Nathalie Maikere is owner and founder of e-ENSURES, an online market research company serving pre-startups, startups, and small and medium-sized business. The daughter of Rwandan parents working in the humanitarian aid sector, 37-year old Nathalie was born in Kiev, Ukraine, and lived in seven other countries before moving to Kenya a few years ago. Her first language was Russian – although she doesn’t speak it anymore – but no matter because she’s trilingual (French, English and Kinyarwanda) and also has some proficiency in Portuguese, Hindi, Swahili, Spanish and Dutch. Nathalie always believed she’d end up in the development field but following a stint at Nailab, a startup accelerator in Nairobi, this mother-of-two caught the entrepreneurship bug when she realized business could be harnessed for development purposes. “I was so amazed by these people who were building innovative solutions that had the potential to revolutionize their communities but also saw the need for affordable market research to support their visions. I truly believe entrepreneurship is what’s going to change the world and that every idea deserves a chance to grow.”
She Inspires Her talked with Nathalie about her business and how e-ENSURES got started.
So tell us a little bit about what you do?
My company, e-ENSURES, is a new startup that conducts market research for small businesses and entrepreneurs to help them understand the market they’re dealing with, gauge who their audience is, and strategize accordingly. We create reports about new trends and tailored sector- or product-specific reports on request. For example, we’re often asked by entrepreneurs with new and innovative business ideas to conduct research on how receptive the public would be to these concepts. Many of our clients are African diaspora excited to return to the continent but unsure of what to expect. Our research unveils the immense amount of business and investment opportunities available in Africa. e-ENSURES also creates connections for our clients, for example with other entrepreneurs with similar ideas or possible investors, so that they can think beyond what their perspective and culture allows them to consider.
How did you come up with the idea to start your business?
In my experience with startups, I realized many entrepreneurs don’t pay enough attention to market research. This is even more prominent among African-based businesses. In Kenya alone, about 3000 businesses are started every month! And about half of them fail within the first year. I want to change that. I want to see small businesses thrive in Africa. It’s so crucial to understand not only your market as a whole, but your individual customer as well. However, in an industry where professional market research services are tailored just for big corporates, SMEs have a hard time financially prioritizing market research. Our goal at e-ENSURES is to bridge this gap. I also wanted to broaden the horizons of African startups – most times, entrepreneurs don’t realize the scalability of their idea. You might think you’ve built a product for the Kenyan market, but it would be more successful in the Rwandan market. We’re here to show you all these possibilities.
Building a business needs a lot of planning and funding until it’s launched, what has been your biggest challenge to date?
Before I got my team, it was just me and working alone was difficult. And to make it even more interesting – I was starting a business in a foreign country. In the beginning, it was a bit difficult learning about how people do business in Kenya, cultural differences and legal regulations with which I wasn’t familiar. Being new to the country, it was also hard building relationships, connecting with relevant business networks and gaining meaningful partnerships. But now Kenya is home for me and a great platform from which I can launch e-ENSURES.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given that has stuck with you?
It sounds cliché, but don’t give up. Ever! I can’t stress how important it’s been for me to celebrate my failures as important lessons. Don’t be distracted from your vision by a setback, just keep it moving!
What do you know now that you wish you knew before you started your business?
I wish I had appreciated the importance of finding a good role model or career/business mentor to turn to on the entrepreneurial journey. I was relying solely on my own knowledge and experiences – and maybe I would have avoided some mistakes if I’d had a mentor who was guiding me.
What are the biggest barriers to women-owned business in your country? Do you think the attitude toward female entrepreneurs is changing in your country?
I think Kenya is very progressive compared to most other countries on the continent. I’m lucky enough to never have experienced any discriminatory treatment in my life as an entrepreneur just because I’m a woman. We work in an entrepreneurial environment – and the most important thing is never the color of your skin, your gender or where you’re from, it’s about how good you are at what you do. That’s why I think entrepreneurship has the power to bring down stereotyping, enabling anyone to succeed as long as they have the ability and right mindset.
What advice would you give to women in your country who are interested in starting a business?
Women are SO amazing and powerful – don’t let anyone make you think otherwise. We are the ones who make the most impact in the world, and we hardly get appreciated for it. As women, I think it’s very easy for us to downplay our value – especially the way society has conditioned us. Since we were little girls, we’ve been socialized to believe that we are less – never enough. Even very successful women have talked about their battle with the imposter syndrome. It’s so ridiculous! In everything you do, make sure you fully own it, embrace and celebrate yourself. You are deserving of the success you’ve worked so hard for, and it’s not by chance that you’ve got to where you are now. Whatever your role is in your career or your personal life in general, as long as it’s in line with what you want (not what the world tells you), it’s your right! I also want to encourage young women to pursue things because they want to, and because it’s something important to them as an individual. Not everything should be about finding a future husband. For working women with families – don’t let anyone tell you that you have to choose between a career or your family. You can have both.
Which factors or personal characteristics have helped you get to where you are right now?
I am very persistent – when I believe in something, I just do it! And I keep on doing it no matter what roadblocks I face until I get it done.
How do you see your business evolving in five years?
I want e-ENSURES to have a presence across Africa. For me, my business is not just about market research. It’s also about connecting entrepreneurs. Having had an international background, I want to broaden people’s horizons. By facilitating cross-border trade, I think we can fight stereotypes and discrimination. More importantly, I’d love to see e-ENSURES play a big role in bringing back the African diaspora! Africa really is changing – and I’d like for those in the diaspora to see how many opportunities there are here. I want them to understand that they can make a valuable contribution in building our beautiful and diverse continent while making money.
You can connect with Nathalie via the following platforms: