Wangari Gikonyo
(Nyumba za Fahari)

This is a summary of an interview with my sister Wangari Gikonyo, the owner of Nyumba za Fahari, an online interior decor shop.

In this interview, Wangari reveals how she started and is growing her business. As she does this, she’s also a wife, mother and in full-time employment.

Among other things, Wangari shares her time management system. This has helped her maintain balance between all the roles she’s currently playing.

Click here to listen to the interview or read the summary below

“Your dreams are valid.” ~ Wangari Gikonyo

Background information

Nyumba za Fahari is an interior decor business. It’s owned by Wangari Gikonyo who has a background in accounting.

Wangari went to Maryhill High School and has a BComm degree in Administration. She started off on a Master’s degree in Forensic Accounting, but dropped it when she discovered that it was not her passion.

She’s also done a certificate course in interior decor. This helped her understand her business when she was starting up.

Nyumba za Fahari is not Wangari’s first foray into business. Previously she ventured into :

  • A chicken business with her mum – more to support her mum than to do business.
  • A vegetable business with her sister.
  • Business partnership with her sisters.

She has since let go of all other business ventures to concentrate all her attention on Nyumba za Fahari, which has been in existence since November 2014.

Until 2017, she was working in the business on and off. She made sales in the first year and went quiet in the second and third years. She came back again in 2017. Active sales when consolidated would be about 2 years.

Structure of the business

1. Business registration

The business is a sole proprietorship, fully owned by Wangari. She’s planning to incorporate it with partners.

2. Location

Nyumba za Fahari is purely online and can be found on Facebook. They’re currently working setting up a physical presence which will be shared on the Facebook page. They’re also developing a website.

3. Core products

While Nyumba za Fahari sells soft furnishings (interior decor products), their core product is throw pillows. Currently, they’re selling:

  • Throw pillows.
  • Ethnic decorative wall mirrors.
  • Baskets.
  • Lampshades.

Why throw pillows or cushions? 

  1. Wangari loves colour and it’s easy to introduce colour into your home with throw pillows.
  2. Pillows are cushy. They’re like a squeezy hug. You lean on them, hold them when watching movies…they’re a source of comfort.
  3. When starting off decorating your home and you’re not really sure what you want, you can use these pillows to change things. The impact is the same, but you can make changes without spending a lot of money.

For example, when Wangari started the business, she decided to redo her house. She changed her throw pillows 3 times or 4 times until she felt like it was right.

As she changed, she got clarity about what her house was supposed to look like. She also didn’t feel a big pinch as compared to changing a larger item like the sofa or carpet.

4. Employees

When starting the business, Wangari was everything. With time, she’s added 3 people whom she’s outsourced work to. These include:

  • 2 producers.
  • A social media manager.

The producers make the products but they’re not her employees or suppliers. Wangari comes up with what she wants them to make. She buys the raw materials and the producers stitch as per her specifications.

Why Nyumba za Fahari?

When Wangari started thinking about interior decor, she was interested in getting quality products. She had been disappointed by the quality of the products we get in Kenya.

So she asked herself, “What would I like? If I went to a shop, what would I like?” These questions made her realize that she wanted products:

  • that had good quality stitching.
  • made of good quality materials,
  • she could buy at a reasonable price.

That’s what led her to set up Nyumba za Fahari. In essence, she created a business out of a need she and so she was actually her own ideal customer.

Journey into Purpose

Along the way as she worked on the business, Wangari felt that she needed to do something about prisoners and the homeless.

Every time she would see them, especially the homeless people, she would ask herself, “What if this person had something they could earn from? Would they choose differently?”

And she’d really feel bad that when she came back to her own house, she had somewhere to go. However, that other person is on the street.

However, Wangari didn’t want a solution that would give them money today and tomorrow. She wanted to be able to help those who want to get out a way to fish for themselves.

This would ensure that whether she’s there or not, they have a way of making money. Being able to support themselves and have a place (home) that they can go to.

