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Burgers On Wheels And Hungry For Success

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Inside their MAMA Rocks food truck stationed in the upmarket Westlands area of Nairobi, Kenya, sisters Samantha and Natalie Mwedekeli are hard at work, rustling up burgers for what looks like an army of hungry people queuing up.

They dish out their signature eats with smiles and hellos sporting a crisp British accent. The two are founders of Nairobi’s latest epicurean street sensation.

It was only three years ago that Samantha, 36, and Natalie, 33, were in their home at Old Street, East London, in the United Kingdom (UK), mulling over their mundane nine-to-five jobs.

They made the bold decision to quit their jobs in the non-profit and human resources sectors respectively and start out in the food business.

The idea had been marinating in their heads for a couple of years, and the sisters, of Kenyan and Nigerian descent, figured it was now or never. They decided to start the business in Kenya, their father’s hometown.

Ten years ago, their parents, who had migrated to the UK, had relocated to Kenya, leaving their daughters in the care of their grandmother. Natalie and Samantha would visit their parents every year and these trips helped them see Nairobi transform.

The restaurant scene in East Africa’s corporate hub has grown exponentially in the past decade, especially due to the increase in the number of retail establishments, such as the recently-reopened Westgate Mall, The Hub and urban hotels such as Villa Rosa Kempinski Nairobi and Radisson Blu.

“We’ve always had a drive to start our own business, partly because we grew up with very entrepreneurial parents so they infected us with that bug. They always emphasized to us that if you want to make a difference, you need to make your own mark and they always said that there’s a lot of potential in Africa. So we thought ‘why can’t we come up with a brand that’s born and bred in Africa and also has international appeal’?” say the sisters.

Starting a restaurant is by no means easy, especially for two young women from overseas with no culinary background. Samantha studied law at Kingston University London and Natalie has a business management degree from Royal Holloway. They owe it to their grandmother who is the best cook they know.

To gain some knowledge about the restaurant industry, the two worked as waitresses at various restaurants in London’s West End such as international sandwich chain Pret a Manger, and Patty & Bun, a diner serving some of London’s finest burgers according to TimeOut.

Waitressing for about six months gave them insight into what makes people tick and how good food makes people feel. Using this experience and noting the establishments’ strict attention to detail, they decided on gourmet burgers infused with some African-inspired flavors.

Their parents were not in agreement with this change of career but on seeing the business plan, they soon got on board.

“Our father helped us gather the capital we needed and our mother is now our biggest fan, bragging to all her friends about our food.”

Fast forward six months to late 2014 and the Londoners had officially moved to Nairobi to start the groundwork, finding a location, suppliers and equipment. A chat with Kevin Ashley, owner of Java House in Kenya, made them take a step back in terms of finances.

They had not realized how expensive it would be to open a restaurant – a minimum of Ksh 14 million ($135,000) was needed for one that fit their requirements. Plan B was the food truck, which cut their investment by half.

“It’s relatively inexpensive, risks are limited and you can move around and test the market and see how people respond to you and if anything, that’s your investment because no one can take the truck away from you. It was really exciting because we were bringing something new to Nairobi,” says Natalie.

It took nine months to get the truck assembled; while that was being taken care of, the sisters decided to start testing the market by doing pop-ups in various locations to gauge people’s interest.

Their first attempt at selling their product was at a friend’s Thai restaurant. They did not advertise but ended up having a full house. This was a clear indication of Kenyans’ desire to try new things. Since then, MAMA Rocks serves over 200 customers every weekend including Fridays.

It’s just one of the numerous restaurants and cafes that have opened shop in Nairobi over the past year. Others include Pizza Hut, Ocean Basket, Adega, Dominos, KFC, News Café, Brioche, Nyama Mama and Roast by Carnivore.

Mikul Shah, founder of EatOut Kenya, East Africa’s largest online restaurant guide, says of the industry’s fast progression: “To some extent, the growth in supply might be faster than the demand. With so much competition and options, restaurants have had to focus on providing good value for money. We are seeing lots of deals and promotions to attract patrons. Overall, I feel that Nairobi has seen a boom in the dining culture, however it is a little worrying for smaller businesses as it will be a few years until the demand catches up.”

The MAMA Rocks sisters officially opened shop on New Year’s Eve 2015, their truck parked in the newly-opened creative events space, the Yard, in Westlands.

As word spread of their Africanized burgers, like their popular Mango Maasai Mama and Nollywood Suya Saga, sales soared. Within six months, they were able to pay off the cost of the truck and hired a few more people to help them with preparation and serving customers.

