Hello and nice to meet the epic sarahnamulondo.com readers. Sarah hijacked me to come here and talk about myself… so I guess I will dive right into it. I am Ivan Kiragga, a Food Scientists by profession and an avid Graphic Designer by DESIGN a long side being the CEO of Exquizite Media. I am here mainly to tell you a bit about my entrepreneurial Journey.
Why did I start?
Like most people the why is always a flimsy desire to be different and for me it was a desire to have personalized branded T.shirts with quotes from the bible and graphics that I loved. I remember one time I was busy writing up a food science project proposal on a laptop I borrowed from the Community Health Empowerment organization I volunteered at, at the time. When I started playing around with WordArt, designing different words with different fonts and it started conjuring up excitement in me.
That night I designed my first T.shirt design, it was a bible quote and I went ahead and had it printed on one of my T.shirts then. Then later designed another quote and printed it out on another T.shirt. Then some of the people at church saw me with the branded T.shirts and inquired where I had bought them. There and then I realized I could easily craft a career out of this need to be different.
That is how branding innovation was born. At least that was the fastest company name that came to mind when I thought of what to tell the people who inquired where I had bought the branded T.shirts. I was able to get my first five clients from my home church who paid me each 20,000/=. But then I made a very stupid decision of buying poor quality T.shirts to save some money and make branded key holders. Sadly the print on the T.shirts came out badly and nobody at the church was interested in buying branded key holders which I thought would diversify my business.
So in just a short time I had gained 5 clients who I immediately lost and an open market whose trust I had gained. This forced me to learn my first biggest business lesson, there is no better business plan than delivering quality.
In business big sales do not only happen between a business and customer but also between customer and customer which most people call referrals but that’s a topic for another day.
There is big potential in failure
I must say I felt so bad when my clients complained about the print and the fact that the people who took the key holders on credit never paid up ever. In most entrepreneurial books you would call me a short sighted business person. But what I really needed to do then was to change my glasses literary and when I did, I decided to re-brand from Branding Innovations to Crown innovations.
Of course not very far from the innovations brand because deep down I felt so smart to be doing what I was doing as a self taught graphic design ‘innovator’ and I was ready to go professional. So I thought to myself it would be silly for me to venture into graphic design without having business cards of my own.
The only catch was mine was still a brief case business, I had no location or clients of sorts so I went to church and requested my Pastor at Worship Harvest Church to use the Church office address on my business cards as my location. By then the Church office was located in Kololo, Acacia Avenue.
To cut the long story short, I printed my first business cards with the Church location.
A long the way I received a few clients that wanted business cards while I sharpened my skills in Identity card designing software. That was in 2010 and just around early February, my friend Chris Barusya contacted me and asked me to come in and talk to Enosh Mwesigwa the CEO of Enovate Technologies. At the time they had an I.D making machine but they had no designer and I happened to have been working with the software so I was their ideal candidate.
Since crown innovations had not taken off from printing the occasional I.D and business card, I took on the job as a platform for me to diversify my skills and see how big companies operated. While there, I realized it will be hard for me to be in between offices when a client calls me up on reaching the church office. So I decided to ask Enosh to allow me use his Crown House address on my then brief case business.
Killing the double minded attitude
I worked with Enovate Technologies for a while but I started noticing a pattern in my character as an entrepreneur. First of all I was working for someone else full time, secondly I was preaching entrepreneurship to myself but would apply for every single job I saw in the papers requiring a bachelors degree in Food Science.
Most times I envisioned myself working with Uganda Bureau of Standards as a Quality Control Manager. I saw myself at Uganda Investment Research Centre but not in my business and yet I kept on wondering why it wasn’t taking off.
So in 2010 after reading Do you a book written about Russel Simmons’s I realized I needed to freeze my dream, concretize it, have it play up in my dreams often and in my memory all the time and whatever happened, wouldn’t change how I felt about my dream. So I made a pact with myself never to give up on my dream and never to work for anybody else except myself.
I later went on to change the business name from Crown Innovations after my Pastor pointed out that their were so many ‘Crowns’ out their like Crown Beverages, Crown House and so on. He advised that a change of name would make my business distinct and also help me not build on a brand name that is overly circulated to avoid brand confusion.
Finally Exquizite Media is born
That is how I came up with Exquizite Media Limited. I changed my business cards but still kept the Crown House Location since I didn’t have enough money to rent out or sub-rent office space. I then got into a new routine of freezing my dreams daily, coming up with different concepts on how to market myself alongside practicing with new graphic design software’s.
A few weeks later a friend of mine who used to work with Graphic systems gave me a call giving me a tip that Uganda Investment Authority wanted a company to print out their I.D’s. I quickly came up with design samples and submitted them to the Authority and as luck would have it, my design was selected. I sent in quotations and delivery notes in the names of Exquizite Media limited but at the time I was not yet registered.
So after submitting in my final work they ask me for my account information and instead of giving them Exquizite media Limited, I submitted account information of Ivan Kiragga, only to be asked who Ivan Kiragga was?
