Nelly Tuikong – Kenyan beauty brand taking on global behemoths

Nelly Tuikong

Nelly Tuikong is the founder of Pauline Cosmetics, a Kenya-based beauty company which produces a range of products such as lipstick, eye shadow and makeup brushes that retail throughout the country.

Tuikong is one of the businesspeople featured in How we made it in Africa: The book, which tells the stories of 25 entrepreneurs who've built thriving businesses.

Before the book launched on 15 October, we asked Tuikong a few questions about her business journey.

What business achievement are you most proud of?

I'm proud of having built a local cosmetics brand that is competing neck and neck with international companies in the market. Right now I can walk into a beauty shop and my stand is right next to the giants – it is so incredible.

I've also been able to build a distribution network that reaches all corners of the country, whereas many brands just get tied up in Nairobi. It's not like you can't find other brands outside Nairobi, it is just that these towns don't seem to be a big priority for them. Distribution in Kenya is very fragmented, so you cannot rely on just getting into a few chain stores.

What popular entrepreneurial advice do you disagree with?

Some people say that in order to succeed in entrepreneurship, you should stick to your field of expertise. I don’t agree with this. I'm qualified as a critical-care nurse, and had zero background in beauty or business before I started this company. I just have a vision, and my job is to stick to that vision. That type of thinking can paralyse people who want to start something, but don't necessarily have the industry experience.

Is there anything you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before you started?

Everything. I’ve had to learn from scratch how to do to everything – Google and other people's stories have been particularly helpful. Entrepreneurship is like having a child for the first time. You have all these people and books telling you what to do, but when that baby shows up you have no clue what to do.

That said, in a way I'm glad I didn't start out with a set of assumptions, and that I figured it out as I went along. Many people have been burnt by having a bunch of assumptions on how business in Africa works, only to see their ventures collapse. Whatever you read in international case studies or business books doesn’t necessarily apply to rural Kenya. 

How we made it in Africa: The book tells the stories of 25 entrepreneurs who've built thriving businesses. The ebook launched on 15 October 2018.