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For Masaba, the sky is no limit

Masaba at Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Nairobi

Young, handsome and intelligent, Yunus Masaba’s life has been a journey of one achievement after another.

Right from his childhood, he is evidence that with dedication, just about anything is achievable.The belief in entrepreneurship and youth as a key driver to the success of the African economy has seen the award-winning entrepreneur establish multiple businesses including an animation studio, a business consultancy firm and a transportation company (Transporter Corporation) under a flagship company called Mas Group.

Masaba was recently among the five entrepreneurs chosen to represent Uganda at the 6th Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Kenya early this year, which was attended by the president of the United States of America, Barack Obama.

At only 25, Mas, as he prefers to be called, has achieved way more than many of his contemporaries. In 2014, he was named the Young Employer of the Year by the Federation of Uganda Employers. At the time, he employed 25 people. Today, Masaba employs over 50 youths in his companies. And yet, work still seems to be just a fun activity for him.

In what looks to be the boardroom in his Bukoto-based office, a group of young men are playing video games as we enter. He warns them that he is also coming to challenge them. He later tells me that the young men are part of his Pomp Motion studios and the brains behind a viral animation video depicting president Museveni and Dr Kizza Besigye in a vigorous dance-off session.

Often flashing an inviting smile, Masaba strikes a casual look with his shirt sleeves rolled up and black trousers accessorised.

HUMBLE BEGINNINGS

Born in November 1990, Masaba had an uneventful childhood with no talents to brag about. The third-born of four boys, he grew up in Namakwekwe, Mbale. His father worked with the Red Cross while his mother was a social worker. Timid and small-sized, he walked in his brothers’ shadows for the bigger part of his childhood.

“It was competitive growing up because I was always following my elder brother Yusuf Masaba, whose names are so similar to mine. I also went to the same schools with him; so, I always struggled to establish my own name,” he says.

Masaba never attended nursery school because the teachers felt he was too young. They advised his father to bring him back after one year. His father, however, instead took him to North Road primary school in Mbale for the primary one interview, which he consequently passed and was admitted. He has, therefore, always been a year younger than most of his classmates in his education journey.

Masaba with Mara Group CEO and one of the most enterprising Ugandans Ashish Thakkar

School life was initially hard for the little boy who failed to get into any co-curricular activities. Though he was passionate about football, he never made it to the school football team. He also tried out with the music, dance and drama club but was not accepted. The school choir, too, shunned him. He considered himself a failure and hated school.

MATHEMATICS FINDS HIM LOVE

In primary four, he discovered that he was better than most of his classmates in Mathematics. His prowess in maths won him his first girlfriend in primary seven.

“It was about mutual liking, the purest love of all. I used to teach her maths after classes because she was not good at it,” he says of his first love.

Like most childhood romances, the relationship ended when they changed schools for their O-level education. He joined Jinja College in 2003 and was once again compared to Yusuf. Masaba finally got his break when he learnt how to play table tennis. In his senior four, he was recognised as Jinja College’s best table tennis player.

FIRST BUSINESS

Though Yusuf later went into journalism and public relations, he inspired Yunus into business. Before social media eased communication among students, letters written on beautifully decorated writing pads was the only way that most communicated.

The two Masaba brothers used to buy letter-writing pads in Jinja town that they would sell to their schoolmates at a profit. Getting involved in business opened up Yunus who began participating in different sports activities.

“Besides table tennis, I was playing volley ball, Mweso, and would even dodge preps to play chess,” a jolly Masaba reminisces, as he smiles.

In his vacation, he started a football club in Mbale that he managed before joining Kiira College, Butiki in 2007, which he calls a turning point in his life.

“Butiki made me. I was surprised to find the amount of freedom they gave us. They allowed us to have radios and walk out of school whenever we wanted. We used to call it ‘half campus’,” Masaba gushes about the school.

It is while at Butiki that he developed the love for information technology. Seeing a money-making opportunity, he interested himself in learning how to design websites and was soon working for companies for a small fee. The business-minded Masaba started selling computer game CDs to his schoolmates. Though he was a prefect, he also sold airtime to the students, most of whom possessed phones at school illegally.

