Winnie Maganjo, from Kenya, was a second-year BSc economics student when she founded Nutter, a line of healthy, gourmet nut butters with flavors like Espresso Almond and Cinnamon Peanut Butter! Balancing her studies at SOAS (the School of Oriental and African Studies, part of the University of London) with building her business, Winnie even found time to compete in national business competitions.
Find out where her love of nut butters first started – and her top piece of advice for gaining work experience while you’re studying…
How did your bachelor’s degree prepare you for the working world?
I studied Economics, but it was really theoretical. Through Nutter I’m having to learn about budgeting, accounting, forecasting and it has felt like doing a whole new degree! The entrepreneurs’ society at my university, SOAS Enterprise, has been amazing – they provide really good support for student entrepreneurs.
I found out about them through my friend and we attended a ‘hackathon’ (an event where students collaborate on technology projects) – we went along and I really liked it. Then I came up with my idea, and they mentored me through the process. They gave me a grant to be able to test whether there was interest in the project, and then eventually I applied for my Tier 1 graduate entrepreneurship visa.
Tell us about your business idea!
The seed of idea was planted when I was 13. I’m Kenyan and I went to an international school there. We went on a leavers’ camping trip and I remember one girl stole a big jar of Skippy peanut butter, and was eating it with apples. Everyone was divided between the people who loved it and the people who hated it. For me, that’s my first memory of liking peanut butter!Tell us about your business idea!
Also, at home we make something called matoke – cooked banana with peanut butter sauce. I read a lot of food blogs and I discovered the world of almond butter and cashew butter. Until then I thought you could only make peanut butter, so it was a revelation!
Then I came to the UK and realised there was room for a business. The blog comments made it clear – people were saying things like, ‘I can’t wait for this to exist in the UK.’
What volunteering and internship experience did you get as a student?
I got volunteering experience teaching GCSE-level maths once a week during my 2nd year at university, and I also did reading with little kids. It was more fun than if I’d done volunteer work just to add to my CV.
Right now, I’m working part-time at the enterprise society at SOAS, which has been amazing because I’m learning a lot about how to run a business – the day-to-day stuff. You don’t learn that unless you work for someone else, so I’m able to use what I’m learning every day in my own business.
What tips do you have for students looking to gain work experience while studying?
I think you should do stuff that you find interesting. You can tell immediately when someone is doing something just for the sake of having it on their CV. When you seek opportunities that are interesting, you really get into it, and it’s more authentic. For example, I enjoy reading and working with kids.
The other thing is that every summer you should try and learn a soft skill, for example html or coding or how to be really good at Excel or MailChimp. Right now I’m looking for help with the business and if somebody said, ‘I’m really good at coding’ I would choose them over someone who did a basic internship.
What are your ambitions for the future?
Long-term, my ambition is to be the world’s best nut-based brand! Right now we are starting with nut butters, but my vision is to expand into products like nut milk and nut bars.
My second vision is more short-term. We do our manufacturing ourselves, and I want to keep the manufacturing in-house so that we can create jobs for the local community. We can control how we source our ingredients, where we get them from – I think that makes us a stronger brand. The other short-term goal is to start using social media – we need to interact with brands and people in a way that is more authentic than just selling at people.
I think we always need to keep challenging what we hear is the done thing.
If you had one piece of advice for graduates who want to develop a business, what would it be?
My one major piece of advice is to surround yourself with really good people, because the idea is only going to take you so far. That means people who say ‘no’ – not ‘yes men’. I have really come to appreciate a friend of mine who says ‘Winnie, I’m going to be horrible now…’ I think she’s great and her insights have really helped the business!