A Cup of Chai with Muthuri Kinyamu

In this blog series, we sit down with inspiring influencers and get to ask them personal questions and listen and learn a bit about their journey and reflections.

This second post features Muthuri Kinyamu, the co-founder of Turnup.travel, a tour operator & travel concierge company that provides bespoke travel packages for the modern-day traveller in East Africa. We studied with him at the University of Nairobi school of business where his entrepreneurial skills were already evident. He is a founding member of Mettā in Nairobi, a networking club and hub for entrepreneurs based in Nairobi and has previous worked at VC firm Nest.

Muthuri Kinyamu

What is the unique selling point for TurnupTravel?

We offer unique full exposure packages. We do not do your standard Masai Mara two-nights-three-days experience. We want to give you a wholesome exposure to the destination. We are not just booking you a bed and a flight. More than that we want you to interact with the destination: Go eat at a local restaurant; take a boat ride with local fishermen; See a place for the eyes of the local. As such, we do not compete on price. We compete on the quality and value of the experience and we have found that people are willing to pay for it. We design very targeted or niche experiences. For instance, we are currently offering Mumcation packages which are vacation packages for mums seeking to take time off the family to be alone to have complete alone time.

How did get started?

In 2016, I was doing a three-month campaign to promote domestic tourism for the Kenyan Tourism Board by working with content creators like bloggers, and photographers. The idea was to go to places around Kenya, document the experiences and share that online. At the end of the campaign, there was still demand from places we had not visited and some people wanted us to help them go to the places we had visited. My co-founder and I decided to design a trip in January 2017. Our decision to do it in January was a bit rebellious because January is not a time when most people go travelling in Kenya. That first trip to Watamu in Mombasa by bus was designed as something nice for our friends to enjoy and it went really well. Soon after, someone I met on Twitter invited us to visit Turkana in northern Kenya, a place very few people go to for holidays. We brought back some amazing pictures of Turkana. This trip gave us the the validation and motivation we needed to register ourselves as a legal entity. The rest is history.

Travel and enjoy Kenya

How did you get the initial financing?

Our first source of financing was personal savings. We did not need a lot of capital at the point of starting because we had our day jobs because we had not yet quit our jobs.

Who has influenced you the most?

I have been influenced most by people unlikely journeys who did not have a ladder but who had a bit of randomness on their way to the top. For instance, our director of production used to do music, studied computer science and is now a cinematographer. A bit of a zig zag journey. People who have gotten somewhere, gotten stuck and done a U–turn. So, anyone with those kinds of paths, I find intriguing. They bring an outsider perspective to an industry. They remind you that you don’t have to have studied medicine to be in healthcare.

What is your greatest challenge in business?

As with most startups in Kenya, it’s attracting, developing and retaining talent. Sometimes ,there are good people but you may not be able to hire new talent because some of the talent it expensive so you have to wait until you have the funds to hire then. In the meantime, you try to get by. The other challenge is the struggle to survive in small businesses but then in the chaos of survival is where the real things happen.

What are you looking for in new talent?

I am often looking for someone who is a generalist but with a specific skill set. May sound like a contradiction but I am looking for someone who can pick up the phone and talk to an angry customer but at the same time, you have two or three areas where you are really good at.

What lesson have you learnt from starting and running the company?

First, the way we started the company was just by going out and trying things among our friends and seeing if it works and scaling thereafter. It’s really like making controlled experiments in a closed environment before you try it out there. If it goes wrong, it only harms us and the few people we are with. After that, we can now try it on others. We did the work as a side gig for around a year or so and switched to it full time in 2018. We took some time to try out what we were doing for a while. So really that is something someone should do. Try it before you go fully in.

Secondly, if something does not work out, make the tough call of letting go and moving on. Let it go. If something does not work out, it does not make you a failure. Don’t be stuck so much on past losses too much as to miss future opportunities.

Parting shot?

Go for unusual of you can. Come up with something unique. Don’t always copy and replicate what others have done.

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