The most insightful piece of knowledge I’m walking away from Uzuri K&Y’s story is that growth depends MUCH LESS on tax policies, infrastructure, government policies, politics and depends MUCH MORE on the business’ internal factors--factors a business can control--more so than external factors. Internally, Uzuri focused on its commitment to creating value in the community, embracing learning, and facilitating incremental growth.
Stick to your guns and chase alignment (not paper)
Hold your horses now! You might be up in arms wondering “what do you mean don’t chase paper? It’s a business for goodness sake--and I want money out of it” and I hear you!
All I’m saying is from this episode, we learn that money should be a side effect of business done well and business done well needs time and strong foundations to support decisions that are geared towards improving the products, processes, employees, and customer experiences. Uzuri K&Y built these foundations by doing a couple of things intentionally: having strong values that guide decisions, focusing on bettering product quality and business growth supported by meaningful learning.
The humble beginnings Uzuri K&Y are the poster child of a business’ humble beginnings. From working on a make-shift desk in a slum with the help of an old artisan to running a production plant and fronting 3 storefronts in Kigali--I tried to dissect what the foundation of this beautiful illustration of sustainable growth and I have a strong hunch that it has quite a bit to do with the business’ founding values and its commitment to uphold them.
It started with the values of the two co-founders whose bond went beyond a best-friendship. Ysolde and Kevine had matching rhythms of their values--they had similar backgrounds and found strong commonalities in what they valued - giving back to the community and doing environmental good through their business. When it came to running the business this was their guide and any action that went against that wasn’t considered--decision making was consistently focused towards doing what is best for the business. I strongly believe this is the reason it was easy for the young business to keep financial discipline.
Further, these values were so strongly held that the business was able to be comfortable with making tough decisions - such as turning down investors who weren’t aligned with their vision. However, this also opened up doors for the right investors who aligned with Uzuri’s values which in the end was an ultimate gain.
What you learn is more important than what you know
When getting into business, there’s a whole lot more we don’t know than we do know. Kevine and Ysolde recognized this and worked to build where they were lacking. They leaned on a community craftsman in the slum to learn the ropes of shoemaking. They leaned on their own learning of the process of shoemaking to better their shoes. They were receptive to customer needs and wants and tuned their product to address those needs. It was their commitment to learn on the ground and getting their hands dirty that has been instrumental in allowing them to pivot quickly and grow.
Refine your craft
At the core of why Uzuri K&Y grew at the scale and the steady positive progress, in addition to the value alignment, was the commitment to better their craft as shoemakers.
The founders themselves were extremely invested in the little details of shoemaking and invested time to learn how to do what they do better and committed to actually shipping their product even when they were learning - fully embracing the iterative process of refining their skills and products.
The lesson is to learn, learn and learn some more - focusing on getting it right and thinking about how we can do what we’re doing differently by learning the details, the ins-and-outs of the technicals, and committing to shipping our work in progress. Kevine and Ysolde were taking shoes apart, learning from local skilled shoemakers, thinking differently about materials to use and by drawing inspiration from existing cultural techniques while bringing in their own creative spin to create unique shoes.
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