Business: The failures no one warned me about

Brian Mukalazi

What you need to know:

If you’re not ready to put in the time, to suffer and persevere, no matter how much money you have, don’t bother starting a business.

On one warm evening in March 2012, at a downtown hotel in Kampala, I met with four dear friends. We wanted to hear more about what was happening in each other’s lives. And after a good deal of kidding, and a good meal, we settled into an interesting conversation - entrepreneurship.

At the time, all the five of us were employed by reputable organizations but we felt ready to take on new career challenges. After a long discussion, we resolved to incorporate and run a management consulting firm. It was also agreed that three of us resign our jobs to focus on this new business venture - and we did!

The first hurdle: When it came to making our pre-agreed financial contributions in July 2012, everyone shied away. I used part of my savings to cover the pre-operating expenses. And before we even officially opened, all my ‘partners’ were gone. In fact, one of them disappeared with the office rent money he was meant to deliver to the landlord on my behalf. I almost went into cardiac arrest!

With great resilience, I got the business off the ground: secured office space, hired staff and got a few clients.  But I was alone, young and had no prior experience running a company. And after 17 difficult months, I decided to close the business.  

My next shot at entrepreneurship came in 2016 when I invested in a car wash business. This time, I had a full-time job and the business was meant to be my ‘side hustle’. The business was highly recommended by a close associate who had invested in a similar venture.

Four months in, with all equipment bought and everything set, I hired someone to work as a manager. The incomes were consistently meagre mainly due to, as I later discovered, the unethical behaviors of the staff and one morning, to my utter shock, I received a phone call where I was informed that the manager had run off with cash and some equipment. Running the business became untenable and I decided to close. I had failed again and this felt like a kick in the stomach!

When I was at the Makerere University Business School, I remember listening to our business professors telling us about the steps a start-up must take, from hiring people and raising money to developing a product and going to the market. Those lectures showed the business on a predictable and upwardly curving trajectory hitting various milestones.

No one ever told me that business requires a lot of analysis, but also a lot of judgment. No one told me that in business, building relationships is almost more important than anything else. No one told me about the need to fight regulatory (URA, NSSF, etc.) wildfires. No one told me that raising money and recruiting good people are very hard.

Today, I lead the team at Talis Consults, a management consulting firm, and I must say that things are a little easier owing to my past failures and lessons. I am perhaps wiser and smarter, but I still have to go through the pains of finding talented people, navigating my way around looking for resources to pay them and obviously building sustainable business relationships.

 Here’s my advice to the aspiring entrepreneurs: If you’re not ready to put in the time, to suffer and persevere, no matter how much money you have, don’t bother starting a business.

Save your money in a bank, invest it in financial or fixed assets, or take a vacation to Dubai or wherever. Entrepreneurship is hard!

Mr Brian Mukalazi is the CEO, Talis Consults Ltd.