Friday, 11 November 2011

The morning after

The morning after.....I gasp for what little air I can take. The sheer effort drains the little energy I have. Yet I must breathe, so here goes, once again. Breathe, breathe and breathe. At this moment breathing has become a conscious and deliberate effort for my survival. If I take a moment away from it, I will forget. Breathe, breathe I must breathe.

The journey started with so much expectation, after all, how hard would it be. I was a clever guy, with a brilliant idea, a vast network and excellent exposure. The plan was simple; I laid it out on paper and practised my pitch. I had done this before, the idea-writing and pitching. I was the best. I recalled my best pitch and the applause I got. Surely now, with such a brilliant idea, they would fall over each other to be part of the next big thing.

I remember pitching across the world, the audience varied with pockets dragging with gold and honey dripping. “If you are part of this,” I argued, “you will find your Nirvana.” Today, the morning after, when I can breathe a little, I open the emails I got after the first few pitches many seasons ago. “Brilliant,” they all said. “The idea is brilliant and definitely doable.” They all wanted to be part of it. With such feedback, everything was going according to plan.

Yet a month later, not even one investor had invested. We had planned to raise $5million dollars, initially tranche at $1.6m. That would take care of our needs. But, wait a minute; $5m is a lot of money. We knew this, but one had to look at the idea, it was the best idea ever. “Look at the returns”. “Look at what you will make out of this,” we argued. In any case, we had a benefactor who had already pledged $1m. We pitched to Russians, Americans, Africans and Europeans, individuals, family trusts and anyone with money. We knocked on so many doors and sold many a pitch.

It came to naught, and it was at that moment that it suddenly dawned on me. I had left my job, that cushy safe haven I once had. In my estimates I had thought, “Surely with my experience and exposure I can do more and become more?” I had overestimated. Here I was without a job, managing overseas expenses and living in a country no investor wanted to invest in. I had my first nervous breakdown.

None of the promises had come through and the initial benefactor who had been meeting all our expenses and had pledged $1m, suddenly pulled out. It was too risky, in his estimation. I remember thinking about what I would tell the team. After my nervous breakdown I reconciled with the fact that I had failed and it was time to reconsider everything. I even drafted a letter to a former boss, whom I hated so much; but I had heard he was looking for someone and I jotted down why I should be in consideration.

I got to the office with a heavy heart, ready to disband. As I got in, before I could say anything the guys spoke. “How much money to you have?” a question greeted me. “Huh?” I answered. “How much money do you have saved up and or in other investments?” the question came again. I reckon I have about $$$ in savings and another $$ in stock market investment but the market is down and it won’t make sense to liquidate

The guys had a plan.

“We have looked at all our budgets and expenses; we have studied the business plan again and have revised everything. We did not get the money we required, but we can bootstrap and start rolling out the project and get some income”. This I heard before I could even sit down. My mind was racing faster than the E type in a Le Mans circuit. I was now pacing across the room. I could not sit down.

Breathe, breathe. I must breathe, calm my nerves and hold my chest, just in case my heart leaps out.

With the little that we had, we made a plan. That day I learnt my first entrepreneurial lesson: Bootstrapping. Coincidentally, around about the same time a friend sent an email about a former Mckinsey partner who had gone back to India and stayed in one room with just a mattress and laptop. It was there that he built his first company.

My temporary abode with my mother became my permanent abode. I liquidated everything. I soon understood my erstwhile folly. One cannot ask other people to risk their money in one’s idea when they themselves are not willing to risk their own money. However, little it is. Secondly, by keeping an investment on the stock market it is an admission that other people are better managers of your money than yourself. If you are not an entrepreneur, that’s quite understandable, but quite ridiculous if you are starting a start-up.

And so the train moved, we launched and started moving. Three months later – which for a start-up is an eternity – we were bankrupt!

This time I did not have a nervous breakdown. It was much worse. Bankruptcy exposed all my insecurities as a man and as a person. I started gaining weight; I simply did not care much about what I ate. I started relying on my mother for the barest minimal in terms of cash; even petrol money. I was overly indebted to friends and family and frequently overstayed my visits when I travelled. The only person who knew this was my mother. Every Wednesday night she held a prayer vigil with her friends.

My mood swings were wild and unpredictable. The joys I had, I found in our office. There I learnt another important lesson in entrepreneurship: It’s a love affair. One must love it enough to die for it. It is a visceral ideal that requires steadfast confliction to see things through. It is not about a brilliant idea or brilliant qualifications. It was obvious we did not have money – no salaries were being paid out. But everyday people came to work and every day we held our own vigil.

We made it past another three months with the help of friends and family who chipped in. God alludes to the principal that if birds never go without food, surely mankind, God’s prized love, shall be taken care of. Indeed, we were taken care of. From as little as the lunch lady who started supplying food to us at concessionary rates and on credit (yes it was a $1 a plate, delivered to the office), to random letters of encouragement.