Ingredients for their dishes are sourced locally and they make the sauces from scratch every morning. As for the name MAMA Rocks, they say it came so naturally to them.

“We thought about African culture, the similar aspects to the different cultures across the entire continent. One of those aspects is that the mother is the backbone of the household. We wanted the brand to have a strong feminine energy and to celebrate the mother, hence MAMA.”

Coming from the first world to settle in fast-developing Kenya had its challenges, the biggest being the high level of corruption that hindered ease of doing business.

Transparency International ranked Kenya 139 out of 168 countries in their corruption index.

But when asked why Nairobi and not London or Lagos, Samantha promptly says: “Kenya is rich in opportunity and skills. It feels like a large canvas. There’s so much that can be done here that may have already been done in London. There’s not much left to explore or experiment in London. As for Lagos, it just wasn’t as developed as Nairobi is and food costs there tend to be much higher. But we plan to open there next when we are able to expand.”

The sisters are breaking even after a year in operation and plan on opening a restaurant soon to bring in more profits while still running the food truck. Samantha and Natalie are young, vibrant and eager to change the African gastronomic narrative.

Entrepreneurs

Leaving Airplane Middle Seats Empty Could Cut Coronavirus Risk Almost In Half, A Study Says

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A new research paper from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology estimates that blocking out the middle seat on airplanes could cause the likelihood of passengers being infected with coronavirus to drop by nearly half, just as some airlines are starting to book flights to capacity again.

KEY FACTS

  • According to the MIT paper (which has not been peer reviewed) the chances of catching coronavirus from a nearby passenger on a full airplane when all coach seats are filled is about 1 in 4,300.
  • However, those odds drop to 1 in 7,700 when all the middle seats on board are left empty, the paper states.
  • Taking into account a 1% mortality rate according to the statistical model, the likelihood of dying from a coronavirus case contracted on a plane is far more likely than dying in a plane crash, which has odds of about 1 in 34 million, the paper stated. 
  • In “Covid-19 Risk Among Airline Passengers: Should the Middle Seat Stay Empty?” the author of the study, Arnold Barnett, wrote that his analysis aims to be “a rough approximation” of the risks involved in flying during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • “The airlines are setting their own policies but the airlines and the public should know about the risk implications of their choices,” Barnett told ZDNet this week.
  • The paper comes just as more flight carriers, like American Airlines, begin booking flights to full capacity despite surges of the virus across the country. 

KEY BACKGROUND

The coronavirus pandemic has been disastrous for the travel industry, and has especially hurt airlines. Major American carriers including American, Delta and United have asked employees to take buyouts and early retirement, Forbes reported, in a bid to cut costs as the pandemic causes them to bleed cash. United Airlines warned this week that it could be forced to furlough 36,000 jobs, or nearly half of its American workers, starting in October if travel doesn’t pick up. In April, the airline estimated that in the first quarter it lost $2.1 billion pre-tax, Forbes reported, and was losing $100 million a day in the last half of March. Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun said in May he expects a major airline to go out of business in 2020 as a result of pandemic pressure.

NEWS PEG

American Airlines announced two weeks ago it would begin booking middle seats again starting in July, although the carrier will allow passengers to switch from a full flight without any extra cost, Forbes reported. United is also selling tickets for middle seats. American Airlines took flak earlier this month when Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) tweeted a picture of his crowded flight

WHAT TO WATCH

If airlines continue to extend their policy of keeping middle seats blocked off or if they’ll be forced to book to capacity to turn a profit. Southwest and Delta have both committed to keeping their middle seats blocked off until at least the end of September, while JetBlue will do the same through July, according to the Washington Post.

Carlie Porterfield, Forbes Staff, Business

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From The Arab World To Africa

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Sheikha Hend Faisal Al Qassimi; image supplied

In this exclusive interview with FORBES AFRICA, successful Dubai-based Emirati businesswoman, author and artist, Sheikha Hend Faisal Al Qassimi, shares some interesting insights on fashion, the future, and feminism in a shared world.

Sheikha Hend Faisal Al Qassimi wears many hats, as an artist, architect, author, entrepreneur and philanthropist based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). She currently serves as the CEO of Paris London New York Events & Publishing (PLNY), that includes a magazine and a fashion house.

She runs Velvet Magazine, a luxury lifestyle publication in the Gulf founded in 2010 that showcases the diversity of the region home to several nationalities from around the world.

In this recent FORBES AFRICA interview, Hend, as she would want us to call her, speaks about the future of publishing, investing in intelligent content, and learning to be a part of the disruption around you.