For prisoners… She once read a story about a former prisoner who ended up on the streets because they had nowhere to go. They had a skill but no one would employ them because they didn’t trust them.

In such an instance, you either end up back in prison or on the streets if your family doesn’t take you back.

Where does Nyumba za Fahari feature in all this?

Nyumba za Fahari is there to give people back their pride. First to the person who has a home. This person gets help in making their home a place that they’re proud of.

The home then becomes a relaxing place that they love going to in the evening after a hard day working. A place that they love spending time with their family. They’re all comfortable and in a beautiful surrounding.

Second is to give pride back to the people who’ve come out of prison or who used to be on the streets. This is because they’re all God’s creations and He has a purpose for them. But that purpose got lost in that whole situation.

Setting up a purpose-based business

Wangari realized that in order for the business to hire and create a source of income for the homeless and ex-prisoners she’s to work with, she first needed a market.

That’s what they’re currently working on – to make sure there’s somewhere the products are going. They’ve created and are continuing to create interest through marketing.

However, the part where she actually gets to create a way for the people to learn how to produce and sell the products is still stuck.

So this year, she’s working on creating a structure. This includes among other things:

  • Doing her background work about the structure.
  • Getting additional training for herself.
  • Setting up the product items.
  • Buying machines.
  • Finding the additional resources needed to make sure the products are right.

Moving from a career you’re good at to your passion and purpose

When Wangari was working on her Masters degree, she got unwell and had to delay it for some time. When she went back to school, she had forgotten a lot of the stuff learnt, especially in relation to research.

A personal evaluation made her realize that her career growth the way she was envisioning it at that point in time did not include accounting. While she enjoyed the Masters course and was quite good at the work, it was not what she wanted with her future.

Another reason why it was time for the shift is that when she turned 30, she did a mental plan. The plan was for her to complete the Masters in Forensic and work with it for 10 years.

After 10 years she was going to do a total switch. The Masters was purely for career growth at work and then after that she would switch into interior decor.

Interestingly, interior decor came 4 years earlier than expected. So when she went back to finish the Masters in order to continue with the plan she didn’t have a heart for it anymore. And she really didn’t want to do it.

She also wasn’t willing to invest the resources, money, time that it would take her to complete the course. So it was a choice between completing the Masters and doing something in interior decor. She chose interior decor.

The shift wasn’t easy at all because mathematics and decor are like different sides of a coin. For the longest time, she felt like a failure. It felt as if she was letting go of the masters because she couldn’t do it.

It took her a while to realize that she  was actually letting it go because she wanted to. She could have finished, but she chose not to give it the time and money.

Challenges encountered at startup and beyond (and solutions)

1. Doubt and lack of confidence

When starting the business, she was very unsure. It felt like it was one of those things, you think you’re good at, but when you come to the real thing, it’s only you who sees it as such.

Doing the course in interior decor helped a lot because it gave her validation about her talent. It was just a certificate course, but she soaked it all in.

2. Shifting priorities

The more she does interior decor, the less she feels like she’s doing maths as well as she could have.

When she begun her career in accounting, she was really good at the mathematical part. It’s like a part of her brain had been wired that way and she had opened it up.

When she moved to interior decor, it’s like that mathematical door is sliding shut. It’s getting darker and darker and this other one is opening up brighter. What she had then and what she has now are totally different. That was quite a shift.

3. Negative comments from people

She didn’t get much external validation at startup. When people realized she was serious about making the shift, she got a lot of negative comments.

The negativity included:

  • Being laughed at outright.
  • People wondering “Why would you want to stop working to do that!?”
  • Someone visited her home and told her it didn’t look like an interior decorator’s house.

Some of these comments introduced more doubt. Thankfully, as much as it entered her mind and she allowed it to slow her down for some time, she still didn’t give up.

4. Lack of access to prisoners

She’s not been able to get access to ex-prisoners despite trying to find a way to contact them. For now, she’s put it under God’s grace.

5. Time management

Time is a big challenge for her. Business in its startup needs a lot of time, more so because you’re everything.

