A.J. Lawrence: MULU is a very cool, futuristic design for a clothing brand. And I’m like, okay, I could kinda see. I like it that you have a men’s and a women’s line. You’ve had these other companies, you’ve been doing these things. Where do you see yourself now as an entrepreneur?
Kanessa Muluneh: Honestly, if I should answer this in short, now I actually would, I’m 33 by the way. My age is 33, and I would like to retire soon. So where do I see myself? I see myself working towards not being this serial entrepreneur, but working towards using my knowledge to grow others or to do something more useful with that. That’s where I see myself in the future. To start with, it was never the idea to become an entrepreneur. It all started with an idea, and I joked about that idea, and before I knew it, it turned into this whole entrepreneurial journey. And I’m just lucky with the opportunities, with the fact that I had people around me that supported me.
And I think now, it’s time to be that person, that supportive person for others.
A.J. Lawrence: Yeah, I mean, I was going through your YouTube channels, your Instagram stuff. You have a very active channel in Deutsch. You have an English one. You have a large community. You have a community on LinkedIn. Are these all separate audiences for you? Or is it just one audience with multiple ways of outreaching?
Kanessa Muluneh: No, they are all different audiences simply because I speak different languages. And they all started with a simple video that I recorded once. One in Deutsch, one in Amharic which is the ethiopian language, and the other one in English. And I started making videos and people were asking me questions. And from that idea that I was trying to help, I promised them something and I was stuck in the web and there was no way back. And yeah, I’m still here with them and I love it. I love what I do.
A.J. Lawrence: I would really like to maybe dive into what you’re doing in Africa because I was going through MULU, and like I said, I really do like stylish, sort of futuristic, but not like way too far out. Kind of neat. But I was really intrigued by the whole section you had on the site. Well, two things. One, I’m intrigued in sort of the web3 look and feel, at least on the front end of it. And then two, the MULU Africa and what you’re doing there. Are you really looking to do this in a web3 approach, or is it just the look for the front end?
Kanessa Muluneh: MULU started as a brand for women, as a plus size brand actually for women. I was plus size back in the days. I lost a lot of weight, but I used to be plus size, a power lifter, and I did not have the proper clothes. So I started making my own clothes. And just like anything else, I just saw a problem and I was like, okay, I’m going to fix this problem by creating clothes or manufacturing my own clothes. When I started wearing those clothes and my outfits, people noticed and they were like, hey, where did you get this from? And that’s basically how MULU started – as a female clothing line. And it has been that for five and a half years. The last six months, I added men.
And it was because of my husband, because he was constantly asking me like, hey, it’s not fair that you have all these cool clothes. Where am I in the whole equation? And as a joke, I made designs for men, and suddenly the same thing happened. And I was like, this is your fault so you’re going to make sure that this thing, this men section, sells. And I actually did a shoot with him, and surprisingly, it sold. And the first market that adapted was Africa. And I think it’s because of my whole storytelling. People have been following me for quite some time.
He’s been part of the story. They knew him, they liked his image. And basically his image sold the product. And it was an instant success, especially in Africa, and now slowly also on the Asian market. So he discovered a new talent. He became a model. That’s how we launched as a test.
We’re still in the test phase. So now I’m slowly developing that part of the brand as well. But yeah, the african side of MULU is just doing so well and it hasn’t even been a year since I entered the market and the demand is just so insane. And for a long time, I grew up in the west, I grew up in Netherlands. I’ve been selling on the european market, on the US market for quite some time.
But I was not prepared for Africa because my image was not as good. Because there was always this image portrayed in the west about Africa or Asia. And then I was like okay, you know, I’m in for the ride. I went to Ethiopia. That’s where I was born. I introduced the brand, I launched the brand and it exploded.
A.J. Lawrence: Well, let’s talk about specifically what you did because I read you have one representative in there. You have the telegram group. When you went to Ethiopia, you were coming to launch the brand in Africa. What did you have planned already? What did you do to help facilitate that?
Kanessa Muluneh: Well, it started by me making silly TikTok videos because my language, my parents, my ethiopian language was quite okay. But then I moved out, I went to medical school and I was living by myself and started building my own life. And the only ethiopian language I spoke was that one phone call with my parents once a week or twice a week. So my language started, it was not improving. So I started making TikTok videos so I could have conversations with people. I can at least speak the language more. It was just an excuse for me. And people started questions because they googled me or they found my story and they were like, oh, what is this? And how do you do this? And I started making explainer videos and that’s how I introduced myself to the African market.
