Interviewed and Written By Mona Ombogo for the Hustle Magazine – The Standard Newspaper pullout
Life can be mundane. We slog and hustle every day, looking for ways to make a living and impacting our immediate surroundings. While all this is going on though, we need some excitement, adventure and recreation to add spice to the routine. Enter Cloud 9xp, an online marketplace and booking platform that highlights global leisure experiences, ranging from zip-lining to helicopter and sky diving safaris. The company’s founder, Mutethia ‘Tesh’ Mbaabu, started the company after he struggled to find unique and adventurous activities to experience in his free time.
The 24-year-old, whose background is computer science, decided to fill the gap himself. He merged his two loves – technology and adventure – to form Cloud 9xp, alongside Collins Mesongo and Emmanuel Miriti. Tesh discusses the steps he’s taken to build a viable online leisure activity platform.
What is Cloud9xp?
We pool a variety of leisure activities from around the globe, and put them up in a single space for easy accessibility. Think of it like Amazon, but instead of selling books, which is how Amazon started off, we are selling experiences and happy memories.
How does it work?
We partner with companies who offer these experiences, for example, Sky Diving in Diani. We list them on our site, complete with pricing, terms and conditions. When customers come to our site, they make a booking, which is paid to us. The vendor then contacts them directly to organise the trip. To ensure quality control, we vet all our service providers before listing them.
How do you make money?
We take a 15 per cent commission on all experiences booked through us. This is a win-win situation with our partners because our site gives them visibility in a market that we’ve created. We help them push sales they wouldn’t otherwise have got.
What’s the most expensive experience you have on your site?
We have an eight-day helicopter safari for two that costs Sh10 million, or for four at Sh10.6 million. The package includes a private pilot and helicopter for all eight days, and takes clients through Masai Mara, Lake Baringo, Mount Nyiro, Matthew’s Range in Nothern Kenya and Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, with overnights in luxury camps like Richard’s Camp.
Has anyone booked this tour?
Not from our site, but yes, it’s been booked. The most expensive experience we have sold was a Eurotrip that cost $3,600 per person (Sh360,000), and we had more than 10 clients going on that trip. Most of our experiences, however, cost between Sh500 and Sh40,000. Our main target audience are Kenyans looking for day activities or weekend getaways.
How many experiences do you have listed?
At the end of last year, we had 450 listed activities, and had booked approximately 1,600 experiences from our site. We project to list 2,000 experiences by the end of this year. Naturally, this means bookings will go up as well.
How competitive is the market you’re in?
I haven’t come across another website like ours in all of Africa. Most websites offering experiences will do specific package deals that they’ve crafted. We, however, have listed providers of different categories on one platform. This gives clients the flexibility to choose what works for them.
For example, if they want to go on a food-tasting tour in Ghana, they can choose which airline to fly with, which tour operator to use once in Ghana and which hotel to stay at. Leaving the choice open enables clients to pick the best options to suit their taste and their pockets, something that wouldn’t be possible with a ready-made package. You started your company shortly after leaving university.
How did you fund it?
Cloud 9xp was started in August 2016. When I left campus in 2015, I first opened a printing company that later morphed into a software company called Mesozi. After running the company for more than a year, I discovered a gap in the leisure industry, which was the lack of a comprehensive listing of vetted activity providers. We launched Cloud 9xp with the aim of solving this problem. It initially cost us Sh100,000. However, to date we have pumped in more than Sh6 million. Cloud 9xp is a high-investment platform, especially in the early stages when we were building the site, and getting service providers and clients on board. Marketing is our biggest expense. Most of the money we’ve spent has been generated by our software company, Mesozi.
Mesozi sounds fairly successful. Why not focus on that?
I believe life is about diversity and growth. There are so many opportunities out there that most people don’t take because we are all so caught up in the daily grind, or mimicking what everyone else is doing. Growing up, my parents were both entrepreneurs. My father was a lecturer and my mother ran her own law firm. They were always reinventing how they ran their crafts to stay ahead of the pack and give the best service. I knew from an early age that I, too, wanted to push the boundaries. Cloud 9xp for me is about stretching beyond my comfort zone, doing something that’s not been done in my circles.
How do you manage your time between the two companies?
They are housed in the same office. We have nine staff members working for Mesozi and six working for Cloud 9xp. We don’t separate them according to the companies; we separate them according to departments. So we have product development on one side and sales and marketing on the other. Within these departments, anyone can sit wherever they want.
Doesn’t this bring confusion?
Actually, no. What it does is expand the mind-set and knowledge base of our employees because they openly share ideas between the two companies. I like innovation and creativity. This is also why my staff members are aged between 19 and 28. I think it’s within this age bracket that most unique ideas are born, simply because at this stage of life, people are not afraid to explore and learn new things.
What do you see as Cloud 9xp’s business potential?
Let me put it like this. According to the latest Economic Survey, the revenue earned in Kenya from tourism was Sh100 billion in 2016. People want different ways to make memories and have a good time, but most of them fail to venture out simply because they don’t know where to look to find new adventures. As the Kenyan and African economy grows, more people are entering the middle income bracket, which means more spending power. We want to tap into this market – people who have extra money and are looking for new recreational ideas.
Tesh’s tips on going against the grain:
1. Pay attention to the world round you
There will alwa s be something that needs solving and there will alwa s be a service that hasn’t been granted. If you quietly observe your surroundings, so man gaps will leap at you that you will wonder how no one else has ever thought of filling them before. Find a way to provide and monetise solutions.
2. Go in the opposite direction
Don’t do the obvious. Routine is the killer of all creativity . The only way to rise above this is to constantly ask why something is done and how it could be improved.
3. Push your limits
All ambitious things are hard, without exception. Don’t worry about the outcome so much that it hinders the journey . Enjoy the process and the experiment. Usually when we are open, the end result is much better than what was expected.
4. Embrace loss
You may lose, that’s just life. There is no insurance against that. So instead of fearing it, accept the possibilit and do our best anyway . Personally , I find that this frees me to go the extra mile.