NEWTON BUTERABA is a man of many hats; professionally, he is a statistician and information security systems expert but when it comes to work, he is an investor, business consultant, motivational speaker, influencer and legal scholar, among others.
He is best known as the brains behind House Of Wealth, a business consultancy. You have probably come across his face on television, on YouTube or Facebook, where he teaches financial literacy. However, little is known about the 35-year-old and what inspires him.
As Joshua Victor Semaganda writes, Buteraba’s gift of money is inherent. Of late, Buteraba has become a frequent face on various television stations as he preaches the gospel of financial independence. During a session of NTV’s Mwasuze Mutya few weeks ago, callers persuaded host Faridah Nakazibwe to prolong the interview with Buteraba.
Buteraba speaks with a persuasion of a salesman, the conviction of a hustler and experience of a capitalist. He has been through all those situations and has tasted the highs of having money before it disappeared to the extent of him becoming a fugitive and then reinvent himself with lessons from that experiment. That’s why he willingly shares his money story to help people make, grow and keep money.
His weekly Facebook Live sessions draw thousands of viewers with streams of comments on how he motivates and changes their mindsets on money.
On this Wednesday afternoon when I visited his neat office at Buddu House on Bombo road, I found him conducting a training session with about 20 people who are looking for ideas on investment.
“You need to read widely but don’t be too dependent on what you read from Western authors because many of them, they live in the ideal world. Here, we suffer the corrosive effect of corruption that may make it difficult to put inspirational ideas into practice,” he warns.
“I wouldn’t advise you to go into farming without learning from an experienced person because our agricultural sector is slanted and places farmers at the bottom of the chain…they lack control or influence and have been left to pray to God for good weather and yields. They are at the mercy of the middlemen regardless of how good the product is.”
In this question-and-answer session, Buteraba uses demographic statistics to explain why people should not rush to have children or even enter marriage. “I wonder why one would fundraise for one’s wedding without setting up a business or, if it already exists, add another income generating venture…it makes no sense,” he says.
He further questions the wealth of knowledge of poor Ugandans.
“Have you ever wondered why gossip is the best-selling news in Uganda and business the least? It’s because of the negative attitude to development issues. It amazes me because you will find a boda boda rider who knows all the betting tips or the skills to seduce women but when it comes to his own financial literacy, he will see it as rocket science,” he says.
Buteraba ends the session with an emphasis on the art of communication. “I learnt from an early age that communication is key for any successful business. There is a reason why in Uganda the major medium of advertising is Luganda. Look at the big advertisers and how they twist English words to sound Lugandaish…words like Dabolo, Paka Last, etc,” he adds.
Buteraba sums up the briefing with a word of caution. “I don’t teach people to get rich but to be financially independent,” he says.
Later, I sit down with him to understand what makes him tick. “I love my job because I touch on the lives of many people. I actually work 16 hours a day because most of my clients are based abroad in different time zones.”
Buteraba operates under his House of Wealth (HOW) and on a typical day, he wakes up at 5 am to respond to queries from his online clients.
I asked myself, what makes Buteraba so special? “I’m not special at all,” he says. “I’m just lucky to be able to use my gift, expertise and experience to positively impact people’s financial decisions. What keeps most people in a vicious cycle of poverty starts with the wrong mindset to money and this is manifested in the acquisition and spending.”
“In Uganda, it is very normal for one to spend money without a budget or on issues that cannot uplift his financial independence. Many Ugandans also lack financial discipline to live within their means because they speculate a lot.”
Buteraba says he is a keen reader of the Bible and cites 2 Corinthians 9:6-7 that says God loves a cheerful giver. “The key word here is cheerful; so, why spend a fortune on relatives when you lack basics at home? It is clear you are not giving cheerfully when you do so in those circumstances.”
I later learn that Buteraba’s financial acumen was inculcated in him at a young age while growing up in Mityana.
“For my ninth birthday in 1992, my dad bought me a bicycle but it had no handbrakes. One had to cycle it anti-clockwise in order for it to brake. When I went to the playing field with the bicycle, everyone wanted a turn to ride but people would end up falling as they were not used to its braking system. One day my cousin advised me that if many people are falling off the bike, it was bound to get spoilt and I would struggle to repair it if I did not have money,” he recalls.
It was at this point that Buteraba developed a money idea. “The next day I charged my friends Shs 200 to use the bike per lap at the pitch and on average I collected Shs 5,000 every day. I made so much money as a nine-year-old in those days that going to school felt somewhat nonsensical.”
This experience opened Buteraba’s eyes to the value of money, how to make and keep it. But the bicycle business died a natural death the following year when his parents carted him off to Trio primary school, a boarding school within Mityana.
“Trust me, I protested vehemently, pointing to my parents all that money that I would lose at the playing field while in boarding school,” he remembers.
However, Buteraba’s rant would later pay off when, upon return from school, his father offered him a chance to work at his hardware shop in Mityana.
“This was the most lucrative way to make up for my losses from the bike business. He showed me his ‘big’ prices, ‘adult’ books of account, and my ‘large’ commission. I was bamboozled by all the figures, and so, I reluctantly gave in,” he says.
Ironically, Buteraba was no longer making his own money at the shop but it is here that he grew in confidence and honed negotiation and sales skills.
“I learnt about conflict resolution by observing dad’s technique of dealing with unhappy customers,” he says.
Buteraba gained financial maturity early on and by the time he was 16 years during his O-level vacation, he could run the entire hardware shop single-handedly every time his father had other things to do.