At first it was just about my life in the west, but then it turned into the business side of it and it was like, oh, but how do you start your own business? And how do you this? And then we came to that point where NFTs were so popular and crypto entered the market and they were like, wait, but I see you’re also in the web3 space. What is that? And that’s how my NFT journey started. It actually started with my African crowd and I actually also created my own NFT collection, which was actually initially it was just to introduce the NFTs like it was educational, it had an educational purpose. So I just wanted to teach them how it worked. So we created our own NFT collection and I sold out instantly. It was just that moment that I realized, like whoa, this is quite interesting.
And imagine they don’t have access to money online, so they don’t have Internet, they don’t have the tools to pay online. And they still managed to find a way to buy crypto in order to buy my NFTs. They went all that way to be part of my community. And that’s when I actually got introduced to the African market.
A.J. Lawrence: All right, so you had this audience you built up, you had developed a community now of people using probably mobile crypto wallets and kind of going there. And as you said, you have a representative, or I read you have a representative. Because you are not using a website, you are using this sort of direct sale thing, how is that impacting how you’re building the business there?
Kanessa Muluneh: Well, I still have to get used to it because people order through WhatsApps or we have telegram channel, for example. I never used telegram in my life, but it was something they use so I had to adapt. So I created a telegram channel, that’s my way of marketing, but it takes a lot of effort to get them there. So I had to just use old fashioned methods like local news or tv or whatever. I had to go through the traditional marketing. I had to take the traditional routes basically here and then ask to send us a message if they’re interested.
And then I have to send them the bank details. And then once it’s transferred, they will send me screenshot. And then the process starts of shipping it to them or getting it to them. And that can take up to two weeks sometimes. And they’re okay with that. They’re willing to wait.
A.J. Lawrence: It’s funny enough, but ordering catalogs back in the day would take weeks upon times. In living in Spain, it’s funny a lot of times when you interact with people, you would have to screenshot your iband when you would transfer money over to someone on it because it was like, how do I know if they’re doing more than a couple of things at a time? It’s like, yeah, here’s my screenshot of my payment to you. That’s the confirmation. That’s a pretty straightforward yet cumbersome. In doing this, it feels like it is both very cool and very like, wow, you get a great insight into what people want because to do this is not an easy, you know, it’s not clicking on a button and having your credit card information automatically fill in. It actually takes work so therefore these people are more than the average consumer, taking the extra effort. Are you finding that you can expand this? Is this something that’s more of just the experiment as the market develops? How do you see this moving forward?
Kanessa Muluneh: It’s hard to predict because Africa is an Asian market. It’s just different than what we know in the west. I never dealt with corruption, for example, it was the first time in my life that I faced corruption while doing business. Things like Bribery are totally normal. It’s not that I have an opinion about it, but it was new. I mean, my parents told me about it but when you face it, it was just like, whoa, what is this? I still have to learn how to deal with certain situations and you learn once you face them. And the next phase now for me is to open a store, a physical store in Ethiopia, in Ghana, and Nigeria.
And people are already warning me like, be aware of random people from the government stopping by or coming by asking for certain things. And I don’t know how to deal with that yet, but I’m in for the ride, like I said. So, yeah, it’s fun in a way. It’s fun. I mean, the first time I entered Ethiopia, I brought my items and it was so stupid of me. I announced it on TikTok thinking it was a marketing strategy, obviously.
A.J. Lawrence: Yeah, pop up.
Kanessa Muluneh: But then the customs knew about it as well and they were ready waiting for me and they taxed all my items and it was that moment that I learned, okay, am I going to bribe them? Is this the moment that people are warning me for or do I just pay the tax? And I have no idea what the whole situation was about. But eventually I paid $500, which is quite a lot in Ethiopia, and I managed to keep my stuff. But it was that moment when I realized, yep, I entered the African market.
A.J. Lawrence: Entry costs. But that’s the fun of it. It’s great to hear stories from other entrepreneurs. It’s great to read, research on things, but if you’re not in the market, you really can’t. If you’re not actually doing it, you’ll never really learn. To be an entrepreneur, you actually have to be active. I just love that this is an extension of what you’re doing as you grow this out of Dubai.
You have a great presence in the Netherlands. You have a growing english speaking presence. And then to have this, it’s just so cool. It’s like, wow, it makes complete sense in meeting you. But it also is just like, yeah, it’s not the easiest combination. It’s a nice balancing act you’re creating here.
