Side Hustles That Turned into Empires in Kenya

  • An aerial photo of Nairobi
    An aerial photo of Nairobi
    Eddy Mwanza
  • Starting a side hustle is often propelled by the need to make something extra to boost one's standard income.

    However, unknown to most is the fact that some of Kenya's most profitable businesses started out as side hustles.

    Years of toiling behind the scenes in the little hours left after coming checking out of office resulted in the establishment of businesses that have left an indelible mark in Kenya's economy.

    Here's a look at 5 empires that started out as side hustles in Kenya.

    Perminus Wainaina.
    Perminus Wainaina.
    File

    Corporate Staffing Services

    Perminus Wainaina, the founder of one of the regions biggest recruitment firms actually started out as an operations officer at K-Rep bank.

    It was during his time here that he noticed a significant gap in the recruitment market. He had always had a knack for connecting people to opportunities and this was what he slowly turned into a business.

    In 2004, he left employment and ventured into HR consultancy. Today, over 7,500 Kenyans have gotten jobs through his firm.

    "This has taught me that it is important to grab opportunities while they are still hot and also invest yourself in them. For example, when I started, the HR industry wasn’t regulated. I saw an opportunity, went back to school, and got a HR practicing license," he stated during a past interview.

    " You can make money whether you’re employed or in business as long as you are providing value be it to your employer or your customer. You just have to assess your strengths and where you’ll be happier," he added.

    Tabitha Karanja.
    Tabitha Karanja.
    File

    Keroche Industries

    One of the most recognizable brands in Kenya actually started out as a small fortified wine distillery targeting locals in Naivasha.

    Tabitha Karanja and her husband used to operate a hardware store but always kept researching on how to make fortified wine.

    After a few trials mostly comprised of errors, the two finally found a working formula and in 1997, the couple closed their hardware store and went into the wine-making business.

    In 2007, the government enacted heavy taxes on locally made wines, her product was priced out of the market. 

    She switched to manufacturing ready-to-drink gin and vodka, which her state-of-the-art factory still makes today. 

    In 2008, she added beer to her repertoire of alcoholic drinks, beginning with a brand called "Summit". In 2013, the factory began expansion plans to increase beer production from 60,000 bottles per day to 600,000 bottles per day.

    She was honored by President Mwai Kibaki in 2010 with a most significant Kenyan accolade - the Moran of the Order of the Burning Spear (M.B.S.) Award.

    EcoPost

    Lorna Rutto is the founder of  EcoPost, a venture that collects plastic waste and turns them into eco-friendly fencing posts that are used all over Kenya.

    However, her journey started out in the banking industry. Hers is an inspiring story of how a young girl who was always troubled by plastic waste ended up using that waste to launch an empire.

    Lorna was always irked by plastic litter ever since she was a schoolgirl. At the time, she used to collect bits left lying around and turn them into earrings.

    "I just wanted to find a way to get rid of all that plastic," she explained during a recent interview.

    Lorna Rutto.
    Lorna Rutto.
    File

    In 2010, she had done enough research and bonded enough with a young biochemical engineer (who ended up as her co-founder), prompting her to plunge into the entrepreneurial world.

    Through her venture, she has helped save over 250 acres of forests and created hundreds of jobs.

    Every month, EcoPost uses approximately 20 tonnes of plastic waste.

    In its first eight months of operations, EcoPost manufactured 5,000 posts, removing 300 tonnes of plastic waste from the environment. 

    Two Rivers Development Ltd

    Kenyan business mogul Chris Kirubi needs little introduction. The story of how the young CK had to start taking care of his siblings from a tender age is well known.

    However, most people don't know that while working as a salesman, selling and repairing gas cylinders for a shell, the young entrepreneur used his savings and invested in a passion of his no one knew at the time.

    He was quietly buying old rundown houses that were priced cheaply and reselling them after renovation.

    The efforts culminated in the purchase of International Life House which saw Kirubi join the club of serious real estate developers in Nairobi. 

    His love for real estate hasn't withered to date, with Centum currently one of the biggest real estate developers in the region - with Two Rivers Mall being the crown in the firm's real estate crown jewel. 

    Kenyan business mogul Chris Kirubi strikes a pose.
    Kenyan business mogul Chris Kirubi strikes a pose.
    File

    Homeboyz Entertainment

    The story is told of how three brothers who had a passion for music and entertainment started out from a small apartment in South B.

    Alph, Mike and John Rabar are recognized as the pioneering figures behind the rapid growth in Kenya's entertainment industry.

    Not many know that it all started out at a tiny apartment where they used to brainstorm and work on music as well their grand plan to make a mark in the industry.

    All the spare time outside their day jobs was spent working on what was to become Homeboyz Entertainment.

    Their growing market saw them move to Baricho Road and eventually Galana Road where they are currently located.

    Homeboyz Entertainment has been responsible for some of the biggest musical hits as well as successful international concerts.

    The company invested heavily in sound and stage equipment that saw them dominate the industry for over a decade.

    Side hustles may be a means to get some extra shillings, but real-life stories in Kenya have shown that with sacrifice and persistence, they have the potential of morphing into empires.

    Homeboyz entertainment equipment.
    Homeboyz entertainment equipment.