A few days ago, I landed on a Twitter screenshot about a certain student who sells peeled bananas (matooke) to raise his tuition.
I got interested in the person and called to find out more about the business. To my surprise, it was a man’s voice. I thought I would be talking to a woman.
Thomas Kizza, a fourth-year student of Petroleum Engineering at the International University of East Africa, knew his life at campus would not be easy after his father, the bread winner of the family, retired.
In his First Year, Kizza got half bursary, however, soon he had to raise at least Shs4 million of his tuition per semester. Instead of quitting, Kizza decided to get a way around his hurdle. It took him a month to figure out what his next move would be.
“It was really hard, given that my father had retired and gone back to the village and my mother is a primary school teacher. She wouldn’t raise all that money,” Kizza says.
It was at that point that he started venturing into different small businesses. Kizza says given that his home area, Sheema District in western Uganda, has a lot of matooke, he started this business with the help of friends.
He would receive sacks of matooke sent using a bus and sell in markets. However, he says he was getting below what he was asking from the customers. This forced him to leave the business for some time.
“I was selling sacks of matooke at Kisugu market, among others, but sometimes customers would under-price the matooke. In my Third Year, I quit the matooke business for some time,” Kizza says.
Before his father retired, he had invested in agriculture and was, therefore, well-versed in the business. Kizza took advantage of this to always seek advice from him.
After many months of being deprived of profit, Kizza decided to venture into selling peeled matooke, especially to students. His father advised him to pack the matooke so that if customers needed more they would easily reach him.
After doing some market research, Kizza named his brand “Ebitokyee”, the local name for matooke in western Uganda. Peeling was not a problem to him because he had been doing it since he was nine years old.
“I started selling peeled matooke to my classmate’s, then other people started making orders,” he says.
“I studied biology in high school and know about enzyme activity. When it goes below zero degrees Celsius, the enzymes are inactivated and the matooke won’t go bad, that’s why on my packaging I instruct on the storage.”
The matooke is packed in a polythene paper.
Social media marketing
He then started door-to-door marketing of his product. But until a few months ago, the business had not picked up until a fellow student introduced the idea of social media marketing to him, specifically on Twitter.
“I have a friend who is found of twitter. I too use Twitter, but I am not too active. When he visited me, he told me about social media, but I did not have much followers. By then I must have had about 500 followers on Twitter,” Kizza explains.
Since he stated using Twitter to market his matooke, Kizza makes about Shs50,000 a day compared to Shs10,000 when he was selling door-to-door.
Balancing books and work has not been easy, Kizza says, adding that it has affected his grades.
He also says sometimes he is turned away by some customers. “I tried to talk to some people at Nasser [Road], but they turned me down, thinking I had packaged things shaped like matooke and was trying to sell it them.”
He says he also receives calls and when delivering the matooke, the customer says they were only trying to see if the product exists, which according to Kizza is a waste of time and transport.
In the struggle to look for tuition, Kizza has expanded his business to include Irish potatoes. He packages them just like he does with matooke.
To get start-up capital for the matooke business, Kizza worked at a furniture shop where he still works to date. He uses the money he earns from there to buy essentials to use at home.
Kizza says he is currently working on an app, which once done will enable people order items online.