Eddie Mugulusi, Founder at Fab Creations
(I wrote this piece back in 2018. Decided to repost it today)
While only a young boy, Dr. Apollo Milton Obote (R.I.P), a former President of Uganda attended high school at Busoga College Mwiri. It is one of the oldest schools in Jinja district sitting on a hilltop a few kilometers from Jinja town. It would be many years before I joined the same school in 2001. As a little boy, I grew up with no doubt in my mind that when time came to graduate to high school, I was destined for Mwiri. It was exciting just to think about because at the time traditional schools were everything. Your school did not matter much if it was not one of those old traditional ones that had a good number of years under its belt. They were a cult of sorts and the loyalty for them ran deep within families.
If you’ve met me then I guess you know that am not an average height kind of guy. I am quite tall but it has not always been like this. Starting out in Mwiri I was rather short and small in size but so were many others. It’s important to note though that the older students we found there then were no ordinary boys. These were men, big bodied, tall, deep voices and of course many with lots of beards especially those at A-level. They were frightening and soon we would find out that bullying was no myth, it was a real thing and very much common practice.
On one occasion only days after my admission, one of the most notorious bullies at my house (dormitory) walked up to me in need of some sugar. His name was Odong but was commonly referred to as ‘Glucose’. He was a dark skinned tall guy with a funny accent and weird sense of humor. He was actually funny most of the time until he wanted something from you. This was one such time, he wanted sugar or ‘Noxi’ like it was commonly called.
“Ntende”, he called out to me even when he was well aware it wasn’t my name. Ntende is my brother. When I joined senior one he was winding up his stay at the hill having been there six years. He was probably the most intelligent student there at the time and was therefore quite famous. “Man, give me some ‘Noxi’”, Odong went on to request. There was a certain humbleness in his voice you’d easily be fooled you had the option to say “no”. Even before I could say anything he carried on, “only four spoons”, to which I agreed. In my mind four spoonfuls was a reasonable request. At that point I thought to myself, “This guy is not bad after all”. So I immediately reached for my metallic suit case, opened it and got my sugar container out. As I prepared myself with a tea spoon, Odong suddenly interjected. “Use this one”. Ladies and gentlemen, he handed me a king size kitchen ladle, similar to the one you use to scoop sauce from a saucepan. This would be the beginning of many more stunts by Odong.
Because I had a big brother in school, guys like Odong had limits. With me all they did was ask for things from time to time. A few of my friends were not so lucky however. They were on their own at the hill and the bullies took advantage of this. At some point I thought I had seen it all until my friend was asked to sing lullabies to some guys so they could fall asleep. On some occasions the bullies turned on the radio, handed some ‘nyongos’ (senior one students) pillows and had them dance to a couple of ‘slow jams’ for fun. There was not much you’d do at the time. Reporting to teachers was never an option because it stigmatized you and made things worse in many cases. You were stuck with the ‘Odongs’ of this world and the lessons they’d teach you in the process.
During my first year at Kyambogo University, I talked Ntende into making a small investment into a business idea I had. After careful analysis, something he is accustomed to as an accountant, he agreed. In July of 2009 I went on to become one of hundreds of exhibitors at the Jinja trade fair organized by the National Farmers’ Association. My business, selling movies. You see at the time movie libraries in Jinja only allowed one to borrow a movie and return after a few days. That you could now buy a movie for the same amount you were charged to borrow it seemed like a good idea. I was ready for the weeklong trade fair.
My friends, this would go on to become my first of many bullies in business. It was a disaster. I failed miserably, selling only fifteen movies the entire week. With an investment nearing four hundred thousand Uganda shillings, I had made a mere thirty thousand shillings. It was one hell of a loss and I feared Ntende would not make an investment with me again.
