A Ghanaian author, Ernest Agyemang Yeboah wrote that “a diligent hawker today can be a great tycoon tomorrow”.
This clearly describes the character of Brian Yesigye Bravo, 42, the brain behind fast-growing Bravo Shoes.
For social media junkies, the name Brian Yesigye and Bravo Shoes aren’t new to you, but what perhaps you don’t know is his untold success story.
Like humble beginnings tend to make great personalities, Yesigye hails from a humble background that could have shaped him to work hard to become a millionaire today.
Outside social media where he markets his shoes, Yesigye likes to live a low profile and push his brand to greater heights.
In an exclusive interview with Business Focus, Yesigye reveals how his business journey started 20 years ago with Shs300,000. He says before starting his own business, he was a street vendor of brand new male garments at the City Centre Complex Building on Luwum Street in the late 1990s.
20 years later, his sweat coupled with determination and innovation has paid off as he now owns a successful shoe brand (Bravo shoes) by Ugandan standards.
“I started my business career with one Nick Mushungu who was dealing in brand new cloths during my O Level vacation in the 1990s,” Yesigye, who is popularly known as Bravo, recalls.
He says he adopted the Bravo name from a white friend, Cohen Bravo during his time at Kyamugorani Primary School in Mbarara.
He reveals that even while in lower primary, he had business instincts in him; he would do petty jobs like selling eucalyptus seedlings to make some money.
From Kyamugorani, he attended Nganwa High School also in Western Uganda before joining Nakasero secondary School and Lubaga for O Level and finally went for a mature entry programme to pursue his advanced certificate at Nakivubo Blue.
Success is built over time
From Yesigye’s story, its clear success isn’t built overnight.
He says from vending, he has done other several jobs including running a barbershop and selling old newspapers in Kampala among others.
After quitting the above jobs, he was employed at a garments shop in the City, but he didn’t last long as he was fired.
He was then employed by another garments shop owned by a one Muhammad Sserunyigo. He was also restless here and decided to call it quits to start his own business.
“After some challenges, my brother Sam Busuulwa gave me shs300,000 and I used Shs200,000 to pay rent for two months here at the City Centre Complex and Shs100,000 was enough for me to start a good business,” he reveals.
He adds that he had a colleague, one Kanaakulya who would trust him with garments and he would pay after making a sale.
Being friendly, Yesigye had right friends at the right time. His business soon grew and started importing items.
“Before I started going to Dubai, I got a great inspiration from Edith Nabukeera, who owns a shop in Avemar Building,” Yesigye says.
By early 2000, the journey to Dubai was ripe.
However, he could only afford a hand luggage size of the traveler’s bag which is recommended not to carry more than 45kg. He says he could afford to carry about 50 shirts.
Thankfully, that’s the time fancy weddings started to flourish in Kampala.
“I always have issues with quality. All my time, I want to give the best and win trust for my customers and within a year and 2 months, I was ready to go to Dubai. I reached there and came back with 50 pair of shirts,” he says, adding that he would make four trips to Dubai in a year.
During his trips to Dubai, he says, he had a good friend in Godfrey Yiga, a cab driver at Entebe Airport, who was very helpful.
“Yiga would sometimes give me money to clear taxes and then pay him later,” he says.
Yesigye says that in 2002, he thought of going to Turkey after some good tips from other travelers and businessmen. However, the road to Turkey was full of immigration issues.
He says that getting a visa then would take six months. The trips paid off and he got friends there.
Going into shoes
“In Turkey I got along with one family which was making shoes on a small scale. They were so curious about my colour and English accent,” he says, adding: “I started bringing a few pieces and I thought about building a brand using my third adopted name, Bravo.”
Bravo Shoes Limited is a registered company and brand currently employing 12 staff directly and eight indirectly.
Yesigye, who is uncomfortable giving his income details, says he pays sh3m for rent monthly and imports between 20ft – 40ft container every quarter (after 3 months).
His marketing strategy also involves giving back in terms of Corporate Social Responsibility.
Young artists like Fresh Kid, Felister, and Henry Ssuubi have benefitted from Bravo whose biggest clientele is school going children in primary and secondary schools.
He also has shoes for individuals.
He says schools like Kampala Parents, Gombe High School, St Andrew Kaggwa and Watoto Schools among others are already doing business with him because of the quality and durability of his shoes.
The prices for his shoes ranges from shs120,000 to shs145,000 and they come with one year guarantee.
“I don’t have many challenges; the challenges we encounter we embrace them and I use them to become who I am,” he says.
When Bravo started bringing in a few pieces of shoes from Turkey, it was a risky trip because if not careful, you could easily be deported on arrival.
In 2006, he says, there was a production error on the batch of 500 shoes because they could not comply with conditions in Uganda.
“I was forced to refund to my customers and take responsibility. I realized business is about quality and price comes second,” he reveals.
He says building a successful brand, being able to import and employ himself, employ a few Ugandans and meet his bills is an achievement.
In future, Bravo is looking at having franchises across major towns in Uganda.
“My model of growth is franchising. I am looking for allies and expansion will be dictated by demand,” he says.
Advice to start-ups
“If you’re to do business successfully and enjoy the outcome, avoid anger, greed and ignorance,” he advises young business owners.