It has an unconventional name but this business is making waves with readers who are buying books online. Introducing Ides of March, an online retail bookstore that’s seeking to revolutionise the Kenyan Book sector, by employing a unique blend of marketing techniques with an equally unique business structure that’s tailored to meet client specific needs. I caught up with Angela Wahito, a 22-year-old Law student at the University of Nairobi, who doubles up as both 22-year-old and C.E.O of the company and got her to shed light on the business.
1. Not many twenty-something year olds law students venture into business, especially while still in school. What inspired you to go into business?
There’s no specific answer to that question. In fact, I think I have given a different response every time I’ve been asked that question. Nonetheless, I was influenced by a lot of factors. Circumstances is one. I was doing a business course at the time, and let’s just stay, the thought of starting and running a business always surrounds you when you’re studying a business course (chuckling). Positive peer pressure was another factor. A lot of my friends were starting start-ups, some literally overnight and that challenged me. The ‘main’ reason, however, for deciding to go into business was a necessity. At some point, I really wanted to buy a particular book badly but none of the local bookshops had it available. The only alternative left was shipping the book but that was going to be too expensive and would take too long, especially for a single copy. Then I got to thinking if only there was somebody who dealt with shipping of books on request and over a short period of time, they’d definitely have my money. After a bit of research, I found out there was not such a person/business, decide to exploit the market gap and found my niche.
2. Why books? What made you centre your business around books and not on any other item?
I have always had a strong reading culture. My mother, who was a lover of the English language and all works of literature, made sure that she’d pass on that reading culture on to me. I remember her buying me Ladybird children’s books only for me to get through them over such a short period of time. That’s how much I loved reading. Also, one of my favourite movie characters growing up, Matilda, from the 1996 Danny Devito film Matilda, also made me fall in love with books and reading, so you could say that books have always been a part of me. So, when the opportunity of a business called, I knew it would have to be books, as this was always what I had been passionate about.
3. How long have you been in business and what are some of the major milestones that you’ve hit so far?
We launched officially in September 2016 and we have been operational ever since. As for milestones, well, we recently got invited to attend the Blankets and Wine Event this past December as vendors. The event was a complete success and we got a lot of positive feedback on which we’re hoping to build upon. We have also headlined the 8th edition of the Thrift Social Event and event went down in history as the first bookstore to ever participate in the event since its inception. We also held a successful book sale at Connect Coffee Roasters towards the end of last year and done a lot of interviews as well, most notably, a feature article by Quartz Africa, an international news publication that focuses on technology, business and innovation on the content. We also got to do a radio interview broadcasted on France Inter channel, a radio channel that is part of Radio France, on the Kenyan reading culture and Africa’s favourite authors.
4. Ides of March, that’s quite an interesting name for a bookstore. What brought it on?
The number of times I’ve been asked that question just goes to show how many Kenyans truly know about Classical literature. It’s from Shakespeare, more precisely, from his play, Julius Caesar. The name comes from the quote, ‘Beware the Ides of March’, meaning the 15th day of March and most notoriously, the date when Julius Caesar was assassinated. And sure, the name might be a little bit unconventional but there’s no greater authority on English literature than William Shakespeare and to name the store after one of his quotes was surely fitting. Also, it makes for a great kick when a client gets the reference to the name.
5. Now that we’ve been through the milestones, I’m certainly sure it hasn’t been all smooth sailing. What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as an up and coming start-up?
Have you ever thought of jumping off a plane? Well, I also haven’t but I imagine that is the same feeling as starting a business from scratch. You don’t know what to expect as you are thrown directly into the fray. You can read all the guidebooks in the world about start-ups but nothing will teach you more, and sometimes painfully, than on-the-job experience.
That said, we experienced a lot of challenges during our initial start phase, mostly logistical issues, such as shipping and handling, unscrupulous suppliers and so on but we got by. Most recently, the prolonged electioneering period has been the main challenge as business stalled for quite a bit but we are steadily getting back on our feet and resuming normal operations. At Ides, we choose to see every challenge, every obstacle as a learning opportunity and for that, we’re always constantly trying to improve and make our services better for our clients.
6. What impact are you trying to make with your business and how would you like your brand to be remembered?
Before we started the business, we did quite a bit of research on reading trends, both locally and globally. Though gradual, reading culture was in a steady decline and bookstores all over the world were closing up shop or downscaling as dealing in books was no longer considered a viable business venture. Our goal is to challenge that statistic and to show that there still exists a reading culture and there’s a market for books both locally and globally. Locally, we aim to make books more affordable and easily available to the market, and consequently, to influence and improve Kenyans’ reading habits and reading culture. We’re trying to make reading cool again!
7. Finally, what advice would you give young entrepreneurs who want to venture into business?
My advice to them would be simple. Just start. Ensure you get into a business you are passionate about and trust your intuition. Also, take chances and do not be afraid to fail. Failure is always a lesson. So don’t let it ever stop you.