We were still looking for money at this time and never gave up knocking on doors. The promises were many, just as many as the disappointments. I questioned myself greatly and thought perhaps I had overestimated the idea and my capability. I was highly insecure.

What kept us going was the belief that surely we cannot die. I remember vividly a friend’s mother, who had heard about us, coming into town and sending word to meet me. She sat me down, and in the vernacular told me to remain strong. She quoted bible verses and spoke of Gideon, the valiant and courageous man. She intimated how this was not about the money or how far it would go, but about life, about survival. “At your weakest, your insecurities are like uncovered wounds for all to see,” she said. “Some will help, while others will take the opportunity to poke and inflict even greater harm. Remain strong. The spirit is strong.”

Thus it became about survival. If we survive a day, we have survived an eternity. Breathe, Breathe, inhale and breathe.

Yet, in those moments came the most brilliant ideas. Lessons in entrepreneurship. Because we had stepped out and were visible, our courage led us to people in the same industry across the world. Inspired by our courage and our business idea they agreed to partner with us and provide all the capex needs of our business. But, we would need to meet our recurrent expenditures (Their little way of keeping us hungry). That was great, but unfortunately we had no liquidity. It did not bother us one bit, but what would we tell all our creditors? Some understood and some did not.

Slowly we started making progress and contracted for projects beyond the borders. The morning fog started clearing.

This morning I woke up and did not have the recurring nightmare of creditors running with an axe after me. I thought of the monthly tummy runs, the cycle that usually starts on the 25th of each month. My brain and body has not fully comprehended the change. My limbs are weak and the heavy burden though lifted has left an overweening, throbbing and piercing headache.

Yet again, I must breathe, breathe and breathe. I must stay hungry. Stay focused. Never get tired.

Friday, 22 July 2011

To pfungwa; a poem

To Pfungwa*

The others, they're the living dead in solitude,

of friends and foes who fizzled for lack of attitude,

ladies who dreamt of becoming beauty queens,

dreams that became hollow manuscripts; never to see the screens.

But me and my life, our destiny is significant,

my passion remains militant.

To fulfil a purpose,

A cause littered with all but intelligent verbose.


forgive my folly of yesterday,

I have my excuse, the tardiness of youth I say.

Allow me to enter your better dreams,

of sunny blue skies and many awes in screams.

Forgive me, if in all this I still fall short

Caress my guts and chide what hubris brought.

It was your fault in any case,

You sowed a seed in me to bargain for nothing less.

Little did you know God’s plan and action,

is for me to lead a nation.

A nation I call me,

that with no borders, tax, or any fee.

The path I travel has crossed many,

providence and dividends for the price of a penny.

Of strangers and creatures,

writing fiction and vanity pictures.

I learnt of Oysters that bore a pearl,

hardships that will make me an Earl!

*pfungwa- mind, thoughts.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

The love for Chinos

I love Chino’s. I love the way they feel on my skin. The tapered and tailored fit gives me a confidence to take on the world. Chinos are an excellent travelling companion, worn for multiple functions and dressed up in various ways. I wear mine, with a blazer, cardigan, polo shirt or shirt and immediately assume a different persona. I accessorise with belts and shoes and the same pair assumes a different aura.

I have noticed that many men have taken to wearing chinos. Unfortunately they wear chinos as they would ordinary trousers. This is wrong and a travesty. I understand that Americans have to wear everything pleated and buggy. But please not for a pair of Chinos; it doth destroy the “look”. The chinos look says “cool” not “granny pj’s” or “hammer pants”. And that should be the standard of whether or not one is wearing chinos correctly. Do you feel cool? Are you the coolest person in the room? If not, then it might be time to stop wearing chinos. Try something else.

My personal favourites are Chinos by Eden Park, Ralph Lauren and Hackett.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

All manner of manners

There was a time, not too long ago, when all it required to unnerve a man was mere flirting and slight body contact would discomfort the innards of a man and tailspin his ways. From across the room, the discreet dress slit would reveal womanly flesh, only for a moment and for a tease. Indeed, there was, once upon a time. Now it is no more. The lady in a slit has been replaced with the slut on heels. I hasten to add how difficult it is to find a lady with manners. Now, I write to declare a lady with manners is sexy. Yet such a breed, one finds not.

When was the last time you came across a man of manners? A gentleman? Not a chivalrous courtier, but simply a man of manners? I have been thinking about this quite a lot and grieved deeply the death of manners. Common decency has escaped the human race, we have become more and more crude and crass than wild animals. Please, May I, thank you's have been taken away from our vocabulary and all that is left are expletives about our behinds, our mothers and showing the middle finger as a sign of displeasure. When did it all go wrong?

