Monthly Archives: February 2015

Uganda in Need of AgriTech Innovators

It doesn’t matter how you look at it but Uganda’s economy is largely Agriculture based. Employing 70% of the available labour in the country, Agriculture is still a stronghold. Unfortunately, despite its dominance, not much in terms of IT innovations is being seen. More on the unseen opportunities in this article.

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NWSC Give us Sewer Fibre

As a concerned citizen I always get irked when I see sidewalks, road reserves and recently tarmacked roads being mutilated time and again in the name of laying fibre cable. While I appreciate the need for this infrastructure, I believe we can have it deployed in less damaging ways. I believe we could use our water and sewage pipes to achieve this. Find out why in this article.

Failure, the Entrepreneur’s friend

The folks at Dictionary.com define failure as; “non performance of something due, required or expected.

From the time we are born, directly or indirectly the world throws at us the notion that to fail is a bad thing. When a baby fails to walk within the prescribed time, parents aren’t happy and are often heard saying “My child has still failed to walk.” When you start nursery school studies and can’t quickly get a hang of writing numbers, reading stories or drawing and colouring, right from the teachers to the parents it’s deemed as failure and often calls for “extra lessons.” When a child fails to get the passmark that enables them join a particular school for Primary or Secondary Level Studies, parents get disappointed and deem it failure. Recently, I read in an Agony column about a parent who was beating up his child and continuously ridiculing him for failing to pass the Primary Leaving Exams with good grades thereby embarrassing the family and exposing it to ridicule. The story goes on and on.

Such negative talk and experiences with failure builds an impression in our lives that ‘you either make it or make it.‘ The demonisation of failure has had the effect of stopping many dead in their tracks hence not fulfilling their potential. When Select Garments, a company that was known for selling Gents suits over the years experienced a setback and had to close shop, people lurched out at the proprietor and overnight we had all these wannabe business analysts dissecting his weaknesses and convincing us why he could never have been a successful businessman. Never mind that his tormentors have hardly run vegetable kiosks.

It is the hard nosed condemnation upon failure of those that try that scares away those that want to try. Quotes like this one from Warren buffet only make matters worse, “My two rules of investing: Rule one – never lose money. Rule two – never forget rule one.”

In 1985 Steve Jobs was ousted from Apple, a company he founded by its Board of Directors and the CEO, John Sculley that he had personally hired. This wasn’t the best of time for him as he was just 30 years old and already a public celebrity. In a commencement speech at Stanford University he said “What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating… I was a very public failure.” This led him into an early mid-life crisis. Years later, in 1997, he was called back to a nearly bankrupt Apple which he later realised was 90 days away from bankruptcy by the time he took over. In the same year, when Michael Dell was asked what he would do if he were in Steve Jobs’ shoes, he responded, “What would I do? I’d shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders.” By the end of 2006, Apple’s worth had surpassed that of Dell and we all know that the rest is history.

Back home, in an interview with one of the local daily newspapers, Steven Kiprotich the current World and Olympics Marathon Champion was ridiculed as a failure when he quit studies to concentrate on athletics. A quick Google search is enough show you that his decision isn’t regrettable.

A friend of mine I studied with has toyed around with various entrepreneurial ventures over the past decade. His story is quite humbling. Full of what I will opt to call challenges and not failure. He set up a forex bureau with a team of friends and quickly realised the need to have controls in order to avoid financial leakages. When he came up with an implementation plan and shared it, he was hounded out.

He then tried his hands on a transport business which quickly became successful and at its peak, monthly revenues of Ushs 40 Million were a common sight. Due to lack of proper controls, this dwindled down to as low as Ushs 4 Million and he was forced to sell off the business for peanuts. Being the hardliner that he is, he simultaneously tried his hands at setting up a hostel residence for students. To cut the long story short, this too failed miserably after he had invested handsome proceeds into it.

Despite the knockouts he had experienced, he never gave up and went ahead to found a Human Resource Consulting firm which he has wrestled from a time when partners had offered to buy him out to the current stage where its a leading player in the recruitment industry and has branches all over East Africa.

These stories and probably many more that you already know all point to the fact that failure or challenges are not a death sentence. No successful entrepreneur can claim not to have a scar of failure up their sleeves. I speak to many of you out there whose fear of ridicule has prevented you from realising your full potential. Bill Cosby once said, “In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure.” “The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing and becomes nothing,” a quote from Leo Buscaglia.

If you have read this article this far, you definitely want and admire entrepreneurship and its associated benefits but the fear to court failure is likely to keep you at the admiration and dreaming phase. No business school can effectively prepare you for an entrepreneurial career. There are things you must learn on the job, the hard way but they are worth the pain in the end. Failure is the fuel that powers the entrepreneur’s engine. It propels you forward as opposed to rendering you static. Samuel Beckett put is bluntly, “Ever tried. Ever Failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” This is echoed by John F Kennedy, “Those who dare to fail miserably can achieve greatly.”

The relationship between Success and Failure

The relationship between Success and Failure

While success may steer you forward, failure catapults you even further. Failure is to success what rocket fuel is to a rocket. Managing failure, learning from it and building upon it is very key in our lives.

All said and done, what the average Joe views as failure, real entrepreneurs view as a challenge or setback. “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm” once said Winston Churchill.

You have feared for too long, years have gone by, you may have seen one idea after another that you had in mind become a runaway success for others that chose to implement amidst all the risks. This is the time to change the scales, let the desire for success prove to be more potent than your inherent afinity to fear. Get off your laurels. The time is now !!!

Success lies in failure.

Want to start a business? Just do it !!