Big Companies don’t deal with individuals
I was lost for words, here I was expecting to be taken on face value and here they were denying me payment over the fact that I hadn’t registered my company. Another company name, another business failure and that was April 2010. My company didn’t have much in running capital little did it have enough money to set aside for registration but then I had managed to come up with a company name that moved mountains for me to get hired.
I decided to deny myself the short term gratification so I went on a hunt for partners with whom I could register the company with and get paid by Uganda Investment Authority. That took me five months and in August Arthur Kintu and Ali Gyagenda become registered partners of Exquisite Media Limited.
You can’t go far as a sole proprietor
We had our first meeting a week later and decided it was time to get our own office but at the time none of us had money, so Ali borrowed money from his mother which paid out three months rent for us at Palace View, Plot 439 Sir Appollo Kaggwa Rd.
A few months at this Location, we got our first major client G4S security company as partners;
In November 2010, we re-branded their cars and premises and they kept on coming back for more services.
The office syndrome must die
But after two years of having an office, as business partners we realized none of us ever sat in office. Our days started with delivering work for clients, spending endless hours at the printers and marketing the business. Our beloved office space was mostly inhabited by office furniture while piling up monthly bills.
We sat as a team and came up with 10 possible out comes that would happen if we closed our offices and most of them were not substantial. So we came up with a new plan that would help us deliver on time and communicate with our clients as often as possible so that they don’t have the need to follow us around and that has created a lot of trust for us within our client network.
I have realized a long the way that the only reason to why clients insist on coming to your office is only when they don’t trust you and when they have to push you to deliver their work on time.
In late 2012 we closed office and have been operating like this for quit some time.
If you don’t have financial discipline in your business, your business will discipline your financial decisions.
In 2013 I was yet to learn another business lesson when every body around me, thought I had finally superseded all my limitations only to wake up to the ugly truth of internet get rich quick ponzi schemes. Keep company money separate!! They say, all the time, but I had never really understood why they say it a lot, so in April 2013 a friend came up to me with a juicy get rich quick plan. He had indeed reaped big from this Felmina Alliance, an online get rich quick business were you invested money and your money earned you 85 dollars interest each day.
At the time he said he had started with 300,000/= but he had bought a car and was waiting for his money to accumulate interest for him to buy land. He also introduced me to another friend of his who had tied down 10,000 dollars and received 150 million dollars and quit his job, bought a car, land, started a business and also married his long time girlfriend.
To be honest I was genuinely impressed since I knew one of these people and I saw him get his 85 dollar interest daily.
At the time I had 2.5 million Tax money I was supposed to pay Revenue Authority, I was set to go to the bank but something happened and I turned to my calculator, hours later I had realized I could profit big if I tied down the money for 180 days.
I quickly went to a near by Forex Bureau and exchanged the money, at the time I got 3000 dollars after exchange. I paid the money through Liberty Reserve and I proceeded to tie it down for 180 days. As for my friend he only played with little money and we always joked that he was such a coward for withdrawing his interest daily.
Little did I know he was playing smarter than the rest of us. 90 days in I was sent a message to withdraw my money at a certain interest but because I wanted to earn big, I denied myself the urge of withdrawing it. On the 92 day around May 2013, Liberty Reserve was closed in the USA over money laundering and that was the only way felmina clients received their money around the world.
My friend lost nothing because he had tied down very little money whose interest he received over a period of 90 days and I lost everything. I was so embarrassed to tell my partners and so I planned to pay the debt on my own.I went to Uganda Revenue Authority and requested to pay the debt in three Installments but they told me I can only pay in two installments. I paid off the first installment but as with all problems they have to follow the domino effect so around June we lost our major clients. Times got hard, we tried every single marketing technique and they yielded nothing and as for the Uganda Revenue Authority debt, it kept on gaining value every month it was not paid turning into 5 million.
When one of my partners found out, he didn’t directly rely it to me but as we were discussing how to diversify our business he told me it was about time he left. You should have seen how shocked I was and when I asked him the reason he said the business wasn’t growing.
Ours was like a scene from The Social Network, the movie where Mark Zuckerberg’s partner froze the account and Mark couldn’t access money to market Facebook. It was one of those epic startup drama’s.
But I quickly had to understand that, it was no use for him to stay with us if he had lost his vision. I riled myself in and said Ivan, if one person leaves the company it doesn’t mean the company is dead.
I whispered to myself freeze your dream, don’t let this rattle you, freeze your dream and whatever will hit you will not destroy you or define the direction of your company.
The Challenges will be there and in life you can never be sure how your partners will react to those challenges.
…and I must say the business is still recovering and paying off the now 13 million tax debt which accumulates like a zoonotic disease. But the key here is to freeze this dream.
Below is my Design portfolio, you can check it out and see if you would like to work with me.
PS. Ivan is currently busy but he surely agreed to a second interview…that means we have a part two of his 8 years of accumulated business advice.