People always ask Sara and myself “How did you start Ajiri Tea?” These types of questions, imbedded with curiosity, seem to imply that the starting of a company was the hard part. In reality, it wasn’t the starting of Ajiri Tea that was the hard part (though there certainty was and still are growing pains). No, it is the sticking with it that seems to be the challenge. It is the daily hustle, or as people in the coffee and tea call it, the daily grind. It is the questioning and reexamining if what you are doing is the right thing. The hard part is marketing your brand. Getting your name out there. Filling orders. Opening bank accounts in Kenya. Buying 30 pairs of shoes for the students and then buying 30 more pairs next year because they no longer fit. The hard part is wondering if you are doing enough. The hard part is measuring up to your own expectations.
Starting a company was easy because we didn’t have any expectations. We were young and didn’t know of the traditional business frameworks or even have a plan. We had an idea and we had drive, and we had a boundless sense of optimism (and we had a small loan). We didn’t know what we should do or what we could do. We just did. We asked questions, we found mentors. And that mentality—that nothing is impossible—starts to diminish as one get older and as the company starts to mature.
The challenge—the “hard part”—is holding onto that same sense of optimism. We tell our students that they can be whatever they want to be. That they are capable. That they are worthy of success. James, a recent Ajiri graduate, said four years ago that he wanted to become an engineer. James just applied to study engineering in university. Fanisha, a former Ajiri student, told us when she was 14 years old that she wanted to become a doctor. She is now entering her final year of medical school.
So when Sara and I have our doubts, when we are knee-deep in orders and the phone is doesn’t stop ringing, and we are only running on caffeine, we give ourselves that same pep-talk we give our students. And just look at what they have become!