let’s all become venture capitalists in our small ways

LAST week a young man called Gimei Nagimesi shared an amusing tale that tickled my hopes.

This young man is the type who always stays in the background doing groundbreaking things. I know, for instance, that he was instrumental in the creation of the ‘Golola Moses’ brand and all those statements around ripping pages out of Facebook and hanging clothes on telephone lines.

His story last week had far less of a celebrity factor. He confessed that he is the type of person who can’t walk past a volleyball court, and so during a health run along the northern by-pass one day he got stuck playing his favourite game.

Before long he was a permanent fixture on that court and being the only urban professional on the court, Gimei found himself buying rounds of drinking water and kabalagala every so often from the cycling vendors that went by the court at a certain hour every evening. It became obvious that this event was a highlight of the day and Gimei suspected that some of them turned up to play purely for that kabalagala break.

Total cost of feeding the entire court per day? Less than ten thousand shillings (Ushs10,000).

He then began to look into the other permanent fixtures on court, and as he was doing so, one of them caught his attention for being keen and earnest.

The young man in question opened up to Gimei and told him he was generally broke but played every day to expose himself to opportunities. He then proposed that Gimei funds him with Ushs1.4million so he could get going.

What’s the business?

“Counter Books.”

From indiamart.com, NOT Uganda

Gimei found the figure intriguing, and the response even more so, and probed further till the young man outlined his plan.

Where he lives, in the swamps somewhere off the northern by-pass, there are many school-going children who use each buy a book at the start of each school term. Annoyingly, the nearest source of stationary is somewhere in Ntinda, which involves some kilometres of walking.

The young man therefore wanted to make Counter Books and sell them to the many schoolchildren in his neighbourhood, and believed a profit could be made.

Gimei gave it a brief thought and figured that it made sense. Besides, to him Ushs1.4million was not such a massive amount of money so…he invested.

The young man took up the cash and embarked on the job with gusto NOT just buying books to re-sell, but buying reams of paper, glue, hard covers, and other materials; then spending hours making Counter Books himself, which he then sold out of his home.

Profit? Ushs500,000 in total.

Gimei was nonplussed when the young fellow showed up out of the swamps to hand over his 50% of the profits, a few weeks later. They’ve continued the cycle, unless some bureaucracy steps up to investigate, in which case it ended.

But not before another young fellow approached him and asked, in Luganda, whether if ‘someone’ funded him (this new young fellow) he couldn’t set up a kaveera water business of his own right there at the court for the players, so that they buy from him instead of buying from the cyclist going past.

Gimei now finds himself to be a venture capitalist of sorts, and the experience is enjoyably uplifting.

investopedia.com defines a Venture Capitalist as “an investor who either provides capital to startup ventures or supports small companies that wish to expand but do not have access to equities markets.”

In developed economies venture capitalists are a serious factor of economic growth, because they are willing to invest in these small ventures that formal financing doesn’t trust or finds awkward.

In the United States, companies like Intel, Fedex, Apple, Google, and Microsoft started off with venture capital funding, and are now global giants. Their ideas, when they kicked off, seemed crazy or wild or simply untenable because they were different from what leading organisations like banks and financial analysts generally knew.

No bank or government agency would fund Gimei’s young Counter Book manufacturing friend, for instance, but Gimei now has the fellow earning a respectable income, while earning a profit of his own, and possibly also thinking about going to other parts of the swamp to do the same and multiply his earnings.

Besides just financing, though, venture capitalists also provide mentorship – which is probably the most important element in entrepreneurship, and what the boys at the volleyball court take from Gimei more significantly than kabalagala. See, anybody can get financing, in a manner of speaking, but the attitude and aptitude to run an enterprise are a different matter altogether.

Plus, venture capitalist funded companies and enterprises tend to introduce new solutions that regular businesses wouldn’t dare touch. That’s why we more of us use Apple products than Texas Instruments (I had a TI calculator back in the 1980s that was all the rage then!)

Venture capitalists also experience major losses when their picks fail, but these investors are typically wealthy enough that they can afford to take the risks associated with funding young, unproven companies that appear to have a great idea and a great management team – as Gimei would have exhibited if the young man hadn’t turned a neat profit.

The problem of youth unemployment keeps getting talked about with reference to government intervention and ‘support’, yet we all have the opportunity to make some market corrections and build the economy by being venture capitalists in some small way.

If we had as many entrepreneurship meetings as we do wedding, graduation and funeral fund raising meetings, I am certain things would be different. If we had gatherings at which we threw around entrepreneurship advice and funding rather than suggestions of which caterer to procure or what colour the cake should be, just imagine how many more jobs would be created in this economy.

