May || New Sales and Training Records Broken!

The Good. In May we trained more people and sold more products than we ever have in a single month. LivelyHoods is also officially over the 500 youth trained mark, which we will celebrate as a major milestone for the organization. We trained 88 people in four different locations this month, including a new location in Mathare North, which we are testing out in partnership with Destined Youth Initiative Kenya. We sold over $11,500 in products, with sales of the energy saving stove from Burn Manufacturing leading our product line. We hope to see this trend continue through the rest of the year!

The Bad. As we’ve posted in previous months, we are working to improve our conversion rate from youth trained to jobs created. We fell just one short of our goal of creating 18 new jobs in May, which is a major improvement over the past few months. We are seeing about a 20% conversion rate each month, so we’ve mainly solved the job creation issue through training more people. While this means we are increasing our impact on youth through our training, we want to see our conversion rate go up to 30%. Over the next few months we will introduce incentives for training and recruitment staff to try to get them more engaged in the conversion process. 

April || New Shop Launches in Makadara and Kangemi

The Good. April was a month of launches for iSmart. We opened a new location in Makadara, which is already a strong performer with 11 sales agents. Our first training in Makadara was done in partnership with Women’s Empowerment Link (WEL), an NGO working with victims of gender violence all over Kenya. We hope to continue to work with WEL and their network of women to expand our sales agent distribution system. We also launched the Sunny River and iSmart partnership through our Kangemi location. Kangemi residents can now purchase drinking quality water from a tap in our shop while charging their phones, all powered by solar panels on the roof! 

The Bad. We saw an improvement in the number of jobs created this month over last month, though we still fell slightly below our goal of creating 17 new jobs this month. Our staff is trying new approaches to vetting trainees, which will hopefully yield even better conversion rates for next month, given that our training numbers remain consistently high. Revenue fell slightly this month, possibly due to the long Easter holiday and the transition from the last of our CH-4400 stock to focusing on selling CH-5200  stoves by Envirofit. The CH-5200 is assembled locally in Nairobi and will be available in a more consistent supply than the CH-4400 has been in the past. We hope that with enough marketing and promotions, we can make this stove just as popular as its predecessor. 

Two new customers enjoying fresh, purified drinking water from the Sunny River and iSmart shop in Kangemi. 

March || A New Monthly Revenue Record!

The Good. Sales hit a new record of KSH976,139.00 for a single month! Each of our three locations performed well, particularly our new location in Makadara, which is now responsible for 21% of our sales. Last month, resellers were responsible for 50% of our sales. This month, sales from our sales agents brought in 84% of our record-breaking revenue. Accordingly, the average net income per sales agent went up and surpassed our goal of an above average salary for the first time this year. The more we sell, the more our agents make, and the more lives we change in slum communities. 

The Challenges. On average this year we are training 50 youth per month. This is much higher than our averages in previous years of around 20 per month. We are thrilled to be making an impact on more lives through the business and sales training we offer, however the number of jobs we are creating out of that training fell short of our goal this month. It could be that we are not recruiting the right people for our training, or that the higher numbers in the classroom are resulting in lower individual attention for trainees. We discussed this issue in our Q1 staff meeting and have come up with some experiments to try over the next three months to identify the problem and increase our conversion rates. 

February || Marketing Events are Back and Sales Keep Rising

The Good. Sales exceeded our goal this month by KSH135,980, with resellers contributing 50% of our total sales. Sales agents also performed well, with Martin Maina selling KSH30,500 worth of products in his first month and winning the Sales Agent of the Month prize. We held three table marketing events this month in Kawangware and Kangemi, all of which generated KSH53,100K (8% of total sales and 17% of total agent sales). Prices were reduced for the Powapack, Firefly, Powerpoint light, and Burn cookstove (#2 in revenues and the first time it’s been in the top 5 products sold), which led to increased sales of these products. 

The Challenges. There were a lot of products returned with warranty issues, namely the Ramptons blender with mill (7), irons (5), and kettles (2).  Turnaround time is roughly one week from pick-up to return, however, which is faster than it had been previously. The bad news came in that Envirofit is ceasing to supply the CH4400, which has been our number one seller for the last three years. We are hoping that the other clean-burning cookstoves in supply will pick up in demand and fill that gap. 

Martin Maina with his Sales Agent of the Month certificate and prize. 

Perspective | | Meri Crowther on Being a LivelyHoods Fellow

2013 Summer Fellows, Adrienne Hopkins and Meri Crowther, helping iSmart Sales Agents, Caroline and Eric, with a promotional marketing event. 

This past summer, I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to move to Kenya and spend 10 weeks as a volunteer with LivelyHoods in Nairobi. One of my areas of focus as an MBA student at Columbia Business School is social enterprise, and this time with LivelyHoods gave me valuable insight into the challenges faced by nonprofit organizations. Along with two other volunteers, I gained hands-on experience testing and evaluating revenue-generating business models that LivelyHoods could leverage to expand more sustainably. Specifically, I examined distributing iSmart’s product line, including clean-burning cookstoves and solar-powered lights, into shops within urban slums.

