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Curb Scholar Blog: The Startup Life

Posted by on Monday, October 6, 2014 in 2012-2015 AY, Uncategorized.

This blog post was written by Tony Maina.

I felt very good about coming back to Vanderbilt for my sophomore year. I spent a great deal of time during my freshman year adjusting to the various academic challenges while still trying to exercise a social life. I now feel like I have a much better understanding of how to thrive here at Vanderbilt and I’m looking forward to a good year.

During the summer though, I went back to my home country of Kenya and established a startup. This would have to rank as one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life but also one of the most enjoyable. In taking this challenge on, I teamed up with two of my best friends with whom I went to high school. We were united by our one desire to do something great and have an impact by implementing a socially-conscious business.

Here in the US, online shopping and e-commerce is very popular and almost everyone has purchased items online countless times. This proliferation of e-commerce has grown an entire industry, provided countless jobs and brought significant prosperity to the US economy. However, this is not the case in Kenya and in the majority of African countries, and this is what we set out to change. Enter Savana Online Mart. This is an e-commerce website based in Kenya that allows residents of Nairobi to shop for their groceries online and have them delivered to their doorstep at a minimal fee.

The entire process of getting this from idea to action had us face numerous challenges. We had to think about the infrastructure for this given the less than favorable system of home addresses in place. We had to constantly redefine who our target market was and why they would adopt our program. We had to look at those who chose not to do it and why they opted out. We needed to source for funds, conduct significant marketing and build a worthwhile team. The hardest part in all this is that all these tasks had to be done at the same time. This is where my experiences as a Curb Scholar during my freshman year were essential.

At the Curb Center, we place creativity and innovation at the center of our lives and seek to harness our creativity and talents to innovate solutions in our community. That is exactly what I strove to do in this startup, and I got to practice various aspects of entrepreneurship I learned in last years sessions.

Savana Online Mart is now very active and running and is going to focus on expansion over the next few months. Our long-term vision is to have it established in a second country after two and a half years.

The Curb Center helped me understand that failure is good. There’s a lot to be learned and I’m looking forward to seeing what this year’s sessions will teach me and to looking for opportunities to practice what I’ve learned.