Mercy Kitomari, whose award-winning business has been featured on international platforms like BBC, shares advice for aspiring entrepreneurs
These were the thoughts swirling through our minds as we sampled Mercy Kitomari’s gelato. We had so many questions about the flavors, the textures, and the inspiration behind them all. But in that moment, only one question escaped our mouths.
“Where will we get to eat this gelato ice cream in Tanzania?”, we asked her.
Mercy, founder of the award-winning Nelwa’s Gelato, answered with pride.
“At selected five-star hotels in Dar es Salaam and across local ice-cream parlors in Tanzania,” she replied.
Mercy lives in a modest, one-story home in the quiet streets of Magomeni, where she operates to make fresh fruit gelato and train like-minded beginners. Her sitting area is a glorious mess of books on one side and ice-cream refrigerators on the other.
When she takes breaks from making ice cream, she spends her free time building business plans on her laptop in her tiny kitchen. Her work station is a lineup of machines in her veranda, where she makes quality, traditional gelatos consumed around Tanzania.
Everyone makes ice cream. How is yours different?
Mercy: Successful people think out loud. I was writing my MBA paper on ice cream impasse in the UK and what makes someone purchase ice cream. I realized something was really missing in my country. Because it’s a tropical country, ice cream should be our number one product.
The cost of running is very high, but I figured a way out to make it possible. I used Chinese machines to start with. I followed principles of the chef that taught me in UK and I connected with the Tanzania Chef Association.
I am not the first one and the only one, but my fascination is thinking differently. So I bought fresh fruits, nuts and spices from the market, and turned the combination into a gelato treat from Tanzania.
“I only think of the end picture and that is what drives me. I am the one who figures things out, and a ‘no’ is normally a ‘yes’ later. I find the way around it and work on building my goal.”
Lacking confidence or self-doubt is common for self motivated entrepreneurs. What is your advice?
Mercy: My friend once shared with me, “There are ideas floating in the universe, and they pick on you to see much you are willing to give and bring it to life. If you accept and work on it, they will stay and make a partnership with you. If you start doubting every time, they will fly away to someone else.” I self-doubt every day, from choosing my shirt to deciding if I should buy a new car. However, I ask myself, ‘Will these doubts define my bigger picture?’
“Every day you have to choose and fight for your dreams, ignore small doubts, and challenge yourself towards bigger commitments. It is an everyday battle.”
Apart from trials and errors, do failures scare you?
Mercy: Making ice cream is a happy business, so I don’t have to take it seriously!
My first few challenges in business were dotted with heartbreaks and falling sick often. There is so much I am sacrificing to achieve my dreams. With time, I learned how to detach my personal problems from my business.
I have taken this journey as a learning curve, without complicating it with emotions. When I feel low, I sit down and write an honest business plan and work so hard until I see it come alive.
“Don’t find rest until you get there. Your highs and lows will make you better eventually. The end goal is so much bigger than who you are now; hence, keeping moving.”
Even when you are not making enough money, do you compromise on the quality?
Mercy: No matter what kind of business you do, quality is everything. If you are not quality-based, you will do everything except become successful. I can start making ice cream by putting less sugar and milk use or use strawberry flavor instead of fruits, but then I ask myself,”Am I doing it if I wanted to cheat?”
“Authenticity is costly, but it will pay you back in the long term. Compromising in business will eventually bite your success.”
How does big money come in, then?
Mercy: If you aspire for big money, you will be very disappointed. It is the seeds that you start planting that count. Aspire to make change. To touch lives. Bring something new to the world.
Our journeys are not defined by the money we make, but by the lives we touch, the difference you make. Money follows you. Ask yourself, what have you sacrificed to get there? You may earn money easily, but when you work hard and sacrifice, you will really value the money that comes with it.
“Every day I keep defining this journey. When I started investing more into my business, when I make mistakes, when I do something new, when I earn a little more than yesterday, that all made me realize I am growing.”
How do you deal with deadlocks?
Mercy: I share my ideas to know where I stand. That is how I grew from just selling ice cream to teaching people around Tanzania to make traditional Nelwa’s gelatos, who are now operating with success. Don’t keep your expertise, and don’t be afraid to share your ideas with the right people. Instead, be wise, share your ideas, and expand your own business. Take your credit and don’t take your own success for granted.
“Have conversations with people. They are like therapy. Talking to people does wonders and reminds you who you are. It makes you stick to your dream plan.”
Is the end goal your success? How far have you reached?
Mercy: My end picture is to see Nelwa’s Gelato recognized as the signature traditional Tanzanian gelato ice cream consumed everywhere. When someone lands in Tanzania, Nelwa’s Gelato should be a must-have. I want my patrons to say, “If you don’t have Nelwa’s, I don’t want any ice cream.” This is my big dream, so I’m partnering with people and spreading my brand name via aspiring ice cream makers. I am not satisfied with the numbers, so I am pushing them.
“Everyone defines success differently. My intention is to build a brand that will live a hundred years and not simply to be happy after buying a big car. My definition of success has grown drastically from where I was.”
What is it that you always wanted to share with women who wanted to start their independent businesses?
Mercy: Your success is defined by the bigger picture and why are you doing it. If you are doing it to show, don’t do it. If there is a burning desire to do it, then go ahead. If you are a woman who thinks that there is more to life and the boundaries of the society don’t define you, then just go for your calling and start.
It involves a lot of compromise, especially in your personal life, but nothing works without sacrifice. Be willing to go through it and work towards the end goal.
“Nothing hurts more than living a life that is not yours.”
Hi! I am Ayushi, a journalist based in Dar es Salaam. I am an advocate of social change and positive media. My dream is to own a travel channel.