A while back, a lowly educated young man looking for what to do chanced upon the idea of selling fish. With a measly investment, he set up a table next to the Jinja Road Highway at Kigunga Trading centre armed with a panga, knife, weighing scale and a charcoal stove. He bought his first Nile Perch fish and displayed it for sale. By the end of the day, he had sold half of it and conveniently decided to deep fry what was left selling it off as a snack to the residents of the nearby shops and homes. Today, he comfortably sells not less than two fish of which each is likely to weigh at least 20 Kgs. As a result he’s been able to cater for his livelihood needs as well as engage in some investments outside this business.

In Uganda, we have three categories of entrepreneurs according to my observation. They are;

Necessity Entrepreneurs; These are people who have no choice and become entrepreneurs as a survival strategy. They are largely uneducated and can’t easily get jobs in the formal sector while the options in the informal sector cant allow them to effectively survive. They are the ones you find engaging in what is considered ‘petty’ work like hawking, shop keeping, slashing compounds e.t.c. They are the largest by number. The young man mentioned above lies in this category.

Innovative Entrepreneurs; This is the smallest subsection and usually is characterised by educated people who either have traveled widely (internationally) or are widely read. Others are also educated and tend to have some level of comfort zone financially that allows then to dream without being pre-occupied by the need to survive. They look at the society’s challenges and come up with possible solutions. Some fail from the word go while others hit with a big bang. You’re likely to find these in the mushrooming innovation hubs of Kampala and lately Universities.

Security Entrepreneurs; If you anonymously interviewed working professionals in Uganda, you’ll find many of them confessing that they don’t trust their employers enough to stake their lifeline on the job. This has led to working people trying to have a side business. It is known and now even acceptable to see an Engineer of a Telecom Company by day turning into a Chicken farmer and Egg vendor over the weekend. This has been borne out of our weak labour laws and history of insecurity in all spheres that made us adapt to these individual survival instincts.

I have been led to share this simple story because of a tendency I see among the educated elite. While many nurse entrepreneurship ambitions, are able to identify business opportunities, have the relevant knowledge or access to resources to carry out studies on the investment, can attract significant funding especially through the readily available salary loans, they hardly get started.

In most cases they get entangled in what I refer to as Paralysis of Analysis. They have a tendency to over analyse the opportunity at hand thereby getting stuck in calculating figures and trying to conform to economic theories. All this in the name of Calculating Risk. The eventual result is getting stranded like a dazed sheep on the road struck by headlights of an oncoming car in the middle of the night.

Others having read all these investment and entrepreneurship books usually authored with the Developed economies in mind tend to have a preference for wastefully spending money before even generating that first income.

I had this client that wanted to set up a spice packaging business and on probing him further, I realised that he had made up his mind to fly to China to identify the kind of machine he needs to package the spices. The cost of this discovery trip alone was estimated at close to US$ 5000. When asked if he had already come up with the product and sampled it through relatives and friends to establish his chances, he responded in the negative. He had already employed the services of a Financial Advisor/Consultant who had laid out an investment plan for him of close to US$ 30,000 complete with how he can borrow the money. I shed a tear for him because I could clearly see the roadblocks that were being put before him prior to realising his dream. As someone who has set up small businesses over time, I fully understood where he was coming from and what he wanted to do but the path he was taking was likely to lead him into a ditch. He hadn’t even considered issues like Distribution which are key to the success of such home consumables.

Eventually, I gave him my honest analysis of his situation and showed him how he could start off that business with less than US$ 100 and grow organically. Unfortunately, he’s never returned and last I heard he’s still planning to start the business (Our interaction was eight months ago).

While I appreciate the need to mitigate risk when embarking on a business investment, we shoudn’t be overwhelmed by the analysis around these factors. Its important to apply a leap of faith and start. Often times starting in a lean manner is the best way as it allows you to take a calculated risk. Just like the example of my client, losing US$ 100 would be less impactful on him than losing US$ 35,000. Besides, sometimes starting small allows you to grow into the business and master the loopholes. This is one of the reasons that explains why for a long time the leading business people in Uganda were mainly uneducated people. Having started off as Entrepreneurs by necessity, they had no choice but to DO. While they may have burnt their fingers (an experience each entrepreneur must face) on a number of occasions, they eventually pulled through.

So, are you educated? Holding on to a job? Toying with entrepreneurship? Spend less time eulogising and romancing with your idea. Strike a middle ground between Detailed Analysis and Just Doing. START NOW !!!

KCCA, Set up an Innovation Centre

In today’s world, Government institutions can no longer work without the aid of the masses. Crowdsourcing is a concept that has seen lots of innovations take root and the same concept can facilitate institutions in Government to achieve the much needed progress. Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) has done alot for Kampala City in the last few years but time has come for it to seek new ideas and help from its dwellers. Find out why in this article.

Should the Armed Forces handle Uganda’s Digital Migration?

I am a proud Ugandan whose patriotism can never be questioned. However, from my observation we have some habits that need to be relegated to the dustbin of history. Each time there is a much needed activity to be accomplished, we tend to drag our feet right from the highest offices of the land to the lay man. I explore why I think the Army can come in handy in this article.

Find me at the Boda Boda Stage

The last time I directed a visitor to my home, this is how I did it; “Pass by two petrol stations on Kayunga Road, look onto your right and identify a Mormon Church. Thereafter, turn right at a Hardware shop and on reaching School X slope down till the second Boda Boda stage I’ll be waiting for you there !!!!” Uganda seriously lacks a proper addressing and post code system int he 21st Century. You may not care much about the status-quo but find out why you should here.