She feels that if she had more time for the business, it would grow faster. She’d be able to give it all her attention.

Also, time and attention go together. As much as she’s laser focused, there are still grey areas in between when she’s unable to complete all she wants for her business that day.

She’s set aside early mornings from 7:00am to 8:00am for Nyumba za Fahari. However, she finds is hard to switch from business to her work when 8 o’clock reaches. This is more so when she’s not completed what she had set to do for the business that morning.

6. Managing people

Wangari has a very hard time cracking the whip on someone who’s not doing what she wants them to do. She can let it go until the point where it’s painful.

She also tends to make people her friends and forget that they’re here for business. So she allows them a lot of space to make mistakes that mess up her business and just keeps quiet about it – not wanting to shake the relationship.

This doesn’t work and it ends up creating a problem. By the time she’s cracking the whip it’s a bigger problem that she has to deal with.

She’s now learning to crack the whip as she goes. She’s also keeping in mind that this is a working relationship and she has to have her standards at work and the standards have to be done as is.

Also, sometimes it also doesn’t matter whether you’re friends or not with the people you’re working with in the business. It’s good if you’re friends, but it doesn’t matter whether you’re friends or not so long as you can work together.

7. Product development process is timely and potentially costly

A product that you buy and sell is quite easy. You just identify what you like, select, and come and sell.

A product that you make is a bit harder and requires time, attention and money. You create the first batch and it doesn’t look quite right.

For example, Wangari could buy a fabric she thinks would look nice and it doesn’t work out for the cushions.

Or maybe she bought fabric that she thought would look nice. But when it’s done, it looks awful! Or the person didn’t exactly understand what Wangari  wanted so it’s done differently and it has to be redone.

By the time she gets her product to what she wants, she’s done a lot of development.

8. Lack of internal support in the business

Her business is a sole proprietorship. This is overwhelming because there are a lot of things that she needs to do that she’s really not good at such as marketing. However, as a solo startup, she had to do all the things herself.

Also, right now Nyumba za Fahari is Wangari. If something happened to her, the business dies. But if she had a partner who shared her vision it would go well.

You share duties and are also not busy at the same time. And maybe when balls are dropping for one person, the other can catch the Nyumba za Fahari ball.

Going beyond startup

2018 is a critical year for Nyumba za Fahari. In 2017, she asked herself a few questions that changed the way she thought about the business:

  1. “Why did I start Nyumba za Fahari?”
  2. “Have I achieved it?”
  3. “Did I give it (the business) my all?”

The WHY is very clear in her mind. However, at some point she doubted herself and thought she was in the wrong business. She then made a decision that from this point forth, she’s giving it her all and working at it with tunnel vision.

At that time, she was doing the business and many other things that were distractions. So she stretched herself very thin and something had to break. Since her work and family couldn’t be the ones that broke, all the other things failed, Nyumba za Fahari included. And she had to go back and start over.

Unfortunately, going back is not easy. That fire you had at the beginning has dimmed. So it’s like kuwasha jiko (lighting a charcoal cooker). You’re fanning it with more energy. While it’s easy to give up, she challenged herself to fan the fire again by giving it her all. There’s no other way out.

There was also a lot of validation from past customers. She met some of them and they asked why she wasn’t talking about her business. Others told her that her products were really nice. This feedback added fuel to the fire.

Managing family, life, work and business

She’s learnt over the years that there are days when she will not manage at all. Here are the habits that have helped her create some balance between all the roles she plays.

1. Early to bed, early to rise

She noticed that when she sleeps late in the evening, she doesn’t wake up early the next morning. And when she wakes up early, she gets to the office earlier and has a 45-minute to 1-hour period between 7 and 8 o’clock to work on her business.

2. Cut out early morning office chats

Before discovering how powerful mornings are, she’d get to the office around 8:00am or 8:15am. She’d then sit and chat with colleagues, have a cup of tea and start work.

When she changed, she realized that 45 minutes in your morning is a lot of time. Before that, a lot of things were pending including social media and admin.

