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Liz Gathoni: Quitting, Mistakes and Building a Business as a Young Mom 
Money and Me

Liz Gathoni: Quitting, Mistakes and Building a Business as a Young Mom 

Someone once said that every cloud has a silver lining. Well, if the pandemic can be tagged as my cloud, the silver lining has to be the amazing people I’ve had the privilege of interviewing during this period.

They aren’t larger-than-life heroes or celebrities, just your ordinary Kenyan pursuing extraordinary dreams.

It’s hard to engage with such individuals without experiencing a burning desire to push yourself even harder, their single-minded focus to achieve their goals can only be described as infectious.

Today, we journey through Liz Gathoni’s inspiring voyage into entrepreneurship. 

From finding her passion in secondary school, training as a graphic designer at the ShangTao Media Arts College to years of employment, false starts, more false starts and finally hanging the boots as an employee with a baby on board to the surprise of her family and friends. 

From our very first conversation, her attitude spoke volumes.

It painted the picture of a woman who possessed what your favorite motivational speaker would call a ‘winner’s mindset’.

Her willingness to share and own up to some of the mistakes she’s made along her journey isn’t something I come across everyday.

Some blame shrewd partners, others blame the ‘system’, with some going as far as blaming the devil, but not Liz.

During our candid tête-à-tête, I noted how she always took ownership of her blunders, and even managed to laugh at her younger self a time or two.

Personal finance is one of those topics that, when brought up, results in people running for the hills, or even putting up a wall that would rival the great one in China.

I’m glad she didn’t, as she went on to grant me access to her journey thus far, this is her story.

How much was your first pay cheque and what you did with it? 

She starts off with a hearty laugh, this has to be good, I tell myself.

Well, my first real pay cheque was Ksh23k. 

I was only 21 at the time. Being a young lady (she puts a lot of emphasis on ‘young') I bought a leather handbag worth Ksh5k and a designer perfume called 5th Avenue by Elizabeth Arden. 

The rest, I gave to my parents and helped pay some bills at home.

I try to press on the cost of the designer perfume, but all I get is a smile that sends me to Uncle Google… Let the record show that a 125ml bottle of her particular brand of perfume retails at Ksh5,500.

I’m not really sure how much it went for when she was in her early 20s, but you get my drift.

Moving on...

What's the most important financial lesson you've learned over the years and why? 

Saving with the right Saccos/ Banks and investing in the right projects,

I have to admit from the onset that I still struggle when it comes to personal savings. Let’s just say that I can be a spendthrift at times.

She chuckles.

For example, if  an unexpected project comes up, I sometimes convince myself that I will just “borrow” some money from my savings for the ongoing project, then return it later. 

The problem is, this ‘later’ rarely comes ...another chuckle… I’ve been working to better this side of me.

Another example is when I quit my job. I had a very good and detailed exit plan that would help me kick start my business.

However, when the money came in, I spent it on totally different things. I cleared a few pending bills here and there (some were not too urgent to be honest). Also, I donated and helped a few friends out with the same money.

Within no time, I had used up half of the money and that’s how I failed to purchase a MacBook, a tool of trade that I really needed in my line of work as a designer.

Fortunately, I panicked in the nick of time and remembered why I had quit my job in the first place. 

I set up my business with the little cash I had left, and I have to say that I’m happy with the progress I’ve made so far.

I couldn’t agree more, it’s very important to celebrate your wins, even the so-called ‘little ones’. 

The cheeky look on her face tells me there’s more to the ‘financial mistakes’ story.

Is there any other ‘money related blunder’ that comes to mind?

You’re not letting this go, are you?

Nope… is my answer.

Ok, there was this one time when I borrowed money from one of these finance apps and was able to access up to Ksh20,000. I had this bad habit of borrowing, paying then borrowing again to increase my limit. 

One day I risked all that money and got a notification that I couldn’t borrow anymore.

I was devastated. It’s like gambling, you need to know when to stop or how to gamble safely by learning how to manage your funds.

There was also this one time I blindly guaranteed a loan for a friend  against ALL my savings at the time when I knew nothing about how Saccos work. I didn't take time to understand the Terms and conditions on the loan documents only for her to default.