“I relied less on my parents for upkeep because I was making money at school,” he says proudly of himself.

One of his former classmates, who prefers anonymity, describes Yunus as a “sharp, shrewd, political animal that was into sports.” He says amongst his peers, Masaba had a deep love for money that often put him in trouble.

“Mas liked money and was always wanted by mean creditors,” he remembers.

Masaba with musician Akon

Masaba says one of his lowest points is when he lost his fatherr in an accident that happened two weeks to his final A-level exams. He, however, surprised everyone, including himself, when he scored 22 points, making him one of the top three arts students in the school.

“My mum could not believe it because she used to ask me how many points I expected to get and I told her “ten” because I had been disturbed during the exams,” he says.

The crafty Masaba says one of the proudest moments in his life was when he set up a radio station based in his parent’s sitting room.

DO OR DIE

“I used FM microphones, an antenna and put boosters all over the house. Yusuf was the presenter while I was the technical person. We had listeners calling in to request for songs which we played from a DVD player and were able to broadcast in the whole of Namakwekwe,” he says.

Though only their neighbours and relatives called in, Radio Namakwekwe, as they called it, got the brothers interested in the media and publishing. It was no surprise, therefore, when in his senior six vacation, Masaba, together with his other friends, started Bacpage Media, a magazine that was intended to rival the then popular Buzz magazine.

It, however, only survived for three editions due to differences in ideology and the busy schedules after he joined Makerere University in 2009 to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Development Economics.

Masaba, whose dream profession was becoming a Hollywood actor, moved on to form Bitter Facts, a stand-up comedy group that regularly performed at Indigo bar in Kampala in 2010. He, however, ditched the comedy trail when he mastered graphic designing which led him into starting Blue Magic Incorporated.

“I wanted to be an entrepreneur that employed many people but I did not have the resources as yet. My first office was in my room at Nkrumah hall,” he says.

His clientele, mostly comprised of aspiring guild president candidates and politicians, had to sit on his bed and talk business. Blue Magic would in 2011 win the award for the Junior Achievers Company of the Year in 2011 by the Junior Achievers Academy.

Today, he rents an entire building in Bukoto and another office on Nasser road.  He has done printing and branding work for hotels, politicians, schools, universities and telecom companies in South Sudan.

In 2014, he started the Transporter Corporation, which also works with Hello Food, the online food ordering website, to deliver food, packages and also hire out cars. Transporter is currently among the finalists in the South Africa- based Anziasha awards.

“Some of the business ideas come after I notice a challenge that people complain about. I am trying to automate business and sell convenience,” he says.

Masaba also has Mbale City FC on his long chain of companies. The football club that he runs with his elder brother, Yusuf, sponsors the education of the disadvantaged children who play for it.

Masaba, who was among Bizspire magazine’s seven people to follow on social media, says he misses the freedom to do certain things because now everything he does is criticised.

“I now can’t live my life the way I want to because people are watching. I can’t post on Facebook when somebody annoys me because there is a certain image I have to keep,” Masaba says, adding that his love life has also suffered because of his status in society.

“Whenever I am dating somebody, they complain that I do not have time for them because I am always busy,” he says.

Stella Nambabubye, Yunus’ close friend, says Masaba is a “busy man” whose commitment to his businesses can never be shaken.

“You can’t stop him, if he wants to start a company or venture into another business. You can’t tell him that he won’t make it because he won’t listen to your discouragement. When he gets an idea, he makes sure it works,” she says.

His latest idea is YoSupermarket, an online application that he and his team are developing to help people shop from their favourite supermarkets within the comfort of their homes. It would sound like a cliché to say that ‘the sky is the limit’ for the enterprising young man, but Masaba seems unstoppable.

“I always believe I will win,” he concludes assertively. “If we went to war and I was the army commander, I would burn my army’s boats. That way they would know it’s a do or die. There is no return!”

jjmirembe@gmail.com

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