Thursday, September 29, 2016

The pursuit of the Xibra dream

As, 2013 came to a close, I realized that, though I had achieved some level of success in my advertising career, there was still something missing.

2014 got off an a high note and as it slowly rolled on, the conviction of pursuing an independent path became stronger, so much so that sometimes the wee hours of the night would find me at office surfing the web, planning an exit strategy.

As this was happening, I got reconnected to an old university lady friend I had not seen in a while and we hit it off pretty well. It was the worst time for me to consider being in a relationship and I thought of all the things that could possibly go wrong and it was petrifying but what made all the difference was her constantly reminding me that everything was going to be okay when I was tempted to freak out.

Similarly, in my work life, I shared the same reservations for following my dreams. Staying with my corporate job and getting by seemed like a more logical step. A bird in the hand was better than two in the bush, I thought. But the conviction to branch out was undeniably powerful.

Then on one Monday evening as I browsed the newspaper, I came across a call for bids for AAR's advertising business. I saw it as an opportunity to demonstrate pro activeness with my superiors, who at around that same time were considering retaining me permanently with the agency. Sadly they turned down the bid citing that it was a small account to purse and besides our agency was in the running for Air Uganda business to which I had already contributed a significant amount of creative towards. I had this idea of serving rolex's (eggs rolled in a chapati) as a tactical to celebrate independence day since a rolex was the one single most unifying snack in the country that did not have cultural ties. To bring this to life, I placed a large order of the delicacy with the sound cup that was serving a classy version. The restaurant was owned by the famous musician Maurice Kirya and in exchange for the large purchase, he accepted to make a brief appearance during our pitch as a mock up air attendant serving a sample.

I was upset when the bid was turned down because AAR seemed like an easy catch so I started shopping around for another agency that would be willing to partner with Carlos and Patrick, a company I had started with my university buddy Carlos, straight out of school. Prior to getting a job, I had spent a year as an entrepreneur which had also seen me setting up Butterfly tech, with the coder - hacker Frank Odongakra. Things were great the first couple of months and I envisioned myself as the next Steve jobs, a pixar studio of sorts in one hand and a tech firm in the other. However after a year, everything had gone wrong which forced me to shine my shoes, wear a tie and get a job like all the other adults I knew. I remember Stella who would become my immediate boss, looking at my well designed resume and having reservations about hiring me; not because I was not qualified but rather the opposite. On paper, I looked like a successful entrepreneur well on his way of making a fortune but the reality was far from it and the truth stung. Somehow, she too saw it that I really needed the job and gave it to me. The truth is, I wanted to work at a creative agency so bad that I would have taken the position without a pay. Reading David Ogilvy's book on advertising and watching Mad Men had animated my mind about advertising. I was hired.

Nine months down the road and there I was, at a cross road. Deciding between doing the whole 9-5 thing or venturing out on my own. As I had explained, by this time, I was in the market looking for an agency that met AAR's bid guidelines to partner with. Even though my company Carlos and Patrick had the creative, we didn't have a client portfolio which would put us at a disadvantage had we decided to go solo. One of my work mates, introduced me to his previous agency and just like that I had a partner. It was kind of an awkward situation for a rookie to talk another agency into partnering on a bid. I talked big game. Luckily the other agency needed the business just as bad so they accepted, letting Carlos and I run the show. All they had to do was to act as the front   company pitching but in truth it was really Carlos and I.

The two pitches were put on the same day, Air Uganda and AAR. The days leading to it, I felt like a double agent because I would work my 9-5 at my regular job and after head to the other agency to work till late on the creative. The irony of the whole situation was the MD's of both companies were friends, so this guy I was partnering with could screw me anytime by sending an email to my boss, but I had done well to keep the AAR client communication strictly between I and them; this new agency needed me for the pitch and for a time that is how I kept them at bay.

That morning of the pitch, I head over to the other agency to link up with everyone else and we headed out. Half way our pitch, my boss at my regular job was calling frantically, possibly to find out if the app was ready. The other creative idea I had contributed to the air Uganda pitch was a mobile app to which they requested to see a live demonstration during the next round of pitching. We were expected to make the presentation at midday and last I had spoken to Frank, my buddy the coder, he was having trouble with a few lines of code. There was a lot at stake. I decided to stop thinking about it so that I could focus on the AAR pitch which was going marvelously well.