Fast-forward three years later, inspired by the growing usage of internet in the country, I teamed up with a couple of friends to begin an online magazine known as ‘made in Uganda’. We were moved by statistics that indicated that the readership of hardcopy magazines in the country was falling each year. The future had to be an online magazine and we set out to establish ourselves in that space. Well aware of a few online magazines already out there, we developed a unique concept and a sophisticated web design to set us apart from the competition. As opposed to featuring common stories about the country’s celebrities, we looked out for little known people with admirable talent in various industries. We profiled them and their uniqueness and soon the stories were trending. The readership began to grow and our statistics looked very promising. Our plan was to get the monthly traffic up and eventually attract Ad revenue to the magazine.
This again even with a really good concept and great readership, ended in disaster. The numerous meetings with various companies to bring in Ad revenue did not yield much. All we got were a couple of businesses with little to no Ad budgets. The big companies did not seem interested even with all the due diligence and wide audience we presented. They were pleased with our traffic but remained hesitant to commit to a deal. We were instead referred to their Ad agencies who lengthened the process dragging it on for months. We were not making nearly enough to cover our operating costs. It was Odong all over again but this time I was being bullied by something I had taken a liking to, business.
I have met with temporary defeat more times than you can imagine and yet here I am, still doing business. As a little boy I learnt something vital from Odong. I was scared of the fellow. I made an effort to stay in his good-books and yet it wasn’t reason enough for him to back off. As the weeks went by I watched how he carried himself around his classmates. He was no bully, just a simple funny guy. Odong saw the intimidation he struck in me. He knew he could take advantage and get away with it. Slowly I got a sense of who he truly was. My biggest mistake at the time was underestimating his willingness to carry on with his stunts as the weeks went on. I somehow hoped he would eventually stop. It is important to understand your bully because it is only then that you will know how to deal with him. You cannot fight a war with an enemy you don’t know exists or one you know very little about.
Who is the Odong in your life today? Is it the course you just enrolled for, your immediate supervisor in the office, the job you just started, the assignment you just received, the business you only began, the exam you’re about to take, the girl or guy who keeps you awake at night or the company that presents hardships in running it? Have any of these bullied you in the recent past?
The things we pursue even while we might love them may not be so kind in return, at least not in the beginning. I have encountered numerous students of ACCA going on about how the course is tough and how so and so just failed the last paper. I have also had discussions with people who were nervous about a scheduled job interview days before it happened. Some people dread the thought of risking had earned money in a business idea they are not sure will succeed. The girl you so greatly admire from a distance gives you the chills just thinking about approaching her. You might even be tired of applying for jobs and never being offered placement. You are going to be bullied by things such as these and you might even fail at them a couple of times like I have. Don’t cave in just yet because even when learning how to ride a bicycle, you fell a couple of times. For some it was more times than they can count but eventually you got it and began to do it so well.
I can’t imagine there is any line of work with more bullies than the field of salesmanship. In the book ‘closing the sale’ by Frank Atkinson, the writer discusses how buyer behavior affects closing of a sale. Interesting to note is the buyer type/behavior he describes as “the driver”. According to him, the ‘driver’ is highly assertive, wants to be in charge and will always want to take control in meetings. Salespeople are usually intimidated by drivers and they try to make friends with them, which he points out is wrong. Mr. Atkinson suggests that to deal with a driver you need to become a driver yourself. He writes that you need to be a bit more serious, make eye contact with them and don’t be intimidated by their manner.
Bullies thrive on one common principle and that’s the fact that they strike fear in you. If you are afraid of an exam before you seat for it, chances are you’re going to get bullied by it. Business will always be challenging but go into it afraid it may fail and you make it more likely to happen. I got used to Odong and his stunts and eventually I wasn’t afraid of him. When he noticed this, he became less of a problem to me. I carry this lesson with me going forward in all my business engagements. Every venture I undertake is unique and presents a different kind of bully. Failure comes to all at one time or another. Make sure, when it comes your way, that you will learn something of value from its visit. I have been more successful at recent business undertakings because of my experiences described above. Know your bully.