Few things beat the feeling one gets when they meet a person who interacted with their business and loved it. At that moment, a certain feeling of validation sweeps through you, a feeling that makes all those challenges you went through fade, even though momentarily. It doesn’t matter if it is one person. The odds of such things happening are quite low, especially if you are a small brand literally elbowing your way through a crowded city, like Nairobi.

Yet on a particular Friday evening in September, during the soft opening of  Metta Nairobi, Susan Nakami, the co-founder and CEO of Ki.chen stood next to a lady describing her interaction with one of Ki.chen’s  marketers.

The lady had been driving with her windows rolled down, battling Monday blues. Then, there was this warm guy outside her window, smiling, fully clad in a cyclist’s gear. She rolled down the windows and took the flier he was handing out.  A Ki.chen flier.

Ki.chen was running a marketing campaign in the Upper Hill area using a cyclists group, an act that is  typically Susan, and Ki.chen.

“At Ki.chen, we just don’t do something for the sake of it. It has to be fun.” says Susan.

When she quit her job,  she wasn’t looking for another place to go through the motions. She had grown tired of the monotony in Finance.  Passion is a term that is often bandied around. However, that is yet to deflate it of its significance. Her plan was to engage in something she was passionate about; food. More specifically, how her venture would go beyond just providing food. That beyond, which is also Ki.chen’s driving force,  is addressing the frustrating experiences people go through trying to figure out their lunches .

Susan explains that lunch options in Nairobi are limited to three broad sections; mama wa kibanda, the fast food joints and the high end restaurants like Java and Artcaffe. She and her two co-founders, felt there should be another option that is not only healthy and affordable, but also fresh. It is common practice for food businesses to prepare their food in advance. If you walk into a restaurant at 6 PM, you are most likely to be served food that was cooked twelve hours before. Ki.chen would address that.

“How Ki.chen works is we make the food on order. We’ve worked out our menu in a such a way that all our dishes take 15-30 minutes to prepare. If it is something that  takes long to prepare, we will be upfront with you and tell you this is going to take 90 minutes to get to you.”

To make their products relevant,  Susan decided to design the items in collaboration with her potential customers. For three months, they made the same food every time and delivered it to people everyday, for free.  They took the feedback and tweaked the dishes.  Finally, they had a focus group of 20 people, gave them the 20 dishes on their initial menu alongside questionnaires.

Even now, when we introduce something, we taste it in house, if we are happy, we send it out to our existing clients because they know what our brand is. We do that for a couple of weeks. The feedback is what we use. If they say it is something they wouldn’t want to see on the menu, then it is a pass. Also, if it is something we wouldn’t eat ourselves, it won’t go to the menu either.

In order keep it fresh, the company tries to introduce something new fortnightly. They collaborate with others outside the company in conceptualizing  the new items.

We involve other people outside Ki.chen, who are not necessarily trained chefs, but love food and can come up with something exciting, and we could name it after them. And now, because we have named something after someone, they will go telling everyone to buy it. That translates to marketing, and sales.

Ki.chen now has a  customer base of 700. On a good day, sales average 150 orders of the main courses (not counting juices, sandwiches, and orders from catering services).  There are people who order ki.chen everyday. Recurrent customers rank really high with Susan.

I think people focus a lot on customer acquisition than retention. They’ve completely missed the point.I get  more excited when I see guys who were ordering Ki.chen when we started in 2015, coming back. It makes me feel we must be doing something right.

And how does she push the business?

Invest more time in your staff than anything else. Train them, create a fun working environment. That kind of energy is going to be redirected to the customers, and they’d want to come back.That is also how people are going to talk about you.

When it comes to marketing, they go beyond the traditional marketing activities. They have used cyclists and flash mobs.  Susan gets inspiration from moving around in Nairobi. Or watching things online, and thinking  of how to incorporate that into a marketing plan:

Logistics remain a challenge. Ki.chen delivers food all over Nairobi from one dispatch point. They are working on setting up several stock points around Nairobi to lessen waiting time,cost, and improves customer experience. However, since they also use external riders, there has been a huge disparity in how the inhouse Ki.chen riders and the outsourced riders interact with customers.

This has made them find creative ways of trying to make the delivery experiences better. Mid October, Ki.chen decided to use cyclists to also deliver sandwiches. The feedback was “completely amazing”.

What is also encouraging is the fact Ki.chen’s current  challenges pale in comparison to what Susan went through in the early days. She did everything, including hopping on a motorbike to deliver orders.  She also vividly remembers all the emotions she went through on the day they launched after winding up their three month test.

We sat from 8-5 , waiting for the phone to ring. It never rung.It was very depressing.

On the second day, they got three orders. By the end of the week, they were getting ten to fifteen orders. That has grown to a loyal clientele, who also act as ambassadors for the brand.


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