A disappointing trip birthed my China business: George Mbogo
Once bitten, twice shy, so goes the English proverb. However, for some people, such conformity simply does not work.
George Mbogo, 39, is such a person. He is an entrepreneur who sniffed an opportunity off a past misfortune and converted it into a business. This idea was borne in 2014, just a few months after his maiden trip to China became a huge disappointment.
“When I first made the trip to China in 2013, the person who handled the logistics failed to meet his end of the bargain. It ended up being a wasted opportunity as I missed out on interacting with potential traders as a budding entrepreneur,” recalls Mbogo, adding that he spotted a gap in the industry and immediately sought to solve it.
The letdown saw him set up Epic Business Tours, a company targeted at businesspeople heading East. “When I began, it was difficult to understand the Chinese terrain and how to access it. Some of my first clients had little faith in me, but I soldiered on to win their trust,” he says.
He focuses on businesses to make it easy for entrepreneurs who want to trade in Asia, especially China.
Fortunately, he had an interest in business. While studying Economics and Communication at the University of Nairobi, he cut out his business teeth by selling eggs, but deserted it immediately after graduation in 2004. This, he confesses, was somewhat his biggest business mistake.
Now, with more than six years experience as a sales agent at Britam Insurance and as a freelancer doing some odd jobs, he networked and interacted with businesspeople, earning sound footing and understanding of the landscape. Throughout, he learnt the value of persistence and confidence, which proved invaluable later on.
Over time, Mbogo built his own brand and niche. “My experience made me realise I could charge a small fee to travelling businesspeople and, in the process, help them meet manufacturers and suppliers,” he adds.
Fast forward to 2019, the business has taken off. After several trips to China, tagging along couple of travellers, he picked up great lessons along the way. “My first tour, in October 2014, had only three people and each parted with Sh250,000. The following year in April, we travelled with 10 friends. On average, we do a trip every two months with each trip having 30-50 people and in the five years so far, we have ferried about 1,000 businesspeople to China.In china therefore,we do a maximum of six trips annually,” says Mbogo.
Business and leisure
China’s third largest city, Guangzhou, is the focal point of Mbogo’s business travellers. “We have a Canton Fair twice a year in that part of the world and it is like a large soko. Our clients simply love what they can pick and come home and implement or invest,” he says.
He adds,”We have success stories based on what we have done so far like a trader in Siaya county called Steve Obewo, who had previously never travelled and after three trips, has already imported a nail-making machine and a tissue-making machine and just recently took himself to Beijing, China for his third business venture. This is quite inspiring and motivating.”
Ultimately, his biggest challenge is briefcase players who undermine legitimate traders.
“We have fakes and cons that have no regard for open business principles. For example, we have so many people out here purporting to do the tour and travel business, yet they are not duly registered and, worse still, have not even ventured into those foreign countries. Other minor issues, especially at the beginning, included visa processing and locating of good hotels for our customers,” he says.
Also part of challenges was the price. The original Sh250,000 he charged proved too high for clients, and he was forced to reconsider the rate. He dropped the price to Sh199,000, but still experienced low numbers. To address this, he ran a campaign with discounted rate at Sh185,000 and the response was so good, the price stuck.
The Sh185,000 covers the round trip to China, which includes a Pearl River cruise, a cable ride in the mountains and the practical experience of using subway and metro trains. Mbogo’s company is also involved in importation, shipping and cargo clearance for clients at the port of Mombasa.
“We plan to venture into other Eastern markets such as Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, Dubai and Japan for business. As much as possible we want to diversify so that we stay afloat and add value and real experience,” he concludes.