A few weeks ago the founders of the phone case company, Kidogo Kidogo, reached out to me about collaborating on a blog post. For each phone case purchased, Kidogo Kidogo, sends a phone or phone credits to Tanzanian women who could not otherwise afford one. Kidogo Kidogo’s mission is, “to lift the financial barrier which prevents women in Tanzania from having access to life-changing mobile technology.” I was inspired by Kim and Kristen’s goal and story and wanted to share it with you. Kim and Kristen were kind enough to let me interview them to learn more about their company and the process of starting a business. I hope that you enjoy getting to know them as much as I have.
1. What is the mission of Kidogo Kidogo?
The mission of kidogo kidogo is to lift the financial barrier which prevents women in Tanzania from having access to life-changing mobile technology. According to a study by GSMA, Women & Mobile: A Global Opportunity, the number one reason preventing women from phone ownership is the initial cost ($15-$21USD) of a handset. A quote from the same study states “Even some of the poorest women in the world are willing to invest their limited funds in mobile phone services because of the financial and social benefits they bring.”
3. How did you come up with the idea?
Kim: The idea for kidogo kidogo came from my sister, Kristen. Having spent a lot of time working in the telecommunications sector in the developing world, she knew a lot about the value that a mobile phone played in people’s lives. She attended mobile health conferences and heard of how mobile phones are used to send free mosquito net vouchers to people to prevent malaria. She heard from farmers who told her that by accessing market-pricing information on their mobile phones they were able to make more money selling their crops. She also heard directly from women about how a phone gives them the power of information to help them run their businesses more effectively. After having read a report by the GSMA called Women & Mobile a Global Opportunity, she learned that women in Africa were 23% less likely than men to own a mobile phone and that the main barrier to ownership was the cost of a handset. When she called me with the idea to get people in the U.S. to contribute to buying women in Africa mobile phones by purchasing iPhone cases, I loved it and kidogo kidogo was born.
3. How did you come up with the name Kidogo Kidogo?
kidogo kidogo, pronounced key-dough-go key-dough-go, translates to “little by little” in Swahili, the main language spoken in the African country of Tanzania. When we were thinking of names we wanted something that tied the company to Tanzania and we wanted something that reflected our mission. In the end we thought kidogo kidogo was perfect since the name is in Swahili and it is exactly how we plan to make a difference, one phone at a time, little by little.
4. How did you find and choose organizations to partner with for Kidogo Kidogo?
Kim: We’ve found partners in a variety of ways. One of our distribution partners is FINCA, a global charitable microfinance organization, whose mission is to provide financial services to the world’s lowest-income entrepreneurs so they can create jobs, build assets, and improve their standard of living. Kristen worked for them several years ago in Tanzania. We have also partnered with an environmental NGO in Tanzania, Sea Sense. A portion of the proceeds from the sales of the sea turtle case (One Shell of a Case) is distributed to Sea Sense who works closely with coastal communities in Tanzania to conserve and protect endangered marine species. We learned about them through the artist who designed the cases, Sarah Markes. We learned about another distribution partner is Sega Girls Secondary School, through a friend. The school for women is located in Morogoro,Tanzania, and graduates from their entrepreneurship will be receiving phones when they graduate to assist them as they enter the workforce.
5. What is your best advice for sisters who want to start a business together?
Kim: Good question! I’d say make sure both of you are happy with the division of labor. Split the work so each person is doing what takes advantage of their strengths and what they enjoy. Also learn how to give and receive criticism and not take it personally!
Kristen: Kim and I have always been super close and we knew starting a business together would be tough. It has been important for us to be able to draw the line between our personal life and professional life and make sure that we aren’t neglecting one for the other. We even have calls now where after talking kidogo kidogo we have to say, okay, but how is my sister doing and give that time to talk as sisters and not just business partners.
6. What is the best thing about having your sister as your co-founder?
Kim: Working with Kristen has been great, if one of us starts to slack the other one picks up the work and vice versa. It also gives us a reason to constantly keep in touch. Being located so far from each other and both being busy it’s easy to go a few weeks without touching base. But with kidogo kidogo, we are constantly on Skype, FaceTime, email or texting.
Kristen: The best thing about working with Kim is that we know each other so well that working together is extremely natural. We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We know each other’s styles and we know we can be totally honest with the other. As a result, we fit naturally into roles and we know how and when to support each other. It’s amazing to work with your best friend.
7. Kim, I read that you were the president of your chapter of Delta Delta Delta sorority. Do you think that being in a sorority helped to prepare you to lead your own company? What transferable skills did you learn from your leadership position?
Kim: I think Delta Delta Delta helped in a multitude of ways. Leading an organization the size of our chapter it was imperative to learn to multitask between school work and chapter work. It helped me to learn how to balance many aspects of my life. It was also great in terms of public speaking, running meetings every week and representing the chapter provided me many opportunities to present for crowds. Another great benefit has been the network of support that I have received from members.
8. Kim, what advice do you have for people who are interested in pursuing a career in government consulting?
Kim: I would tell people that just because you didn’t study business or engineering in school doesn’t mean you can’t work for a government contractor. I have coworkers from a variety of backgrounds all who bring a different perspective to work.
9. Kristen, you have traveled all around the world. Where is your favorite place that you have traveled?
Kristen: Tanzania, of course. I know I am biased living here, but besides the amazing people, it’s not a bad tourist destination either. If you like beaches, you have Zanzibar. If you like mountains, you have Mount Kilimanjaro and if you like animals, you have the Serengeti. It’s a hard place to beat really.
10. What advice do you have for other people that are interested in starting a business?
Kim: Make sure you have a good support system. Having friends and family who believe in your cause and who will support you will really help during the long days. We’ve been very lucky to have received help from so many people.
Kristen: Be passionate about what you are doing. It’s not easy to start a business. It takes a lot of time and hard work, but if you believe in what you are doing, it really makes it worth it.