March 16, 2021

Serving the Community and the World: The Opening Chapter of My Journey as an Entrepreneur

The following is a guest post by Mafade Aygoda.

Born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital, I gained an interest in business while watching my parents venture into multiple enterprises. As a child, I was involved in helping and supporting them. If I was not doing school work, I was performing different tasks to support their businesses.

My father was a shoe shiner when he first arrived in Addis in his late teens. He always had big visions and big business ideas. My mom, on the other hand, was good at finance and detail-oriented. She was extremely focused and disciplined. While my parents failed in different business ventures, they also learned from these failures to build many successful businesses.

To me, entrepreneurship means doing the unthinkable, finding a path in places people avoid and consider to be hard. It is about making the difficult and complicated things simple and easy. It is about venturing down roads less traveled for a specific purpose.

Immigrating to the United States as a young adult, my first few years in America were difficult. I felt lost and alone. I struggled with the English language. But as soon as I started going to school and started to see faces and stories of people from different parts of the world, my life became colorful. I never lived in a place so diverse. To this day, the diversity of this country is my favorite part of America.

When people learn of my Ethiopian heritage, they often ask: "Where is a good place to get Ethiopian food?" Seattle has a large and vibrant Ethiopian community. And as such, the city was seeing a rising interest in vegan and vegetarian food. Ethiopian food was desired not just by the Ethiopian community, but by the general population. I saw an opportunity to establish a business that would provide not just delicious Ethiopian food, but would do so while providing impeccable customer service and building value in the company's brand by deploying effective marketing strategies.

With the advisory support of Aaron Rose, who has over 25 years of experience building successful businesses worldwide, I took the plunge into entrepreneurship by forming Koba Ethiopia, LLC in Seattle, Wash. I was frustrated by the lack of cultural representation I saw in Seattle's Ethiopian community. Most of the Ethiopian restaurants served delicious food, but there was a lot of room for improvement with respect to customer service, marketing and branding.

The initial focus of Koba Ethiopian was in food delivery and pop-ups while searching for a permanent space to establish Seattle's premier Ethiopian restaurant. Shortly after the launch of my business, I was able to establish Koba Ethiopia's brand identity and promoted the name to a large audience who expressed excitement about seeing a modern and simple approach to Ethiopian food. However, I continued to struggle to find a dedicated space for the restaurant due to the high rents.

With the food delivery business, I disliked the restrictions of serving a limited number of customers based on location. In addition, I was operating the business alone. I quickly realized that if I continued along this path, I would not be able to solve the problems so many new ventures encounter such as attracting new customers or managing my finances. I knew that I had to pivot quickly before I ran out of cash.

Abandoning the idea of food delivery or a restaurant, I learned that having an ideal location is often the key determinant in a restaurant's success and even the rent for the worst location in Seattle was beyond my budget. Therefore, I pivoted Koba Ethiopian to an e-commerce platform. Separately, I launched Shades of Injera, a media platform that is deeply rooted in celebrating differences in cultures, perspectives, and stories. Shades of Injera's mission is to inspire and connect one another in a way that is intentional and purposeful. I believe the more we know about ourselves and others, the better we connect.

This past January, Aaron, who is taking a more active role in my company's operations, and I decided to rebrand Koba Ethiopian, LLC to simply Koba, LLC (Koba). We are also rebranding the e-commerce platform to Koba Roots. As a strategic move, Shades of Injera will become a division under Koba alongside Koba Roots.

We are not abandoning Koba Ethiopian as this platform will continue to show a simplified approach to Ethiopian food and culture. The goal is to inspire people to incorporate Ethiopian food and culture into their everyday life.

We are building Koba Roots to be a leading online retail and lifestyle platform. We are focusing on creating and sourcing products that are simple, green and sustainably-made. The e-commerce platform will have a dedicated space for products inspired by the world's unique cultures. We want to find simple ways to inspire people to incorporate apparel and home goods from around the world. The picture on the right of the Gaby Dress is just one of many items that will be made available through Koba Roots.

Aaron uses this analogy with respect to entrepreneurship. "Launching a business is like jumping into the deep end of a pool not knowing if you have the swimming skills to survive or jumping into a dark abyss not knowing what lies at the bottom. With the right support, however, and with much luck, you can survive."

As a child, I had dreams to become a lawyer, pharmacist or engineer. In doing so, I had hopes this would impress my dad and our community. While I attended different schools, I struggled to find my purpose and to discover the things that I enjoy and excel at. I am happy with the fateful decision to enroll at Seattle University where I received a degree in business administration. In launching my own business, I discovered my passion for helping people experience different cultures through fashion, food and design while sharing our unique perspectives and stories.

The past four years as an entrepreneur has been full of trials and tribulations. But it has also been an amazing experience that I continue to embrace each and every day. I am excited by what the next four years (and beyond) will bring in this amazing journey.

Mafade Aygoda serves as founder and chief executive officer of Koba, LLC. She may be contacted at Mafade@KobaRoots.com

2 comments:

  1. I greatly enjoyed reading, "this is my life". Your journey narrative kept me engaged until the very last word.

    ReplyDelete