In April 2016, an 8 year relationship came to an end. As if that wasn’t a big enough change, with it, I also decided to end my time in London and find a new place to call home.
To be honest, I thought I could be a digital nomad.
I’d been offering the majority of my services remotely through Skype and figured that if I needed to travel for business, in theory I could just travel from anywhere.
And so I spent the next 15 months living out of a single suitcase, bouncing between different continents, and genuinely believing that it didn’t matter where I lived – I would work with clients anywhere, from any location.
I just let life happen to me for awhile…
I lived more in the moment, booked one way tickets, made last minute decisions.
The experience was liberating, but it really wasn’t good for business.
Because even though entrepreneurs around the world face soooooo many of the same challenges and the solutions for them can often be the same, people felt disconnected from me and my message.
I knew for business to start working again, it was time for me to settle in one place.
It was time to choose a home.
why I chose Nairobi
After leaving London in 2016, Kenya was the first place I came to. First I fell in love with the coast. And then I quickly fell in love with Nairobi, despite only spending a few days in the city.
There’s something about the energy of this place, the vibe, that just felt right. I could see myself living here. And I was inspired by the still-developing startup ecosystem.
I often tell people “I just like it here”.
But it was the beginning of my journey and I wasn’t yet ready to decide to stay anywhere permanently.
A year later, I came back for a couple months to test if my assumptions about this place were accurate.
how to test the market
My experience working across Europe and in connecting with global entrepreneurs during my travels taught me that the challenges startups face are pretty similar across the world.
Yes, there are some regional variations (particularly in relation to government policy and ease of doing business), but the themes are largely the same:
- how to define your target audience
- how to decide exactly which products and services to offer
- how to price those offerings to both appeal to the target audience while allowing your business to be financially sustainable, and
- how to talk about what you do in a way that makes people actually take notice
But we can’t build businesses based solely on assumptions of what we believe to be true. We must test the market.
So in those two months, I met with dozens of entrepreneurs. I asked questions. I listened. I dug deeper.
I met with a number of co-working spaces, incubator / accelerator programs, startup support organisations and university programs. Again, I probed. I listened.
I saw a gap in the market for the services that I offer, but the main feedback I received is “You have to be here. You can’t keep coming back and forth”.
So that was that.
4 months later, I came back to Nairobi with the intention of making this my new home.
And I’ve been here ever since.
the lessons continued
I had experience of building out my business in the UK, but each market is different. What I quickly was reminded of is that we just simply cannot be all things to all people.
The way that I offer services had to change. The prices that I was charging had to change. The way that I talk about my offerings had to change.
Customers in different markets will have different expectations. And it’s our job as business owners to listen to what they need and to adapt to fit.
But along with that adaptation, new ideas emerged.
With a less developed ecosystem of support, new opportunities presented themselves. Things I would have never dreamed of doing in London (like running a networking club for female founders) were suddenly attractive propositions.
my business has evolved
During my 5.5 years in business, I never had to make a sharp pivot before. I became comfortable in what I was doing. And to be entirely honest,when I am too comfortable, I get incredibly bored!
Being in Nairobi has reinspired me, has given me new motivation and has opened up possibilities that I never could have imagined when I was first starting out.
I no longer had to do things the way that I always did them.
And you don’t either.
Re-engage with your target market and understand if their needs have changed.
Shake things up.
Try new things.
Allow the unexpected to happen to you, too.
And most of all, just trust the process.