Nsimenta’s grit in building world-class cosmetics firm

Maxima Nsimenta founder of Livara, a company making organic skin care and hair products. Photo Courtesy

What you need to know:

After two and a half years, Maxima Nsimenta quit her job in an oilfield company to start Livara, a company making organic skin care and hair products.

Not many would drop an international job offer with good remuneration terms to start up their own enterprise. Maxima Nsimenta is one of the rare tough-skinned personalities who desires to craft and add value to things.

After working with Schlumberger, an oilfield services company for two and a half years where she successfully led a team that installed a dual electrical pump unit in a deep sea in Congo, her supervisor was saddened about her decision to leave but gave her a paid leave of absence to rethink about her decision to join the cosmetics industry. This allowance helped her start off.

Before diving into entrepreneurship, she was absorbed in a lot of research and business plans to turn her idea to reality. With the help of her brother, she enrolled at Uganda Industrial Research Institute (UIRI) and this chemically facilitated testing her products. 

“After nine months of research, I released six natural and organic products of skin care and hair to the market at an Expo in 2015. As time moved on, we added lipstick, shampoo, conditioners, lotions, shower gels and cleansers. And we have kept developing the list.”

Initially, she was selling through social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram. In 2016, she opened up a shop with six employees. The next year, she opened up a saloon in Ntinda and grew the workforce to 28. With her new outlet opening soon in Ntinda, she will reach 57 employees in nine outlets that include seven shops and two salons.

The creative entrepreneur justifies her passion about cosmetics. 

“African women are drawn together by hair, skin and social life.” Nsimenta thinks hair and skin are interconnected hence manufacturing both using purely natural products which makes it easy to develop products because the core is not adulterated.  

Livara products are made out of 100 per cent natural materials that include shea butter, papaya oil, moringa and palm oil among others. Of these, 92 per cent are sourced locally. However, this gap should be filled in line with packaging since most products are from Kenya. 

Transformation

With her sister Theresa Karungi Obel on board as head of strategy and growth, she has implemented structural systems that have aligned the organisation’s trajectory.

“We have sales, finance, marketing, production and research teams. Prior to that, I was moving haphazardly. Now there are categories with job descriptions and Key Performance Indicators. It is actually important for entrepreneurs to have the right teams to guide them in moving forward because as an entrepreneur, my mind-set is different from real business leaders,” she explains.

To lighten her burden further, staff are continuously trained to keep abreast with market trends. Budgets are also planned as opposed to taking random decisions. The mother of two admits that she gets to focus on product development on things that are functional or easily usable, she says.

“I was built to excel. What drives me is the need to perfect the game in which I take part and see lives change using my product,”  Nsimenta says.

Working with a team has taught her to be accountable and has built her professionally and allowed her to spend more time with family.

Market

Livara has 56 Stock Keeping Units (SKUs) of different products. For instance, lipstick has nine shades, hair products for both children and adults are about six and nine SKU respectively. She says Africa provides raw materials for these big brands and still does not provide the products on its own. Selling raw materials is good but selling a finished product is even better.

With a start-up capital of $50,000 (Shs177m), her former savings from the previous job, she currently exports about 50-100 kilogrammes to 25 countries on a monthly basis.

Moving forward, there are growing demands. This growth comes with bigger challenges that can be dealt with in a team that will foster proper planning. Before the end of this year, plans are underway to open stores in South Africa, Canada, Malawi and Kenya.

The devoted believer in God, attributes her achievement to the almighty’s favour and wisdom.

Behind the name

One wonders what ‘Livara’ means and where it was adopted from. The entrepreneur confirms the name as a revelation through prayer and fasting. Livara means – divine, freewill, goodness, conditional love and ideal. Nsimenta took the name because of her faith in God and admits to stand for these values. That is how the name came into existence and got registered.

Reluctant to speak out, Nsimenta estimates the company’s worth in millions of dollars. Annually, the company pays more than Shs100 million in taxes. Like any business, she adds, there are also dry days with no sales.

Expansion drive

The go-getter dreams of attaining 6,000 stores in the world through franchising and partnerships. For this to occur, there must be proper systems and structures in place. 

“Your foundation has to be firm before you can actually grow. Otherwise if we aren’t firm in what we are doing, in as much as we are growing, we might reach a point and get stuck,” Nsimenta opines on growth.

Covid-19 crisis

The scourge of the pandemic affected Small Medium Enterprises. Facebook’s closure was a big blow since it was her biggest selling point. After the lockdown was imposed, Livara outlets closed for two months since the business environment was not favourable.

“Our revenue was affected because we closed three branches. On a good note, all employees were retained and sustained with their SACCO savings.”

The Livara Sacco scheme was formed with mandatory savings of at least Shs20,000 to empower employees economically. During lockdown, people had their savings plus salary that catered for another month of payment.

Challenges

Getting wrong business partners is a real challenge.  Many people will come around with ulterior motives and may not see the vision in your lenses. After being a victim of failed partnership, Nsimenta advises budding entrepreneurs to take time to choose which business partners they plan to work with.

“I once made a decision of getting wrong partners and it cost me Shs300 million to get them out of the business deal because we weren’t aligned. Getting the right business partners is key because we cannot do it alone. When you have the right partners, you move far but when you are alone, you move fast up to a point.”

Staying afloat

The 34-year old believes her competitor is Movit Limited in terms of revenue and the international market. Her niche are people who love natural and organic products priced from Shs5,000 to Shs45,000.

The best way they have retained and attracted customers is giving out refills.

“When you buy a Livara product, you get a refill at half price once you return the packaging as an incentive to customers. We train our staff continuously in customer care to achieve the best results too,” Nsimenta says.

Tips for one who wants to earn from gifts

Not all of us are built to be business people. She further breaks it down.

“It is a hard journey to break even that involves having sleepless nights, depression, and a lot of effort around mental health to actually get in one piece.”

 On top of watching a growing enterprise, Nsimenta has to ensure there is money to pay salaries, as well as make people happy and comfortable.

Some of her employees are paid better than the bank. The least salary she pays is Shs400,000. She values her employees since they are the ones that have uplifted the brand to where it is.

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