Simon Mazambu began working with LivelyHoods in October of 2012. He is now one of our best-performing sales agents. This is his story.
Simon lives with his brother in Kawangware, an informal settlement about 15km from Nairobi’s city centre. He has lived in Kawangware all of his life and is passionate about football. This is the story about how iSmart has given him an opportunity of a lifetime, and the skills and confidence to pursue his personal and professional goals.
Before he started working as a sales agent, Simon managed to obtain numerous odd jobs, all for a few months at a time. Scouting for jobs was a continuous activity for him- he describes this as ‘hustling’, a term used to describe the act of roaming around to find any means to “earn some coins”, and a common activity for many youth living in slums.
Simon found himself playing football matches at the local community oval, where if his team won, he would receive a small allowance. He would fetch water for people in 20-liter jerry cans, receive 10 shillings per jerry can delivered, and earning up to 200 shillings, or less than US$2 per day. He would help out at construction sites, bringing tools and other equipment to construction workers, also for around 200 shillings a day. He sold shoes and clothes at the market, which inspired him to start his own business one day. All of his formal job applications were refused based on his lack of qualifications and experience.
Simon’s search to find a means to achieving independence was driven by a need to make his parents proud. “I wanted to be independent, and look for something to do, and so my parents can say, ‘My son can do something for himself, without me, and he can carry on even when I’m not there.’” His search was given a leg up one day, when an old childhood friend and top sales agent introduced him to iSmart. He took the opportunity to join, as “it was an opportunity that doesn’t come so easily,” Simon said. Simon started working at iSmart in October 2012.
His road to sales success was not smooth. He describes himself as slightly shy at the beginning, without courage or confidence to talk to people. Simon recalls stopping half way during a role-play during sales training one morning. “How am I going to do this?” he thought, as he stood in front of the team. He said he couldn’t do it, and sat back down with his peers. In the first month, he sold few products and earned a small commission. The second month, his sales dropped significantly, which he describes as utterly demotivating. “What is happening to me? It seems like this thing is not for me. Should I leave this job? But if I leave this job, what will I do? I have nothing else, and I was given this opportunity, let me just do it, because I know I can make it if I continue working hard doing this.”
Faced with few other opportunities, he persisted through the slower months and gradually saw his sales increasing, month over month. This month, his sales figures surged. When asked how, he said he used a new strategy, which came to him one day when he was working with another sales agent. “I will go to offices and talk to prominent people to try and see if I can make sales. I will do this without fear, no matter how they talk to me. That day I first tried this, I was able to sell 2 products. I thought this thing, could work.” And it has. He continues to approaches offices and businesses to speak with a different kind of clientele, and is reaping the rewards from this new strategy. He describes this growth as empowering. “Now, I feel happy, I feel great. Now I’ve passed the goal that I’ve set for the month. So I’m growing, I’m getting somewhere.” He also knows that next time, if he reaches an obstacle, he will again try another strategy. He recognizes that this is part of good business management, a skill he feels he has picked up at iSmart.
Now, he leads role-plays for the stream of new recruits that come in, and helps to recruit new people and train new agents. He enjoys leading people, he said. He sees that leading people is a two-way exchange - “You lead them but you learn from them also.” What he likes most about his job is that his salary is not capped. “I can earn as much as I want. I have no salary limit. I have freedom to move, go wherever I want and get sales. Freedom to go everywhere. Freedom to use my own ideas.”
He describes iSmart as a family. “One thing is no one is in a low class and no one is in a high class. We have equal treatment. No one is above anyone. When you are here you just feel you are at home. I feel this is a safe home. A safe place. With friends. I have a lot of good friends at iSmart and I am happy…”
Simon is determined to start his own business in the future, and feels that the skills he is gaining from iSmart will put him in good stead to start his own business. “I was taught something about how to manage business. I know how to talk to customers, how to respond to them, how to treat them. I know how to follow up with them. Good customer care and good customer service. And I know how to work with my co-workers.”
When asked what he would tell other youth about iSmart, he said: “iSmart gives youth an opportunity to start a life, to start a job, to earn something, and also to have an experience in life. I came and didn’t know anything about sales, but they gave me training, they took me in the field, they didn’t leave me alone and I went out with someone else who had experience. I grew from that point. iSmart is changing the lives of the youths, taking them from nothing to something.” He added, “Just keep hope and be optimistic. Do your best with what you are doing. Choose your own way, and find out what you’re good at and keep going. Always strive and do better.”