“Capitalizing on my confidence and desire to succeed, dad would frequently send me nearly 40 miles into Kampala city with a lot of cash to pay suppliers and make hardware purchases in really tough joints like Shauriyako, William street, Nakasero market and Industrial area,” he recalls.
In 2003 when Buteraba got admitted to Makerere University to study a bachelor’s degree in Statistics, he was placed in Lumumba hall, where he immediately realized that the ‘faculty allowance’ or stipend given to government-sponsored students could not give him the life he wanted on campus.
Like the fire of a raging dragon, the entrepreneur in him was reawakened when he started trading in the gray market.
“In the second year of my university education, I started up a string of income-generating ventures, all of them ensconced in my little room at Lumumba hall. For instance, I would lend my hard-earned commission from dad’s hardware shop to fellow students….I also opened up the first PlayStation games centre at the university,” he says.
Buteraba says he took shrewdness to another level when he started buying rooms in Makerere’s eight halls of residence from government-sponsored undergraduates who did not want to stay in the hall and resell them to others who cherished the experience of on-campus accommodation.
“You cannot believe it but I also used to buy and resell meal cards of students who could afford to forego on-campus meals…I also owned a computer and other accessories with which I used to offer secretarial services,” he says.
“When business boomed, Buteraba says he acquired a public address system that he used to hire out for birthdays and graduation parties. All this exposed him to many people to the extent that he even had the audacity to start a property and merchandise company with a friend.
“We would connect buyers to sellers of all items needed by campusers such as electronics, furniture, rare books and clothes,” he says. “I made like Shs 2m every month, which was so much money as an undergraduate. In the result, I attended lectures only to safeguard my business, and not for any other reason.”
Upon graduation in 2007, Buteraba admits that he had to let go most of the businesses he started at university. That’s when he decided to grow the money-lending business and subsequently acquired a money lending license in 2009.
“I brought on board my dad and uncle as partners. The fortune grew to hundreds of millions of shillings,” he says.
But in a swift turn of events, Buteraba says he lost a lot of money to debtors that failed to pay. “By early 2011, I had lost almost everything. I tried debt-recovery methods like arbitration and suing in court but all were in vain,” he says.
Kampala life was becoming uneasy and after sensing that the noose was tightening around him, he gathered the little capital left, borrowed more money from two banks and went to the UK to study a master’s degree in Information Security at the University of London.
While in the UK, he did several jobs to make ends meet and bankroll his studies. “I attended to warehouses, cleaned at an international school and also waited tables in a five-star hotel,” he says.
In the end, he says, he garnered valuable experience and global contacts along the way. In 2012, after graduating, he applied to work in the UK but due to the tough employment rules for foreigners, he failed to secure a work permit.
Yet again, this exposed Buteraba to adversity. His career was in tatters and his confidence hit rock bottom. Crestfallen, he returned to Uganda in 2013 with a heavy debt burden.
“As soon as I came back, my lawyers told me that I was the “most-wanted-man” by the banks from which I had borrowed to finance my master’s degree,” he said. For some weeks, Buteraba lived like a fugitive as he negotiated a settlement with the banks.
A fresh start
Opportunity coincided with preparation in October 2013 when he got a job with Enterprise Uganda to work on a UK-funded project as the information systems specialist.
“Enterprise Uganda then enrolled me on EMPTRETEC [an entrepreneurship program run by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development] and I excelled at the course and subsequently became a national trainer,” he says.
This new fresh start opened up even more opportunities, including the job of entrepreneurship trainer on a Norwegian-funded project Enterprise Uganda.
“I traversed the entire northern and eastern regions of Uganda teaching financial literacy, entrepreneurship, savings, investments and customer care,” he says. “This was valuable first-hand experience about financial literacy and how it can impact on people.”
By 2015, Buteraba had paid off all his debts and was now a visiting lecturer at Makerere University’s School of Computing and Informatics Technology, where he taught Entrepreneurship to undergraduate students and Data Encryption to postgraduate students.
So, with these two well-paying jobs, Buteraba’s rollercoaster life had turned around full circle. “I was young, ready and hungry. I was buying and reselling cars online. I was even lending money again,” he says.
In 2016, Buteraba says, he negotiated a multimillion shillings employment contract for four-and-a-half years with Chemonics Inc as a private sector partnerships manager on a USAID-funded project.
In this capacity, he traversed the western Uganda to train youthful farmers on entrepreneurship and how to grow their farms as a business.
“Having regained my financial muscle, I listened to the inner voice that was constantly calling me to share my passion about how to bring financial freedom to people,” he says.
And, in a shocking move that baffled his family, Buteraba resigned my ‘mega’ job last year, and founded a new initiative called House OF Wealth (HOW). “I don’t regret one bit because I’m now my own boss,” he says.
“I like to impact on people’s lives and I find this to be an exciting company that shows people how to make, grow and keep money through motivational talks, business advisory, business trainings, and wealth management,” he says. “I don’t stop at motivating people; I have a pragmatic approach because I also help people, especially those abroad, to make sound financial investments such as land.”
True to his word, our interview had to end abruptly because he had to attend to the long queue of people at the office and those online.
On a personal note, Buteraba is still single and doesn’t have any children yet. “I don’t need to rush a family because I’m too busy doing investments. I buy chunks of land, partition and resale it. I have plots on sale in Vvumba on Gayaza-Zirobwe road, Ssisa on Entebbe road and Gimbo in Wakiso,” he says. What a life!