I was dropped a block away from my regular job and I jogged the rest of the way. luckily Frank was at the reception already waiting for me and thank God he had good news. We headed over to the boardroom to test the app. Across the room, I caught my boss giving me that eye of  "you better got this shit."
A selfie before the Air Uganda pitch. 

Air Uganda office was located a few blocks from our offices so we decided to walk. As we sat in the boardroom, all setup and waiting for the CEO, I noticed that I was the only intern in a room filled with executives from both sides of the table. The pitch went well and fast. I was proud of what I had achieved. I was the man of the hour. I felt on top of the world.

A month later, May 2014, we had received feedback from the airline and we had lost the account to another firm but on the bright side, my company had made it to second round of pitching for AAR, and soon I had to make the decision of whether to continue with my job or follow the dreams that kept me up late every night.

By this time, in my personal life, I had madly fallen in love my lady friend I mentioned earlier and even though settling down didn't seem like something I wanted to do, all signs would indicate I was heading towards that direction. It was a hard decision to make on both ends, following my dreams and heart at the same time because with it carried the predicament of heart break. At one moment I would be all pumped up about quiting my job and falling in love and the very next I’d feel my stomach turn because I was petrified of the consequences of both actions.

It’s at the MTN media party, the very last I hosted when I made up my mind to let myself go and purse that which was closest to my heart. I knew that there was a likelihood a year later people might be saying "I told you so" but non the less, I closed my eyes and decided to take the plunge. 
My last weekend at my regular job. I was always at office that the guards became my personal friends

That Tuesday, I wrote my resignation letter and I was out. I had 24 hours left for the final pitch of AAR business. The creative was coming along great however my partnership with the other agency was falling apart. They had given me an ultimatum to put them directly in touch with the client or else the partnership was off. With few options, I agreed to their demands with the faint hope I would not get screwed. I was taking a lot of risk. First quiting my job and the next partnering with a risky agency.

The other complication I was facing was Frank was not answering his phone like he usually did  when he could not solve an equation. Choosing to focus on the creative, I asked my lady friend to make a last plea on my behalf and to ensure he had everything ready by morning for the Health app we had promised to deliver during our presentation.

Morning came, and Frank was there. Carlos, Frank and I made an interesting team and as we rode for the presentation, I was overwhelmed by gratefulness to be able to be pursing my dreams with people who were also my friends. In that exact moment, I realized that is what I wanted to do with the rest of my life; to sell ideas.

That evening, when I got back home, my lady friend showed up with a bottle of wine to congratulate me on my bold step and to wish me luck on the new journey that I was about to embark on. I acted tough about it, downplaying my fears but I was shitting my pants on the thought that I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.

The following day, I had a lunch meeting with my dad. Burgers and coffee was our thing; code for things are bad in my life and I need to talk. He listened on as I narrated my current unemployment situation. The take away from our conversation was, I needed a place to stay since my rent was running out, as I figured out what to do next. I can imagine it was a tough call to allow me to shack up with them since it had been a while since I had left home and from experience he emphasized adult staying with their parents didn't work. But he could tell I needed the favor so he allowed, with a lot of reservations.

Next thing I knew, I was back home, in my childhood bedroom. The reality of being unemployed started to feel just about right. I was completely broke and in debt from all the previous ventures . I started taking one step at a time and two years down the road I can say that I am happy that I followed my heart and had the bravery to lose sight of the shore in order to discover these new lands.
I spent that whole summer (June - September 2014) working on my start up Xibra out of my parents servants quaters. The hustle was starting to feel real

We, all have dreams we want to realize but many of us never do because we do nothing about them. We think about them and even share them with friends and family but when it comes down to putting in the work and taking the tough decisions to see yourself where you imagine you can be, we allow ourselves to hide behind excuses and the comfort of where we are.

My greatest take away from this experience is that, it can be scary to pursue that which you love and sometimes you might fail the first time or a couple more after before you get it right but I assure that if you keep at it, at the right moment, all the ingredients you need to achieve your goal will come together and before you know it, you will be living the life you once only dreamed of. Keep dreaming and keep moving.


C.E.O Xibra Group