Knowing startups have a 70 percent failure rate did not even stop Nsimenta Maxima from transitioning from electric engineering to cosmetics. Today, not only is her cosmetics a household name in Uganda, but she is also the biggest natural organic cosmetics manufacturer in the country.
Maxima is the founder and CEO of Livara as well as a mother of two. She started her cosmetic brand in 2015 and has since grown to be among the leading cosmetic brands in Uganda. These days, she dreams of expanding to other African countries and rubbing shoulders with global brands.
Her journey toward becoming a beauty entrepreneur started after university. She studied Electrical Engineering at Makerere University and joined the oil and gas industry. She first joined Total E&P in Uganda where she oversaw the relationship among the joint ventures on behalf of Total.
She subsequently joined Schlumberger, one of the world’s leading providers of technology and services to the energy industry, in their DR Congo operation. She joined as a field engineer in the artificial lift department from February 2013 to May 2015.
One day, while on a break, she decided to visit a salon to have her hair done but she was told they couldn’t work on her hair because many of the top-quality facilities in Congo were owned by French people and they were used to doing more Caucasian hair than African hair.
“I went to the second salon for the same thing. At the third salon, I was told that if I wanted to retouch my hair, I should go downtown, near the local market,” she told CEO East Africa. “I was disturbed and I went ahead and cut off my hair because I was fed up. After two to three months of my hair growing again, I realized it was difficult to comb. When I started buying oils to soften my hair, I realized that over 90% of the products in Congo were imported from India and other countries.”
As she traveled a lot as part of her job, she scouted for cosmetic products during trips. She realized that most of the products that they were selling as natural hair products were not manufactured in Africa, yet they claimed to use raw materials from Africa.
“I saw an opportunity of making the same, if not better products, right here in Africa. So, I started doing research. It is then that I landed on the whole Shea Butter phenomenon. This is when I started planning to leave my job. I gave myself a target to raise USD75,000 because that’s what was required for an investment permit. This took me about two years to save and raise, from my USD10,000 a month salary,” the 36-year-old said to CEO East Africa.
In 2015, she quit her Schlumberger job to return home and start Livara. To market her brands, Maxima capitalized on social media to reach Ugandans, who are, for now, her primary target. She also used her social network to spread the word about her brand.
Livara makes products for women, men, children, and babies. Their product includes 2-in-1 Sapphire Deep Conditioner and Leave-In Treatment, Baby Opal Babies and Children Body Butter, Sapphire Shampoo Bar, Shea Face and Body Soap, Tanzanite Hair Oil 100ml, Tsavorite Anti-snap Hair Treatment, Chocolate Ruby Body Butter, among many others, she said.
Maxima notes that the journey has not been smooth sailing and just like other entrepreneurs, she has faced a lot of challenges. According to her, her challenge was how to recruit like-minded thinkers being the biggest shareholder in the company. She also has challenges with packaging and labeling as well as raising funds to expand her business.