At 30 years of age, it is quite unbelievable for one to quit a job paying him or her Shs30m per month to venture into business-without guarantee of success given the high risks associated with business in Uganda and the high levels of unemployment. However, Maxima Nsimenta, 30, a graduate of Electrical Engineering from Makerere University gave up on her well-paying job to venture into what others would describe as the future of the unknown. And as we celebrate International Women’s Day, Nsimenta shares her blossoming story of how her hard decision is beginning to pay off.
Nsimenta, who graduated with a first class degree in 2011 says that while at Makerere University, she was part of the original team that created the first electric hybrid car made in Uganda. She moved on to another Government funded project that developed software applications for universities, Uganda Police, Ministry of Health and other institutions. She did all this while studying.
After university, she sought for change and went on to work in the Petroleum industry, first with Total E&P in Uganda and then from February 2013, as an expatriate Petroleum Field Engineer with Schlumberger Oil and Gas Service Company. She was based in Congo, but travelled extensively around the world on different missions. Hers was a dream job from which she earned an average US$8,000 (about Shs30m) per month.
However, Nsimenta’s love for making cosmetics and playing part in the development of her country overrode her desire for a highly rewarding job with travel opportunities. She says she also wanted to settle back home and start a family.
“I left my job in May 2015 after two and a half years of work and I have never looked back,” Nsimenta says in an exclusive interview with Business Focus.
Nsimenta is now the CEO and Founder of Livara, a company that makes natural and organic hair and skin products made with shea butter. She is currently in a relationship and also accredits her success to constant prayer and communion with God, hard work, team work, persistence, creativity and continuous love for knowledge and awareness.
Her Inspiration and Motivation
Nsimenta reveals that during her extensive travel abroad, she realised that all her preferred cosmetics products were made either in Europe or America and they were even not made for African skin and hair.
“I didn’t have anything made in Africa for Africans. Also, many of the organic and natural raw materials used by international brands were obtained from Africa yet there was no noticeable development here,” she says of her inspiration to join cosmetics and beauty business.
“I then decided that I would create a company that not only manufactures quality natural and organic cosmetics for Africans, but one that also works with my fellow brothers and sisters to achieve growth together right from the grassroots. I yearned to be the change I wanted to see and was determined to be that change,” she adds.
She says she has always been interested in make-up and cosmetics right from childhood. Nsimenta reveals that she loved making people look good and even tweezing eyebrows.
“I had a dream of building a cosmetics empire but was not sure how to,” she says, adding: “During my holiday vacation in December 2013, I visited my sister, Dr. Gloria Karirirwe, in Mbarara who then told me about this amazing healing oil called shea butter. She advised that we could add value to it and make some hair and skin products.”
She explains that she went ahead to do research on shea butter and found out that it was not only one of the world’s best moisturizers, but it was found in only 14 countries in the world all of which are in Africa. Better still, the best of the shea butter was in Uganda.
“I started looking for ways of ensuring that I start with as minimal start-up costs as possible. I told my grandma, Tereza Mbire, about my plans and she advised me to go to Uganda Industrial Research Institute (UIRI), present my case and request for incubation space. Later in 2014, I met with Prof. Charles Kwesiga, the Executive Director of UIRI, presented my case and convinced him that I was worth being incubated. I was granted space, technical expertise and an MOU indicating that UIRI would support me with production machinery,” she reveals.
She then worked on her supply chain. She notes that whenever she would break off for holidays, she would travel to villages in Soroti, Katakwi and surrounding villages to create a sustainable system of shea nut suppliers.
“…I had started saving in 2013 and in 2015, after accumulating my desired base minimum, I then decided to quit my job. Luckily, just before submitting my resignation letter, I got offered a paid Leave of Absence for one year. I took the offer, packed my bags and left Congo in May 2015,” she says.
By June 2015, Nsimenta and her team had some body butters ready for the market. “We then started selling products officially on June 26th 2015. From then to now, it has been a formidable journey. We keep seeing growth and we expect to see more growth,” she says.
Nsimenta says one of the biggest achievements has been the opening of their first exclusively Livara store at the first floor of The Cube in Kisementi. This was opened last year.
“With this, we have expanded our natural and organic product range to include cleansers, toners, hand creams, shower and bath gels, hair curlers. This is in addition to our body butters and natural hair lines we had previously,” she says.
“In our first months of existence we earned an average of Shs3m a month, then we advanced to 5m and then to 10m from our local Ugandan market. Moreover this was earned by selling products online and delivering to our clients. With our store open to the public, we are already on our way to averaging at least 30m a month,” she adds.
She reveals that her goal is to ensure that Livara’s products are manufactured with at least 95% of the raw materials sourced and found locally. This is however impossible at the moment and quite a big challenge as they are forced to import them.
“On importing the goods, heavy taxes are usually levied which in turn heightens our cost of production yet we would like to keep the price of the products as minimal as possible,” she says, adding that Ugandans’ lack of appreciation of locally made products is their other challenge.
“There are many Ugandans who prefer to bleach their bodies and do not appreciate natural and organic products because they do not bleach. These same ladies come back to us when their skins are damaged so that we help them repair it. So we have to keep encouraging people to appreciate their dark skin complexion and who they are,” she says.
Nsimenta plans to open up Livara stores in as many busy towns as possible, not only in Uganda but across Africa.
“So after opening up three other stores in Uganda, we shall proceed to Kenya, Nigeria and other African countries,” she says.
Advice to the youth
“We are all created in the likeness of God. He created us in His image to be like Him. This means that we are all creators in one way or another. We all have been gifted and we should do our best to explore our talents. The youth should not be afraid to use their hands and get dirty,” she advises.
She adds: “The youth should look beyond the “traditional” careers because not everybody will be a lawyer, doctor or engineer. If someone say likes fashion, then invest in a sewing machine and make the clothes you like, then sell them to your friends. This will bring you some income. If you like shoes, research on how to make shoes and make them. You should not remain idle at home simply because you have not yet been employed by the “traditional career” employers.”
She says youths should avoid wasting time on social media looking at other people’s pictures. Instead, they should use social media to market what you have and attract people to your business.
“The youth should not despise any type of work. However small or apparently demeaning a job may seem, if you have the opportunity to do it, do it well. For it is through the small things that we shall be rewarded with bigger things in life,” she says.