We probably collect a hundred million shillings weekly for weddings, funerals and graduation parties, which certainly supports a certain segment of the economy, but Gimei’s story made me think more of what could happen if we collected that money to fund ventures instead.

A couple of Stanford University scholars did a study on the impact of venture capitalists on the US economy and found it to be large. Between 1979 and 2013, more than 2,600 venture capital-backed companies went public (onto the stock exchange there).

Compare that to Uganda where the Uganda Securities Exchange holds eight (8) companies – if you and I funded up a few earnest, hungry young fellows, maybe our companies might join the lonely eight on the Stock Exchange one day?

i definitely need NAADS, or operation wealth creation

I LIKE mangoes. I spend a lot of money on mangoes. A few years ago, after we had moved into our new place and were basking in the achievement, a pal called Edgar Byama dropped by one weekend and gave us a couple of fruit tree seedlings.

My joy at receiving them fuelled my planting efforts and I tended the trees carefully over the first year until I spotted a couple of mangoes popping out as fruit.

My excitement was kept in check by the anticipation of getting to slice into them when they became ripe one day, and I made daily pilgrimages to the tree to check on the literal fruits of my labour.

Until one day when even from a distance I could tell that something was not right. My chest tightened as I got to the tree and was forced to accept the empty truth.

A quick investigation resulted in a delayed but dumbfounded confession from an askari who was astonished that I could put so much energy into establishing where three or so mangoes had gone.

The wretched fellow must have been switching glances from my angry face to the house and car, and back again, thinking that the value of those mangoes surely was not commensurate to the amount of feeling my eyes bore into his. But I was unsympathetic, and explained to him that it was the principle of the thing – even though I did not mention the amount of food I happily plied him with daily.

It didn’t make sense to him and his apologies were certainly not as profuse as the mangoes had probably been juicy, but I accepted them anyway, in the belief that it would be a matter of weeks till I had replacements naturally sent my way (in the askari and the mango sense, both).

I was wrong.

It took more than another year or so – not to get the askari changed, that happened quicker; with the mangoes, eventually the flowers showed up again and I followed the life cycle of the fruit keenly until, a few weeks ago, I noticed a healthy offering developing on the same healthy tree.

My excitement levels shot up again, and I took the current askari through a quick module on ethics at work and respecting other people’s property, then watched the fruit grow. After a couple of weeks, I found myself unable to control my excitement when they reddened and increased in size.

Such was my loss of self-control that I took photographs and sent them round with pride, and purred a bit when friends sent back congratulatory comments.

The fruits of my ‘labour’

For ten minutes.

When some pals began asking for guidance so they could also procure mango seedlings in order to venture into some level of “farming” as well, I began to feel how foolish I have actually been all along.

Five mangoes? Maybe ten, these few years past? Right here a few metres from where my bed stands?

Perhaps that askari I gave a rough time had left to plant a couple of dozen mango trees of his own and was that very day filling up sacks to send to the market, while I was here proudly exhibiting my five mangoes using a smartphone whose value at purchase could have funded a small but sizeable mango farm complete with cost of land!

I realised, that day, that I need NAADS. I am ill-educated and ignorant. A fool, growing fruit as a past time instead of seriously investing in farming so that I spend less cash on the fruits themselves. NAADS, or Operation Wealth Creation, should be aimed at the likes of me, and other city dwellers wasting resources instead of investing them sensibly into long-term, value-addition-based agricultural ventures.

