In the 42 days of lockdown, Robert Kabushenga (RK) is taking off time to run a daily mentorship program called #40DayMentor hosted on his Twitter spaces. In this episode he hosts Hillary Bamulinde (HB) to talk on how to make it in life.
RK: Thank you for joining us. I want to start with this immediately, tell us about that sachet alcohol business that burnt your pockets.
HB: When you sent me a message to speak, I freaked out. I am not a speaker. If you have had people like Damalie Ssali, you wonder what it is you are going to say.
You will appreciate the alcohol story more if I begin with my background. I was born in 1981, in rural Bushenyi to a father who was a trader in salt. He would get it from Katwe (Kasese) and distribute around the country. My parents separated when I was in P2. So I used to take turns staying at their different places. In P5 dad passed away and I had to move from Mitooma to Kampala. That is where mother had moved. In P6, my mother also passed. We hit rock-bottom and like they say, there is a lot of space at rock-bottom.
I moved to my uncle’s in Isingiro but the situation was tough. So I escaped. I ended up at a guardian’s home in Masaka. This began the cycle of living with guardians.
RK: Where were your siblings at that time?
HB: Still in Isingiro.
I was registered with Compassion International that paid my fees from P6 till the end of secondary school. I moved to Kibuli S.S for my O level. I remember introducing myself from Masaska Baptist School and everyone burst out in laughter. I immediately got to be known as John the Baptist. But at the end of the term, I topped the class. That gave me my first lesson: leverage your space. Things changed, the students now wanted to talk to me and the John the Baptist name disappeared. Even the girls warmed up to me.
I purposed not to live through my school as an orphan. Even my friends only found out way later that I was an orphan.
After O level, I went Namilyango for A level and qualified for government sponsorship at Makerere University to study social sciences. I missed mass communication by 0.5 points. I despised the course I was given. I missed most of the classes. The rebel in me was showing.
RK: During your stay at Makerere, were you hustling or enjoying life?
HB: In my first term holiday, I went to UK for kyeyo. My best friend from secondary school days had cousins in the UK. He told me to go for kyeyo for four months and come back and continue with school. Those days it was easier to get a visa. We went to Nasser Road where we were coached on what to say and also get the financial statements. We went for kyeyo.
I came back with USD 1500 and we parted. I invested in 10 phone booths around the university and hostels. The rest of the money was blown away on parties. The operators would give me UGX 1000 every day.
There was a research firm at Wandegeya that used to give me research gigs. Every time they had a gig they would call me. I went back to UK in second term and also after third term. I had a 3year visa and this time round I decided to do an MA.
While in Manchester, I worked at a members-only club and it taught me how to deal with people. During the day, I worked at Barclays Bank at the call centre for half day, then attend classes in the afternoon and after go work at the club.
For a period of like two years, I worked like a robot. I would tell you where I would be on this day next week. I had to raise GBP 9800 for my masters.
Back home, I started making some investments. We had a sacco where we saved some money which we used to buy land and that was the end of it.
In the club, I met a man called Andy. He liked the way I worked and one day he came in early and we had a chat. He was surprised that I had a masters degree and I was waiting at a bar. He connected me to my first formal job in Ghana. I spent there about 4 months and saved about USD 17,000. Your attitude can take you to places where connections may not. That Andy man changed the game for me.
Before coming back, I had sent CVs to different places even Barclays, but to no avail. I landed a stint at Umeme. I was one of the 15 people who had a masters in procurement in Uganda. I was a senior procurement officer. I was a young 26 old whose background could not be traced. My colleagues thought I was a spy. I was managing a team of about 7 people and I was the youngest. One of them had a son my age.
When you treat people well, they will treat you the same in return. I did four years at Umeme. I was also doing a lot of side hustles too at the time. I was dealing in land and importing stuff.
At work, I would do my job and do it to the fullest. I was there for 4 years. I had a very good salary. Tullow Oil came around and it gave me about 500% times my Umeme earning. I left.
My first year at Tullow started my real business journey. While there, I got so many calls of the different players asking me for contacts. I had previously worked with Umeme and fully understood the working of the power sector.
So I decided to do this as a full business. Whenever I was asked for contacts, I would do the business myself. I was making more money monthly from supplying power equipment than my annual Tullow salary combined. When you have a job, learn more about the detail of the job beyond what is described before you.
RK: You got married at 25, tell us about that.
HB: I did my kwanjula at 25, we had a fund raising meeting at Centenary Park and we drank more money that we raised. I wedded when I was 26. We fully sponsored our wedding and we had only 110 guests.
RK: You said you needed someone to ground you, why?
HB: When I came back, I stayed with my girlfriend then. We were staying at Mpererwe. She used to tease me that the landlord would not allow a funeral in his compound if at all I died. Deep down I would brush it off but I knew what she meant. She spoke sense to me. She would give me random advice and I realised I needed her to ground me.
RK: The alcohol business, how does it come about?
HB: We always gamble with businesses assuming it will do well. A friend I had been with in UK sold the idea to me and we did some research, we thought we could make a killing out of it. We run a business based on the numbers we had calculated in our heads. We had a brand called a million dollar vodka. It was a sachet. People could give good reviews. We had left out the most important detail. We missed out on distribution.
We lost money. I sold my Sunset Apartments condos and put the money in alcohol. We were importing ethanol. Our competitors were getting ethanol on credit but for us we were funding our business with assets. One time my wife asked me for the title of our house. She was afraid I had mortgaged the house as well. I woke up one morning and discontinued the workers.
Many times we jump into business because it looks good on the outside. We burnt our fingers and pockets.
We turned to snacks. We began with packaging gweke, and then added nsenene.
