Cera Muchiri grew up in a rural village in Kenya, near Nakuru. After moving to the United States and attending university, she knew she wanted to use her education to make a difference and create jobs in the community that she came from: “A few months after I graduated, I packed my bags, sold the few things I owned, and moved back to Kenya. I wanted to build a business informed by my community, not just by the classroom concepts I had been studying.”
Shortly after relocating, Cera founded Ecodunia, a social enterprise that works with local producers to produce useful, beautiful, and sustainable products while providing dignified work. Their mission is to end the cycle of generational poverty by creating work opportunities and great products for the international market: “I didn't want to start a charity, since aid has proven not to work. I wanted to start a business that would provide work opportunities to poor communities. I’ve learned that no one wants a handout—they want opportunities. I want to provide that.”
In Nairobi, Cera joined a women’s group, where a fellow entrepreneur forwarded Cera a link to MicroMentor. Feeling uncertain about how to scale her business, Cera recognized that she needed advice: “I felt lost and doubtful—I knew I needed that kind of guidance.” Browsing the platform, she honed in on three important features she was looking for in a mentor:
- Location: Ecodunia is registered in the United States, so Cera wanted to find a mentor who was familiar with operating a business there.
- Intercultural Awareness: Cera sought a mentor who was familiar or empathetic to the unique experiences and challenges Black women face in business.
- Expertise: Identifying her own weak area, Cera sought a mentor to guide her marketing strategy.
On MicroMentor, Cera connected with mentor Eric Nashbar, an American entrepreneur based in Florida. Eric asked Cera to fill out an application and to send him her business and marketing plans, as well as her vision for Ecodunia.
As a frequent mentor, Eric had found that a common misconception about business mentoring is that the mentor does the work for the entrepreneur. Eric’s goal is to show his mentees both what they can do and what they cannot do. In asking entrepreneurs for this pre-work, he is confirming that his mentees are willing to do the majority of work and are accepting of guidance. The results also provide insights for him to ask questions that the mentee might not have thought about.
In reviewing the mentees’ answers, Eric is evaluating the viability of their businesses. He is looking to answer the following:
- Does it have a sustainable competitive advantage?
- Does it have a recurring revenue stream?
- Does it have high margins?
- Does it have many small customers instead of a few large customers?
- Are its competitors very profitable and growing quickly?
- Would owning it ensure that you work less and make more?
- Would it get you further ahead rather than doing nothing?
After completing Eric’s initial pre-work, the pair connected virtually to work through some of Cera’s challenges. With Eric’s advice, Cera wrote her first business plan, designed a marketing strategy, and made her first sale: “Mentoring has been crucial for the growth of my business. It’s amazing to workshop ideas with an astute business person who is rooting for me.”
“Mentoring has been crucial for the growth of my business. It’s amazing to workshop ideas with an astute business person who is rooting for me.”
By going through this process with Eric, Cera was able to fine-tune her goals and vision for Ecodunia. On the financial side of the business, Cera hopes to grow Ecodunia to $1 million in revenue by 2023 and to achieve financial freedom for herself by the age of 40. But beyond making money, Cera wants Ecodonia to give back: “I never thought I would graduate high school, let alone graduate from UCLA. Back then, I made a promise to myself: if I graduated from college, I would use whatever resources I had to help other girls get an education in the same way I had received support from different people.” To that end, she has defined goals to grow her team in Kenya to match her revenue and production goals, and to support the education of 100 Kenyan girls through high school and college: “As a Black immigrant, and now American citizen, I want Ecodunia to be a bridge between my two communities—my Kenyan roots and my newer, American community.”
With two full-time employees and more than a dozen freelance craftspeople, Cera is hopeful about Ecodunia's future, despite the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. Cera’s advice for other entrepreneurs: “You have to put in the work to find a good mentor. Also, implement and trust what the mentor is advising you to do. Ask questions and respect their time. Do the work, don’t expect them to do it for you.”
How do you set expectations in your mentoring relationships? Let us know in our Q&A!