Liza Akinyi is a businesswoman on a mission to make others feel better about themselves. She is the CEO of the fast-growing beauty shop Laika Beauty Lounge. “I sell confidence and self-care,” she says. When Liza not crunching numbers, balancing books, and managing her business, she is a gender and social justice activist and a mother.
Laika Beauty Lounge is a luxury beauty business focused on improving customers’ lives by helping them turn up for themselves in how they look and feel. The brand features a wide selection of beauty services such as hair care, skincare, cosmetics, and consultation. It takes pride in offering high-quality goods that are sourced ethically and sustainably.
Liza welcomed us into her entrepreneurship journey and the intricacies of running a beauty business in Kenya.
Why the name Laika?
‘Laika’ is the singular noun for hair in Swahili, in the plural, it is ‘Malaika.’ This is a beauty business that has an e-commerce site, hair salon, barbershop, and cosmetics shop.
What inspired you to start this beauty business?
The need to be available for my children and have flexibility with my time. Also, my interest in women’s empowerment ties well with this business. When you visit a salon and get good service, you leave the place feeling better about yourself. Here, I get to be part of people’s confidence stories on a large scale.
How did Laika Beauty Lounge come to be?
I started the business from my house. Believe me, I am not trying to sound like a typical motivational speaker (chuckles). So, I would do hair consultations via phone calls and sell beauty products from my house. Later, I opened a smaller shop which grew into a bigger salon and now we are opening another branch at Crystal Rivers Mall, Athi River.
Do you run the business full-time or do you do other things?
On the side, I consult for gender and development gigs but Laika Beauty Lounge is my full-time job.
How did you source your business funding?
I always say the first sources of funding for a businessperson are family, friends, and fools (laughs). So explore those ones first. For this business, I did the same but I also had my savings and a bank loan too.
What is a typical day for you like?
Every day is quite different. For instance, we are launching a new branch in Athi River at the moment and it’s quite hectic. We are going through the pressures of opening a new place that is bigger than our current shop at Gigiri Box. This is our 2nd branch. It has a barber, salon, and spa. However, on the other days, my routine is quite chill because I do a lot of the backend duties such as sourcing for suppliers and HR matters, while my team handles the day-to-day operations.
What are your thoughts on academic education and entrepreneurship?
I have an undergraduate degree in Education and a Master’s Degree in Business Administration. I am also a gender and development expert. This educational background has set a good foundation for my business. I honestly think that to succeed in business, it is important to be both street-smart and book-smart. You can survive being street-smart only but a combination of the two is better
What is the vision for your business?
I hope to grow it to a recognizable brand and make it the Uber of salons. I also hope to have more branches so as to make it Africa’s Sephora. Essentially, make it a women-led African brand that goes beyond borders.
What are your biggest fears for the business?
My biggest fear is not having my team. At the end of the day, my job is to take care of my team so that they can take care of my customers. I would never want to segregate myself to the extent of losing my team. The other fear is being unable to keep up with customer needs, trends, and preferences.
Is entrepreneurship as glamorous as it is portrayed on social media?
No! Not at all. This interview is timely because I am going through the challenges of setting up a new branch. On the outside, people easily assume that things are rosy. The other day our salon got flooded and it was crazy. Keeping up with business financing, debt, customer expectations, and comparisons to other established businesses puts pressure on many young businesses.
Is the Kenyan government supportive enough of small businesses?
Our government is now realizing the importance of the SME sector. However, I still think the government needs to pump in more resources. For instance, setting up a business like mine comes with a lot of hurdles, like access to financing. Sometimes banks can only offer a maximum of KES 50,000 to a business starting up, which is little. Even though I understand they have risks, businesses need the most help at the starting stage.
Money aside, entrepreneurs also need other forms of support such as mentorship, education, affordable business locations, access to the internet and computers, etc. We need a more wholesome approach to supporting young businesses.
Laika Beauty Lounge also has an Ecommerce platform, how do you keep the site afloat with the current competition in the digital space?
2% of our revenue comes from the Ecommerce platform because it is still very young. The other means that we use to reach customers is social media, 90% of our revenue comes from there. I always say, ignore social media at your own peril. Through our efficient customer service, we have been able to attract and retain customers. Social media doesn’t complete a purchase. But how we carry the conversation from social media really distinguishes our business from others.
Laika being a COVID baby, how has it been running the business post-pandemic?
During COVID our business was booming, I don’t know if it was just beginners’ luck. At that time, many people were at home and wanted to handle their own personal grooming. So, we set up our business to ensure convenience, which was very successful. When the realities of COVID hit, things became made things very difficult as it shook the economy and people’s purchasing powers.
Post-COVID we now have an economic depression and disposable income is still very small. Our business is more of a want and not a need business. People are focused more on their basic needs as pockets are much smaller to accommodate extra desires. Despite all that, we started this year on a much better note as people are coping better with the new realities of inflation. I am hopeful that things will get better.
What key lesson(s) have you learned from entrepreneurship?
Patience. I took up space in 2019 to open a salon but ended up opening the salon in January 2023. That was a tough lesson on patience. I have also learned to start with whatever I have; things don’t have to be perfect for you to start your business. Just start and keep improving.
What is your supply chain like and what makes your products different from others?
I source from both local and international suppliers. We stand out because we source directly from manufacturers to guarantee our clients, original products.
What beauty trends irk you the most?
Skin whitening products. We need to celebrate the diversity of beauty not set a beauty standard. People should take pride in their natural beauty and amplify it instead of trying to alter it.
What advice would you give a person looking to be an entrepreneur in the beauty industry?
Starting a business requires a lot of money (chuckles). It needs a good financial plan. Customers will constantly compare you to established competitors therefore you need money to see you through as the business doesn’t start at a profit. Also, start a business in a field that you are knowledgeable about. Do your homework on the business you want to start and keep learning. Lastly, the customer is the center so do everything with them in mind.
Who do you look up to and why?
I look up to anyone who has started any business in the first place. Overcoming the fears of starting out is admirable. I also watch many Indian entrepreneurs’ stories because they inspire you to start no matter how small. Mostly, I admire Manu Chandaria, Oprah Winfrey, and Wandia Gichuru just to mention a few.
What successes are you so proud of in your business?
I stuck it out despite the tough times. Suffering the blessing of being the one who started this kind of business in my family. Having a solid team and attracting and retaining outstanding talent despite the competition and offers from similar businesses.
What mantra do you live by?
Grow, crawl, run, walk if you have to but just keep moving forward.