How our values have given us Nerves of Steel in the face of adversity

This week marks 1 year since Mr Roof, the company I’ve founded and currently manage, has made its entrance on the Rwandan Construction Market. Although we still are in the very early stage of our growth, it is important to acknowledge the attainment of this significant milestone. As we celebrate this achievement, I seize the opportunity to reflect on our journey and share insights on how we managed to survive our first year of operations.​

The difficulty of making it in your critical first year isn't just related to limited financial resources, having to build a team from scratch or the fact that you need to put internal processes in place. One of the most daunting missions you can face as a new business is establishing your brand, having to introduce your products & services on the market and making sales. As a newcomer, you don't know what kind of demand your products will generate and whether people will buy them or reject them. In addition, getting the attention of your potential customers isn't easy when you're trying to compete with established companies that have been around for years. They might have a generous budget allocation for advertising and marketing campaigns, while you probably don’t have any budget.

Navigating through this tough mission of client acquisition and overcoming all the challenges that come with an early-stage business required us to establish solid company values that would become our competitive advantage. The establishment of values sounds like a very cliche HR assignment that accompanies employees on-boarding and is usually presented alongside the company's overall mission and vision. But for us, printing our values and only hanging them on the wall was not enough: we had to bring them to life and turn them into daily habits. Embodying them required effort, encouragement and ownership throughout the entire organization.  If it wasn't for hanging on strongly to our values of — courage, distinction, compassion, teamwork and empowerment — we wouldn't have had the same sense of purpose and unity. With everyone in our team working towards the same goals and values, we became more resilient in the face of adversity. Here are a few ways our values anchored us and helped us remain focused on our objectives.


In Rwanda's crowded construction sector, our company was like "A David" and we had to make sure we stood out in the face of giants.  Distinction pushed us to set us apart so our work could be noticed and we could attract the attention of more customers. We differentiated ourselves through our unique customer experience and the introduction of innovative materials such as our light steel trusses and self-lock roof sheets which became our flagship products. When you pass in front of a Mr Roof's site, if it's not because of a giant billboard we've installed there or because of our shiny and impressive galvanized steel structure, you are likely to slow down because you will notice the eagerness and the spirit of professionalism of our fully equipped technicians. They truly have become the biggest embodiment of our distinction value.


As Nelson Mandela once said: " I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear. " Fear of failure is a common feeling among all startups as we engage so many resources when starting a venture. Beyond the fear of not getting a return on the financial capital invested, we are afraid to disappoint those we've sold our vision to and who have chosen to believe in us: both our internal & external stakeholders. We can't afford to let any of them down - from our employees, sub-contractors, clients, vendors, creditors and even the most intimidating of them all - RRA. By the first week of every month, fear starts knocking at our door as we must ensure we close enough deals and recover payments from existing clients to honour our operational costs - which by the way happen to increase on a monthly basis as our activity grows. Heavy doses of courage were essential to come up with creative solutions to acquire customers from the residential segment - who tend to be more conservative vis-a-vis new construction technologies. Courage was also a must for our sales representatives when dealing with so many rejections, a lead conversion rate inferior to 10% and prospects that no longer answered their calls. Once again it was courage that we showcased when recognizing that a certain approach failed and immediately bouncing back with new strategies - until we got it right. Despite the obvious advantages of our light steel trusses when compared to alternatives, we had to garner even more courage by deciding to cut their price by 30% as a way to further incentivize prospects to give Mr Roof a try.  We were willing to take that risk with the hope that we could compensate for the lower margins with a greater sales volume. Finally, we dared to go big by bidding for larger and more complex projects even if that meant sacrificing margins or going for tighter deadlines in order to win tenders.


When facing the pressure of meeting certain sales targets, we can easily adopt a more aggressive sales approach where we become so self-absorbed by our own pitch and product features that we forget to listen to our prospects' needs. We had to reconnect with our value of "compassion" by putting ourselves in our prospects' shoes, understanding their concerns even if that involved "listening" to their non-verbal communication cues.  Being compassionate meant that we just didn't produce quotations and emailed it to prospects - it meant that we reviewed their architectural drawings in depth, visited their sites, discussed with their site engineers, and provided them with technical advice to optimise design and costing. Embracing compassion allowed us not only to win more opportunities but to build more meaningful relationships. Even in those cases when we failed at converting prospects, they were more likely to share what motivated their decision, providing us in turn with valuable feedback and the opportunities for improvement.

Starting a new business can be an exciting and rewarding experience, but it also comes with its own set of challenges. Since our launch, we can say that we've made quite some progress, learned from our mistakes and built a strong foundation for future success. Despite limited resources, we've been able to increase Mr Roof's visibility by executing a few reference projects across town and from networking with industry professionals. We've invested in human capital by building a motivated administrative team while empowering technicians with training and opportunities to join our network of installers. We would like to extend our heartfelt thanks to our customers who have entrusted us with their projects and all those who have played a role in reaching this milestone. Thank you for being part of our journey, we are eager to keep serving satisfied customers on projects that mean so much to them in the years ahead.

Thanks to our values, we've been able to survive our first year - now we are ready to thrive!