There tends to be so much naivety when it comes to founding a startup. It’s almost like being in love for the first time. You’re excited, hopeful and have elephant-sized dreams of creating a multimillion-dollar corporation.
Then there’s the post-honeymoon phase where you’ve been running the business for a while and you realize that the knowledge that you have isn’t enough, the initial structure/model of your business has to change and you need more money! You’re even putting in more hours than your employed friends and now have a new appreciation for the word, GRIND.
Meidimi Hugo Sokoto, knows the post-honeymoon phase all too well. He has been running an agribusiness startup called Dimjim Mushrooms for the last 6 years. It has been 6 years of learning, trial and error, success and changing the goalpost of his startup a couple of times.
The Reason behind choosing Mushroom Farming
From a young age, Meidimi was interested in farming but was hesitant to start farming because of the stories he kept seeing and hearing of how hard it was to determine harvests and how much was out of the farmer’s control.
Mushrooms finally caught his attention because he could control a lot of the factors. He was inspired by an article of a young man growing mushrooms and chuckles as he recounts, “I remember thinking it looked pretty simple than how it is now. I thought, ‘Why not? It looks pretty fun.”
The Start of Dimjim Mushrooms
Meidimi teamed up with a friend who had access to unused land in Nairobi. This was fortunate for them because it meant that they were able to start in Nairobi – closer to a major market of mushrooms in Kenya.
Before he started farming, Meidimi sought out different mushroom farmers in Nairobi and Nakuru to get advice and learn from them.
“When I began, I thought I had gotten enough knowledge to start the business but as I began and continued to run the business, I realized that I was just scratching the surface of mushroom farming. I really didn’t understand the technical side of it and I wanted to learn more.”
“I managed to get a consultant in South Africa who was able to educate me on the technical part of mushrooms and the intricacies of the mushroom growing process.”
They began building in December, 2014 and had their first harvest of Button Mushrooms in 2015.
Funding a Mushroom Startup
There are two ways to get into this business; the traditional way and the modern way.
The traditional method of farming requires little capital to start but the con of that is in the way you make the compost, chances of disease attacking the farm are high and one ends up getting an inconsistent harvest.
According to Smart Business, you will require approximately 40 kilograms of mushroom spawns. In such, your initial cost can run up to Kshs 15,000 (US$1,500) but rarely more. For a larger farmhouse that covers nearly an eighth of an acre, you will need around Kshs 230,000 (US$2,300) to start your mushroom farming venture in Kenya.”
Meidimi has funded his business by borrowing from family and by bootstrapping from the savings.
The modern method of farming takes into account more parameters in the growing process and to be able to do that you need to invest in more equipment and a better structure which of course requires more capital.
In 2018, Meidimi relocated the farm from Nairobi to Nakuru – an agricultural town in the Rift Valley region of Kenya., with the aim of building a more modern structure
Having to deal with the challenges of finding the right people and financing the new mushroom structure which cost about Kshs 2.5 million (US$25,000), it has taken him two years to build a modern structure and he harvested his first batch of mushrooms this year in February.
Embracing Modern Mushroom farming?
In traditional farming, most of the time, farmers grow outdoors with no irrigation, no fertilizer, and make compost the same way each time.
“In modern farming, we try to emulate the correct parameters set by scientists each time we make the compost. We make fresh compost each time we plant spawn and don’t recycle soil.”
“The compost is constantly tested so that when something goes wrong, we know where the issue lies,” unlike before when he practised traditional farming and no one was able to tell him why his mushrooms would die or were having issues.” Says Meidimi.
“I believe it’s in understanding why things go wrong in your business that you’re able to get better.
In modern farming, you also build structures that facilitate the optimum environment to grow mushrooms and it also employs machines and agricultural technology.
The Process of Modern Button Mushroom Farming
The process of modern button mushroom farming takes a total of 3 months to make the harvest. And these include”
- Buying the material/ingredients.
- Testing the material.
- Creating a recipe from the results gotten from the lab about the ingredients.
- Making the compost in the bunker.
- Pasteurizing in the tunnel.
- Moving to the spawning room to plant the spawn onto the compost.
- Moving to the growing room where it incubates.
The order of movement from structure to structure is bunker, tunnel, spawn room, growing room, empty and repeat.
Advantages of Growing Mushrooms
- They don’t require a large piece of land to farm profitably. You can even grow mushrooms in your garage.
- The demand for mushrooms in the country is far more than the supply.
- There are a lot of information available and institutions like JKUAT offer workshops.
- Innovators locally are creating solutions to combat the challenges of growing mushrooms such as the mist blower machine designed by Alfred Barasa to prevent Blotch disease and breeding alternative variations of Button Mushrooms that perform better in our local weather.
Challenges of growing mushrooms
- Temperature regulation: Mushrooms need a specific temperature range to grow and if it’s too hot or too cold for them, they die.
- They are sensitive – can easily get contaminated and die.
- Require more attention than other crops.
- In the traditional type of mushroom farming, the harvest may be inconsistent and seasonal unlike in modern farming where you can harvest all year round.
Benefits of Modern Mushroom Farming
- Higher yield.
- All year harvest – weekly.
- It’s consistent
How has Covid-19 Affected Your Mushroom Farming?
- Covid-19 affected the availability of the Button Mushroom spawn in Kenya. Meidimi gets his spawn from South Africa and during the beginning of the lockdown, he wasn’t able to get the seeds for slightly over a month but now he’s able to.
- The lockdown changed who he markets to. Before, his major clients were hotels, restaurants and supermarkets. Now, he’s had to increase his marketing to individuals and supermarkets.
- His medium of marketing has also changed. He depends more on Facebook groups and his Dimjim mushrooms page more to sell his mushrooms.
What are the mistakes you made starting up the business that people can avoid?
I should have done better market research. In the beginning, I visited a few stalls in Nairobi to find out whether they would buy mushrooms from me and at how much. I also posted an advert on OLX to get a feel of the demand.
After selling for a while is when I realized that I could deal directly with groceries, hotels and restaurants which I would have known had my research been more thorough. There were mistakes I could have avoided if I had communicated better.
How have you educated yourself on the business side of your startup?
If you could do it all over again, what would you have done differently?
I don’t regret anything. I’ve learned from my mistakes and believe that everything had its purpose.