- Tips to startups: Do not walk out of university and want to start a firm. First accept to work under a senior professional engineer for professional career development.
Start small and keep growing big whether you have resources or not.
Be truthful to yourself and depend on God. When people develop trust in you, they can even help you when you have no money.
People move from attractive jobs to self-employment to fulfill their dreams, sometimes with nothing but experience to offer their new ventures. Mr Gabriel Fataki, a 39-year-old Makerere University civil engineering graduate is one such person. In his youthful years, a friend Mr Fataki refers to as the Late Nsubuga, gave him important counsel.
He said, “Gabriel never stay long being employed. You better be on your own.” The message remained with him.
Realising that he needed to manage his own time, resources and productivity better, a rationale that Mr Nsubuga had given him, he made a first attempt at business by registering Fencon Consulting Engineers Limited in 2011.
However, his view then was that he was still building experience and needed to grow professionally. He joined MBW Consulting and learnt so much while working there especially in stakeholder management and confidence building.
“It gave me direct contact to people who could give me a job and the confidence of what is required of a consultant. I still needed that growth in 2011,” he explains.
Ten years into his career, having worked in Uganda National Roads Authority, Uganda Revenue Authority, local ministries, a consultancy, Mr Fataki walked out on a job he considers by all standards a well-paying job, earning him about Shs10m in 2014 and decided to start from nothing.
“It was a dream come true. My plan was that by 32-35, I should be able to employ myself,” Mr Fataki says after starting this family business.
When Mr Fataki eventually started with his wife, they could only afford their boys’ quarter as office space. Fortunately, Mr Fataki had Shs4m which he used to facilitate company operations and put all paperwork in order because he decided he wanted his books organised. His goals were huge. In engineering, before a building is erected, the plan, surveys and even investigations of soils must be right. He envisioned a company that could offer consultancy services in architecture, engineering and project management in buildings, roads and bridges.
But he started roughly by designing people’s houses such as those in Akright Estates. With these, he was able to integrate in the company portfolio, a move that made it easier to win bids. He lost his first bid on a National Water project because the business was considered to be too young.
“We reached the financial proposal and in our view, we should have won that tender because we had quoted Shs125m. But because when they were doing due diligence, they realised we were a young firm,” he says.
He lost two other bids before winning his fourth bid eight months after starting out. This landed the company in Mbale to design a surgical complex.
“Our first job as Fencon was worth Shs200m and that gave us a very good milestone,” Mr Fataki recalls. Due to lack of human resource, he outsourced staff from Joadah Consult, an engineering firm. By the end of 2015, Fencon had made Shs27m in profit. This figure has since then grown.
From then, Fencon has been building its footprint by participating in every relevant bid.
Mr Fataki has put up structures today to enable the company operate without his presence. All departments are operational and a board has been constituted to allow Mr Fataki make accountability for all operations.
Currently located in Seguku, Wakiso District and Kasese, with more than 10 projects from local government, ministry of Health, Uganda Wildlife Authority, ACODEV, Bible Society of Uganda since 2014, the Christian founded family business has grown from two to a consortium of 50 staff including architects, mechanical engineers, quantity surveyors and environmentalists.
“One milestone is that we have a volume of business to engage staff. These are huge government projects such as the Mbale project that is worth Shs21b,” he says.
Apart from a strong in-house team, the company deliberately partners with experts to have an edge in terms of competition.
The drive to make partnerships strengthen the company has made Fencon associate with big brands such as Boston based consultancy Tecla, from whom they await big business.
It is now looking forward to getting prequalification to participate in the oil and gas sector.
Starting out never came easy like he already imagined. But years later, the economy has not been friendly either especially for projects transacted in foreign currency.
“In one of our projects, we bided in dollars. This is a donor-funded project. We realised that inflation in between there will affect the currency and we either lose money or gain. What happened is that at the time of the contract signature, the employer insists that we sign in shillings but the dollar had gone down by $400, you immediately lose money like that,” Mr Fataki explains.
Also, masqueraders flooding the market are hurting the reputation of a service that is still not well-appreciated.
“It becomes hard for a client to appreciate the role of an engineer. Somebody says they never know the value of the consultancy money,” he says.