I should have committed a fraction of my savings instead as well as taken time to understand the terms of being a guarantor.

Hindsight is 20/20, I hope that works for you in the end.

Let’s switch it up a little, tell me about your journey to entrepreneurship

I am a Creative Designer by profession. I design different items; mostly marketing materials for different companies and businesses to push their products and services. I am also in the printing business and therefore do a lot of branding.

As for how I got into the world of entrepreneurship, I actually grew up keenly watching my parents start different businesses from scratch, which were very successful for a while. 

Naturally I picked a few things here and there on how to start and run a business successfully. 

In primary school I remember selling ‘smokies’ and ‘ngumus’ to other pupils. Then in secondary school, I started making customised cards using manila paper i.e success cards. 

Some teachers actually bought a few for some Form Four candidates. That was really encouraging. I also started drawing on Envelopes. So any love letter would go with a customized envelope based on the person receiving the letter. Love letters were somewhat illegal, so you can imagine the risk I was taking. I think I am a risk taker!  

I can’t help but laugh at that as I am teleported back to the high school days when ‘love letters’ used to arrive with special fragrances, not forgetting the ‘dedz’ section.

Sorry about continue.

Ok. After studying a multimedia course, I got my first job and loved it, but years later I started feeling like I was too dependent on the salary. 

I felt crippled especially if the salary experienced any kind of delay. I needed to find a solution. This was what led me to opening Facebook (Elenheich) and Instagram (Elenheich) pages where I displayed my creative work.

The greatest challenge was juggling between my 8-5 job at the time, and making deliveries. A few years later I got another job in Nyeri and had to relocate from Nairobi. This meant that I had to stop the business for a while.

Years later I was transferred back to Nairobi. Unfortunately, the market was already flooded with different business people in my line of work. 

I lost hope, took a backseat and reverted back to being fully dependent on the salary I was getting. In a nutshell, I got comfortable.

However, after some time I found it hard to brush off this feeling of zero growth. It felt like I was in this vicious cycle… work – get paid – repeat. 

I started thinking of revamping my business and probably taking a different approach which would mean to quit my job in order to give the business the full focus and energy it needed.

Then what happened?

I had wanted to quit for so long but I kept getting worried about things like bills, you know, the usual.

I remember I’d wake up and decide not to show up at work. Then at around 8 a.m, when I was supposed to be at work, thoughts of pending bills and a baby to take care of would hit me like a tonne of bricks.

I’d then take the fastest matatu/ boda to work. However, that no-growth feeling I mentioned just wouldn’t go away.

When Covid hit, I decided that I would use that as an excuse to convince myself and anyone who asked that I lost my job due to retrenchment, while in the real sense I actually quit.

After researching and talking to a few friends here and there, I was sure I didn’t want to be employed. One day I woke up and handed in my resignation. That was the BEST decision I ever made to date and I don’t regret it one bit.

How did your family and loved ones react to the news? 

Right before I handed in my resignation, I called my dad and told him I’d quit. The thing is, at this point I didn’t care if he’d try and convince me otherwise. 

I remember feeling so relieved. 

As for my mum, she was unwell and was scheduled for an operation outside the country. 

I told her months later as I didn’t want her to worry. As for my friends, they know I am capable of anything…they weren’t shocked since they knew all along that I had wanted to quit for so long.

I believe one should get money from doing what they love.

I couldn’t agree more, Liz goes on to tell me that in another world, she’d be a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist. 

She then goes on to fill me in on something she had read somewhere that I found quite insightful regarding finance.

“The path to reaching your financial goals can sometimes be a bit bumpy.  You may come to a crossroad or get a few curve balls thrown your way. But the only way to get through to the other side is to just keep on going”.

I think I need to have that printed out, framed up, and mounted in my workspace.

You can find Liz's work on Facebook @Eleinheich and Instagram @Elenheich

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Eddy Mwanza is Creative Consultant living and working in Nairobi, Kenya. His areas of focus are Content Creation, Creative Writing, Research and Photography. When he is not writing in his favorite coffee shop, Eddy spends most of his time reading, cooking, and traveling. He is also a sports fanatic. Connect with Eddy on LinkedIn.

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