Some argue, when writing, correct grammar and punctuation must be used at all times. Others think lowly of those that revert to text short-hand in emails or wherever the written word must be used. I am not too fussy on this. Honestly, why should I be worried? It is pretty lame to argue it bastardises the English language- when the English language itself is a bastard child of pure linguistic tongues like Latin and Greek. Yes, it shows impetuousness, but it is never offensive. Truly, use text message when you write me and I will certainly not think highly of you. But, neither will I think lowly of you. But use expletives as punctuation and my regard is gone with the wind. I totally understand the need to be dramatic and emphatic, when Chaucer used such words it was more emphatic than an exclamation mark. Now, if writers are told an exclamation mark can only be used after every hundred thousand words, then an expletive is the mother of emphasis. So let it be. Imagine then if every other word is a swear word or such.

There is nothing more sensual than a woman with manners, dressed appropriately and of intelligent countenance. I am quite convinced now; every woman in more carnal of relations can be quite Wolfish. But, I am not convinced in society too, the she-wolf can be a lady. So in mating I would rather simply look for a lady. The mini-skirts, make up, artificial coloured long nails, synthetic hair pieces and rowdy behaviour of our women folk is disgraceful. Is this what equal rights really mean? Is this what drinking beer means? To debauch one’s high regard and debase one’s standing to the lowly province of manly brutes in beer binge and sordid tongues? Honestly ladies, how do I become a suitable defender of your honour when such is nonexistent?

Don’t get me wrong, I love the mini-skirts on a feminine body. Only when appropriately dressed, with one with appropriate anatomy to flatter. Same with make –up, I love it to bits, on occasion and not every occasion. I love it when a woman dresses up; it is perfect manners to do so. Such efforts and indulgence are quite exemplary. My love for dresses and all femininity is well acknowledged. There is nothing more feminine than a sensual woman. Note, sensual, not selling sex. Sensuality is that refined allure when beauty meets charm. A lady who is both beautiful and charming. Now, it seems there is no difference between walking at the meat market place where every vendor is throwing all sort of meat at one. In a room full of ladies, the same applies-they have become vendors selling sex.

Men do not fare any better. But, in society there has always been a distinction between the brute and the gentleman. We knew what to expect from the brute and his ways. Similarly we knew the gentleman was raised in the highest order of manners. I decry the dearth of gentlemanly behaviour now. So few and far in-between. What has happened?

I remain forthright in my beliefs. I will dress up appropriately for any occasion and will address people with much regard and common decency. I will go to church in my Sunday best and shall demand the same of my off springs. Sunday reverence is demanded as a respect to God and those around me. Unless demanded, and by forceful of demands shall I swear- only for emphasis. I aspire to be a gentleman, because of all aspirations it is one that my children will remember me most by. And probably one I want my epitaph to say. He was a gentleman.

Monday, 13 June 2011

In which TV finds redemption

For purely aesthetics, I bought a TV. Well, at times it played a functional role in watching the old classics movies with Aubrey Hepburn and the like. Honestly though, I spent a considerable more on superior technology; that is, the sound system to accost my ears with innumerable pleasures of sound. Nonetheless,on those rare occasions the TV was a useful appendage in movie watching. Clearly, I can live without a TV, and its attended pollution.

But, this last week I have been enamoured with such fascinations as to please my person considerably. Cajoled to watch the TV series “The Tudors”, I was deeply appreciative of all. It is about King Henry VIII, the enigmatic fellow in England during the tail end of the Renaissance and the beginning of reformation. I am a student of history and a child of the Renaissance and thus on this count I did not need much persuasion. I was indeed persuaded most by the ability of the series to capture fully the time, trials and goings on of our favourite King. The producers have surely done a splendid and glorious job in bringing to TV the most troubling of times. The history content is apt and much has been done to preserve the historical account of things. Though I find the TV series to be extremely damning of the King. He was after all, a superior in intellect , widely read and a writer of note.

King Henry VIII, stands at the edifice of reformation, when the church of England broke away from the Papacy. This was fundamental, and it could only take a man of such fortitude and scholarship as Henry VIII. Of course there was the small matter of wanting to marry Anne Boleyn and subsequently find an heir to the throne. But, let us be honest, every man has his own trifles. And it is on these trifles of six marriages, the main focus of the series.

I have watched all four series and highly recommend this. I could not honestly claim to have a favourite character, but believe the Chancellors, Wolsey, More, and Cromwell did fabulous jobs as actors and brought to character the most formidable individuals during this period. Of all, though he played a minor role in the series, is the Earl of Surrey who brought to foe the tyranny of the king, and paid it all with his life. It didn’t matter his superiority in blood, those of low pedigree had gained favour.

Enjoy his poem, the happy life. A timeless piece with such eloquence and force in words it provokes at every stance:

MY friend, the things that do attain

The happy life be these, I find:

The riches left, not got with pain;

The fruitful ground; the quiet mind;

The equal friend; no grudge; no strife;

No charge of rule, nor governance;

Without disease, the healthy life;

The household of continuance;

The mean diet, no dainty fare;

Wisdom joined with simpleness;

The night discharged of all care,

Where wine the wit may not oppress:

The faithful wife, without debate;

Such sleeps as may beguile the night;

Content thyself with thine estate,

Neither wish death, nor fear his might.

Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey