Just when the Covid-19 pandemic was hitting hard and closing businesses, other people saw opportunities and so did Johnson Runuya. The 19-year-old then, commonly known as Johnson The Baker, started off his baking business in March 2020, at the time when the country was entering the first lockdown, which was the most restrictive of them all. An idea that started with a simple need to make some quick personal money after his parents cut off the pocket money they used to give him has since turned into a business that now employs 15 people or so. One thing that strikes you when you visit Johnson The Bakers is the neatness and the carefulness with which he does his work. Sanitizing, wearing white gloves, masks and headgears are all aimed at ensuring high standards of cleanliness and that is mainly for one -food gets easily contaminated. Runuya is welcoming when you approach him and it goes to show how indeed he has easily captured the market and as a matter of fact, he has built himself a fanbase of loyal customers especially on social media, who cannot stop gushing over his cakes. “I recently paused my university studies a little bit to focus on business,” says Runuya, hinting on how good business is going. It wasn’t his first business. From a tender age, Runuya wanted financial independence, not having to rely on someone for money. “I've always been passionate about business, you know, as a kid I always thought of being able to be free financially from pocket money from my parents, which could almost all the time, come with conditions,” “To have pocket money, you should have these grades, you should behave this way and that way,” says Runuya. It all came to life in 2019 when he went out and returned home late and as punishment his parents decided to cut off the pocket money. At the time, there was a Burna Boy concert and Runuya badly wanted to attend it. With pocket money withdrawn, the Excella School graduate thought of making his own money and made a few pastries to sell at school to raise the money for the concert. He had a week to do so. “I was grounded. It is not like I couldn’t go out but I didn't have money. I just had like seven days to think about a business, make it profitable for me to get money to go out on Friday,” he says, and that’s how he ended up baking small cakes to sell at school. When he completed high school, they were designated to places they can do internship in what they are passionate about. “I was the only guy who went to a bakery because I have always been passionate about being in the kitchen,” he says, adding with a chuckle that “just a little bit not too deep”, suggesting that his connection with the kitchen is cooking. To cut the long story short, Runuya has never looked back. Luckily his parents were much more supportive than the average parent seeing their child opt for a ‘kitchen job’ rather than a high paying corporate job. A family in business It was easy for his father to support his idea because he is a businessman too and believes in business ideas, sending his son to his friends to sell them cakes. When the small room they were baking in with his two employees at home became inconvenient with the noise from the machines, his dad offered him space on a discount and didn’t ask him to make a down payment for three months. I mean, how else can a parent be supportive? He also gives him collateral when he needs a loan. Theirs is purely a business relationship. Now that his baking business has picked up, he dully pays rent to his father. Passion over money Runuya says his love for baking comes above money and doesn’t consider himself as someone in it to make money. “Even though it's a business, I don't consider myself as a money maker because there are businesses that that are much more profitable than a bakery, but I still chose to do baking because it is what I love and it is my passion,” “I love being in the kitchen. I love the challenge that comes with it. I loved the pressure,” he says, admitting that to be the best in the business, you have to produce the best products. A growing business Not so many people can turn baking into a serious business. It takes passion and determination to grow from one person to two employees and today 15 full time employees and still growing. Runuya had the determination to make it work and it wasn’t because he didn’t meet any challenges along the way, having started from scratch. “I had no experience in business. I had no experience in baking,” he said, adding that very often people pointed out some mistakes he used to make and he worked on correcting them. However, in all that, there was trust and that is what encouraged him. People started trusting him with sensitive projects like wedding cakes and the more he delivered, the more trust grew and the reviews improved by the day. “The second challenge was financing this bakery business. You really need huge investment into machines, from the mixers to ovens and all. These can be very costly,” he says. At some point, he wanted to give up but at the back of his mind he knew that when you start a business that you are passionate about, you don’t give up. The other challenge definitely has to do with packaging. As the orders started flowing in, he noticed the challenge of lack of capacity among his staff and then he had to train them to meet the demand. Sometimes he wakes up exhausted and not feeling like work but somehow the passion keeps him going. He works with people who are under 30 and share the same drive, sometimes putting in more hours than what they earn and that is what Runuya thinks young people need to learn. As a young man, he struggled to convince people, including banks, to trust him with their money because they don’t believe in the ideas of young people but eventually hard work proves them wrong. Certainly, starting out without capital is one of the challenges young people continue to face. Having started out with no experience and understanding well the challenges he faced, he resolved to not just work with young people but also train them and give them the capacity and knowledge to be able to develop their own passion. In a way, he believes that he is doing his part in giving young people the ‘experience’ employers ask for all the time, denying them opportunities. Another message to the youth is that try to be the best in whatever you do, be unique, stand out and focus on quality. People will just come to you and that will make the difference. That is also the best way to build trust because today Johnson The Baker takes orders from people abroad, asking him to deliver here in Rwanda and he does so and they appreciate and pay him. Runuya also takes feedback seriously and works on addressing it. Every day is a new day to learn on the job and that is what keeps him going. He also ensures that his work appears online and continues to be innovative in everything he does.