"You need belief in yourself and determination. One thing you can't do is get discouraged."
Former Accenture man, Felix Ssekatawa’s story is one of a determination to succeed and an unshakeable faith in his own ability to find a way and to rise above his circumstances. In his own words, Felix shares his incredible tale of how a humble Ugandan boy came to be one of the prospective digital entrepreneurs seeking to make waves in Africa today.
Originally from Kampala in Uganda, the fourth child out of seven, I couldn’t rely on opportunity to come to me. Yet from a young age I had an appetite for a challenge and an ambition that I knew would mean I’d have a lifetime-worth of adventure. I completed my education in the British system – completing both, my O and A levels before enrolling at Makere University in a mass communications course, but after four months realised it wasn’t really for me. I was less interested in the art of communication and more in the science of it but couldn’t get into the computer science course at Makerere. I didn’t have the pre-requisite Physics, and Mathematics at A levels to enrol into computer science.
Through a friend, I got hold of a prospectus for BCom Information Systems at the University of North West in South Africa. I was always interested in computing, especially the wizardry behind broadcasting – how it was that the football games were streamed from Anfield all the way to Kampala, so I could enjoy my Liverpool FC games in real-time, they called it IT, I wanted to learn it!
I jumped on a bus from Kampala via Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, and through Botswana, on a five-day journey to the North-West University. I had just enough money to get there, and a provisional acceptance in a Bcom course, but as a foreigner I was expected to pay 100% upfront and I had no idea how I was going to pay!
When I got to the head of the registration queue, I remember, I managed to find a very understanding registrar who listened patiently to my convincing argument of why I couldn’t pay my fees upfront, and my commitment to pay. I was clear I would pass. He let me register on the proviso that I pay by the end of the first semester. But by the end of the semester I didn’t meet my commitment to pay, there was just no money, there I was again with nothing in my pocket but my strong results, which turned out to be enough to convince the registrar that I was worth the risk. By the second year I did so well I was hired as a grad assistant offered a R140 a week, could finally see the light!
Looking back, I see how all these situations were a rehearsal for what was to come. How many people give up because of small matters like money? Now I see how, in starting my own business, I’m tapping into the same stubborn, never give-in attitude that saw me through varsity.
I realised that you can get there, no matter what, if you have an idea of where you want to be. All you need is self-belief, determination, and finding some comfort in uncertainty. One thing you can’t do is get discouraged. Set the destination and accept there are many ways to get there, some of them longer than others.
After two years at another management consultancy, I responded to an Accenture ad in the Sunday Times, and that’s how eight or nine years later I came to be pondering the next step toward my entrepreneur destination.
It was with Accenture that the bulk of my experience was built up. It helped me crystalise what I really wanted to do. Most people ask me why 8 years and not 3-4 years with Accenture. I maintain that Accenture is an academy of excellence, and with any academy or institution of learning, you determine whether or not you will put in the prescribed time for your course. Some courses are three years, others longer. Some students spend a longer time studying a three year degree while others finish it in record time. I was the former. I think you need to know for yourself when you have graduated, and then make your move. Pay attention to the lesson of the moment, take what you can out of the learning, as no moment lasts forever. “I woke up one day knowing, “That’s it! I have done my time here. I’m out!”
We were expecting our first born at the time, so the timing was interesting. I told my wife, “I’ve done it!” Her response was true to character: “Think about what you’ve done, get over it and then start thinking about what you’re going to do next. After three weeks of doing thought and consideration, I started reaching out to my networks, telling my story, what I’d done, and what I wanted to do. I think what keeps me going is a healthy appetite for risk and the ability to cope with uncertainty. It baffles my wife – she wants to know all the details of the route, whereas I am happy to wing it.
After I had started reaching out to my networks, I talked my way into a contract with SAB in an advisory role, a relationship which grew and expanded to assist Coca Cola Bottling SA and before long I had some involvement with other clients, too. I can vividly remember that my goal was never to become a tenderprenuer. Rather than pitch for tenders, I offered programme delivery and project management to those who had won the work. I’d introduce myself and say let me help you deliver the work you just won.
“I have a healthy appetite for risk and the ability to cope with uncertainty. It baffles my wife – she wants to know all the details of the route, whereas I am happy to wing it.” By 2014 Buzitech Innovations is alive!
I maintained my relationships with the people at Accenture, asking for hints and leads on jobs they couldn’t get to for one reason or another. One day, the ESD Programme came up in one of our conversations. I immediately wanted to be part of it. It had all the signs of pushing us to the next level. I pitched, was accepted and participated in the programme.
Being on this programme gave me a chance to be in the corridors at Accenture, ready to grab someone’s arm, keep my ear to what’s happening in the industry, and most importantly keep my Accenture relationships alive. During my time in the programme, Buzitech Innovations has experienced steady growth of 15-20% year on year without consideration of the potential impact of the pipeline directly owed to our involvement in the ESD Programme. We believe we have revolutionised the way we extend our capacity to deliver without carrying a huge permanent staff compliment. The future looks promising and I am glad I took the leap.
“Being on this programme gave me a chance to be in the corridors at Accenture, ready to grab someone’s arm, keep my ear to what’s happening in the industry, and stay top of mind.” Felix’s vision for his company is to stay top of mind and experience steady growth.