Sendagire door-knocked his way to a blooming business

Tuesday November 13 2018

Mr John Sendagire Kasirye, chief executive

Mr John Sendagire Kasirye, chief executive officer MS City Side Investments Limited with part of the fleet used in his tours and travel business in Mukono District. The company emerged second in the recently concluded Top 100 mid-sized companies’ survey. PHOTO BY ERONIE KAMUKAMA 

By Eronie Kamukama

There is no single job in Uganda that would have paid 39-year old John Sendagire Kasirye as much money as he has earned from business today. Those are his thoughts, views from a lesson he learnt when he was young.
The first time the idea of business popped into Sendagire’s head was when he was about 14 years old. Once in a while, he travelled to Kansanga, a Kampala suburb to pay his grandfather Mr Peter Bibangamba, a visit. But he wondered why people always queued at Mr Bibangamba’s office.
“He had an office but there was nothing to sell,” Mr Sendagire says. He later learnt those were people looking to do business with his grandfather.
“I knew from childhood that if you need to rule your destiny economically, the best way to do that is to do business and I learnt that from my grandfather,” Mr Sendagire says.

Starting business
His life could have turned out different. He could have been a baker or an accountant following his past. A few years after the business thought, with Shs90,000 from his father, he bought a bicycle and began supplying bread to Kyebando and Kisaasi shops in his Senior Four vacation. That business was left to die. In his Senior Six vacation, he baked doughnuts and employed young boys to supply to shops.
He then enrolled for ACCA. After six months of study, he thought he had learnt all he needed. Uganda was already in an age of technological disruption so he thought he would find his footing in a course at Aptech Computer School.
A fresh Information systems manager graduated with a diploma from Aptech in 2005 and got a job at Nile Computers Limited as a business manager for Mukono, Kayunga, Mbale and Jinja. His role was to sell Information Technology (IT) equipment and respond to IT challenges among districts, non-governmental organisations and corporate organisations.
He worked three years and went private in 2008. But he didn’t just walk away with Shs6m with which he started Cambridge Technologies but also priceless experience in closing business deals. His vision was to have five enterprises that would earn him $5m and a monthly turnover of $200,000 by 2022. So he rented Shs500,000 office space, bought equipment and rigorously looked for clients he could supply and repair IT equipment for.

However, he encountered challenges in the second year. His first permanent workers came in six years later. Because of manual books of accounts, he misappropriated cash. His Shs6m also failed to meet his costs.

“What the landlord did was bring court brokers who took everything. By then, most clients were individuals and returns were low compared to costs such as rent and wages,” Mr Sendagire says. He lost around Shs14m in the process so he turned to the streets.

“I resorted to hawking Computer Services in Mukono. I had a toolbox and would go door to door from one client by client and at least I accumulated some money. By 2012, I didn’t want to rent because it really hurt me so I bought land to house the company in future,” he says.
On the street, he realised IT was lucrative especially if one dealt with corporate organisations. But his business was unregistered.

“I thought if I registered, the tax body would be on my neck. If I had failed to pay rent, how would I pay tax? So I wanted to make sure I stand firm first,” he explains.
In 2013, he walked into Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB) and formalised his business as MS Cityside Investments Limited in order to participate in public procurement. He hardly found problems as the charges were minimal. His first contract came through.

“I started bidding and my first public contract was with Mukono municipality. From there, I did other districts like Jinja, Kayunga, Buikwe, went on to ministries and several NGOs came on board,” he says.

At the time, it was just IT services but with a bigger diversification plan, the company has turned out to be one of Uganda’s top small and medium enterprises. Because he hates the comfort zone, his investment portfolio has for the last four years grown to include a supermarket, City Side Hotels, apartments and Cityside Tours and Travel.

“Businesses change especially technology. So I looked at sectors where I can use my IT skills to generate income,” he says.
The company has a turnover of Shs450m while serving 40 clients. The tours and travel business earns him between Shs50m and Shs100m in a good month. The hotel’s occupancy is at 60 per cent every month.

“Many clients book online and when we take them to tourist sites, our vehicles are working, they sleep here and pay us,” he says.
He has to do some things internally to succeed. Getting certification by National Information Technology Authority, being tax compliant and proving that he can supply as per client needs has helped with getting contracts.
His entrepreneurship journey to building a chain of businesses became more realistic with participating in capacity building programmes.

“I accumulated a lot of skills in the establishment and management of investments as well as ensuring they are passed on to the next generation as profitable ventures,” he says.
IT business is capital intensive, he admits. Establishing good relationships with suppliers has been an advantage because then he can rely on supplier credit.

“The main challenge is warranty. You can supply a laptop and within three months, it is faulty. If you do not have warranty, the client will need a replacement, if you do not have capital, you cannot do this,” he says.
He adds, “I established a good relationship with the supplier so if there is a fault, I return the machine. If I get a big order and my resources are not enough, they give me the machines I supply, clients pay and I give them.”

This has created confidence among his clients hence generating business referral for the company.
Today, he employs about 34 workers who he has ably managed by having a system.
“You do not have to carry the business along with you,” he says. Employee turnover is high because of technology changes.

His interest in Top 100 midsized companies’ survey has been unchanged since 2016. This year, MS Cityside Investments emerged 2nd in the survey. His hope was to get new networks, new skills and solutions to challenges.
“There is a client who had refused to give me business for two years. Now I have an appointment with him because of the survey,” he says.
Mr Sendagire says perseverance, maintaining good relationships with clients, suppliers, ensuring there is value for services paid for, keeping up with technological trends have helped him succeed.