After volunteering as an intern, young graduate establishes a thriving water bottling firm
By Paul Kamau
Ruth Mwanzia’s entrepreneurship journey is a story of resilience, patience, hardwork and determination. She was born in a remote village in Kyondoni in Kitui West; a semi-arid place where fetching water is the order of the day. She vividly remembers that bathing, doing laundry and domestic chores was a luxury due to the scarcity of water in the region. “Growing up in the village, there was a serious water shortage due to irregular rainfall,” she recalls. Mwanzia came to the city at a tender age when she was in class five. After her secondary school education, the Koola Waters’ founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) pursued a degree course in communications at Africa Nazarene University where she majored in electronic media. Her goal was to become a broadcast journalist. “In order for me to graduate, I had to secure an internship and therefore I applied for numerous jobs with local media houses, but two years down the line, no opportunity was forthcoming,” she recalls. She was on the verge of giving up when she got an internship opportunity at the Water Resources Management Authority (currently known as the Water Resources Authority).
At the time, the organization was having challenges with organizing events such as the World Water Day, and the World Wetlands Day. “Most employees in this organization were engineers who were not well versed with communications and events’ organization,” she says adding that given her training in communications, she assisted them to fill that gap. It was a good opportunity for her to hone her skills and even though she was not getting any allowance, she seized it. After the expiry of her attachment, she volunteered for one year in order to gain more experience. Fortunately, Mwanzia was hired after one year as a communications assistant by the organization, thanks to her passion and resourcefulness. She would later rise through the ranks to become the assistant corporate communications manager. “I worked there for four and a half years before I quit,” she says. “By that time I had started Koola Waters as a side hustle and given my experience, I was ready to grow the young business to the next level,” she adds.
It was during this time that the thoughts of transforming her village by providing water to the local community came to life. Her family believed in her business idea and they invested in it. At a tender age of twenty four years, she became the chief executive of the new venture.
In October 2014, she purchased a small machine and bottles for packaging water and one of the investors offered her some premises to run the business. To save on overheads, her sister volunteered as an employee during the startup stage of the business when every coin that was being generated had to be used prudently. The company has since grown to be a brand to reckon with in the Kenyan market. Mwanzia attributes that to teamwork and commitment from her employees as well as loyal customers.
In order to penetrate the water bottling business that is traditionally characterized by cut throat competition , the young entrepreneur came up with an innovative and inexpensive marketing strategy. For instance, she branded the delivery track after which she received about six calls from potential customers. In addition, she offered her customers free merchandise. Most importantly, her product was competitively priced. “Currently the demand has grown and sometimes we really get overwhelmed by orders, forcing us to work round the clock,” she says with a smile. Most of Koola Waters’ customers are in Kiambu County.
Koola Waters has invested heavily in a modern production line. As a requirement to do this business, the company has also secured licenses and permits from state bodies like the Kenya Bureau of Standards and Kenya Revenue Authority – an expensive exercise that requires a lot of patience.
Hiring the right people is also not a walk in the park. By the same token, she says that the company has had to severe its relationship with some distributors who defaulted on their payments. The company’s strategy is to conquer new territories gradually after undertaking thorough market research. It is considering expanding to Mombasa and Kisumu by the end of this year.
In 2016, Mwanzia got an award from her alma mater – Africa Nazarene – because of supporting the university’s scholarship kitty. In 2018, Avance Media recognized her for being among the top one hundred most influential entrepreneurs in the country. She has also been featured by CBNC Africa, besides attending many local and international entrepreneurship conferences.
As an employer, the warm lady stands out because of giving jobs to the less privileged members of the society. “I have deaf people and albinos in my team who are very resourceful despite their physical challenges,” she says. The company is planning to have a fully automated factory in the near future in a bid to raise its production. Going by her zeal, that is a feat that the young and focused entrepreneur should be able to achieve with ease.
5:00am: Wakes up and does her devotion
6:00am: Goes for jogging
6:30am: Prepares breakfast and goes through her social media platforms
7:30am: Meeting with her staff members
8:00am -1:00pm: Meeting clients among other office duties
2:00pm-4:00pm: Responding to emails and arranging for the following day’s meetings
5:00pm: Takes her dinner
6:00pm-7:00pm: Goes to the gym
8:00pm – 9:00pm: Having quality family time with her mum and siblings
9:00pm: Retires to bed
Hobbies: Playing golf, violin and writing
Favourite meal: Oven baked chicken and fried arrowroots
Favourite authors: Robin Sharma, Joel Osteen, Richard Branson
Favourite quote: “Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can “: Henry Ford.
Marital Status: Single
Dream Car: Porsche Cayenne