Riding the wave of business: My first month as Country Director of energypedia consult Rwanda

Melanie Uhlen's picture

As of this month, I’m always on vacation – or never, depending how you look at it. I’ve left employment to start a branch of energypedia consult in Rwanda. In principle, I continue my job of the past years as M&E consultant specialized in IT solutions, just in a different country, context and position. In Kigali, I’ve created a group for entrepreneurs to help each other out including by monthly lunch meetings. At the beginning I was the one listening and scribbling notes during the entire meeting. But before I knew it, others, who are completely new to Rwanda, began to ask me questions about my experiences so as an entrepreneur far. How had this happened so quickly? The truth is, when setting up a business, you are always pushed to take the next step to keep things going. The wave of business has started rolling.

This wave means that one thing always triggers the next: Through the entrepreneur group I meet somebody at lunch who puts me in contact with a potential business partner, so I need to follow up. During dinner I hear that the deadline for declaring taxes is the next day, so I wake up at six to be the first at the tax authority to avoid the inevitable queue. Turns out I don’t need to declare my taxes after all, but this experience makes me book an appointment with an accountant, for which I must prepare all my questions regarding shareholder types and employment conditions. It keeps going.

I would summarize the change in my work life like this: As an employee, my main concern was to tick off the items on the to-do list handed to me one by one. As Country Director, my job is to populate the to-do list in the first place. Because if it was empty, there probably would be no company.

Speaking of to-do lists, starting a business can be hectic and overwhelming, if I you let it. When my to-do list gets too long, I try to cluster issues into layers of importance: In the top layers are the really crucial issues: Is the Rwanda Development Board going to approve my business? Am I going to get my work visa and residence permit to even be allowed to stay? And health, of course. Without these, everything else hardly matters. In the second layer I place key business considerations like scheduling sales pitches, carrying out the first contract with a local client and getting my taxes done right. The least important, yet omnipresent and nagging, are the daily to-do’s of project implementation, such as giving trainings, satisfying impatient clients or figuring out tricky IT things. These consume way too much time and nerves, but better to have too much to do than too little, right?

While lacking any professional training on this, I am beginning to understand a key principle of entrepreneurship first-hand (not a surprise to the business people out there): I can only grow the business by outsourcing tasks one by one. As my day is limited by waking hours and I am neither willing nor able to work long over hours in the long run, I need to hand over whatever I can. This implies finding an accountant soon and hiring somebody for IT implementation. Though the latter is equally challenging: Training somebody requires patience and trust. Will report how I’m doing on that one in one of my next blogs…

Ready for it or not, the logic of entrepreneurship is taking me there. It’s the wave that pushes me forward, on and on. I don’t have a choice now but to ride it and see where it takes me.