I am glad you are back, dear reader. While you were away, questions and comments about business in Nairobi came in hard and fast. Surely Nairobi was not entirely proliferated by kioskers, otherwise the very successful businesses we see today would not exist. There were as many non kioskers in this city as there were kioskers. In summary, I was told that it was unfair to give one side of the story. That I had to be objective and give a balanced view of the situation.
And that is why I have decided to tell you Ludwig’s story. It is unclear how he came to be known as Ludwig, but I am informed that his official name is actually Ludigi.
Ludwig is the son of our very good neighbours, Mr. and Mrs. Luseno. He is the last and only son in a family of three children. His two older sisters were very bright in school and as we speak, one has just graduated from medical school and the other is studying economics at one of our main universities.
But Ludwig was not so fortunately blessed with academic smarts. He was not the brightest bulb in his classroom and therefore did not make it to one of the posh government boarding schools for his secondary education like his sisters did before him. He was instead called to a local day school near our estate.
I met Ludwig in August 2012. I was a newly married then and was settling into my matrimonial home. (I was later informed that my arrival had brought a collective sigh of relief among the neighbours who were suspicious of a young bachelor purchasing a 3 bedroomed maisonette in the middle class Hekima Estate).
Anyway, a few days after returning from our honeymoon, Mrs. Luseno came with her 3 children to welcome me into the estate, give me a little estate gossip and share with me important contacts of the local vendors to ease my transition into homemaker. Ludwig was then a Standard Eight candidate, preparing for his KCPE examinations.
Mrs. Luseno introduced me to her three children and informed me that Ludwig was a good friend of my husband’s and that I would often see him in my house. I was quick to reassure her that her son was welcome in my house. I later came to learn that the Lusenos encouraged that relationship because they felt that Ludwig was in need of a successful young man as a role model to encourage him to work hard at his studies.
So Ludwig became an almost permanent fixture in my house, especially on weekends. They would watch international news (that was a thing then), watch movies and play Pro Evolution Soccer on the PlayStation. Parents in the estate were generally against video games and Ludwig was lucky to have a place to play without parental nagging.
Ludwig was an observant and enterprising boy. Two years later, while he was in Form Two, he went to hang out with the estate youth around the main gate area. All he heard were lamentations and complaints by the youths. Their parents would not let them play video games. Their parents limited their video game time to such and such number of hours a week. Their parents flatly refused to purchase video games. As the rumblings went on and on, a light bulb suddenly came on in Ludwig’s head.
He came bursting into the house, calling my husband’s name.
“What happened?” my husband asked Ludwig. “What is the emergency?”
“I need to talk to you,” said Ludwig. “I want to start a business and I need a loan to finance it.”
“What kind of business?” asked my husband.
Ludwig explained his business idea.
In the few days that followed, my husband helped him to write a business plan. Since Ludwig was underage and could not get a loan from a financing institution, my husband took a leap of faith and loaned him his start-up capital .
He rented a goodly sized kibanda outside the estate gate, purchased large flat screen television, a PlayStation machine and a surround sound system. He furnished the kibanda with plastic seats and was ready to open shop.
Lud’s Gaming Arena, was full house on the opening day. Gamers were charged 20 Shillings to watch the matches and 50 Shillings to play matches. After a week, Lud’s Gaming Arena advertised new rates. 100 Shillings to play and 30 shillings to watch the matches. Business did not slow down. In fact, it increased. Ludwig was making a killing.
By the August holidays, Lud’s Gaming Arena had outgrown the kibanda. He rented a bigger space at the shopping centre and installed more comfortable seats. Business was booming. The Gaming Arena was now capturing clientele beyond our estate. By the December holidays, Lud’s Gaming Arena boasted three big screens and three gaming machines. Ludwig also employed a young man to help him handle business while he was at school.
It was around this time that Ludwig came to my house, as usual, to relax and update my husband on his business. We were watching a film set in Trinidad and Tobago. The film was about a serial killer who was killing people left right and centre, hacking off their limbs and dumping their bodies in the sugarcane plantations. An old man with a shop in one of the small towns was helping the cops solve the mystery.
Now, outside the man’s shop, there was an area where a young lady worked a sugarcane juicing machine. Ludwig, was very attentive. He soon whipped out his phone and was taking a video of the movie. I found this strange but kept quiet.
The next week, Ludwig informed me that he had gone to Gikomba market and found a metal worker who could make the sugarcane juicer. A few days later, he invited me to his Arena.
“You have never come to see the place and it is over six months since I started business,” he complained.
“I’m not into gaming,” I told him.
“I have now gone beyond gaming,” he said. “Come and visit.”
I obliged him and went to his shop. The sign above the door read in large bold lettering, “Lud’s Gaming Café” and below it in smaller lettering, “Gaming Arena, Internet Café, Health Juice Bar.” I smiled as I walked in.
One of the walls of the shop was fitted with the three large screens and gaming machines. There were three rows of comfortable chairs in front of the screens, arranged theatre style. The cyber café was located at the rear end of the shop. There were also printing and photocopying services.
Towards the entrance of the shop was the health juice bar and to my surprise, Sugarcane Man was manning this bar. He was controlling the sugarcane juicing machine expertly. He had on offer plain sugarcane juice, sugarcane and ginger cocktail, sugarcane and lime cocktail, sugarcane, lime and ginger cocktail. He offered me a sugarcane and ginger cocktail on the house and as I made myself comfortable on the bar stool, he proceeded to inform me how he had entered into partnership with Ludwig for the health juice part of the business.
“You see Ludwig called me for a meeting and told me that since I have access to the sugarcane, fruit and vegetable market, I could profit from going into partnership with him,” he explained.
I nodded, enjoying the cool juice. Dear reader, this is where I entreat you to taste chilled sugarcane and ginger cocktail at Lud’s Gaming Café. You can’t miss the store; it is located at Hekima shopping centre just opposite Continent Bank. The store front has bold orange and yellow colours and you can see the cocktail making from the store verandah.
Sugarcane Man continued his tale, “He convinced me that I could not benefit from reinvesting my small profits in small businesses that were duplicated left right and centre. He also told me that from his market research, he found that Nairobi ladies prefer their food and drink prepared in clean hygienic spaces. My staff and I have to be clean and neat and the preparation area is in full sight of the customer so that they see how hygienic I am in making the juices.”
He smiled. He was donning a clean white shirt and black trousers. He wore a spotlessly clean white apron over these and his head was covered in a white hair net. There were two young ladies on the shop floor moving around with trays and serving customers the fresh juice.
By 2015 when Ludwig was graduating from Form Three to Form Four, he had made his first million. By 2014 after completion of his KSCE exams (he did not pass well enough to make it to the university) he had made his fifth million. He looked around for something else to invest in as he felt that he was outgrowing his current business. In summary, let me just say that right now, two years after completing his secondary education, Ludwig can be described as a successful Nairobi Business Man. I will not go into the details of his other businesses because I don’t trust you, dear reader. You may be a kiosker!