Unlike many entrepreneurs, becoming the founder of a company was never at the top of Audrey Migot-Adholla’s bucket list.
On the contrary, for many years, the thought never even occurred to her.
“You could almost call me an accidental entrepreneur, in the sense that it was a hobby that became an obsession that became something I realized I could make money from,” she reflects.
Audrey is the founder and CEO of Yala, a British-Kenyan jewelry company that prides itself on its ethical practices—from its treatment of manufacturers on the ground in Kenya, to the eco-friendliness of its shipping and handling.
She’s now using an MBA at Bath School of Management to expand her skill set and grow her startup ethically.
“Demand was overwhelming”
Born in Kenya and schooled in the UK from the age of 13, Audrey had been a fan of arts and crafts since she was a child.
Her grandmother (pictured right, with Audrey) had taught her how to bead and weave, and she continued to create as she got older, eventually using the Kenyan techniques that had been passed down to her to create her own jewelry.
The path to distribution of these accessories, however, didn’t run smooth.
Though supportive friends encouraged her to start a blog about her project, and to sell her products online and in shops, it was difficult to balance production with her full-time job and her home life.
The blog became too popular and it overwhelmed her, and so she shut it down.
What Audrey needed was a means of production that would get the products out there without encroaching on her wellbeing.
Discussing the problem with her mother—herself a businesswoman in Kenya—she realised there was a simple solution.
“Why don’t you have them made here?” her mother asked her. “We know lots of people—this is where you learned to do a lot of these things, after all.
“Why don’t we source some production partners to make these things for them, you can continue selling them on your website, and see what happens?”
Seeing the whole jigsaw
This certainly seemed like the best course of action. But this time, Audrey was adamant: there would be no half-measures, she was going to go all-in.
She founded Yala in 2017, naming it after the village in Kenya where her grandmother lives. She created her own website, talked to branding experts and developers, and started building up the business from scratch. It was a long process which took considerable work, and took more than a year before the website was pushed live in November 2018.
No longer a side project, Yala was going to be a real startup—and that meant that she needed real skills to get it going.
Once again, Audrey turned to her mother for advice, who told her to apply to business school.
An MBA would give her a solid understanding of how all the parts of a business fit together, she said—from supply chain management, to retailing, to choosing between a wholesale or direct-to-consumer model.
And, again, her mother was right.
“Doing this MBA has really allowed me to see the whole jigsaw as opposed to just the individual pieces,” says Audrey.
Pictured: one of the manufacturers working on a Yala product in Kenya
“I always wanted complete transparency”
The courses on the MBA at Bath have been instructive for Audrey in how to build her business to be not just successful, but ethical, something that had been a top priority since the idea for the business first started taking shape.
“There was no question it had to be ethical,” Audrey states. “Being from Kenya myself and without naming names, there are plenty of companies out there that exploit the cheap labor available in emerging economies and give no credit to the people who make the products in the first place.
“I always wanted complete transparency in the way that [Yala] was run.”
It’s not just in her labor practices that Audrey is walking the walk when it comes to social responsibility—Yala was recently certified as a B-Corporation in the UK, recognition of its success as a business that is not only socially, but environmentally impactful.
As she continues to grow the company, maintaining this standard will be at the top of Audrey’s list of priorities. The teaching and connections supplied by Bath School of Management will be a big asset.
“This is something I want to do full-time and grow,” she says. “We have lifelong access to the careers center [at Bath] and all of the different connections that they have—that’s probably what I’m going to look at doing.
“To me, the main purpose of this business is to provide financial opportunities to the artisans I’m working with back home. Whatever I can do to make sure my success is their success is my goal—it’s what drives me.”