Jean-Philippe Kayobotsi is the CEO and co-founder of Brioche, a local confectionery and beverages firm with regional presence in Kenya. Kayobotsi discussed with Business Times how local firms, especially those owned by young people, can enter new markets and stay competitive.
Tell us about Brioche and the force behind the brand
Brioche is very much a work in progress since we are only 4.5 years old. To hopefully become a success, we focus on using high quality ingredients for all our products, adhere to international health and food safety standards, as well as build systems and nurture our staff. Customers know that when they come to Brioche, they get a high quality experience at an affordable price for goods and services.
The company’s goal is to contribute to the transformation of Africa by creating environments that surprise and make our customers feel at home while enjoying great tastes we offer.
This way, they too can be inspired and contribute in their own way, in their own time to Africa’s and Rwanda’s transformation. We want to be a small catalyst for people visiting us, giving them a source of inspiration to work toward a better future. We see ourselves as a part of a much bigger puzzle and purpose and we strive to make our contribution toward a better continent.
What are some of the popular Rwandan products among your Kenyan clientele?
Brioche is an African-European café bistro that originates from Rwanda, but we are also an East African company leveraging resources and people from different countries in the region. Being a café-bistro, we do not only sell bread and pastries, but also offer dishes that cover the needs of our patrons, including a variety of African and European dishes.
What should local firms that want to expand into the regional market do to make it out there?
There is no recipe for the local market and that for the other markets. The general principles are the same, study your market through trial and error, adjust, test and adjust again.
Be humble in order to have the capacity to learn from the new markets and new customers. Be ambitious and keep your goals high.
So, should local firms view cross-border operations as part of their expansion strategy? What are its dos and don’ts?
Each firm has its own purpose and strategy. For some firms it makes sense to consider cross-border business and for others it doesn’t. It is, certainly, something worth looking at in our opinion and Rwanda as a country needs the exports.
Besides cross-border trade, we also strongly believe in the need for home-grown brands. We see in other East African countries like Kenya many of international brands, and it is great. But we are convinced that home-grown brands need to be taking their share of the market and possibly become some inspiration that can help propel the next generation of entrepreneurs.
Do trade and tax policies across the region support businesses?
Tax and trade policies are becoming more and more business-friendly in Rwanda and across the East African Community. Rwanda is a good place to invest, and government’s efforts to create a conducive business environment are paying off. Also, the overall business climate in the EAC is favourable.
How would you advise startups and young entrepreneurs as well as other Rwandans venturing into entrepreneurship?
Relentlessly focus on the things that are in your control and accept the ones that are not, listen but persevere, think but take action.
Entrepreneurship is one of the best schools one can go through. It’s like a very tough boot camp, one that lasts several years. If you look at your venture as a learning opportunity, you have already succeeded because no matter what happens, you will have learned a lot of things. Don’t try to avoid obstacles, the obstacles are the way, as they strengthen and help us grow as business operators.
What measure of risk should a business take if at all any?
We do not believe that there is a prescription of risk appetite that would apply to all companies. It really depends on your particular situation as a company, how important progressing towards your purpose is to you and what you define as risk. Besides, fast-growing companies, like athletes in a race, have to take some risks in order to win.
What is your take on customer service or lack of it and business growth?
Customer service and business growth are closely related. At Brioche we are trying and working toward providing excellent customer service to ensure a great experience for our clients.
Offering excellent customer service is one of the biggest challenges in the industry at local and regional levels. And as a young firm, we have to balance the need for customer service, the investments required, and the time it takes to build systems, as well as hire right staff…It’s generally an interesting learning process.
How can start-ups handle challenges and make their businesses sustainable?
As a start-up company, learning is a daily experience and one has to learn everything almost from scratch. In addition, to become a great and sustainable company, we have to learn all the time.
So, entrepreneurship is all about learning. If you love to learn day in day out, year in year out, while at the same time acting, then entrepreneurship is for you. Remember, as one can see challenges as obstacles while another will take them as an opportunity to learn and improve. For entrepreneurs, there is only one way and that is onwards and upwards.
Besides, success is not defined by the number of obstacles one encounters, but by their ability to rebound quickly and persevere.
For us when things really get rough, we go by the motto: what doesn’t destroy us makes us stronger. From there, we take it one step at a time, one day at a time.