Kanessa Muluneh: I just use my Persona, the Deutsch crowd. It’s funny, but they are more fan of my husband, I think, I assume. I’m not sure. So if they’re listening, no offense. But I think because they can resonate with him, which I understand. I mean, he’s a Deutsch man. I think they look at our vlogs or content to see how that is, how the lifestyle with another or a person from outside Holland is. I think that’s what makes them attracted to our content. And they already told me that they really like my husband. Of course, because you can resonate with him. That’s the same kind of type of person that you know or you are. So I understand that.
So I started to learn what people are attracted to. And when I realized that my influence in Ethiopia was growing, I started to analyze like, okay, what is it that people like? Because what’s so special about me? I don’t see anything. But then I realized, first of all, I’m quite blunt for an African. Culturally, it’s not that common. I speak my mind. But I think, second of all, what works on the African market but also slowly starts working on the Middle eastern and asian market is the fact that I am an immigrant that actually made it on the other side, meaning that I made it. And there’s a positive end to immigration, finally, instead of just a negative end. Because you only hear negative stories about immigrants.
A.J. Lawrence: True.
Kanessa Muluneh: And I think that’s what attracts them. And I started to learn how to translate that into content. And before I knew it, my stories and my content started to blow up in other countries in Africa. So Nigeria picked up, Ghana picked up. All of a sudden, now Kenya is on its way all within a year because I found that spot that triggers them.
A.J. Lawrence: Okay, let’s talk because I think, based upon that building an audience, MULU is a great product. And as you said, it’s something you want to expand, you want to increase the market, but longer term, you want to kind of create a community to help other people become entrepreneurs, specifically people who are trying to search to figure out how to do this in areas that’s not very common. How do you see that transition? Is there like, well, when we get to this point, we’ll sell to private equity or are you setting goals and timelines? Or is it just sort of, let’s see what happens but I’m going to keep doing this ’til you can. How are you looking at that?
Kanessa Muluneh: Well, first, I already had this plan. I never knew how but my goal was never to become rich and to live a certain lifestyle that buy lamborghinis and all of that. I don’t do that. I did that once when I sold my first company and I was 22. And luckily, my dad is a smart man when it comes to money and he only allowed me half of that money. He was like, Kanessa, you can do whatever you want with this money. This, I will keep here for you. And I bought a Porsche, and I’m sure my dad was just aching when he saw me buy that Porsche.
And he was like, you know, it’s just a one time payment, right? He told me that, and still I bought the Porsche. But he didn’t say anything. He let me go through that process and I learned that I cannot afford this Porsche. It’s not a recurring income. So it was a lesson learned. So I had to sell my Porsche. And that’s when I learned, okay, I’m never going to waste my- because when you sell a car, I bought a new car, and then when you sell it
A.J. Lawrence: You sell here.
Kanessa Muluneh: Yes, it was painful. And I’m sure my dad was crying in his bed at night but he let me make that mistake. And I’m lucky to have that lesson at such a young age. And I’m also lucky for the fact that he kept the rest of the money safe. Because when you’re young and you have access to money, you have no idea what to do with it. You think that you need to use that money in order to impress others, but that’s not what you’re supposed to do. I’m married to an accountant as well, so he taught me how to invest, how to use money wisely. And because of that, I’m here today. Because of my dad and my husband, the fact that they just advised me in my younger years, I’m able to be where I am today. So it’s not just luck.
A lot of people tell me it’s luck. It’s not just luck. I just have the right people around me. Sometimes people are quick to just say, just work hard, work smart, whatever. It’s not just that. It’s really your support system or the people around you that can get you to where you are sometimes. And I thought I might as well be that person for people because a lot of people just don’t have that chance or that energy around them to get them to where they want to be. So, yeah, I said, financially, I am where I want to be today, and I can do anything.
I don’t have to check my balance or I don’t have to ever make sure if I can afford it. I have that. So what else is there to gain? I don’t need more and just more. Although of course you want to grow, but still, it’s not about money anymore. And once you reach that point, you’re like, okay, how can I be useful? How can I create a world for my kids as well, where I can teach them to be useful instead of just stack up money and have this unfulfilling life? That’s how I see it. So that’s where now I’m transitioning into. First of all, before I move to that part, I bought the manufacturing company that manufactures my clothes. So during COVID they were suffering, so I bought the whole manufacturer.
A.J. Lawrence: Nice.
