Njeri Rionge: The startup story of a Kenyan serial entrepreneur
A typical serial entrepreneur, Njeri has over the years founded a number of successful companies. She currently runs Ignite Consulting, a firm that specialises in coaching, strategy facilitation, organisational effectiveness and skills training.
Business Lounge, another one of her ventures, is helping other entrepreneurs build successful businesses. The Lounge acts as a business incubator for start-up companies and as a business club for more established firms and individuals. Njeri is passionate about growing businesses and igniting potential and believes in Africa being the next economic frontier.
She has over 26 years of leadership and change management experience, working with SMEs and entrepreneurs to grow indigenous businesses that can be scaled across Africa. Today, she uses her entrepreneurial skills set to ignite passion to deliver organizational development and bottom line results into these businesses. She is also a motivational speaker and life coach, passing on her wisdom and experience to upcoming entrepreneurs, under her personal brand Njeri Rionge.
Njeri is now focused on inspiring other entrepreneurs and encouraging them to be resilient. Resilience, she believes, or having a strong backbone that can handle challenges, is the key to successful entrepreneurship.
“My first business was selling yoghurt from a friend’s car trunk to the International School of Kenya and Loretto Convent Musongari High School over their school breaks. I saw a business opportunity and acted on it, determined to turn it into a reality.
This sounds like an obvious thing, but it’s basic to every entrepreneur – taking an idea that’s on paper or in your head and moving it forward into real, tangible action, and it’s something that I have continued to do throughout my life.” She said.
“I was also working in a salon as a hairdresser during this time and soon recognized another business opportunity selling luxury merchandise to my high net worth clients: to buy and re-sell luxury goods, I used to fly regularly to London using discounted courier tickets.” She continued adding that “ I would not say I felt a compulsion to take these business opportunities, I would simply say that I had a passion for selling and for creating a business. In 2000, I co-founded East Africa’s first mass market oriented ISP, Wananchi Online (a Swahili word meaning ‘citizen’ or ‘the people’) which made Internet connectivity affordable for the average household for the first time. This is perhaps the company that my name is most synonymous with in Kenya, and why I’m known as a ‘tech entrepreneur’ in some circles.” She concludes.
With her business partner, they grew the business from a typical start-up to become the largest ISP in East Africa, with a network of five regional offices, and a recognized brand in a particularly challenging regulatory and economic environment.
As CEO, she raised a first tranche of $500,000 and a second tranche of $3M for Wananchi, and the company eventually went on to raise up to $238M. As well as being responsible for raising the initial start-up capital for Wananchi Online, she structured the private placement for early stage growth which was split into three tranches, as well as the funds used for a merger and acquisition for one of our competitors.
In 2008 Njeri was headhunted to lead the restructuring of Telkom Kenya, a previously state-owned corporation, soon after the French Telkom merger/acquisition of Telkom Kenya’s 51%. She oversaw and was instrumental in the retail brand launch of the Orange brand into Kenya and, in doing so, handled a commercial budget of up to $44M. In commercialising the GSM network, Njeri was responsible for 826 employees spread-out regionally across her portfolio.”
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