Making the change was not easy. However, seeing how much it was working for her made it easier to work with.

3. Outsourcing

She outsourced social media and product development. She’s not good at social media and it was weighing her down. So letting it go was a big burden off her shoulders.

4. Do one thing each day for your business

She tries and does at least one thing everyday for the business. It doesn’t matter whether it’s 10 or 15 minutes. She just makes sure she’s done one thing.

5. Give yourself permission

Even as she’s doing all these, she’s also given herself permission to know that some days she will not be able to complete her work and she need not beat herself over that.

6. Create a schedule that works for you

There as a point when she reached rock bottom. All the balls she was juggling were falling and she couldn’t catch any of them. She sort of gave up.

At this point, she realized that she couldn’t hack it. So she told herself, “There’s someone who’s doing this and there’s a way they are doing it.”

Out of this question came the realization that she needed to get a schedule that worked for her. Not what she should be doing, but what she can be doing.. Something that works just for her and not what works for other people.

This led to her picking up the balls one at a time and deciding how she was going to work with that area of her life.

7. Make every hour count

Creating her schedule made her less wasteful of her time because her hours had to count. When she’s in the office, her hours in the office had to count because she doesn’t have time to extend the hours.

Also, she can’t catch up with office work after 5:00pm because that’s family and business time. So that means each of the hours of her day count.

If she’s at work, she’s at work. When she’s at Nyumba za Fahari, she’s at Nyumba za Fahari. If she’s with the family, she’s with the family.

There are times when borders will cross but you have to cut it off at some point so that your mind sticks to working 100% in that moment.

Core lessons learnt about business

(Some of these lessons are also explored in the business challenges section)

1. Business is different once you’re inside

We go into business with rosy, tinted glasses. It looks nice when you’re on the outside, but it isn’t on the inside. And even when you’re inside, you need to be very clear about what you want and what your business is about.

2. Set and enforce strong boundaries

Have very strong boundaries with the people you’re working with. Friendships are good, but you need very strong boundaries. Be sure that each person knows that work comes first and friendship later. Also, don’t allow your employees or suppliers to treat you like they’re doing you a favour.

3. Have clear standards

Your standards determine how people work with you. When outsourcing, ensure that your standards remain the standards. The person outsourced to can’t do anything else.

As with boundaries, you need to enforce your standards across the board. It helps immensely if the standards are written down and communicated effectively to all parties

“Business is not about highs and lows…up down, up down. It’s about consistency. Consistently working at it. Consistently doing what you need to do. Every day, do something.”

Wangari’s advice for women in business

1. “Dreams are valid.” 

Wangari first got the business dream 10 years ago. However, she thought that she couldn’t do decor. So she ran away from the dream and went for the Masters program. This cost her time and money that she could have invested in her dream.

Her advice:

  • Probe your dream and think about it.
  • Have meetings with yourself and just allow yourself to feel the dream.
  • Ask yourself, “Do I like it despite what other people would say?”

Then follow your dream and give it your all.

2. Take action on the markers that reveal themselves

Wangari had a number of markers along the way:

  • First, she was called for a degree in textile design (she chose BComm instead).
  • When she finished high school, she did a course in tailoring.
  • Her business dream emerged 10 years ago.

She feels that these markers may have been small, but they were directing her somewhere. She also wonders where she’d be right now if she had followed the markers.

3. Give it your all

Do the business with all your heart. All your heart doesn’t mean everything else has to fall. It just means that you’re giving it your all.

This also includes funding the business. Funding is something many people struggle with…giving money to the business and you’re not sure whether it will work, will it work or not.

When she reflects on the veggie business she had with her sister, she sees that they never really funded it. They also didn’t give it their all. And yet today, there are many people who are doing similar businesses and succeeding.

When the veggie business demanded that one of partners be present fully, they got afraid and let it go. So do whatever it is. As long as you feel in your heart that this is the right thing for you, give it your all.

It’s not easy, but giving it your all opens God’s heart to helping you along. Because when you do, you also begin living your passion, your purpose.

