Thursday, September 29, 2016

The pursuit of the Xibra dream

My last weekend at my regular job. I became good friends with the guards Because I lots of nights at the office
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 on a high note and as it slowly rolled on, the conviction of pursuing an independent path became stronger, so much so that sometimes in the wee hours of the night I would find myself at office surfing the web, planning an exit strategy.

As this was happening, I got reconnected to an old lady friend from university that I had not seen in a while and we picked it up from where we had left off. It was the worst time for me to consider being in a relationship, thinking of all the things that could possibly go wrong. 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 path. After all, a bird in the hand was better than two in the bush, I thought. But the conviction to branch out was undeniably powerful and tempting. It was petrifying, but her constant assurance that everything was going to be okay, during the times I wanted to freak out made all the difference in the world.

Then one Monday evening as I perused through the newspaper, I stumbled upon a call for bids for AAR's advertising business. I saw it as an opportunity to demonstrate pro-activeness to my superiors, who at around that same time were considering retaining me permanently at the agency. Sadly the MD turned down the bid citing that it was a small account to purse and besides our agency was in the running for Air Uganda's business to which I had already contributed a significant amount of creative towards. I had this idea of serving rolexes (eggs rolled in a chapati) as a PR tactical to celebrate independence day since a rolex is Uganda's most popular snack. To bring this idea to life, I placed a large order with the sound cup, the only decent restaurant that was surviving it at the time, owned by Maurice Kirya, who showed up during our pitch to serve it in person to the airline executives. It was a beautiful execution.

However I was still devastated when the MD turned it down. AAR seemed like an easy catch, so I started shopping around for another agency that would be willing to partner with my own company, Carlos and Patrick, which I had started with my long term friend Carlos, straight out of university. Prior to getting a job, I had spent a year as an entrepreneur during which time I also started Butterfly tech, with my coder - hacker friend 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 (Carlos & Patrick) and Apple in the other (Butterfly tech). 

By later that year, everything was already going wrong, forcing me to shine my shoes, wear a tie and get a job like all the other adults I knew. I remember Stella who would later 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 contrary. On paper, I looked like a successful entrepreneur, well on his way to making a tidy fortune but the reality was far from it and it stung. 
Behind the confident demeanor, she could tell that I really needed the job and she gave it to me. 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 got me animated about advertising. 

I love advertising!

Nine months down the road and there I was, at cross roads again. 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 to partner with that met AAR's bid criteria. Even though my company Carlos and Patrick had the creative, we didn't have a strong  portfolio, putting us at a disadvantage when pitted against other companies.
Then Fred, a work mate, encouraged me to approach the MD of his previous agency and just like that I had a partner. It was an awkward situation because there I was, a rookie with less than 9 months of agency experience talking big game with an MD that had over 20 years experience.  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 act as a front   company while Carlos and I did all the work.

The two pitches were on the same day, Air Uganda and AAR. The days leading to it, I felt like a double agent working my regular 9-5 job and in the evening heading the creative team at the other agency. The irony of the whole situation was the MDs of both companies were friends, so this guy I was partnering with could have screwed me anytime by simply making a call to my boss, notifying him of my "co-curricular activities." 
I made sure not to share the contact person at AAR to maintain an upper hand in the deal, that's what kept them at bay.

I went for the AAR pitch first. Half way the presentation, my phone was buzzing off the hook. I imagined it was Stella who must have been freaking out since I hadn't yet showed up for work, yet our meeting at Air Uganda was slated for midday. Frank and I had developed an app for the airline, which in the process had made me a central piece of the pitch.

Two hours later I was dropped off a block away from the office. I jogged the rest of the distance not to be spotted with the other agency's branded van. On arrival, Frank was waiting for me at reception with a working  version of the app. Up until that morning, none of the versions he had installed on my phone had worked. No sooner had I arrived than we headed over for a quick debrief. As I made a mock presentation to the rest of the team in the board room, I briefly caught a glance from the MD who I could tell was more than impressed of the creative I had become in such a short period of time.Its in that moment I realized that I was ready to exit.
A selfie before the Air Uganda pitch. 

We headed over to the Air Uganda offices which was just a few block away from ours. As we sat in the boardroom, waiting for the CEO, I noticed that I was the youngest person in the 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 agency 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 the lady friend I mentioned earlier and even though settling down didn't seem like something I wanted to do, all the signs indicate I was headed in that direction. They were both hard decision to make. It was exciting and petrifying at the same time to follow my heart because, with it carried the predicament of a heart break. One moment I would be all pumped up about quitting my job and falling in love and the very next I’d feel my stomach turn on the thought of the consequences.

It’s at the MTN media party, the very last corporate event I was managing, 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. 

That Tuesday, I wrote my resignation letter and I was out. I had 24 hours left for the final pitch for AAR's 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 quitting 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 always did  when he could not solve an equation, the downside to his autistic condition. Choosing to focus on the creative, I asked my lady friend to go talk to him 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 for the presentation.

Morning came, and Frank was there. Carlos, Frank and I made an interesting team and as we headed for the presentation, I was overwhelmed with gratefulness to be able to be pursing my dreams with 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 the whole situation, downplaying my fears but I was shitting my pants on the thought that I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do next.

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 as I figured everything out. I can imagine it was a tough call to allow me to shack up with them again since it had been a while, living  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 three years down the road I can say that I am happy that I followed my heart and had the bravery to lose sight of shore in order to discover 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 people never do anything about it. 
They think about it and even even share them with friends but when it comes down to making the decision and putting in the work in order to get themselves to where they imagine themselves, they allow themselves to hide behind excuses and the comfort of where they are.

My greatest take away from this experience is that, it can be petrifying to follow your heart and you might get heart broken a couple more times after before getting what you want but I can assure you that if you keep at it, one day, your stars will align and before you know it, you will be living the life you once only dreamed of. Keep dreaming and keep moving. Follow that which keeps you up at night.


C.E.O Xibra Group


  1. Wow , much inspiring
    I have always looked at you and admired
    Your story gives me a reason to pressing on with my dream

    1. Am glad. #keepmoving and wish you well in your pursuits