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KCB Lions' Den makes dream come true for city entrepreneur

Peninah Ntong'ondu is now a proud owner of Queen's Pizza Restaurant in Buruburu, Nairobi

In Summary

•She left active employment in 2013 after sustaining an eye injury during a riot by university students in Nairobi.

•She pitched at the Lions' Den in 2018 where she got a Sh3.5 million deal from venture capitalist Kris Senanu for 40% equity in her business.

Queen's Pizza Founder and CEO Peninah Ntong'ondu during an interview in Buruburu, Nairobi on November 26th 2020/DOUGLAS OKIDDY
Queen's Pizza Founder and CEO Peninah Ntong'ondu during an interview in Buruburu, Nairobi on November 26th 2020/DOUGLAS OKIDDY

When KCB Lions' Den was launched in 2016, it created a lot of anxiety among young entrepreneurs and business moguls in Kenya.

Lions’ Den is a global business reality TV show featuring entrepreneurs pitching their business ideas in order to secure investment from a panel of established entrepreneurs and venture capitalists(the Lions).

The 'Lions' featured on the show invest their own private funds making them new business partners to the applicant, who receive mentorship as well as financial investment. It mirrors Dragons’ Den in the UK and Shark Tank in the US.

35-years old Nairobi resident, Peninah Ntong’ondu's business idea was among 59 pitches and 28 deals that featured during season three of the show, where Sh78 million worth of deals were sealed.

Her journey into entrepreneurship started when she quit employment in 2013, after working for more than seven years in the fast- food industry.

An eye injury in 2012 would come to change her life and open new opportunities for her.

Peninah who was then a branch manager at the European Foods in Westlands, Nairobi, was attacked by rioting university students while she was headed to the Central Business District to run some errands, sustaining a severe eye and head injury.

“With a bad eye injury, I tried working but it was difficult. My eye was swollen and shut for about three months. I was in so much pain, loosing balance at some times,” she narrates.

Though her employer understood her situation, her injuries slowed her down at work and with continued pain, she decided to quit.

“I was not performing the way I was supposed to by my boss and since i dint want to be a liability, I decided to quit in early 2013,” she narrates during an interview with the Star.

 

She had previously worked at Pizza Inn where she started as a cashier and grew through the ranks to become a manager.

During her working days at the fast food companies, she had fallen in love with making Pizzas, a skill she acquired.

Having stayed jobless for several months, she decided to venture into Pizza making for commercial purpose from her one-bedroomed house in Buruburu Phase 5, with a dream of opening up her own restaurant.

“I made my first Pizza on the Jamhuri Day of 2013 (December 12). I can remember the day because it was a public holiday,” she explains.

Queen's Pizza CEO Peninah Ntong'ondu/DOUGLAS OKIDDY
Queen's Pizza CEO Peninah Ntong'ondu/DOUGLAS OKIDDY

She started by inviting friends to test her products and giving neighbours for free to see if they will accept her pizzas.

She had invested Sh200,000 on equipment (an oven) with some money going into making fliers.

Since she did not have enough money to buy a dough mixer and presser, she would do the processes manually.

She would do door-to-door deliveries on foot where sometimes she would sell a single pizza a day or go days without any order. She never gave up, she kept pushing, she says.

Before she knew it, her orders had increased from within the estate and beyond, and as demand increased, she sought to expand her business. She looked for finances including a partner to expand but never got one.

“No one was willing to invest in my business idea probably because I was cooking from home,” she says.

Her dream nearly materialised in March 2014 when her mother offered to sell a parcel of land and fund her expansion, including buying her a motorbike for deliveries. Unfortunately, her mother passed away the following month.

“My dream died. For several months I didn't work because I was stressed from the loss of my mother.I lost all the clients I had gained,” she narrated.

Peninah, who had registered a business–Queen's Pizza Deliveries Limited, however, picked up towards the end of 2014 and started trying to win back her clients.

Within six months, she was selling about 260 pizzas a month, driven by social media marketing and people who knew her in the estate.

Her quest to expand saw her apply for KCB2jiajiri which she had learned about in the media.

She was luckily called to pitch her business at the Lions' Den in 2018, which changed her life.

“I applied for season three and I was called to go and pitch,' Peninah who featured in season three episode 13 of the show recalls, “I was the last person to pitch.”

The pitch day was one she will never forget as she woke up to a blackout.

“There was no electricity I had to bake pizza for the pitch. I called Kenya Power desperately and luckily the connection was back. I made my pizza and went for the pitch,” she recalls.

It was at the 'Den' where she caught the attention of renowned entrepreneur Kris Senanu, one of the 'Lions”, who offered her a deal.

At the 'Den', Peninah says she learned a lot about bookkeeping and managing her finances, which prepared her for running a successful business.

“At last, Kris gave me a deal of Sh3.5 million for 40 per cent equity. This was like a dream to me, I could not believe it,” she narrates.

She was able to rent space next to Tuskys Buruburu, bought equipment– Pizza conveyor oven, prep table, dough press machine, juice dispenser, and a freezer for storing perishables.

Part of the money also went into branding–-pizza boxes, she renovated the place, bought furniture, and Queen's Pizza opened its doors on August 1, 2019.

“I employed three people to help me start off my business. I also outsourced a delivery motorbike,” the CEO and Founder of Queens Pizza narrates, “Withing the first month, I had broken even. I hired three more people including a delivery person.”

She was planning to open a second branch when Covid-19 hit the country in March this year, forcing her to shelve the plans.

“Business went down affecting about 60 per cent of our sales. This has really piled pressure on me,” Peninah, who has however maintained her workforce on their full salaries, said.

Peninah who has complied with the health ministry protocol on Covid continues to deliver to homes with a few walk-in customers coming for take-aways.

The low sales have however piled pressure on her as she struggles to pay her bills including rent and salaries, remaining hopeful the pandemic will come to pass and business resumes.

Post-Covid 19, she hopes to open a second branch and create more employment opportunities, Peninah who believes in patience says.

She calls on young entrepreneurs to be patient with their business ideas and growth.

“The problem is we want success very fast. Someone wants to start a business today, start driving tomorrow, that is impossible. Success is gradual,” Peninah who owes her success to the Lions' Den says, “the Lions' Den was a breakthrough.”

Since starting, the show has seen 194 pitches with 94 deals sealed, where the 'Lions' have invested about Sh371 million in local entrepreneurs for equity.

They include venture capitalist Kris Senanu (Founder of Blackrock Capital Inv), Kevin Mulei (CEO MoSound), Joanne Mwangi (CEO PMS Ltd), Darshan Chandaria(CEO Chandaria Group), Olive Gachara (Editor-in-Chief, Couture Africa), Myke Rabar(Founder Homeboyz Entertainment) and Wandia Gichuru( co-founder and CEO of Vivo Activewear).

KCB Lions’ Den falls under the youth initiative as a project that not only empowers entrepreneurs but develops financial literacy among the viewers of the show.