Alexander Twinokwesiga, or Twino as he is commonly known, is a Ugandan serial social entrepreneur and struggling writer who happens to have trained as a lawyer.
In January of this year, Twino made a bold move that some would consider overly ambitious, and a potential failure. He launched alextwino.com, effectively the Swiss Army knife of websites. It provides solutions for immigration matters and the movement of goods and professionals as well as the starting of businesses across the region. It also aims to create partnerships and provide solutions in the field of indigenous or African literature. On top of that, the website offers marketing and shipping of local works of artistic expression, like items of fashion, art, music, and innovations. He's also mapping the unmapped places for short- and long-term residence across Uganda and the East African region.
Alex is a keen runner, and his website has a section dedicated to transforming Uganda into a running nation. He is also looking for creative ways to promote tourism, and he's in the process of creating a catalogue of charity projects to which both locals and foreigners can contribute to.
I had an interview with Twino and sought to find out why he chose to conduct his business online in a market where internet connection is a still a challenge.
Alexander Twinokwesiga, or Twino, all suited up
What ignited the spark in you to start an e-commerce business?
Alexander Twinokwesiga: I did not mean to start what it is that we have today. The web was, at least to ignorant me, a platform, a, to use the description, signpost, which I could use to share my offline business – as they were businesses I was either already privately engaged or interested in - with as many people as possible wherever they are, with the main emphasis being the East African region.
The knowledge, skills and efforts of my web designer, the brilliant gentleman that is Raymond Kasese, are what led to what we have today as the all embracing site that is alextwino.com.
What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful Tech-preneur in Uganda?
AT: You need to know your interest market. That is, its interaction with the web and its ability to exploit the potential it avails.
You also need to identify the ease of manipulation, efficiency and, importantly, convenience on the end of the consumers. You need to know what buttons to press in order to make your product work.
You also need designers and a technical team that knows what it's doing.
What have been some of your challenges and what have you learnt from them?
AT: Internet access can be intermittent at best, and distribution mediums are also very inefficient. However, the major challenge we continue to face is that we are still stuck in an era when people rely on word-to-mouth for the delivery of information. We are yet to help people realize that the internet is much more than Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and that the buy or order button is their new best friend.
How has being a tech-preneur affected your daily life?
AT: I left my job, as an associate advocate in a Nairobi law firm, to return home and concentrate on contributing to the building of my nation by fulfilling one of my childhood dreams, that is becoming an entrepreneur. Unless that changes, and I hope it never does, I continue to enjoy every waking day of it, and, importantly, learning from every experience as I prepare for much brighter days in the future.
How long do you stick with an idea before giving up?
AT: I never really give up on an idea. I constantly have ideas hatching in my head every other second. If I believe in one, I will take note of it, study it, weigh the options it presents and decide to pursue it, or keep it detailed on paper until it is ripe enough. That may take an instant, a day, a week, or years. Some of the companies under the alextwino.com umbrella, like 'Something Ugandan', spent three years drafted on paper before eventually coming to life.
What is the best way to achieve long term success in e-commerce?
AT: Developing countries, like Uganda, have undeveloped infrastructure, different cultures and business practice, which might, and do not support the development of e-commerce – yet - in the same degree as those in developed countries.
For e-commerce ventures to succeed in the prevailing circumstances, they must meet the key requirements of businesses, as well as successfully compete against their competitors in meeting the needs of their customers.
How do you build a successful customer base?
AT: I believe that the best resource there is are people, and people get easily bored or disinterested. To maintain a successful customer base out of them, you have no option but to keep them interested and served well enough with viable solutions that help them meet their needs and overcome their challenges.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
AT: When I started out, I worked hard to get people to believe in what I am doing. Getting people to trust you does not come that easily. At the moment, I am in daily conversation with people from all corners of the continent and beyond, and I'm constantly getting wonderful advice from inspirational, successful people I never thought I would never share the same space with. That in itself is quite satisfying.
Excluding your company, what company or business do you admire the most?
AT: Berkshire Hathaway.
Where do you see the future of e-commerce in the next two years?
AT: The future is unlimited. The future is online. There are many more people going onto the internet now than ever before. We will be immensely delighted to welcome and interest them in our products and/or services, which we hope will be much more convenient by then.