This week, a story from my last few weeks in Kenya (eluded to here): the day my friend and I went with John Mayai and filled up two Ubers with eggs.
It’s a good example of the struggles and differences in the mindset that come with running a micro-business in East Africa. Plus, a quiz at the end…
Meet John Mayai
On my walk back from work in Nairobi was an apartment block with a guy who reputedly sold affordable, good quality eggs.
For the life of me, I can’t remember how I came to know this fact, but I started passing by and purchasing a tray of 30 most weeks (lots of omelets in our apartment, don’t judge).
Through this, I got chummy with the guy selling the eggs, John.
Usually, a few trays were up at the gate for easy collection, but one day I asked to come down and see where he kept his store.
He took me down to the basement car park where he had several stacks of trays to choose from.
I also learned that he lived down here – having a bed in a dimly lit room in the corner of the car park.
How John runs his business
John’s main job is being a chef. He works most afternoons at a restaurant nearby and found that he had time in the mornings where he was left idle.
He heard that someone was looking to buy eggs and would pay a bit of a premium to have them delivered.
He looked at what cash he had (KES 1,500, ~$15) and on his way back from upcountry stopped off at an agricultural market on the outskirts of Nairobi.
Here he bought five trays of eggs for KES 270 each, brought them back to Nairobi and sold them for KES 300, making a small profit, but a profit nonetheless.
This got him thinking about whether others would want to buy eggs, and he went around canvassing local shops and hotels about whether they’d like fresh, high-quality eggs delivered to them on a regular basis.
Slowly by slowly he built up to being able to buy eighty trays of eggs on each “run”, going on Monday mornings and then selling them through the week.
The additional $5-10 profit would go into buying more stock, sometimes dipping down when he had pay school fees etc.
A podcast interview
As part of The East Africa Business Podcast I was looking at different businesses to talk to and realised I had so many questions for John.
- How did this start?
- What’s your margin on eggs?
- What are constraining factors with growing the business?
One Tuesday, I popped down to see him and we agreed to set up an interview on Friday at noon (the interview is this week’s episode).
In the pre-amble, we established that nominative determinism wasn’t at play. Mayai means “egg” in Swahili, and it’s how he refers to himself to customers: an easy, friendly way for people to know him, and keep in mind how they could probably do with some eggs #AlwaysBeClosing
The interview lasted about half an hour and we covered most aspects of the business.
The really interesting part was when I asked him what was holding back the business from growing.
His eyes lit up: “if only I had a car!”
Enter the financiers…
Straight after the interview, I went for lunch with friend Raaj. His day job is to evaluate the riskiness of East African businesses and give them credit accordingly.
We chatted about the conversation I’d just had and it seemed like something we could help out on.
John’s issue was buying and then safely transporting a larger quantity of eggs from the wholesale market to Nairobi.
Right now he was restricted by not having cash nor a vehicle to bring eggs back in.
Raaj and I decided that we’d go with John on his next trip to the market, order an Uber to bring us back and pay for as many eggs that we could fit in there.
Right after lunch we went back to John with the proposition (he was receptive) and agreed to meet up in the morning.
A morning at the market
The three of us met on an Uber the next day.
John had brought with him 80 empty cardboard trays which, he was saying, he needed to trade in for the new eggs at the market.
We got to the market a little later than hoped for, and John was slightly angsty at the fact that there weren’t that many eggs left.
We parked up, John lit up a cigarette and then went chatting to the “Mamas” selling eggs on the curbside.
Asking how much the eggs were costing he, slightly flustered, said how they were charging KES 285 a tray.
Raaj and I asked if our presence was resulting in a “mzungu premium” though after cross-checking with a few other people it became clear that this was the going price that day.
The reason being was that the colder weather meant more money had to be spent on feed + keeping the chickens insulated.
Also, the farmers had already sold their eggs in bulk (at KES 280) to the mayai mamas and gone home. We were paying for this additional layer too.
It was what it was. John grumbled that the other market has thousands of eggs on offer but nevertheless he did his rounds and we bought up all the eggs we could.
Raaj and I sat by the boot of the car as John went to each of the mamas. Once the price was negotiated Raaj or I would pay.
Interestingly, no one wanted to accept M-Pesa (mobile money in Kenya). There are transaction costs of ~ KES 50 to withdraw the money into cash (and also with sending it to others). The mayai mamas were making just KES 5 on each tray they sold and so that equated to a significant percentage of their daily takings.
Two cars home
Now that we were here, John was keen to make the most of the opportunity of transporting home his big bounty of eggs.
He got chatting around and found a farmer. Raaj and I were introduced to George and began filling up the car.
George has two businesses, selling both chickens and eggs (I asked which came first, he didn’t laugh). We loaded up tray after tray into the boot and then the back seat, and then the same with the Uber for John.
The spectacle was causing interest, other traders coming over to see the mzungus and John clearing up all the eggs on sale that day.
We then got in the cars, kept a hand on any wobbly egg stacks and unloaded them all into John’s room back in the basement car park.
He was happy with the amount he brought back. Though slightly disappointed with the higher cost he relished the prospect of selling the eggs to local customers.
“If I could” John said “all I’d focus on is selling eggs”.
Learn more about John’s story
He’s the feature of this week’s podcast episode: https://theeastafricabusinesspodcast.com/how-many-eggs-can-you-fit-in-an-uber-overcoming-micro-business-challenges-with-john-a-nairobi-egg-dealer
If you’d like to buy his eggs he’s at Skyline Apartments in Nairobi (near Yaya Centre). If you’re interested in funding his next run to get eggs, you can let me know too.
How many eggs do you think we managed to transport back from the egg market?
- 2 x Toyota saloon cars
- 1 with John + driver
- 1 with me, Raaj + driver
- All other seats folded down
- Trays of 30 can be stacked neatly on top of each other
There were also some egg-related jokes which got passed around:
- Why did the Frenchman not want two eggs?
- What did the egg do for it’s birthday?
Send in your guesses, I’ll reveal the answers next week..!
In other news…
I’ve been doing a bit of work with my former company this week, submitting a tender for a deal I was working on.
It’s resulted in me writing the words “Ithis tender submission” numerous times which sounds so much more affectionate than how I’ve actually been feeling.
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