Purpose is not an easy journey, but it’s a fulfilling one.

4. You don’t need a large capital investment

Capital is not a reason for abandoning your dream. What you need more is sweat investment. She started Nyumba za Fahari with less than Kshs. 10,000/-.

When starting with little or no capital, you just have accept that you’ll do a lot of the work yourself. That’s the hard part. You also need to be ready to learn.

Recommended books and programs

1. The Bible

The Bible proves that you were created for a purpose. This is critical especially when balls and you’re wondering, “Now why am I here?”

2. The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For? by Rick Warren

This supports the Bible and is especially useful if you’re struggling with your purpose. Warren removes a lot of that struggle. He also helps you realize that you were created for a purpose and God knows that purpose.

3. The Princessa: Machiavelli for Women by Harriet Rubin

This book helped Wangari realize that she doesn’t need to change who she is in order to do well. She just needs to work with herself as she is.

4. The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller

While she hasn’t read the book, the book’s forward gave her the idea of doing one thing every day for her business. This book is in her reading list when she can get a physical copy (she doesn’t like eBooks).

5. Personal development coaching and trainings

Coaching gives one validation. You get a sense of who you are and accept yourself as you are. You may have things to work on and habits to change, but you’re who you are and you’re OK with that.

If you have children, get training in parenting skills as this will help you become a better parent. You’ll also manage your children better instead of them managing you, as is the case for many parents.

6. Business coaching

The biggest resource for Wangari’s business has been the business coaching she’s been doing over the last year.

Before signing up for coaching, she’d pick up the business one day and work on it “like madness”. Then the next day or for one month, she’d do nothing.

Then she’d pick up the business again for 2 days and drop it for a week. It was a choppy relationship between her and her business instead of a constant one.

Coaching made her stop this habit and work on her business consistently.

Parting words from Wangari

First, love yourself. Love who you are and love what God has put in your heart. Accept it and accept yourself warts and all.

You’re who you are. Warts can be worked on, but your core character remains the same. You don’t need to change it. So long as you are grounded on the right things, you’re on the right path.

Second, appreciate where you are at every moment. Live in the moment because each moment has lessons in it. Instead of agonizing over the moment, learn from it and then move on.

Third, invest in yourself. That’s the greatest investment you can ever do. It pays dividends to you and everyone around you.

Fourth, learn what you can handle. Women tend to take on more than we can handle. We carry our families, including the extended ones and everything else.

Finally, learn to let go of things. Also let go of especially people who hurt you and who won’t build you up.

Your way forward

1. Visit Nyumba za Fahari

Visit Wangari’s shop on Facebook and see how you can liven up your home without spending a lot of money. Like and share her page and connect with her there. You can also take a moment to call her (her number is on the page) and let her know what you learnt from this interview.

2. Sign up for updates

Would you like to receive updates on other interviews with professional and business women? Sign up for our email newsletter and you’ll get these updates hot off the press. You’ll also receive personal development and business tips and resources as well as periodic special offers that are just for our subscribers.

3. Get featured in Celebrating Women in Business

We interview women who are at different levels of professional and business growth. Contact us if you’d like to be featured in this series. For business owners, your business must be at least one year old and you work fully in the business.

4. Sign up for coaching

At Biashara 360, we help professional and business women become leaders in their industries. You define success in your own terms, chart your own course, and achieve your fullest potential. You also prioritize your focus so that you achieve greater success while working a lot less.

If this interests you, click here to request for a 15 minute consultation. During this call, you will connect with a coach and identify whether coaching is the right thing for you. If it isn’t, you’ll be guided as to what would work for you now.

(Image Credit: Wangari Gikonyo)

Disclaimer: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links and I get a small commission when you purchase from the vendors. Even so, I only recommend books, programs and resources that have been beneficial to myself or my clients.


Caroline Gikonyo
Caroline Gikonyo

Caroline Gikonyo is a Life and Business Coach at Biashara 360. She's an avid blogger and also oversees our content creation. This ensures that we give our readers quality and well researched information and tips.

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