Q&A: Rwandan Siblings Beat The Odds With Web Business

By Ann Brown AFKI Original Published: May 23, 2014, 10:51 am
Siblings Patience Nduwawe and Chance Tubane started Tohoza.com in Rwanda. Photo: newtimes.co.rw

Reunited nearly 10 years after the Rwandan genocide, siblings Chance Tubane and Patience Nduwawe went into business together. Their company, Tohoza.com, is an Internet advertisement platform now being dubbed as Rwanda’s Craigslist.

Chance and her brother Patience were separated as young children during the Rwanda genocide in 1994 and their story reads like a Hollywood drama.

Reunited with their parents and brother, the family escaped intact to the Democratic Republic of Congo. But while there, their mother died from blood loss following surgery.

Chance, then 11, was sent to live with her godmother in Belgium. Patience, 17, remained behind with his father and brother to continue his education. But in 1996, as Patience traveled to the city of Bukavu to take his university entrance exams, violence erupted in the Eastern DRC and his father and brother moved back to Rwanda. Patience was forced to remain alone in DRC and he lost contact with his family.

It wasn’t until late 2003 that a family member finally traced Patience.

In just two years, Tohoza.com has become Rwanda’s top Internet advertisement platform. It’s a web-based classified advertising directory where Rwandans can post or look for job vacancies as well as buy, sell and rent just about anything from houses and cars to watches and shoes. CNN has reported on the business. It gets nearly 9,000 visitors daily.

Chance and Patience spoke to AFKInsider about how they have succeeded in business in Rwanda against the odds.

AFKInsider: What inspired you to start Tohoza.com?

Chance Tubane: We were willing to help all Rwandans in their day-to-day lives, helping them find jobs, buy, sell or rent cars or houses…but to also show another image of Rwanda different from the sad part of our history. The current Rwanda is full of hope and progressing positively.

AFKInsider: I know you were separated for some time. What was it like when you reunited?

Chance Tubane: It was nine years of separation. Long but worth it because now we focus together on a great and positive vision for ourselves and for our nation, the region and the continent. We are thankful God brought us together again. As a believer I trust all is brought together for his glory.

Patience Nduwawe: To be reunited it involved the effort of many — mainly family members. It took me time to believe it, none of it was expected… Because of what was happening to me, I used to control my emotions to protect myself from depression. Maybe that’s why it was not so emotional when we reunited. But I was thankful to God for this miracle and ready to work toward my destiny.

AFKInsider: How does Tohoza.com work?

Chance Tubane: It is an online advertisement platform where we advertise all kinds of useful information about jobs, houses, cars, products, services, businesses in Rwanda and now (we are) extending to East Africa.

AFKInsider.com: What were challenges you had in starting Tohoza.com?

Chance Tubane: We were not sure people (would) understand the concept which was new in Rwanda. Thank God they followed. According to our users feedback we provide an excellent service.

Patience Nduwawe: The main challenge was starting Tohoza.com with zero money and only two persons (my sister and I) working on it. Without money, we used to market it with cheap methods but time consuming like distributing flyers. We distributed over 10,000 flyers ourselves. With only two staffers, we used to work extra hours, many times combining two days in one.

AFKInsider.com: What are the challenges of working with family?

Chance Tubane: There is no particular challenge. We form an interesting team. Each of us knows what are everyone’s responsibilities. We both have hard-working personalities and have common goals and a common vision which make things easier for both of us.

Patience Nduwawe: For some families challenges may arise, but for us it is easier. We work in consensus. I know Chance is very strong in communication, so when it comes to that I give my opinion but never dictate because I know she is very professional in that area. And I think when it comes to IT she does the same for me. Always we discuss and converge to a common understanding.

AFKInsider.com: What are the positives about working with family?

Chance Tubane: We know each other. We know where we are coming from and where we want to go. We inherited great values from our parents from who we learned that nothing is impossible.

Patience Nduwawe: You know each other, the strengthes and weaknesses of your partner since you have known them from your childhood. You trust your partner. Even if she or he makes a mistake it will never be with the intention to hurt you. For some famillies this may not be true, but for us it is true thanks to the education we got from our parents and our characters.

AFKInsider.com: What are the difficulties in doing business in Rwanda?

Patience Nduwawe: Convincing Rwandans is not easy. Before they trust you and follow your product they need to be sure of its quality. To get the benediction of our audience we worked very hard. Here in Rwanda the difficulty (is to) keep customers’ attention.

AFKInsider: Has the business climate in Rwanda improved?

Chance Tubane: The business climate has always been favorable. It is currently even very favorable as to register business takes very few hours. I think it’s up to the entrepreneur to orient his or her business.

AFKInsider: Does the government give help to young entrepreneurs such as yourselves?

Chance Tubane: There are some existing programs and loans available for youth and entrepreneurs which is good. In our case we started with our own means.

Patience Nduwawe: For us RDB and Ministry of Youth and ICT helped us a lot, more than money.

AFKInsider: What are some misconceptions about working in Rwanda?

Chance Tubane: That you need to know someone which is totally not true.

Patience Nduwawe: Some people don’t believe what is said about doing business in Rwanda. They think is just a propaganda, because Rwanda is just an African country like others. It is true here there is a real fight against corruption. But yes, you can create a company in only few minutes online and for free, and yes, government institutions are always willing to help. We are a real example, we don’t have parents, nobody knows us, but we succeed.

AFKInsider: What are your goals this year for Tohoza.com?

Chance Tubane: Be the No. 1 website in Rwanda. Have an office and hire staff to enable us to serve more users — all that you see has been done only with two of us and after only two years. We need to be empowered to bring Tohoza.com on another level and make more profit as well.

AFKInsider.com: What are your longterm goals for Tohoza.com?

Chance Tubane: We keep them for ourselves. But one of them is to be the leader on the market in the region.

AFKInsider.com: What has been the biggest business lesson you’ve learned?

Chance Tubane: You can start from scratch and be successful.

Patience Nduwawe: I learned two lessons. One, to never rely on external means, start with what you have while waiting for external help; and two, when you have an idea, just implement it or make a sample, then see how to make money with what you have or go to look for funding to make it a tangible thing, not just an idea.

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