RK: Talk to us about real estate as an investment
HB: I started my first journey in real estate by buying pieces of land. I have always believed that land buys land. Every time I sell land, I buy land. I would buy and flip the land. Real estate is a journey, you don’t wake up and start. You talk to brokers and build rapport with them.
I remember when we first moved to Kyanja, we used to tell people we stayed in Kisasi because no one knew about Kyanja.
When I bought land in Kiwenda ten years ago, it didn’t look as attractive. Today the land I bought at UGX 5 million has appreciated to UGX 100 million in ten years. Don’t just invest. Do some background work.
Today we have built apartments that go for USD 800-1000 a month in rent. Next we are building condos for sale.
Comrade Otoa (CO): Those UK stories bring back memories, Hillary you epitomise what they call a hustle. You talk about several revenue streams, could you talk about the idea of creating multiple revenue streams. 2) Could you talk about accessing capital? 3) What is the best advice you can give in the saving culture.
HB: What I didn’t tell you is that I had a shop in Kikuubo where I lost UGX 200 million because that is where everyone was pointing.
To respond to your question, most of the things I have done apart from real estate, I have done them with partners. Like they say, to be rich, you should have hands that can collect money for you. Either you bring the idea, the market or the money. You must bring something.
On capital, first look on the inside, your friends or family, if it is a bankable idea, they will give you money. I have borrowed money to build my assets. For people to invest with/in you, they need to trust you.
Once one person loses trust in you, that person will inform ten others. Trust is very important. If you have a good attitude, people will believe you even if you lose the money. They will know it was true.
Hillary Mumbere: Most employers want to make sure you are not doing another job, how do you go about that?
HB: Companies will always make you sign the contracts but the emphasis is on doing things in conflict with what the company does. Sometimes it’s us who assume things when the contract says something else.
Andrew Ongura: You talked about family and friend support system. How do you get them to embrace the idea of crowd funding.
HB: It starts with the idea. The single most important skill for any entrepreneur is selling. Selling is not just about product but how you position yourself as well. The idea should be appealing to people. How you build your sales pitch. In Uganda people fear to share ideas because it will be stolen. An idea is just nothing.
Faizar: My question is on being consistent. I have been advised not to stray into many businesses.
HB: I think this is the best advantage of being an orphan. I had no one to report to. But thing is people will always advise you. People will always talk. Do what you want to do. Who says you can’t be a lawyer and a deejay at the same time?
I wouldn’t advise someone to be fixated. Go out and adventure. Many people want to impress their families in their 20s but that is the right time to adventure.
Blessed Sheillah: I want to talk about capital. I opened up Sheillah’s kitchenette just using my phone. I would go and take photos of the available products and share online. I built my clientele overtime.
HB: You can start a business with the value of your phone. Amazon does not manufacture anything. AirB&B does not own any property. You can sell products of good you do not own.
Charles: I would like to raise capital abroad but my family does not encourage that.
HB: Follow your heart. Family will always come through but you will have to make a decision for yourself.
RK: Listening to your story, you have always been taking risks, tell us about risk.
HB: Risk is the measure of what could go right or wrong. As I grow older, my risk assessment has grown. If I have to invest UGX 100m and you are investing UGX 10m, I must make sure that should we lose, we both have the same pain. You need to learn from other people.
Martha Marunga: At what point do you decide it’s time to quit?
HB: This is a personal question. I left corporate work at 35. I knew that was it. I had felt I needed to leave. It’s in your gut you can feel it. But always prepare. One day you will leave the job. Have a plan. Be prepared. But you should know it’s going to be a different space. Invest in your side hustle. Acknowledge very quickly that your life has changed.
Mary Luswata: There is general excitement (ugly as it may sound) that people are going to sell their property, is it the right time to buy land or we don’t know when things will get back to normal
HB: Yesterday was the best time to buy land. The other is today. Tomorrow is not promised. Much as you may think land is going down, land will always pick up. I live in Kyanja on half an acre I bought Ugx 40m 10 years ago. A neighbour sold a decimal at UGX 800m recently.
RK: There is something you said you wanted to leave us with.
HB: This country will require investment in private cemeteries in the near future. Kisasi and Kyanja used to have grave yards, today, they are not there anymore. In Kenya and Europe, this is already an existing business. Right now, funeral business is where you are guaranteed customers. When the business was beginning people despised it but today, the service is overwhelmed.
Ocen: How do you balance work and life?
HB: My friends know that Sunday is family day. Before lockdown, we would go out. We catch a movie or something. For any job there should be a breather. One day you will wake up when your job is gone and you will have family to fall to. Give it the time
Jackie Oloya: You mentioned quite some businesses that you are involved in, do you have a secretariat?
HB: A number of businesses I’m involved in are partnerships. However I put in time, I get time to go there, read reports or do approvals. I have roles I do directly. I also seek services of a tax consultant who is on a retainer. Once a year, my businesses also get audited.
RK: If you met the Hillary at campus, what would you tell him?
HB: I would slap him and then the talk to him. In second year we bought a car and it spent more time parked because we didn’t have fuel. I learnt my lessons. Just because you helped people does not mean they will help you back.
RK: What is you take on humility?
HB: I prefer to do things in private. I have learnt that if you have humility and a good attitude, things become easier. I know where I come from. I have no shame in my story. It is good to be humble, sometimes we don’t want to be humble and the world humbles me.
On network, recently someone asked me why I take my children to expensive schools. I told him that it is not about grades but rather networks. The business I am doing now is because of the networks I did at my work place. Go out and meet people. It is better than your grades.
RK: We are going through a trying time, what would be you encouraging word?
HB: There is a lot happening. Everyone in is struggling. Many Ugandans are asset rich but cash poor. Hang in there. This too will pass. Help a neighbour. Reach out.
RK: Would you make time to help answer questions to people on your timeline? Ugandans are desperate to listen to people
HB: Sure, that I can do.