Andrew Muriungi had a high-flying career, rising through the ranks and landing a management job at a leading media house when the entrepreneurship bug bit him.
He traded his suit and tie for workman boots and overalls, setting up Rhino Mabati Factory Ltd in 2016. For two years, he has built a business that deals in customised roofing sheets. His venture was birthed out of frustrations when building his home.
The waste from building materials made him feel the pinch. He saw an opportunity in developing a solution to cut wastage and save home builders costs. He now produces customised roofing sheets that he says saves builders 25 per cent of roofing costs. He spoke to Financial Standard about the challenges experienced in the start-up phase.
Customised products are usually highly-priced. Is this the case with your products?
Not really. When one buys standard roofing sheets, they cannot get the exact size that they need. This means they have to buy more than they would ordinarily need and that drives up the customers’ costs. When it comes to customised sheets, one buys exactly what he or she needs.
For instance, if you need 4.6 metres, you do not have to buy two pieces of three and two metres and cut what you need, you order the exact length, in this case, 4.6 metres. The customer’s savings can be as high as 25 per cent of the roofing cost, which is wasted in cutoffs.
What drove you to quit a well-paying job to venture into manufacturing?
The frustrations I experienced when building my house. There were lots of wastage and the fundis felt nothing.
This was the case when I talked to my colleagues who were building and even random people I met when I went to hardware to buy building materials. I could not come up with a solution for the whole house, so I decided to work on a solution for the roof.
I wanted to come up with a solution that is open in terms of pricing and quality as well as takes care of the pain points presented by the leakages. The 25 per cent of roofing wasted in cutoffs is a substantial amount and it is at a time when you are really squeezed.
This appears to be a capital-intensive undertaking; how did you finance it especially when starting out?
We financed this from our savings (with my wife). We disposed of almost everything we had as well as took personal loans.
We had approached banks but they would not finance us despite the uniqueness of the idea and numerous presentations that we made on the projections that we presented them. Financing is the biggest challenge when it comes to starting a business.
No matter how viable a business idea is, you will rarely get start-up financing. Expansion capital is also a challenge. You cannot expand as fast as you would want.
Does that mean you are not looking to expand in the short term?
We are expanding, not as fast but the market is there considering that Kenya’s middle class is growing and we want to take advantage of this.
We are planning a factory for Meru which should be up and running by the end of this year or January next year. We have already done the groundwork for the plant. We want to be close to customers and replicate this to other parts of the country.
As we move on, we will be on the lookout where next we can put up a plant depending on demand. We have also been evaluating other countries in the East African Community and also considering South Sudan. With the peace deal, we see an opportunity.
The beauty with roofing sheets and other building materials is that demand will always grow as the population grows. Other than the brick and mortar, we are also increasing our fleet so that we can manage distribution to different routes faster.
Did you ever feel like quitting, especially at the beginning of your entrepreneurship journey?
Many times. There were times I would ask myself why I did not take the money and invest in a piece of land where returns are almost guaranteed. But the minute I saw customers coming and more referrals, it gave me the confidence and reassured me that I was not the mad one.
I love challenges and trying new things, not just now but even in employment, I would always push myself and those I worked with until we saw something through.