Opening a business anywhere, let alone a foreign country— takes courage and a real sense of purpose to follow through. For Nima, the desire to not only inhabit a space but to engage it in a socially responsive and impactful way made the leap into entrepreneurship worth a swing. But when you have the privilege of calling your creative venture your job, striking a balance between personal time and work hours can be a blur. Below, a conversation on the influence that hospitality has on culture, and how in the end, everything connects.
Narrated by Rita Umuliza
Can you share more about the path that led you to this chapter of your life? How has your background, nature and nurture influenced the work you do today?
I was born and raised in the Horn of Africa by parents of Somali descent who settled in a small country called Djibouti. After high school I left for university and lived in France and the UK. In the latter, where I settled in London and worked mostly in the financial services sector. After a pressing wish to return to the continent, I moved, rather impulsively, to Rwanda in 2014. Following a 2 year stint in a corporate job in Kigali I decided in 2017 to embark on a journey in the hospitality and food industry and that’s how Inkoko Rotisserie was born. Where I’m from, hospitality is an integral element of the culture and food, particularly, is the way it often manifests itself. Close to half of Djibouti’s territory is on the coastline on the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden so our cuisine has African, Middle-Eastern, Asian and European influences. My years in London truly made me fall in love with cooking and I honed the skill by organising regular dining evenings with friends. The jump from the financial industry to the food and hospitality is perhaps best explained by my desire to work for myself combined with identifying a gap in the Fast food restaurant business in the Kigali market.
You recently started a project that is way different from your usual line of work. What are some of the fundamental things you’ve learned about stretching the limits of what one thinks they’re capable of?
Somali are in general very industrious and adventurous people so I grew up in an environment where nothing was deemed impossible provided one is determined and unafraid of hard work. For instance although retired, my parents are still business owners and so are the majority of my siblings and extended family. I learnt early on in life that owning a business is not for the faint hearted and the limits of one’s abilities are tested daily but in my experience, my parent’s resilience overcame most obstacles. Like anything in life there are good and bad days but I draw my strength from the firm belief that life is a learning curve and challenges, however frightening, are not insurmountable. I’m also fortunate to have a supportive network of family and friends who help me put things in perspective.
What are your earliest memories of being drawn to entrepreneurship?
My parents have owned businesses since my early childhood so I was raised in the belief that it’s always best to work for Yourself however challenging the journey. This was instilled in me and I always dreamt of following in my parents’ footsteps.
I’m of the philosophy that everything life brings our way is a puzzle piece that informs the bigger picture of our lives. How has your finance background shown up in your experience with Inkoko so far?
The financial services sector in London, or anywhere else for that matter, is fiercely competitive and fast paced. I once worked on a trading floor with over 500 peoples whose mood was regulated by the ups and downs of the markets and stress levels were often untenable. This was also an environment with people with widely diverse personalities and backgrounds so it allows one to hone their interpersonal skills in order to manage people expectations. In such an environment you also learn very quickly that you always need to plan well in order to perform at your best to endure and succeed. While I’m still learning about the food and hospitality industry, I believe all these different skills I learnt in my previous industry are invaluable and have equipped me to have structured approach to this business.
A friend recently shared a piece on one woman’s reflections about the things that weigh so heavily on her mind, they keep her from sleeping some times. What keeps you up at night?
I guess the worries of an entrepreneur are universal. Fear of failure for one is a recurring one because beyond your own desire to succeed, one is responsible for the livelihoods of the people he/she employs and that knowledge adds an additional dimension to the fear of failure.When you deconstruct the elements that could make you fail, there are 3 things at the very top of my list: Cash flow: Most of my suppliers require cash on delivery so I’m constantly in fear of running out of money. Hiring: I believe a business is only as good as its employees so having the right people and retaining them is very important. The worry is how does one do that with a limited cash flow? Projecting confidence: During our first couple of months our sales were very low but I still had to project confidence for my team to have faith in the business to avoid the sinking ship feeling.
Do you have any practices that keep your cup full enough to be in service to others?
When asked what my religion is I always answer “people”. I strongly believe we have to be deliberate and consistent to engage and build quality relationships with the people and environment around us. I feel lending a helping hand or listening air is fundamental if we want our lives to be meaningful and I practice that with those around me, particularly my employees or those who look up to me whenever I’ve been in a managerial position. I’ve always done a lot of mentoring which has also helped me make sense of my life choices because I view it as a two street relationship where both mentor and mentee learn from one another. I would like to do much more social impact oriented work and hope to do it through my new venture. I’m not sure if I’ve answered your question but in sum, my view of being in service of others is not a cumbersome responsibility where one has to be recognised for but a daily practice of kindness and consciousness.