Kanessa Muluneh: I’m manufacturer now. So I said, okay, now I have the company. I own the manufacturing company. So I might as well manufacture for others as well. I mean, I might support others to create their own fashion brand, and I can manufacture for them. It’s a win-win. So that’s one step. Other step is also I’m working with the embassies, the Deutsch embassies in Africa, and I’m also going to meet.
I’m starting in Pakistan because my factory is in Pakistan. So I’m going to try to get in touch with people there in order to share my experiences. Because yes, I’m focusing on the African market if they want to expand internationally, for example, but I’m also trying to help western people to adapt to the African culture. Because if you look a certain way, it’s going to be extra tough in Africa, especially with the bribery and all that kind of stuff. So I’m trying to find a way or find just, I call it a mentorship. I’m trying to be their mentor.
A.J. Lawrence: Help bring companies over. I like that. This is really fascinating. I think one, the amount of work you had to put in, yes, you did get support. You had a great network. But what you’re doing is not just something like, oh, yeah, I had some people help me and I did something. You’ve built some very, very interesting companies that are beyond like basic. Not that even basic companies are easy, but you’re not doing basic business.
You’re expanding markets, you’re testing out new things. You’ve experimented with technology in different ways. You’ve used different channels for communication in different markets and all this. This is pretty complex. Kind of the testament of what you’ve done is that you’ve been able to expand. All right, so this company, I’m actually, just as a quick side, I would love to know how long have you been working with this Pakistani manufacturing company? And sort of how did that conversation go for you to buy?
Kanessa Muluneh: It started back, it was six years ago, I think. I got a message on, I think it was instagram where I was like, showing fashion items. I still love to experiment with fashion. And it was just a salesy message that I got but he stood out from the crowd because he offered me a free sample. He said, give me a design, I’ll make it for you and send it to you. It’s all free. And he stood out from the crowd with that. You know what they say, right moment, right time, right place.
It was that. It was just the right time. I saw the message and I was like, okay, sure, whatever. Send me the sample and we’ll see. And then I got the sample and I was actually satisfied. And I was like, how much is there? I started the negotiation aspect and he was able to do low quantities. And that’s such an underestimated aspect.
For those that don’t know that in fashion they want you to buy as much as possible. So there are MOQs, the minimum order quantity is just super high and that’s just not bearable. Starters cannot afford that, and it’s just not smart. I would never advise anyone to buy thousands of units. So he said, whatever you need, whatever you want, just tell me and I’ll go with that. I’ll go with the flow and I’ll help you out in the beginning. And it was a perfect match. But then Covid came, they had to shut down and they were suffering.
He was not able to keep that running. So I said, okay, I’ll take over the company and you can still work for me. I’ll just pay you. I know his family and I go there once in a while and support everything he does, basically.
A.J. Lawrence: And it does give you great opportunities moving forward. Taking a chance on something and then expanding upon it to ownership is a very interesting way. Once again, as you look to offer this to people in your audience for their own designs and stuff, what markets are you seeing people wanting to serve? Are they selling to the US? Are they selling to Africa? Where are you seeing?
Kanessa Muluneh: Most of the ladies who are interested in starting their own brand are from the US. The whole funny thing about this is I have customers from the US. Now, after Covid, it cooled down because I stopped the whole marketing in US because I wanted to focus more on Africa, Middle East and Asia. But for some reason, they keep coming back. I don’t know where they come from. I was never able to trace that secret, where they come from or where they see my content. But there are groups.
It’s mostly African American women who see my content, probably because they can resonate one way or the other, and they’re like, oh, Kanessa, I see you’re offering mentorship now. I want to start my own brand. You have your manufacturing company, can you help me out? And they’re mostly from the US. I expect it from the African crowd but it’s mostly US women who are now, I actually have a waiting list, who are on the waiting list ready to start their own brand. But they’re just afraid to actually start so they’re waiting for me to guide them. So that’s interesting.
I’m not sure why the African, I mean the US market is so adaptive to what I’m doing while I never did any marketing there.
A.J. Lawrence: Because you have artists and you are looking to kind of transition into this in your efforts. Now, do you identify successes or are these just part of the journey that you are going on? Like, do you take moments to celebrate? How do you as an individual take enjoyment out of this effort?
Kanessa Muluneh: I think success for me is the fact that I can do whatever I want. Yes, freedom is cool for myself, but the best freedom is really when I can fly in my parents whenever I want to, I can go to them. Sometimes I just get a call from friends and they’re like, oh, we’re in Tokyo. And I’m like, okay, I’ll come. And I’m on the next flight to, you know, it sounds silly and it sounds maybe like teenage ish, but it’s really fun to do. That’s my kind of fun. And my friends are not necessarily as successful. So the fact that I am always able to take them with me and I feel responsible to share my luck with them.
