When Jean Claude Niyonsenga completed his Senior Six in 2011 his ambition was to build a business empire.
Soon after he started a video library. Like most start-ups today, his business closed as fast as it had been opened, with operating expenses outweighing revenues.
Despite the setback, Niyonsenga refused to give up. He hooked up with an old-time friend in 2012 who lured him into mining, an industry that is lucrative and yet capital intensive and demands specialised skills.
They ventured into tin mining. Mining is among the main drivers of Rwanda’s foreign exchange earnings. Last year, it generated $373 million in export revenues.
With limited experience and business skills, the venture turned-out to be another adventure for the youngster. It also failed very fast.
Unlike the video library business, he said, failure in mining was a valuable learning experience for him.
It did not only give him the opportunity to reflect on his business journey, but it also gave him time to concentrate on his studies at University of Rwanda College of Science and Technology where he was pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Media Designing.
In 2014, he conceived an idea, of starting up a designing company, which he pitched to his classmates. They obliged.
However, within a year his business partners pulled out, citing sustained losses, he said.
Niyonsenga and another colleague of his remained resilient and sustained the business.
In 2015, he graduated. The company operated for some time without an office. The university gave them a studio to work from.
Challenged by the lack of practical knowledge in the sector, Niyonsenga opted to look for a job in order to gain some skills.
He got a job at Lemigo TV as the graphics designer where he worked for a year while concurrently running his business.
In August 2015, he secured a Rwf2 million loan from Bank of Kigali, which he used to start Round Designs Ltd, a Kigali based marketing and communications agency.
“All the expertise I learnt, I practised it in my company. With time, I split with my business associate,” he says.
The 28-year-old now employed seven permanent workers.
Initially, he promoted his company through the door to door strategy before adopting modern platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and twitter among others.
The nascent agency has secured deals with some key accounts including the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS), Marriott Hotel, Onomo Hotel, Vatel School of Hospitality, Rwanda Media Commission, Deloitte, among others.
“At the beginning, we could not price our services properly because we lacked confidence. This was just a mindset issue that made us work tirelessly, yet we were paid peanuts,” he explains.
The industry, he says, is increasingly becoming saturated with some competitors distorting the market with very low prices.
In addition, banks are reluctant to lend money to businesses like his own because they often have cash flow challenges, which is occasioned by delayed payment from clients.
The young entrepreneur hopes to start a construction company next year. He says that he has started consultation with engineers.
“I want to start constructing houses in Rwanda and selling them at a fair prices, like Rwf16 million each,” he notes.
We are continuing to create design solutions, just like how our motto states, he adds.
Niyonsenga advises young entrepreneurs to be patient when they start business and always learn from their mistakes.
The more you fall, he said, the more lessons you learn.
“At the end of it all, you will be proud that amidst the struggles, and failures, you are able to start your company and at the same time create job opportunities.”
Don’t limit yourself, leave that comfort zone and see how far you can fly, he adds.