Run your own race

BY VICTOR ADAR

In 2000, when Anna Nichol Wanyee founded Revodesign Studios while still residing in a small city in the Bay Area called Tracy, Northern California, there was a remarkable window of opportunity. The reason Ms Wanyee started the company was because deep down her heart it was a daily struggle to go to her work place, Expo Design Centre. Besides heavy traffic, she says, the distance to main road was just too far and it would take her four hours to and from work. Starting a business made sense.

“We started with interior design and specialised in doing kitchens and bathrooms,” she says. “It was really amazing for me because we had one employee who could do everything. This girl was magical. Her name is Virginia Brown. She even writes to me today. It started there and we found that it was good for the family and it worked really well. There were a lot of homes that needed to be re-modified. There were a lot of remodels.”

With a loan of $200, 000, which took her almost eight years to repay, and one employee, the eagle spirited entrepreneur and captain of Sigona Golf club found her path and stayed in it. She looked for a place in a nearby shopping centre and opened a store. As years went by, design became completely competitive thanks to the ever-changing technology. 

Ms Wanyee decided to go back to school to study interior architecture to improve her skills. She already had an interior design degree from San Jose State University in Silicon Valley. Her argument is that entrepreneurship is about winning, and sometimes losing. Whether to rise or fall equals the strategy that is put in place. She needed more education and technology of design that is in the modern market, she says.

Initially, a program like autoCAD was good enough – AutoCAD is generally used to create computer aided designs or software applications in 2D and 3D formats. From 2005 to 2006, most designers fell in love with 3D illustrations. By 2007, without the knowledge, she says, you were going to be pushed out of business due to stiff competition. To be able to up her game by, say, drawing technical joints, showing a potential customer how the actual product will look like, further education became a lot more important. 

In 2011, she felt that the impact she had in the U.S especially to the community was zero. Although she had managed to compel and convert customers through word of mouth and money was flowing, it was time to pack her bags and say goodbye. As soon as she arrived in Kenya, she registered the same company, Revodesigns. Certainly, moving from a foreign country to set up base in Nairobi came with a lot of challenges. 

“It seemed foreign to be here,” she recalls. “But this is where I wanted to be and I thought that we were using too many foreign designers to do work that could have been done by Kenyans who equally had same qualifications. I can provide same services and change mindsets of Kenyans that ‘if you want something good you have to get it from foreigners’. I thought this was my best fit.”

Nine years down the line, she has employed eight people and established strategic relationships with manufacturers both locally and internationally. She has travelled to China, Dubai, South Africa, Spain and Turkey to source for materials. The ultimate goal of benchmarking is to get good designs at reasonable rates. In order to do a good design, she says, it is important to work with local manufacturers too – she mixes (modern) local materials with imported ones in order to create designs. Targeting both corporate and commercial sectors, her aim is to provide excellence in all areas of interior architecture and design.

“I just did a nice project in Tigoni where we got our furniture from Turkey. The next furniture we got from Dagoreti corner, and we mixed them. The design came out very well and the client was happy,” she says with confidence of a doctor. 

This is where I wanted to be and I thought that we were using too many foreign designers to do work that could have been done by Kenyans who equally had same qualifications. 

Kenya has witnessed a rise in the number of jobless young people. With economic survey by Kenya National Bureau of Statistics showing that out of seven million Kenyans, 70% of them young, are jobless, it is time that graduates as well as other school leavers considered taking up practical courses. 

From plumbing to electrical engineering, painting to welding and fabrication, and tailoring, technical course choices are almost endless. Hers is a talent that is learnt, and detail oriented where by what matters is being able to understand what you are doing. This is what young people ought to embrace if putting food on the table while investing big time right after completion of studies is to be fun and progressive. 

“If we are to compare ourselves to the world we must improve our skills. We have to be dissatisfied with the work that is not done meticulously. It’s my work that has made a buzz and people look for me… How a tailor finishes his or her work, or how the ceiling people do the ceiling is what matters. It should not be untidy. Otherwise it makes my work not look so good. No job is too small or too large to add value to… I am proud to see a thought come to life,” she says.   

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