers with our stories and experiences and lend them a hand.
Do you dream big?
Yes absolutely! I have a vision board hanging at home and my husband sometimes smiles when he looks at it and sees what new image I have put on it as a new goal to achieve. I am a firm believer of active visualisation – seeing the big picture and putting a plan in place to achieve one thing at a time. It is what I did with Supamamas from the beginning, even when things were getting hard. I could still see the possibility and the impact it would have on women and mothers and this is why I continued. Today, I believe I can grow my company and Supamama’s network far beyond Kenya. As author Napoleon Hill said: “What the mind can see and believe, it can achieve.” I think this is totally true.
What is your sisterly advice to the growing number of emerging female entrepreneurs in Africa? Many may feel overwhelmed by the sheer thought of combining the demands of starting and managing a business with the demands of family and children.
My sisterly advice to female entrepreneurs is that we have the ability to be many things. But it starts with an unshaken belief in what we can and want to achieve. That voice often gets buried under the many demands we ourselves, family, and society throw at us. But we owe it to ourselves to live our purpose and do what we enjoy doing and live our dreams. Most women struggle with balance, and every person’s situation is different. What is important is finding a rhythm that works for you and being true to yourself. It’s the same value that we then pass on to our children and those around us in society. That it’s possible to achieve what we put our minds and hearts to.
Dr Harnet Bokrezion is a senior international development consultant and the founder and CEO of Africa Business Jumpstart, a consultancy business that supports you to make informed and strategic decisions while pursuing your business ambitions in Africa faster and more confidently. Follow Harnet on Twitter at @africajumpstart