Chapter 10. Africa's Hottest and Riskiest Startup
I'm sitting in Jean de Dieu Kagabo's office on the second floor of his toilet paper manufacturing and packaging plant. He is so in tune with his company, SoftGroup, that he can sit at his desk, close his eyes, and hear if there's a problem with one of the machines downstairs.
He worked hard for those machines. When he was 18 he taught himself Mandarin and took the last of his family's money to China, to buy them. Many of the Chinese he encountered had never met an African before, but they'd heard of the Rwandan genocide. When he said where he was from, their expressions changed, and they'd say, "Ohhhhhhh! Hotel Rwanda!" One even gave him his seat on a bus in sympathy.
This office, which was once his father's when he ran a petrol company, is where Kagabo spends his days building his consumer package goods empire that supports his family now. The company makes straws, napkins, diapers, toothpaste, tomato paste, and other products people need every day, packaging them and selling them mostly in Rwanda, but also in Tanzania, Burundi, Uganda, and Kenya.
Kagabo is an exception to my rule that few great entrepreneurs were born rich. When his parents were still alive, Kagabo and his siblings were downright spoiled. His dad was a self-made man and always tried to instill a work ethic into his kids but to little avail. They groaned when forced to work summers at the petrol station. Indeed, even after the genocide, Kagabo's two older brothers ...