My days were a balance between working from the office alongside LivelyHoods staff and heading out in Kawangware with the sales agents. Both environments were so much fun! Mornings at LivelyHoods opened up with a regular sales team meeting where we learned about new products, discussed sales plans for the day, and sometimes played games to stay sharp. If I was heading out into Kawangware for the day, I joined two sales agents who served as my guides. All of the sales agents and staff were so friendly and welcoming! They shared their communities with me, gracious served as interpreters when needed, and made me feel very safe and comfortable in a new environment. Out in town, we spent our time speaking with store owners and learning about how products are bought and sold within the slums. I was so impressed by these young people and their aspirations to better their lives, and it was especially gratifying when someone would leave iSmart to enroll in higher education or take a new job.

Outside of my work at LivelyHoods, I had so much fun taking in all that Nairobi and Kenya had to offer. Along with my roommate Sheila, a fellow classmate and LivelyHoods volunteer, I built a life in Nairobi that included taking up yoga, enjoying dinners and happy hours with other MBA students, and traveling on the weekends. We visited Diani and Lamu, both beautiful beach towns on the coast, spent a weekend in Uganda, and spent one week on safari in the Masaai Mara before heading back home. One of my favorite trips was to Hell’s Gate National Park, where I was able to ride a bike alongside giraffes, zebras, and warthogs! This opportunity to meet a new community of people, learn about an emerging market in depth, and see a different part of the world is one I am very grateful for and I hope I can visit Nairobi again soon!

January | | Starting 2014 with Great Sales

The Good. We are so proud to have started the year off by breaking our sales goal. This was largely due to a former Sales Agent and Training Manager who is now employing around six other people to sell clean-burning cookstoves outside of the Nairobi area. This is part of a greater B2B strategy that we are working on in order to provide our products at discounted prices to entrepreneurs and organizations that will create their own sales forces and create more jobs. 

The Challenges. After the holiday break, many of our sales agents were slow to return from visiting their families outside of Nairobi. This, in addition to high training turn out but low conversion from training to employment, led to a smaller sales force than we anticipated for this month. Also, many of our Sales Agents complained that customers were low on expendable income this month after the holidays and with school fees due. We planned for this seasonality in our high-level sales goals but are now thinking about ways to support our agents so that their income is not negatively affected during low sales seasons. 

2013 | | A Year of Growth and Learning

The Good. We had 38 sales agents distributing life-changing products in their communities in December, more than any other month on record! After working on improving our recruitment and retention this year, our sales force will continue to grow in 2014. Our second store in Kangemi is seeing growth as well and is now responsible for 41% of in-store sales. All of the loans posted through Kiva to finance our daily consignment model have been fully funded. 

The Challenges. Our total sales for the year were 72% of our goal. We are proud of the way our team weathered diverse challenges in 2013, such as the tumultuous Presidential elections in March, changes in our pricing due to new VAT laws, and increased fees for marketing events from the city council. We also know to anticipate these challenges in setting our goals and strategies for 2014. 

November | | Better Recruitment and Training


The Good. Agent retention is up from previous months, reportedly as the youth we’ve recruited are enjoying the culture and the sales job.  We are working on what it means to get more of the ‘right people’ through our recruitment efforts. In training, agents are being encouraged to go out independently as opposed to going out in groups, which appears to be working. A few agents have shown significant increase in sales less than a week after going out independently.

The Challenges. We have seen our bulk sales to businesses drop in recent months because these ‘re-sellers’ are obtaining better prices and deals from competitors.  As these sales can represent a large chunk of our total sales in a good month, we have to work on our wholesale pricing. 

New sales agents heading out in the field to sell some cook-stoves and solar lamps!

October || Rockefeller Funds LivelyHoods

The Good. We are proud to announce that the Rockefeller Foundation has awarded LivelyHoods with the largest financial grant we have ever received. Through this partnership, we will expand operations into Mombasa and will invite 585 youth from Kenyan slums to join our employability program. This month, sales records have been broken by new recruits. We have also identified a senior sales agent to become the manager of our second store. And we’ve improved the retention of our sales representatives.

The Challenges. Our sales are lower than we expected. As a result of large fees placed upon us for our marketing activities, we have had to continue putting them on hold. For this reason, we did not recruit aggressively this month and did not meet our recruitment target.

September || Stoves are in Stock!

The Good. LivelyHoods was awarded a D-Prize Fellowship. After an intensive application and interview process of multiple rounds, the D-Prize team identified LivelyHoods as having an innovative products and service distribution model with the potential to scale. D-Prize was co-founded by the CEO of One Acre Fund. You can learn more about D-Prize in Forbes and the Stanford Social Innovation ReviewAdditionally, LivelyHoods has launched a partnership with Kiva’s experimental innovations team to finance our product consignment model. 37 youth completed our marketing and sales training this month. Unlike previous months, we marketed the opportunity through both community posters and a newspaper advertisement. We began distributing Malaika Jikos, and they have had relative success during their first few days in the market. The sales in our second shop have grown by 200% over the last month. 

The Challenging. Our revenue target is behind our goal, but our performance has improved significantly since last month. We got our best-selling cookstove product back in stock, but this did not have as dramatic impact on our sales as we had hoped. Unfortunately, we also had to cut back our marketing activities due to high fees being imposed upon us by the local city council.