I know in the west it’s really this mentality where everybody, especially dutch culture, you have to let everything, everybody’s responsible for their own. But I love to share my luck with them because they’re part of my happiness. As you know, the fact that I can afford a lawyer, any lawyer, actually, when I’m in trouble, the fact that my mom was here in Dubai and she got sick, and I was like, you can pick any doctor you want, you can go there. And she tried multiple, and it’s no problem, it’s no issue. You can afford that. The best schools for my kids, that’s what success means. And in this case, it’s money that I need. But if it was something else that I needed, I would aim for that as well.
It’s just that freedom. And someone the other day actually told me I mean, Dubai, you have more people that are living successfully. And he said, hey, Kanessa, I don’t know if it’s me, but I feel like once you reach a certain level or point, some societal rules do not apply. And I was like, what is this guy talking about? I was thinking about that, and he’s right, actually, you can actually buy freedom in that sense. When you speed, you can just pay off. I mean, you pay for your cost, and that’s it. You’re free to go. It’s just money that you need certain moments that allow you to live free, and that’s success in my eyes.
A.J. Lawrence: The ability to create the environment you want and then to enjoy it very much. Something that I see coming. Like last night, I had drinks with another entrepreneur, and since I kind of. He was like, I’m not know, he’s looking at the thought of that, and I was like, hey, you got a chunk of change. Trade off. What do you know? It’s that kind of balancing point. But we were kind of chatting, and it’s like the ability, like you said, to go to Tokyo or for him, he actually just came back from Dubai, and he was loving it because he hadn’t been able to see his russian employees. He has two people in Russia. They flew down.
He has a guy in Dublin who had just started. So they all met at, I guess there’s conferences in Dubai, like every other day, it seems. And he was like, yeah, this. But, oh, we stopped in Berlin and we went to this three star restaurant that just happened to, like, someone didn’t show up, so we were able to just walk in. It’s just like, that’s the fun of what we do. We get flexibility. Yes, there’s work and lack of sleep that sometimes happens from all the things we do. But yes, this flexibility to indulge.
Kanessa Muluneh: I don’t want to say that you necessarily need money in order to live in this freedom. Because as a teenager, when I had less responsibilities, I was doing the same basically with no money. So there is a way to just be free.
A.J. Lawrence: Stay as a teenager.
Kanessa Muluneh: I think as a teenager, you’re just not aware of the dangers and you just go for it. But there is actually also a way to live that life if you haven’t reached that level financially. I think once we get older, we’re stuck in this bubble with all kinds of responsibilities, and we feel all kinds of fears that won’t allow us to live that life because the consequences can be heavy. But, yeah, I think if you let go of certain fear, if you let go of fear in general, whether it’s insecurities or I don’t know what kind of fear you’re dealing with. If you let go, life is actually fun and money makes it easier to let go. That’s all.
A.J. Lawrence: Very cool. Well, Kanessa, thank you. This was a lot of fun. If the audience wants to explore more of all the cool things you do, what’s the best way, you know. Should they [go to] Twitter, Instagram, TikTok? Since you are doing so many cool TikToks. Where’s the best place to learn more about you and obviously MULU?
Kanessa Muluneh: Right now, I’m mostly active on Instagram, kanessamuluneh, but if you want to follow me on TikTok, Twitter, they call it x now, or any other platform, I use my name everywhere and I’m going to try to be more active starting in 2024. That’s my new resolution and share more of my business journey as well, especially my mentorship journey where I want to showcase how people can improve their life. So yeah, follow me there.
A.J. Lawrence: Well, I’ll make sure that we include all those links in the show notes. We’ll have them in the email when this episode comes out and of course in the socials. Now, as you move forward with your mentorship and these programs, I would love to see how that develops also. So maybe down the road have you come back on because you’re really doing some truly fascinating things and I would love to hear more.
Kanessa Muluneh: Thank you. We’ll stay in touch and I would love to give you an update.
A.J. Lawrence: Sounds perfect. All right, everyone, thank you so much for listening today. I really appreciate it. If you enjoyed today’s episode or if you didn’t, please leave us a review on your favorite listening platform of choice. It helps us better understand how we can find amazing entrepreneurs like Kanessa to come on the show and help you on your own entrepreneurial journey. So thank you again. Have a wonderful day and I’ll talk with you soon. Bye- bye.