Few people would look at a window and find an inspiration to start a business, but for Wangu Gaita (pictured) the co-founder of Ascent Construction Company she sees business opportunity whenever she comes across a window.
Three years down the line, she has found success in making personalised curtain rods that are tailored to meet her clients’ specifications and taste. And last year, she started manufacturing them locally, giving her an edge over her competitors. Wangu shares with Hustle the importance of picking the right partner for your business.
Where did the journey begin?
The journey began in my last place of work in the pharmaceutical world. My employer was expanding the business and I was made in charge of supervising the construction work for the company. The daily hustle of being at the construction site thrilled me and stirred something within me. With each site visit I got more convinced to trade the medicine for the shovel and cement.
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Were you not afraid to make the switch?
I hesitated a lot. I kept doubting myself, questioning if I should venture into the male dominated industry and leaving my stable full time employment to start a construction company. But my gut feeling was I was onto something. By the time the construction ended, I had already made up my mind that I will start my company. Luckily enough I had developed a good rapport with one of the engineers at the construction site who agreed to be my partner.
Walk us through the journey of starting up your company…
I had to take from my chama and table banking group an initial capital of Sh 200,000 to set up my shop and buy a few of my stock. We started off by doing simple gypsum ceiling, house painting and interior decoration for our clients. But I realised a market gap; every time I would finish doing the ceiling for my clients, they would ask me what I could do about their windows.
Initially, I would import the rods, then I asked my partner what we can do to maximise our profit margins and stay ahead of the competition. That’s when we decided to take a chance in making locally fabricated powder-coated curtain rods.
How was the market reception?
This gamble paid off. My clients loved the fact that I would personalise their curtain rods to exactly what they wanted and I would only charge them according to the measurement of the rods. I debunked the myth that Kenyans prefer imports over locally made products.
Plus I would take my time to advice my clients why locally made rods were better than the imported ones, and all my orders since last year have been for the locally made rods, everyone has embraced them and I am happy about it.
What made the locally made rods a winner?
Other than them giving me a good profit margin, they are affordable for my clients as compared to the imported Chinese rods. The locally made rods also don’t sag under the weights of heavy curtains and they don’t rust because they are powder coated. The best thing about these rods is the fact that I can customise them to the size of your window and they come in variety of colours which gives my client a basket to choose from.
How do you find potential clients for your products?
I believe in getting my hands dirty and building networks with individuals in my field. I physically visit construction sites and ask to meet with the home owner once am informed about a new construction going on somewhere. I sell my gypsum ceiling services and window curtain rods to them. But since I can’t travel to every construction site in this country, I take advantage of my social media reach particularly on Facebook where for only Sh500, my post can reach more than 14,000 people.
What can you attribute to your breakthrough in the construction field?
Three things. First it is God or whatever you perceive him to be. I realise and acknowledge that I am always a co-creator with a supreme being so it is important I lean on Him. Second is belief in myself, once you believe you can do it then you can achieve that which you’ve set to accomplish. Lastly it is having a good business partner.
How important is the choice of a business partner to your success?
I cannot over emphasise the need to have a good business partner when you are starting your business. This one decision to me is akin to choosing a marriage partner. Once you mess up in picking a partner, then your business is built on a sand foundation. It will crumble.
What are some of the things you should look for when picking a partner?
The first question you should ask yourself do you need a business partner? If yes, what gap are they filling in your business? Like for me I had to look for a business partner who was in the construction world, who can help me in the technicalities involved.
Secondly, do both of you share the same vision of the business? This will save you from the issue of feeling like the other person is not doing enough because you are both working on the same target. Thirdly, can you trust this person? Or you have to always check out if they are cutting deals with clients and shortchanging you? If there is no trust, then the partnership won’t last long.
How do you manage a business partnership?
What has worked for me is to have defined roles, where everyone knows their role and plays their part. It is also key to have a conflict resolution mechanism. Conflicts in business are healthy if you resolve them amicably without any of the partners rushing for the exit; just like a successful marriage. You must also allow and trust the other person to deliver on their part.
Don’t try to overshadow your partner; it’s a partnership not a competition. Lastly, teamwork is the most important ingredient for the partnership to grow; don’t bad mouth each other in front of your clients and always speak with one voice in front of your customers.
What is the best advice you can give to anyone thinking of venturing into business?
Stop thinking and start acting. Once you start doing it amid all the uncertainties, everything will align for you, you will meet the suppliers, you will build network and your business will start. Just start with fear in your heart and trembling hands we all started that way.