Abdullahi Bulle is the founder and CEO of Nuria Book Store, one of the leading online bookshops in Kenya.
From risking his career to invest in a sinking business to owning the first online book store in Kenya, this is his journey as told by WoK:
Bulle’s journey to success began when he was an accounting student at Nazarene University. As part of his coursework, he had to enroll for internship during his fourth year.
After applying for internship positions in various companies, he was employed as an intern by Chase Bank, earning sh 10 000 per month. He worked as a salesperson for the bank’s newly introduced department of Islamic Finance.
After graduation, he was fully employed by the bank and climbed the ladder to the position of credit manager, earning a monthly salary of sh 320,000.
During this time, he was an avid reader, his favorite genres being business books and autobiographies.
While reading in the workplace, some of his colleagues would often borrow books from him. One of them suggested that he sell books to them, and this sparked in him the idea to start selling eBooks.
Acting upon the idea, Bulle created a Facebook page dedicated to the selling and distribution of eBooks in 2015.
After some time, he did some research and noticed that despite the availability of the internet, Kenyan authors lacked an online platform where they could display their books for prospective readers to access.
Seeing an opportunity to make money, he created an online shop where readers could find and order their favorite books as eBooks or hard copies and have them delivered at their convenience.
He named his enterprise Nuria, after his mother, whom he says he admired for taking care of the family while his father was toiling in the Middle East.
Initially, he partnered with local publishers to sell local books.
Realizing that many customers were also demanding for international books, he invested $1200 — about sh 125 000 at the time, partnered with international publishers, imported a shipment of books, stored them at his house, and started selling them.
To manage the increasing workload, he hired a guy to assist with deliveries and record-keeping. Initially, business was slow, as reading had not yet become a widespread culture in Kenya.
“Marketing consumed plenty of resources, sometimes we did 15-20 social media posts and made only one or two sales,” he recalls.
Due to a lack of profits, he had to foot most of Nuria’s expenses from his pockets, including his employee’s salary.
However, with aggressive marketing, he was able to increase his customer base.
Also, authors were becoming increasingly aware of new tactics to advertise their books to reach new customers.
Bulle focused on social media marketing, especially on Twitter, which was his main source of customers.
His clutches on the platform helped Nuria grow and maintain its current dominance over other online bookstores that later cropped up.
By 2018, the business was making steady progress but had not reached its full potential.
Unfortunately, Bulle’s employee, who helped him with the marketing and distributions, landed a higher-paying job and quit.
Facing a dilemma, Bulle had to choose between finding a new employee and training them as soon as possible or resigning from his managerial position at the bank to fully commit to Nuria.
He chose the latter option and resigned, just as Chase Bank merged with JPM Bank.
Luckily, his proceeds from the bank, which included his salary, pension, and other perks that followed the merging of Chase and JPM , amounted to sh 1.7 million.
He invested all the money in the business, using part of it to rent a strategic shop in Nairobi CBD and the rest to purchase stock.
A year later, Bulle was broke again, as marketing, stock, and personal expenses had consumed all the business proceeds.
Unperturbed, he sold his beloved Toyota Mark X to keep the business afloat.
Reflecting on why he put so much effort into a seemingly unproductive business, he says
“I really wanted the business to work, I had spotted a niche that had not been filled by local book publishers. I also wanted to help self-published authors. They needed a platform where they could display their books,”
In 2019, things had not yet picked, and, to make matters worse, he had defaulted on four loans he had been servicing.
He sold a piece of property he had, used the money to offset his loans, and used the balance of sh 1 million to re-invest into the business.
However, it was not until 2020, with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, that Nuria truly hit its stride.
As people were forced to stay indoors, the demand for online books skyrocketed. Nuria’s carefully curated selection and established online presence made it the go-to destination for bookworms across Kenya.