ugandan milk – brought to you by just about everybody else

Dairy Corporation
WHILE scouring the internet for something different to do with the sale of Dairy Corporation by Sameer Agriculture and Livestock Limited to Brookside Dairy Limited, I kept brushing away that ka-irritating feeling until I fell upon this article:
That was the truth told straight up! Uganda’s leading dairy corporation was actually owned all along by a Kenyan.
But to be strict about the situation, Uganda’s leading dairy corporation (SALL – Sameer Agriculture & Livestock Limited) was actually owned by a joint venture between the Kenyan-owned Sameer Group and the Indian owned RJ Corporation.
Kenya’s Sameer Group is a large conglomerate with operations running across the region producing and selling, besides dairy products: tyres, internet access, tea, coffee, healthcare products, cars, real estate, and some other things I don’t know. Forbes figures that it’s owner, Naushad Merali, is worth US$550million.
RJ Corporation, meanwhile, is reportedly India’s largest bottler of Pepsi products, but says it is divided into three business segments – Beverage, Food and Education. Its owner, Ravi Jaipuria, was declared to be one of India’s newest billionaires in 2013, according to Forbes.
Whereas SALL was running this Uganda operation, my internet searches don’t actually call it Ugandan anywhere.
Push that thought aside as you consider that the Kenya-owned Brookside Dairy Corporation is part-owned – 40% of it – by the French Danone, and 10% of it by a Dubai-based private equity firm called Abraaj Capital.
So Dairy Corporation milk, cheese, butter and yoghurt, and Daima juices are going to be served to us by a French-Emirati-Kenyan joint venture, as opposed to a Kenyan-Indian one.
But that’s okay, provided that the milk and raw fruits that go into these products comes from Ugandan farmers growing rich off the proceeds.
Forgive me, though, as I continue to buy products that concentrate returns locally – like JESA and Megha, for instance, but that is not to say that I won’t continue drinking Daima juice or taking up the occasional Dairy Corporation products when my favourites are unavailable.
That aside, and more importantly: WHEN and HOW do WE get our tycoons to do such things rather than import clothing and build arcades?

do they know it’s Christmas?

Yes – I know it’s still two months away, but we’ve had this discussion before, haven’t we?
THIS is when we start planning because the ability to plan ahead and act accordingly is one of the qualities that sets (some of) us apart from the more ordinary occupants of the animal kingdom.
Eh? What’s to plan?
Many things! The Christmas feast, the outfit for the day, travel upcountry, and the entire holiday season so that school fees are paid at the start of January instead of borrowed frantically at the start of February.
We talked about this last year but it was late in the year, so since this is much earlier we can do better, especially at Gifts.
First of all, Buy Ugandan – the advantages are obvious, but refer to our discussion around how it grows your own economy if you buy stuff made in Uganda rather than in China, Turkey or wherever. At the very least, allocate the larger percentage of your gifts to Ugandan-made ones, and a smaller one to imported gifts.
Then, look for the song, ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?‘, the 1984 Bob Geldof hit released by Band Aid to help raise funds for the famine that had hit Ethiopia that year and that branded the country as the home of famine, hunger and children wearing uncommon houseflies as jewellery.
It is not just a Christmas song to cut cake and pop drinks to.
If you play it carefully once a week while paying attention you should be moved to dedicate some of your goodwill to the underprivileged alongside the wife’s annual gomesi.
Start now and there can be no excuses; if you save Ushs30,000 off this weekend’s salary, and November and December, for instance, that’s about Ushs100,000 you can give to a cause that will really make some underprivileged people believe in God – and that’s how to get real blessings, I’ve heard the religious say.
Five people turning up at a Village Health Centre with Ushs100,000 each could change the lives of the entire village just by making the place more comfortable for the health workers to stay and work – a water dispenser here, a brightly painted wall there, ten boxes of disposable syringes, twenty boxes of disposable gloves.
Small gifts.
Ten individuals with Ushs100,000 each can buy a hospital bed landed right there in the village, or a fridge for the health centre to store delicate medicines or blood. Or they can bulk pay the electricity bill for the whole year ahead of 2014. 
It’s like the church tithing but while putting physical stuff on the ground that will directly change lives while you watch.
In fact, it’s also insurance of sorts, because if every year we give equipment to our local hospitals using a small percentage of our Christmas spending, then we’re ensuring that during that one week in the village we have better medical care around us hundreds of kilometres away from International Hospitals in Kampala and clinics with corporate cover files.
Ten well-to-do families from Kampala going back to Hoima, Kiruhura or Kamuli with a second-hand ambulance can rest assured that in the event of a party calamity their loved ones will be driven to Kampala on life support and in comfort rather than hunched up in the back of a Prado or on the end of a pick-up bed. 
But start with the small gifts; a stack of reading materials for the local primary school could coax a dazzling amount of creativity and imagination out of some bare-footed village kids otherwise destined for an NGO poster on the internet.
A bench or two per Kampala family for the local UPE school, a computer clone for the wretched teacher who’s just been forced back from a strike, a couple of goats for the nearest women’s group to start some circle loan project…
I don’t know about you but I feel like an NGO even thinking about this; just like when I drive down to a village in a four wheel drive vehicle and step out of the air conditioning into the flurry of dust with those expectant faces about to burst into a welcome song.
Your song title is, ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?
The answer: they know because of the number of big vehicles and crisp Kampala people arriving to spend the week with them; now make them feel the season and remember it with something you consider small but for them is MASSIVE.