5 years ago, a few friends and I set out on an Elyt mission. The city of Kampala needed us. They didn’t realize it yet but their existence at the time was meaningless and it was our job to come into their lives and show them the right path. Or that’s what we thought anyway. We were 4 young lads bursting with ambition and dreams of grandeur. We also didn’t have much of a plan.
At the time, I was still at university and during one of the longer holidays, my brother from another mother, Roger, told me a friend of his wanted to start a magazine and a team was being formed to make this happen. He thought I would be a great addition to the team and suggested I come with him to the planning meeting the following day. To prepare for this meeting, we hit the nearest bar and engaged in some hectic partying were, between sessions on the dance floor, we slurred on about how great our magazine was going to be.
The following morning, we took our hangovers for the meeting where I met Sean Ndawula Charles for the first time. Sean was a short bearded fella who obviously paid attention to how he was dressed before he left the house, walked with purpose and spoke with the charisma of a man twice his size. He was the man with the vision, and a plan. We were the chaps with hangovers. In addition to Sean, Roger and I, there was Alex and that brought our team to 4 people. Our goal that morning was to meet a potential funder for the magazine and plan our way forward.
Sean was the only one on the team that had previous experience with magazines. He was just fresh off another magazine gig as the creative director and had decided to quit to start his own. I mean, I also had what passed as some experience, mainly from contributing to school magazines, but that was just about it. And of course, all of us had read a magazine at one point or another so we knew what they looked like.
Elyt Magazine Covers
After that first meeting, we set about looking for content, doing photo-shoots, looking for advertisements and spending long nights out talking about our project and building hype for it. We were going to take Kampala by storm, we told everyone that was willing to listen. But things on the advertisement searching side were slow since we didn’t actually have a product, and our funder was showing reluctance to release a coin till he saw evidence of potential revenue. Frustration towards our funder began to set in as he was slowing our path to greatness.
We began to look for another funder and soon found one who was so excited about the idea he was willing to fund the first edition of the magazine without any adverts and then take it from there. Finally, progress was being made! We abandoned our previous almost-funder, settled in with our new one and began to seriously put together the magazine. Soon enough, the magazine was in the printing machines and we had a physical copy in our hands. A product we could show people. Evidence that we were not just selling them air. This need to be celebrated with a proper launch party!
We set out organising the party and this is when all the previous partying and hangovers we’d endured started to pay off. We had managed to build a network of supporters and well-wishers over beers. Our networking skills had been so good that when we decided to charge an entrance fee to our launch event, no one batted an eyelid. That was the time when Club Rogue was at the peak of its glory days. Everyone inside there was a summer and spoke with a fancy accent. Even us who had never crossed the border would develop an accent as soon as we entered those doors. Rouge was like our living room, and occasionally our bedroom on certain nights when we over indulged. This loyalty to Rouge paid off when the owner at the time, Templar, gave us a free venue to launch our magazine. The launch party was a resounding success. We filled up the place, made sizeable magazine sales, stood on the stage and had the spotlight shine on us and basically glowed in the brightness of our arrivism. Good times I tell you.
The following day, we had to get back to reality and resume running a business. Distribution had to be figured out, and the struggle to recoup the investment made by our blesser began in earnest. Unfortunately, 2 of us still had school to deal with so the majority of this work was left with Sean and Alex. This was when the reality of running a business properly kicked in and despite the fact that we persevered, released more issues, albeit irregularly, threw more parties and made some money along the way, we were very ill-equipped to start on such a venture. Elyt in the initial stages was heavily run on luck and happy accidents because they don’t teach you any of this stuff in school. Running a business is a school of its own and it rarely follows the rules taught in traditional school. It’s a lot like being an adult, or being in a relationship, or raising a child.
Some of the parties that have been thrown over the years.
The Elyt journey was crazy and sometimes when I look back, I can’t believe some of the things we pulled off. I’m grateful for that experience though. It showed me the joys of being self-employed, I made very many great friends along the way, networked my way around Kampala and learnt quite a lot about myself. The Elyt team saw many new faces over the years, most of us fell off the along the way for various reasons, but Mr Elyt himself, Sean the visionary, has persisted and is still running the show. Sean, I hope you write a book about this journey one day because there are several lessons that intending start-ups can learn. This here is just a small summary but this truly is your story to tell.
This Friday, the 12th of August 2016, Elyt will be celebrating 5 years of existence. It feels like it started 20 years ago, but the calender don’t lie so 5 years it is. For those in the start-up circles, we all know how significant the 5-year mark is. It means you have survived joining the alarming statistics graveyard of businesses that fail to make it past the 5-year mark. This is something worth celebrating and in true Elyt fashion, a party is being thrown. So, if you can find the time, pass by Cayenne this Friday 12/08/2016 and let’s turn it up. Sauti Sol will be in the building if you need an extra reason to be there 😀