By Joan Thatiah
Munira Twahir, 22, is the CEO of Inteco Kenta Ltd, a company that installs sanitary pad dispensers.
“Menstruation is still a very touchy subject. Society expects women to deal with it quietly and in private. My company provides sanitary dispenser services. Other than alleviating menstruation-related anxiety and stress, my everyday goal is to get people to freely talk about menstruation.
“Ultimately though, I am workings towards making what I do the gateway to better reproductive and sexual health amongst Kenyan women. I believe that once we are comfortable talking about our periods, it will be easier to delve into other reproductive health topics.
“The sanitary pad distribution service was an idea I stumbled upon when I was 18 years old and in university. I grew up with a business-savvy father, so I grew up interested in business. When I thought about it, though, I imagined that I would run a more conventional white-collar business. Then one afternoon, we were on the campus grounds and a friend couldn’t get a sanitary pad even after asking all of us.
“That day passed but the stress that menstruation sometimes gives women stayed with me. I was a business administration student at USIU at the time. I knew that tampon dispensers are common in the more advanced Western countries. I wondered about how much convenience sanitary pads dispensers in our toilets would bring to our women.
“Getting a viable business idea was just one part of the journey. Making this idea a reality was an uphill task. I began by doing as much research as I could on the topic. This took me a few weeks. In July 2013, when I was confident that my business idea was valid, I registered my company.
Then, armed with a business proposal and a lot of enthusiasm, I began knocking on doors trying to get investors aboard. My enthusiasm was not enough to win them over. While they liked the idea, all of the potential investors I approached needed proof that the concept could work. I, on the other hand, didn’t have the finances to make that happen. It was a catch-22 situation.
“If there is something I would do different if I had to do it all over again, it would be to keep going even when I hit a rough patch. Being very green in the world of business, I would stop and give up the whole idea for a little while each time I hit a snag.
“I had given up trying to get the idea to work for a few weeks after getting the many rejections, when I thought of using the Sh2,000 I had left to raise money to buy the first machine. I went out and bought beads which I used to make rings. I was selling each piece for Sh200. Out of the Sh2,000 I was able to raise the Sh40,000 I needed in about four months.
“I made a lot of mistakes at this this stage. I had done adequate research on the concept, but not on the machine. I ended up not specifying the machine I wanted when making the order and I lost some money because of it.”
“In May 2014, almost a year after setting out, a regional firm gave me space to install that first machine in their lavatories. The machine is designed to dispense a single pad when fed a Sh10 coin. Now, two years later, I have had many more firms open up their doors to me. There are still many hurdles. There is, for instance, the fact that men are still not comfortable holding conversations on menstruation. A lot of the firms I go to have male bosses who have a hard time understanding why women need these machines in their toilets.
“My ideal world would be one where everybody understands the need to have sanitary pad dispenser machines – where women do not have to carry pads with them everywhere they go or to get subjected to the agony of even borrowing from strangers because they do not have cash on them to buy a full pack.
“I keep having conversations with women to know which brands are most popular so that I load these into the machines. Currently, I am working with a Kenyan manufacturer to redesign the machine for the Kenyan market.”
Be truthful to yourself. Only when you are honest about your weaknesses in business can you know when reach out to others for help.
I remember being so scared that others would steal my idea in the beginning. This slowed me down because my being afraid to share kept me from networking.
You are the expert in what you do. Be confident about it.
This article was first published in Saturday Magazine