Jokate Mwegelo

Age: 31 • Entrepreneur• Kidoti Company, Tanzania

“What matters the most is you taking a leap of faith and inspiring a generation of young people who have the guts and enthusiasm to chase their dreams and wanting to do business and employ people”

Jokate Mwegelo is a Tanzanian entrepreneur, political activist, singer and actress. In university, she majored in political science and philosophy which has shaped her leadership skills to running her company Kidoti. She is passionate about education and finding opportunities for young people and nurturing their talents. She believes Africa has still got a lot to do in terms of finding & implementing policies that will support young people with sound business ideas to build successful companies across the continent. In 2017, she was listed on Forbes Africa’s 30 under 30 list. Read the interview below to find out more about this young African rising star.

1.You graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science and philosophy, how did you emerge from what you studied to what you are currently doing ?

Well yes I studied political science, and the great thing about this field of study is that it teaches you about having a vision, leadership skills, how to organize yourself and you learn about different local and international concepts you could easily apply when you start your personal business. But aside from that, I am someone who comes from a very creative family. My grandfather was a visual arts person, he was a music recorder and composer, overall he was a brilliant artist and teacher. So I think it is inherent for us to love to create or design things.

Knowing my strengths and weaknesses, I had to employ a team that would complement one another. I had someone who had a strong business acumen and someone good at marketing. Although I had an idea of how I wanted to market my products from my own experience, I still needed other people’s expertise.

It was a natural smooth transition especially considering that I had done a lot of work in the fashion industry prior to going to university. So it opened my mind to different creative avenues.

2. In 2014, you launched your company Kidoti, a company that produces wigs, slippers, school bags and other fashion accessories, what was the inspiration behind this initiative?

I started with hair and then when I got into beauty contests, I ended up doing a lot of media public appearances and social engaging activities that required me to always have my hair done. So I personally felt I could make money of my image..hahahaha. When you look back to our very first campaign with hair, it said “nyuele moja staili kibao” (in Swahili meaning “one hair but you can get various styles from it”). It was something that I had been living with my hair stylist.

My hair stylist would take regular weaves and do a really dope up-do for me and after an event I would easily remove it. It was very simple, practical and cost effective. Then when I went to university, I realized many students didn’t have a lot of cash at their disposal. They definitely needed products that would work for their budget, but still make them look glamorous, nice and fashionable. That’s what the brand stood for at the time and that’s the inspiration we got at that particular time.

3. In 2017, you were listed on Forbes Africa’s 30 under 30 list (good job!) how has this recognition aided your business?

First of all it has made me realize that whatever you dream could come to pass and have an impact. For me it was very important from the genesis of my brand to be able to show a light to young people that they could have something of their talent. They could create something for themselves.

Yes the journey is not easy, let me not even sugar coat it. There are so many ups and downs, but what matters the most is you taking a leap of faith and inspiring a generation of young people, who have the guts and enthusiasm to chase their dreams and wanting to do business and employ people.

Knowing that we can have that impact as young people especially in Africa, East Africa and in Tanzania in particular is just very surreal. Because whenever people think of our continent they think of poverty and a lack of opportunities. But we are pushing that envelope, we are trying to show the world that there are opportunities in Africa and we are going to create these opportunities. We are going to create a new chapter for Africa. We are creating a narrative that will inspire people even for generations to come.

For me it was more of a reflection of the impact we have and the mark that we have made in our society and the hearts of many young people across the continent. I have had so many ups and downs in my business, it was a reassurance that I was on the right path and I was doing the right thing which always feels good. It was like a pat on the shoulder. It always feels good to be able to feel like maybe I am not as crazy as I thought I was. Because, whenever you start something that is not of the norm, people think you are losing your mind because you invest a lot and perhaps you don’t see returns immediately.  It felt good.

4. As an entrepreneur, political activist, actress and singer, how do you manage all these different aspects of your career successfully?

Of recent, I haven’t really been doing any of the acting etc. I have mostly been focusing on building my business. I am very passionate about leadership too, playing a role in my community, society and nation. Those are the things I have been focusing the most on. However, if I were to go back to acting, it would be something I am very passionate about and I feel like people need to see this side of me and I need to convey a particular message to society.

5. How important is conducting thorough research for entrepreneurs before launching any product or service, and what strategies did you apply when you started Kidoti Company?

It is extremely important; I remember before we launched our very first product it took us a year to carry out research. It was crazy, it was tiring. This is the thing people need to know and understand that it is not easy, it is not as glamorous. You know how we try to make it look like ahhhhhh it’s cute, its nice.. hahahahaha..It’s all for publicity. But behind the scenes it requires a lot of hard work. I remember we used to do a lot of research in Kariakoo (it’s among the biggest famous markets in Tanzania) it helped us know exactly how we wanted to present our products. From posters, flyers, packaging, communication etc. everything was thoroughly thought through.

It was perfectly designed and well informed because of the amount of research we had done in the market. We understood what the market was lacking and filled that void.

Research is important because you don’t want to be like everyone else. You don’t want to reinvent a new wheel either, but at the same time you want to be innovative. You can only come up with innovative products once you have done thorough research. At the end of the day you want to do business and you cannot do business if people don’t buy your product. And you cannot know what people want if you don’t do research.

On strategy, we did a proper launch. We wanted to do a proper announcement and presentation informing people what we were all about. We invited our buyers and directly engaged with them. They saw our product first hand and saw the amount of Importance we had given our product and the publicity we had in the beginning. We had a pretty nice beginning because of that.

6. Most entrepreneurs with great ideas don’t develop them because of a lack of funding. When you started your company, you obtained funding from Mohammed Dewji (Africa’s Youngest Billionaire), how did this happen in your favor?

I strongly believe in networking, relationships and putting yourself out there because for sure it’s not as if we had a lot of money. Our biggest asset was our network; they say your network is your net worth. It’s something that I have really capitalized on, forming great relationships and networks. I sold my dream; because I did not have money to do what I wanted to do. To be honest we still need a lot of policy that will enable young people with businesses that could potentially become conglomerates to get support. It is a work in progress.

7. Apart from running your business, what other social responsibilities are you involved in?

I am very much passionate about education. I am also passionate about young people and their talent. I am passionate about motivational speaking & inspirational activities. Generally I am passionate about the welfare and well-being of young people. So whatever projects goes around giving young people capacity and hope to be able to follow through and become great, that’s what I do.

8. What is your message to people hustling with their ideas right now and they probably feel they should just quit because it’s taking too long to materialize?

I personally have an experience, there is something we need to do with our products right now, but it’s taking too long. But that’s the litmus test. Nothing great comes easy. When we hear from examples of various entrepreneurs and people who have done amazing things, for instance the author of Harry Potter she went to almost 12 publishers and all those publishers declined her book. So you can imagine the amount of time she never gave up. If she had given up perhaps we wouldn’t have known of Harry Potter and she wouldn’t have become the billionaire she is right now. Success is not easy, you need to go back to the drawing board as often as you can, do a recap of all your plans and ideas, make good sense of them and keep pushing.