After surpassing his initial target of amassing $1m (about Shs 2.6bn) before turning 23, Abdu Ssekalala has now set his sights on bigger things.
Instead of slowing down and starting to figure out how to spend that money, the former Makerere University IT student-cum-tycoon has made it known that he wants to be one of the richest Ugandans by the time he turns 25.
In what he has termed as the ‘25@25 Project’, the 23-year-old mobile apps developer, who shot to stardom early last year after sealing a multimillion shilling deal with Nokia, has voiced his ambition of amassing a net worth of $25m (about Shs 65tn) by 2015 at 25.
“Some people think it is an unattainable target but I am sure I will pull it off. I have lots of plans and business ideas that will enable me to make this money,” Ssekalala said recently.
It is clear his life has not been the same since his fortunes dramatically changed last year.
Ssekalala’s early success, which has seen him develop over 14 hot-selling mobile applications valued at a whopping Shs 3bn worth of purchase and advertising money, started in 2011. As one of the best-performing undergraduates of IT at Makerere, Ssekalala attended a software development facilitation workshop by Nokia East and Southern Africa, held at the college of Computing and Information Sciences.
And it was not long before the then 21-year-old student started putting his newly-acquired knowledge to use, under the tutelage of his lecturer, Michael Niyitegeka. By early last year, the lanky youngster had developed nine apps, which awed Nokia, prompting the deal.
Several other elite telecoms, including Samsung, Android, Blackberry and Opera Mobile soon picked interest in his works and signed similar deals with him, leading him to pocket over $500,000 (about Shs 1.2 billion) while still a university student.
He could even have earned much more had all his applications been commercial. Of the nine apps, eight were – and still are – supplied as free downloads, meaning that Ssekalala only earned a few million shillings in form of adverts.
The other app, however, is a massive cash cow. Dubbed Wordbook, the dictionary application, complete with definitions and synonyms, earns Sekalala a sum of €1 (Shs 3,600) per download.
He has recently added another commercial app, 101 Romantic SMS, which earns him €1 per download. The app, which Ssekalala developed in honour of his girlfriend, now commands over 1.8m downloads – making him a global icon.
Now, Ssekalala has said he will not stop chasing success which, according to him, is measured in terms of money and other material wealth.
“I don’t consider myself successful because I have barely achieved [a] quarter of my target,” said Ssekalala, wearing a plain light pink shirt and black trousers. It appeared that he still keeps a simple fashion sense despite his burgeoning wallet.
And because of this self-proclaimed love for success, which only seems to get more obsessive with every stride he makes, Ssekalala has backtracked on his initial promise to retire at the age of 35.
“I later thought to myself, ‘Why retire when you can still make a few more bucks?’” revealed the youngster, whose Uganda Theme app commanded over 300, 000 downloads in just five months, making it the third most downloaded app on the Nokia Ovi store.
In the wake of an interview we had with Ssekalala last April, some people disputed Ssekalala’s claims that he actually earns that much from the sale of his apps. Some readers argued that there are many better apps developers earning less than what Ssekalala is said to bag. And this theory seems to hold some water, at least according to Ssekalala’s mentor, Niyitekega.
“The apps business is very tricky because everyone wants a cut off your money. Ultimately, you end up getting about 30% of what you could have received,” Niyitegeka said, dismissing speculations that Ssekalala overrates himself.
In the April interview, Ssekalala appeared humble and shy, as he decried life in the limelight. He said he was uncomfortable with the special attention he was getting from classmates and lecturers. A number of things have, however, changed since then. He now seemed to take pride in letting us in on his wealth.
“I have made more money than I ever expected to make at my age,” Ssekalala boasted as he rotated in his armchair, boss-like style.
He, nonetheless, quickly added: “But I don’t consider myself successful. I instead like to see myself as an individual whom life has favoured.”
Previously, Ssekalala did not speak with such boldness that borders on snobbishness. But now, he seemed to enjoy telling how he has eluded poverty and other societal problems that many Ugandan youths cry of.
Ssekalala said he has bought several properties across the country, but didn’t divulge details.
“I have made investments in agriculture, technology and real estate. But I don’t want to attach my name to these companies,” Ssekalala said, revealing he owns a popular cheese company across town.
Ssekalala has also used his wealth to establish four IT companies – Go Better, Foo, Codesync and NSQ, all housed in one enormous office at Soliz House in Kampala.
“We basically design software and mobile applications which we sell online,” said Shafiq Muhatsi, Ssekalala’s Codesync partner.
Muhatsi, who said he knew of all Ssekalala’s investments, described his buddy as a self-driven and down-to-earth workaholic. He also says Ssekalala pays his employees handsomely.
Upon graduation this year, Ssekalala was offered a lecturing job at the college. He, nonetheless, gave it up after only two months because “I have a lot on my plate.”
His other lecturer, Margaret Nagwovuma, had earlier advised him against wasting his talent in the teaching profession that earns peanuts. Ssekalala, nonetheless, says he still offers mentorship programmes at the college, alongside running his investments.
But the one thing Ssekalala won’t be investing in soon is a car and house. Despite claiming to own a string of properties, the second born of three children still uses public transport and lives under his parents’ roof.
“I am still young and see no need of moving out of my parents’ home,” Ssekalala said, quoting legendary British actor Charlie Chaplin who said it is dangerous to associate oneself with luxury.
But Ssekalala still treats himself to luxury, anyway. A self-confessed lover of gadgets, the IT guru barely took his eyes off his Shs 2.5m Blackberry Play Book during this interview. He also owns three smart phones.
“I like to spend money on myself. I like to party with friends and watch movies at Cineplex,” said the youngster who also likes to relax on the beach while listening to rap music.
Ssekalala says he hopes to marry his childhood girlfriend, Qudrah Nampewo, when he turns 28. The 22-year-old girlfriend, who accompanied him in our first interview, described the apps developer as a romantic man.
“He does not hide anything from me, be it business or personal. I love him more every day that passes,” Nampewo told us on phone, declaring she wants to have children with him.
And with the father’s bank account teeming with billions, their brood will be assured of a good life.