The journey so far: Jean-Philippe Kayobotsi, CEO, Brioche Café Bistro

Jean-Philippe Kayobotsi

Jean-Philippe Kayobotsi is CEO and co-founder of Brioche Café Bistro, a chain of bakery and coffee shops, first started as a small, self-funded endeavour in Rwanda, 2013.

1. Tell us about one of the toughest situations you’ve found yourself in as a business owner.

Eventually, most of the issues one faces as an entrepreneur come down to people issues. One issue that I consider significantly tough is when one has to part ways with someone who has accompanied the company for several years but cannot – or is not willing to – continue to grow with it.

During the journey together, you inevitably come to know the other person quite well and it doesn’t make the separation very easy.

2. Which business achievement are you most proud of?

My greatest achievement to date has been launching Brioche together with my co-founder and CFO, Alice Van Mierlo. Over the last five years, we’ve grown Brioche from one shop in Kigali to six shops across Rwanda and Kenya.

This has created employment for around 130. The focus for Brioche is to become an inspiring African brand, an excellent African-European cafe bistro and a solution provider for our business-to-business customers. We do this by trying to scale while keeping a focus on quality and, of course, health and food safety standards.

Wherever this story is going to end, it is, for me, already a personal success because of all the learning acquired, the people met and worked with.

3. Describe your greatest weakness as an entrepreneur.

I am a rather introverted person and, as such, I usually prefer deep relationships rather than many.

It might be a weakness, sometimes, as an entrepreneur because it is not easy for me to part ways with someone even if that someone is underperforming. I tend to “overextend” the time the person gets to prove him/herself, to improve his/her performance.

In order to overcome that, I try to listen more to the other people in Brioche’s team, in particular, Alice, who has much better “people-reading” skills than I have.

4. Which popular entrepreneurial advice do you disagree with?

I very much disagree with the idea/advice that says “as long as you have a good idea, money will follow”.

I’m not sure about other parts of the world but I believe that, in Africa, it is certainly not true. The number of investors for entrepreneurial ventures (from business angels to VC and PEs) is very low compared to other parts of the world.

When I read in Howard Schultz’s book that he visited 242 investors to pitch his business idea and that 217 of them said, “No”, it taught me at least three things: perseverance is key; there are many more investors in the USA than in Africa, because finding 242 doors to knock-on in Africa is a challenge; and even in the USA, a great idea might struggle to find funding.

So, while I do believe bad ideas will not get funded, a good idea is not a guarantee of funding at all. I believe it is important to know that in advance, not to be discouraged, but to be prepared.

5. Is there anything you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before you got started?

No, there is no particular thing I wish I would have known before.

One of the exciting parts of entrepreneurship is that one learns something new every single day and that it is a continuous discovery journey.

Taking that away would be taking a lot of the fun away.

‘The journey so far’ series is edited by Wilhelmina Maboja, with copy editing by Xolisa Phillip, and content production by Justin Probyn and Nelly Murungi.