As an entrepreneur too and the designer behind House of Hend, a luxury ready-to-wear line that showcases exquisite abayas, evening gowns and contemporary wear, her designs have been showcased in fashion shows across the world.

The Middle East is known for retail, but not typically, as a fashion hub in the same league as Paris, New York or Milan. Yet, she has changed the narrative of fashion in the region. “I have approached the world of fashion with what the customer wants,” says Hend. In this interview, she also extols African fashion talent and dwells on her own sartorial plans for the African continent.

In September, in Downtown Dubai, she is scheduled to open The Flower Café. Also an artist using creative expression meaningfully, she says it’s important to be “a role model of realism”.

She is also the author of The Black Book of Arabia, described as a collection of true stories from the Arab community offering a real glimpse into the lives of men and women across the Gulf Cooperation Council region.

In this interview, she also expounds on her home, Sharjah, one of the seven emirates in the UAE and the region’s educational hub. “A number of successful entrepreneurs have started in this culturally-rich emirate that’s home to 30 museums,” she concludes. 

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Kim Kardashian West Is Worth $900 Million After Agreeing To Sell A Stake In Her Cosmetics Firm To Coty

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In what will be the second major Kardashian cashout in a year, Kim Kardashian West is selling a 20% stake in her cosmetics company KKW Beauty to beauty giant Coty COTY for $200 million. The deal—announced today—values KKW Beauty at $1 billion, making Kardashian West worth about $900 million, according to Forbes’estimates.

The acquisition, which is set to close in early 2021, will leave Kardashian West the majority owner of KKW Beauty, with an estimated 72% stake in the company, which is known for its color cosmetics like contouring creams and highlighters. Forbes estimates that her mother, Kris Jenner, owns 8% of the business. (Neither Kardashian West nor Kris Jenner have responded to a request for comment about their stakes.) According to Coty, she’ll remain responsible for creative efforts while Coty will focus on expanding product development outside the realm of color cosmetics.

Earlier this year, Kardashian West’s half-sister, Kylie Jenner, also inked a big deal with Coty, when she sold it 51% of her Kylie Cosmetics at a valuation of $1.2 billion. The deal left Jenner with a net worth of just under $900 million. Both Kylie Cosmetics and KKW Beauty are among a number of brands, including Anastasia Beverly Hills, Huda Beauty and Glossier, that have received sky-high valuations thanks to their social-media-friendly marketing. 

“Kim is a true modern-day global icon,” said Coty chairman and CEO Peter Harf in a statement. “This influence, combined with Coty’s leadership and deep expertise in prestige beauty will allow us to achieve the full potential of her brands.”

The deal comes just days after Seed Beauty, which develops, manufactures and ships both KKW Beauty and Kylie Cosmetics, won a temporary injunction against KKW Beauty, hoping to prevent it from sharing trade secrets with Coty, which also owns brands like CoverGirl, Sally Hansen and Rimmel. On June 19, Seed filed a lawsuit against KKW Beauty seeking protection of its trade secrets ahead of an expected deal between Coty and KKW Beauty. The temporary order, granted on June 26, lasts until August 21 and forbids KKW Beauty from disclosing details related to the Seed-KKW relationship, including “the terms of those agreements, information about license use, marketing obligations, product launch and distribution, revenue sharing, intellectual property ownership, specifications, ingredients, formulas, plans and other information about Seed products.”

Coty has struggled in recent years, with Wall Street insisting it routinely overpays for acquisitions and has failed to keep up with contemporary beauty trends. The coronavirus pandemic has also hit the 116-year-old company hard. Since the beginning of the year, Coty’s stock price has fallen nearly 60%. The company, which had $8.6 billion in revenues in the year through June 2019, now sports a $3.3 billion market capitalization. By striking deals with companies like KKW Beauty and Kylie Cosmetics, Coty is hoping to refresh its image and appeal to younger consumers.

Kardashian West founded KKW Beauty in 2017, after successfully collaborating with Kylie Cosmetics on a set of lip kits. Like her half-sister, Kardashian West first launched online only, but later moved into Ulta stores in October 2019, helping her generate estimated revenues of $100 million last year. KKW Beauty is one of several business ventures for Kardashian West: She continues to appear on her family’s reality show, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, sells her own line of shapewear called Skims and promotes her mobile game, Kim Kardashian Hollywood. Her husband, Kanye West, recently announced a deal to sell a line of his Yeezy apparel in Gap stores.

“This is fun for me. Now I’m coming up with Kimojis and the app and all these other ideas,” Kardashian West told Forbesof her various business ventures in 2016. “I don’t see myself stopping.”

Madeline Berg, Forbes Staff, Hollywood & Entertainment

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