Having studied a Bachelor of Environmental Science degree at university, Moses Ruraara has quit three jobs in two years and watched a company he founded collapse twice. He told his story of perseverance, courage and sheer vision to ALEX TAREMWA.
“Today, I am glad to announce another product from Ruraara Tech Empire, LLC: Success Stories Africa – an online platform that will tell success stories of people, companies and products that rose from the ground to the top across the African continent,” Moses Ruraara wrote on his Facebook page on April 10, 2017.
Ruraara is the founder and chief executive officer of Ruraara Tech Empire, a Mukono-based information and communication technology (ICT) company. Registered as a limited liability company (LLC) in 2015, his empire is one of the several ICT innovations contributing to the six per cent the sector currently contributes to Uganda’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as per the 2014/15 Ministerial Policy Statement.
One of his products is Service Hunt, an online business directory currently hosting at least 700 profiles of companies, some government agencies and individuals. The aim, he told The Observer, is to help clients find the services they require with ease.
“Every product of my company is inspired by a challenge I have personally faced. That is why we strive to create solutions and transform people’s lives with every product we create,” he says.
Ruraara has designed, and is hosting hundreds of websites for various individuals and companies. Besides, he does ICT consultancy for various institutions and businesses to set up online profiles, digital marketing, software and hardware solutions.
SELF-MADE ICT GURU
Donning a dull brown shirt, a Rolex watch and his trademark mohawk haircut, jollyful Ruraara is convivial in his office at Hotel 24/7 in Mukono. It is here that I learn his dedication to the ICT sector was not professional training and certification, but personal ingenuity and passion.
Born and raised in Kyabaheesi village, Bukanga in Isingiro district, Ruraara attended Kyabaheesi primary school, Makobore High School for O-level and London College, Nansana for his A-level. He later joined Uganda Christian University in 2008 for his bachelor’s degree.
“People think I did either Information Technology or Computer Science at university, but I didn’t. Everything I know, I taught myself through YouTube tutorials and G-tap – an online group of geeky programmers,” he says.
This, Ruraara did as he struggled with a four-month’s contract as a marketer for a timber firm in Kansanga, where he earned Shs 100,000 per month. For the sake of exposure, networking and experience, Ruraara soldiered on until he got another part-time contract with Spedag Interfreight Limited where he earned enough money to buy a laptop on which he started designing websites for clients.
“The salary was not enough; so, I quit for self-employment. I started my first company, Nemrock, in November 2013 with two of my friends determined to make a step in the virgin ICT sector,” he remembers, seemingly painfully.
The pain comes to light when he narrates how lack of a shared vision, patience and direction led to the collapse of the company three months later. His co-founders left him and took separate routes. Although disheartened, Ruraara did not let go of his entrepreneurial spirit.
“I didn’t wait to get back. I remember even the company logo was designed for me on credit. Most people thought I was overambitious calling a start-up business an empire,” he says. “But they didn’t look at it the way I did. My plan was, and still is, to launch several flagship products under Ruraara Tech Empire. They saw ambition instead of strategy.”
LIGHTNING HITS AGAIN
“Ekuba omunaku tekya” is a Luganda proverb loosely translated as: “The rain that hits a poor man never stops.” So was the case with Ruraara when his struggling company faced financial hardships at the time the server hosting clients’ websites crashed.
Stuck, he had to get employed to maintain a cashflow for himself and his seemingly failing company as well. Luckily, Mukono-based Abacus Parental Drugs Limited was seeking a water specialist. Armed with his degree in Environmental Science, he was a perfect fit.
Ruraara was hired and given an eight-month contract from where he saved enough money to buy his company bigger servers and started Service Hunt, his inaugural flagship product under Tech Empire.
“We launched it in February 2016 and by April, we already had over 200 companies enlisted on the site. My virtual private servers were over-powered. Once again, they crashed,” he recalls.
From the money he had made, Ruraara bought a dedicated server. Rather than spend the profits on luxuries, he says, reinvesting in the company gives it a competitive edge and better financial muscle.
Having faced marketing challenges in his previous attempt, Ruraara thought creating an online directory for different businesses, their services and locations would make it easier for consumers to find the products they need. He also believed he would help small, medium and large-scale businesses market their products, services and brands.
From the over 700 companies now enlisted on the portal, Ruraara earns at least Shs 40 million every month from consultancy, web designing and hosting and subscriptions.
BRIDGING THE KNOWLEDGE GAP
As he struggled to start, Ruraara remembers reaching out to already established entrepreneurs for mentorship and guidance on business development. To his surprise, however, he was given a cold shoulder.
“The problem with Uganda and Africa generally is that we lack mentors. The people who have made it pretend to be very busy and, therefore, unapproachable. I resorted mostly to reading books and online mentors for guidance,” he says.
To bridge this knowledge gap, he started Success Stories Africa, a website that publishes success stories, start-up tips like maintaining cash flows, managing a team and tales of organic African businessmen and women.
The idea, Ruraara says, is to inspire the youth to start businesses with basic knowledge that they can’t get from far-flung entrepreneurs in their respective societies. Despite these strides, he acknowledges founding a company as the biggest challenge he has faced.
“You are the CEO, marketing manager, accountant, strategy director and product peveloper. It is heart-wrecking,” he says.
To alleviate the burden on himself, Ruraara let in three people on Service Hunt and three more on Success Stories Africa to help in the day-to-day operations – not as employees, but business partners.
Instead of a salary, the partners hold shares on the company profits and dividends given the performance of the product to which they are signed.
“Putting together a team and sharing with them your vision is tough. That is why I don’t have a staff and don’t plan to have one. Partners know that when a company hasn’t made profits, there is no money.
“But you will not convince an employee that you can’t pay him/her for three months because of a budget overdraft, and expect them to stay and work,” he says.
With the growth of the ICT sector in Uganda, Ruraara sees a tremendous opportunity for the youth to cash in with budding innovations that will fetch billions of shillings in revenue.
Ruraara Tech Empire is also developing Android, iOS and Windows mobile applications for all their products. His only worry is the hefty price and the poor quality of the Internet in Uganda which, he says, directly affect businesses like his.
He calls upon the government to reduce Internet costs and improve its quality to ease business operating with ICT.
“I understand government put hotspots in Kampala where people can access free internet from 6pm to, I think, 6am. This is good for the start, but what if I need my services at 1pm? Do people have to stay up all night to access the Internet?” he wonders.
Ruraara is now targeting the greater East African region from where he will hopefully expand to cover the entire continent. The fourth of 11 children born to Siraje and Naume Ruraara advises fellow youths to look at social media and other ICT tools as business avenues, not platforms to share nude pictures and jokes.
He derives inspiration from Evans Spiegel, the founder of popular social media application SnapChat; former Microsoft CEO and co-founder Bill Gates, and Robinah Kivumbi of Master Industries.