In line with growing our content for this here blog, every month we shall interview one of our former/ current clients.
Our focus is on creating belief in local entrepreneurs and identifying local business people that can and have made some form of success from hard work and desire to grow.
In 2011, BLEGSCOPE was contracted to conduct an Organisational Self Assessment (OSA) as well as prepare a Business Implementation Plan for Node Six, a leading web solutions firm offering domain, email and hosting services.
Solomon King is one such client and below is the interview that we had with him at his Node Six/ Elemental Edge offices.
A very interesting profile of Solomon King can be found here on his personal website
We spoke to Solomon about his roles in his various ventures, his background in business and entrepreneurship and the most amazing things his journey as a techie-first and business man he has faced throughout his career.
BLEGSCOPE_Business_Blog: You are the founder of Node Six, Elemental Edge, Fundi Bots. Which of your ventures is closest to your heart and are you still involved in all of them?
Surprisingly, all of them.
My ventures are formed around things I love doing, which means I hold all of them very dear. I am mostly active in Fundi Bots and Elemental Edge at the moment. Node Six has a CEO who oversees operations.
BB_Blog: Why are you doing what you are doing?
As somebody who is constantly learning, I am deeply interested in the interaction between humans and machines, the nuances of design and how technology blends together with all this. I am therefore passionate about that fascinating intersection of Design* Business* and Technology. That’s why I am always following my heart in setting up structures that will allow me to explore these passions.
BB_Blog: Then who did you eventually first talk to when deciding to follow your heart into the chosen passions in a mentor-like manner?
Initially, when I set out to do these things, it seemed unimaginable at the time; I had just gone through several rough personal challenges and had left the University to explore the big wide world. It seemed like suicide, and the only support I got was from friends. I got a lot of support from my friends, the biggest of whom was Mr. Kizito Katawonga (aka Kizzy), whom I later started up my first business with.
I used technology as a mentor in the form of the information super-highway, as it was known back then, now commonly known as the INTERNET. I have realised that if used efficiently and wisely, it can be the single most potent source of both relevant knowledge and comparisons to assess and inspire oneself.
I am an avid reader of regular tech and business highlights across various continents and it is this constant learning through reading and analysing that became a mentor. I am also a keen learner of so many things and it is not uncommon that you will find me awake beyond regular sleeping hours trying to understand how something works. So all in all, I admit that for me, learning (forced or deliberate) is a constant just like death and taxes.
BB_Blog: Then share with us some of your greatest challenges as a business person.
I will start with our first big client. A nice lady called Susan Nsibirwa (she was in-charge of advertising and marketing at the time) at MTN was a friend of Kizzy’s – my business partner at the time – from church and she gave us a chance to impress her with an advert that was “different” at the time. This was for the 5th Anniversary of MTN as a company in Uganda and she literally told us not to let her down. We pushed so many creative boundaries to get that ad done, and before we knew it, we came from nowhere to doing work for the nation’s number 1 tax payer.
My other challenges as a business person revolve around lack of experience and learning on the fly. Some of the decisions I have made as the lead at the companies I started have not been great and have at one time or another led to complication, both in finance and human-resource. I will not go into detail here, but I have learnt a thing or two about how delayed (or sometimes none at all) payment can be a complete negative in you and your companies’ survival.
In the past 24 months for example, we have learnt that some bad business decisions have affected our ability to perform and in part negatively affected our reputation. We have also learnt that failure to define boundaries on projects for both cash and human resource will creep up and stab you in the back when you are unaware. Project management skills are some of the most important skills in service delivery businesses..
BB_Blog: So how have you thus survived in this game called business?
As somebody who is constantly learning, I have learned (above many other things), that QUALITY & HONESTY when dealing with your client(s) will ALWAYS bring them back to give you more work, or will have them send a client your way.
“I can comfortably say that our work sells us and over 95% of our current clients are referrals.”
BB_Blog: So then, what do you envision for the next couple (read 5) of years?
Breaking down our different companies:
We see it as one of the most creative digital production house in East Africa
Providing comprehensive web solutions across East Africa
Leading the revolution on education-in-technology, through our school robotics program. Our goal is to reach 100,000 students in at least 5 countries
BB_Blog: What then is your biggest compliment from any of your clients?
One client, a global non-profit in the health space wrote us a full-on acknowledgement letter highlighting how pleased they were (are) as we matched and exceeded their expectations and our work has been shared across their global offices as it is at their HQ.
BB_Blog: So indeed good work is the best form of marketing yourself right?
Without a doubt.
BB_Blog: any advice for entrepreneurs new and old then?
First of all, NEVER run out of cash.
Secondly, NEVER EVER run out of cash… thus learn to manage your cash flows wisely
Always meet your targets
Hire the best people (within your means) and give them the freedom to do their jobs.
Do not be afraid of FAILURE as it always gives you the best lessons.
BB_Blog: We can thus see your management style is a la laissez faire almost
Yes, I am very casual and it has sometimes gotten me into trouble. I however endeavour to always hire people better than me. I have also learned to give instructions and not micro-manage every project myself.
I also want to say something to young techies who are keen on entering this business.
Like all business one engages in, it is not a Mark Zuckerburg ideal. A Whatsapp deal waiting to happen? That is almost always an exception. For everywhere success story, there are a million failures. In reality, business a patience game, just like life, and you MUST put in the time for you to receive any form of just reward.
I would like to change this impression that it is sexy and easy. It is like the perception of being a programmer was, right after the dot-com started. Programmers use to be the crazy geeks – then all of a sudden they were so cool and treated like mini-Gods. This is what has happened to entrepreneurship.
Everyone thinks they can be an entrepreneur like Zuckerberg and overnight they make millions… It is not like that, so people get started with false hopes and fast ambitions and lose everything in the process.
I wish more people treated their entrepreneurship bug like a real career: study it, find a mentor, test your idea or product, get feedback, and incorporate it (repeat this a lot) and then pull the trigger.
BB_Blog: 10 years from now?
I would like to be in-charge of a Venture Capital firm. Infact, you guys at BLEGSCOPE should do an article on Venture Capital especially in the technology space for Africa zeroing in on East Africa and Uganda.
I also intend to have consolidated all our initiatives into one group and will be pushing Fundi Bots further across the sub-Saharan African continent.
About Node Six, Fundi Bots and Elemental Edge:
Fundi Bots’ mission is to use robotics training in African schools to create and inspire a new generation of problem solvers, innovators and change-makers.
By focusing on the technological process of building robots as a way for students to look at the world around them from a practical, solution oriented perspective and we show them how the problems around them can be solved through a technological approach and persistent reductive analysis.
Node Six, is web solutions firm offering domain, email and hosting services. Our focus on creating local content for Uganda has led to the creation of Node Six brands like Proggie dot Ug, Uganda’s leading entertainment and events portal.
Elemental Edge, is a Ugandan visual effects production house that produces interactive media, TV advertising, 3D and 2D animation and live action filming.
Edmund is the Engagement Director at BLEGSCOPE®, and has over 9 years of management consultancy experience notably in MSMEs, FMCG companies and in the service industry. You can follow him on twitter: @edmokmg