He had to sell pan cakes to raise school fees after the death of his father in 1994. Fredrick Francois is now a BBA student and one of the leading suppliers of building materials in Huye District. He told Business Times’ Peterson Tumwebaze how he ended up in the brick-making business.
When his father died during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, he was left helpless and devastated. Many were a day when his family could go without the basics of life as his mother could not afford them since she was jobless.
This situation forced Fredrick Francois to start fending for himself when he was just six years old.
“My mother had no job or any economic activity to help her raise money to support us. She was, however, always challenging me to be creative to survive the capitalist world. That’s how I started selling pan cakes and other snacks at school during break time,” narrates the 26-year-old.
He says because of his courage and business acumen, the students nicknamed him ‘Businessman’, a name he notes would later inspire him to fully get involved in business.
Francois says taking a risk to venture into business paid off as he was able to help the family and pay his school fees from primary to secondary.
The resident of Mbazi sector in Huye District notes that engaging in business at an early age helped shape his thinking and ‘cut his teeth’ in enterprise management and sustainability.
“After completing secondary school, I decided to start an enterprise that would support my university education without putting a strain on my studies, this is how I ended up brick-making,” Francois says.
However, the decision had a huge backlash among his peers. He says all his friends thought he had gone nuts. This reaction did not deter the young man; as he went ahead and registered his newly-formed company, Mbonera Clays, to be able to bid for government tenders.
Francois says there were many forces pushing him to achieve success in the ‘path he chose’.
“First of all, I wanted to ensure financial independence for our family and enhance our living standards. I also wanted to show the world that I was no fluke because when I was nicknamed ‘Businessman’ I think it was rather out of ridicule than support,” he points out.
He notes that he chose a brick-making project because it did not require a lot of start-up. “All I needed was to partner with some one with experience and to learn from him,” he says of his strategy. Francois says he was lucky that immediately after embarking on the project, a school contracted him to provide them 18,000 bricks. He delivered the bricks within weeks, pocketing Rwf250,000. This was a lot of money for the young man at that time (about five years ago).
“Though my colleagues were laughing at me, I was excited and convinced that this was the right business for me.
“I vowed then that I would make it the mainstay of my entrepreneurship projects; expand it and make more money,” Francois says with a glitter in his eyes.
He adds that after the first contract with the school, he to got more other deals with private developers, from which he earned handsomely.
Going back to school
After raising enough money, Francois decided it was time to go back to school and improve his skills. After all, money was no longer a problem. So, in 2012, he enrolled for a Bachelor of Business Administration course at Adventist University of Central Africa (aka Mudende University) in Kigali.
Francois says joining university has been a huge milestone for him as it did not come easy despite his current good run in business. He adds that this is like pay off time for him, and vindicates that all success is through focus and hard work.
The young entrepreneur, who still has less than two years to complete his college education, says the course is already helping him improve his business management and bookkeeping skills.
Enrolling for university education has also helped him get more contacts and clients, especially from the real estate industry, individual developers and schools.
Presently, Mbonera Clays, which makes bricks, ventilators and blocks employees 18 workers. Its production capacity stands at 50,000 bricks and blocks per lot.
Though the journey has been somewhat a smooth ride so far, there are some hitches here and there that affect Mbonera Clays’ expansion drive. Because the company works from open space, the rainy season is always bad news.
“Also, when there is a prolonged dry spell, it creates scarcity of water and slows down activities,” says Francois.
Balancing development and the need to preserve the environment is also having a toll on Francois’ brick making project.
“We are not supposed to cut any trees to burn the bricks, leaving us with expensive option of having to buy from far off places to sustain the enterprise,” says Francois
Advice to youth
Always dream big and challenge yourself, Francois counsels. He advises young people who want to set up businesses to start with something that will help them actualise their dreams.
“People should not be conservative in thinking, try and start any enterprise as this helps grow your skills and plan better for the dream project. Besides, what would be the benefit of sitting and waiting,” he notes.
Francois says when he completes his university degree, he will focus on refining the firm’s production processes and adapt modern brick-making technology.
He says this will help him expand the project and enable him to make different products.
He adds that eventually, he will look at opportunities presented by the regional market.