Louis-Antoine Muhire, is a Rwandan who made a new life in Canada as a Police Intelligence Officer. However, in spite of his success there, he decided to return to Rwanda to build a better remittance system, inspired by his own frustration sending money back home.
After three years of work, his company, Mergims, has now raised 4 rounds of funding and is valued at 5 million US dollars. But his greatest mistake he made along the way, according to him, was starting by hiring 7 people. Here’s that story:
I quit my job and arrived in Rwanda in September 2014. we launched our beta version in February 2015, so it’s almost a 6 month period, the time when I found a house and hired a team of seven people, which was my biggest mistake. I’ll never do that again.
I got 10k first and I misused that money. I had a great villa, employees, and in three months it’s gone. I had a team of 7 people, for a Canadian startup starting with 7 people, that’s a very huge payroll. Secretary of this, driver of that, cook for us, it was a mini Google thing. And again, the 20k didn’t last too much time. It was gone in 3 months.
Then the investor I met was a South African guy, I met him through a website called VC for Africa, which is a platform where you put your idea there and explain what your working on or what you’ve tried to work on. He gave me money, hoping to not misspend the money that quick.
I came back to him and said I ran out of the money and he said “woah, what happened?” The money that was supposed to take me to 6 months, I spent it again in 3 months. He said “what’s going on?” So he looked at my numbers and gave me the worst homework to do, to fire everyone. Not two or three, he said "I want you to fire everyone.”
“Otherwise there’s no way I’m going to support you to raise more money.” And he didn’t give me a reason. Simply, you have a huge payroll, do whatever you have to do and start over. So I called my team, said guys, we’re out of the money, no money left in the bank. So, who wants to leave. And guess what, nobody wanted to leave. They said "oh no, we’re gonna stay, we’re gonna support you.”
I was like “oh shit, actually I want you to leave.” “Oh don’t worry, we can work for free until you get…” I’m like "no, you don’t understand it, this is the email, it says fire everyone and start over. So I did fire everyone and it was a very not beautiful moment because some took it very personal. They thought I was lying, that i dissapointed them because when I recruited them I said "this is gonna be the next big thing. With my passion to speak and stuff.”
So there were a lot of tears, and painful moment. I think I stayed three days in bed just to digest that. Then I started over again with three people including me, so that’s two, me, a CTO, and an accountant.
Now when we have a lot of work, what do we do? We go into tech hub, we have one in Kigali called Klab, I hire three or four kids to maybe update our website. We do that but no more huge payroll until I become the next Google. You know, I’ve learned that you hire only when you can’t really take it anymore. Otherwise you do everything, you cook for yourself, you drive yourself, you wash your clothes yourself, you do everything yourself. When I came I had people to do that for me, so yeah.