Our key learnings with our pilot supported by VIA Water


Picture of our Eco roofing tiles on a client's roof

Trace has successfully introduced a new eco-friendly and cost-effective waste based roofing tile into the Kenyan construction-materials market. These tiles are an important solution to the looming plastic waste menace in Kenya and we see our company playing a leading role in reducing pollution associated with their accumulation in the environment.

We started the pilot with a crude version of our prototype which we made locally by heating plastic waste combined with sand in an open pan. Support from VIA Water has enabled us to acquire modern and appropriate machines to make these tiles in a safer environment and at standards acceptable to clients. We have finished the pilot with our tiles on several people's houses and to us this is really fulfilling.

However, things were not free-flowing as I make them appear. We had numerous ups and downs. I will highlight the key take away lessons below;

1. I have learned that stakeholder and community engagement is important in project implementation. Since we involved them during the initial period when we were setting up our factory, they bought into the idea and even rallied the local leader to murram and grade the rural road heading up to our site. They also helped us secure crucial approvals especially during the EIA phase and this made us move much quicker.

2. We converted from being a small community-based organization and transitioned into being a company. These two types of organizations are totally different with totally different objectives. The main difference is that we now needed to make a profit which was not the case for us before. Starting and running a start-up, and indeed a hardware/manufacturing business was equivalent to taking a jump into the deep end of the swimming pool without swimming skills. To do this we needed a whole new set of skills, mindset change and most importantly be deliberate in learning from others with experience in doing this. We wanted to learn mostly about the general skills sets needed to run a startup from prototype to an actual running business. We implemented this by listening and learning from various people including our technology partners Tereco, our business support consultants including Saskia Reus, Christiaan Quellhorst and Sophie van den berg, local companies in the construction industry such as Questworks Ltd, professionals and most importantly our potential clients themselves. At the back of our minds, we were cognizant of the fact that 90% of startups fail within the first year and we desperately needed to learn how to be in the remaining 10%.

3. The greatest lesson we learned from our supporters was to focus and listen keenly to our clients and understand their pain points. This led us to realize that our different category of clients had different needs and pains. For example, individual housing consumers’ pain and need was the price and beauty of the tile respectively. For roofers (fundis), they need a product that is easy to handle and install so that they can quickly finish the house and move on to another project. Price is not their concern. For contractors, their focus was mainly on the ability to deliver larger volumes within a reasonable duration of time and the technical aspects of the tile such as UV resistance. Government and NGO sponsored projects care about an eco-friendly solution that helps keep the environment clean and plastic free.

Understanding this about our various clients was crucial for us and we modified our approach to suit them differently. We now know what keeps a smile on each of our clients face and what we need to do in order to win more of them.

4. By being a partner in the VIA Water programme, I have learned not to be scared of failure and that most innovations usually go through a certain phase of constant iteration before making any sense to the market. This has built my confidence and I am now not scared to try out new ideas in business.

Vi Nguyen's picture

Thanks for sharing this! Great to hear what you have learned from your innovation journey and I am sure this will be useful and valuable to your fellow innovators.