Back in May I posted about my grand plans for funding my future Portugal land purchase and all of the adventures that will come along with it. Ah May… back when life seemed so clear and simple! Back then, I was 99.4% certain that a partnership I’d been working on with a business dude I know in Kenya was in the bag. We’ve worked together in the past and when he saw my first Kigali map, he seemed keen on helping me bring one to Nairobi.
After years of talking about it, I finally got around to starting my Nairobi map and we met up back in February when I was in town. I originally went in to meet with him to try to sell him some ad space on the map, but that quickly turned into a deeper discussion about partnering up so that he and his team would do all of the things I hate doing – mainly selling the ad spaces and setting up and managing distribution and sales of the maps. I eagerly agreed!
A Harsh Change of Plans
I worked for months on figuring out how the money would break down between us and how it would all work. It took ages and I really thought we’d hammered out all of the details and I was confident that everything would go ahead. I thought that we just had to wait for his team to draw up a final contract. Months dragged on then, finally, in August he let me know that there’d been a change in management at his company. This brought a new board of directors and, for them, the project didn’t fit with the direction of their business. Boo them.
So what I thought would be an easy time in Nairobi with my work 100% dedicated to map research and design has turned into a lot more work. I’m back to square one and I have to figure out how to register a business, possibly find a partner, negotiate the confusing world of taxes, find an accountant, sell 17 ad spaces and the cover ad, figure out a distribution network and how to manage that while I’m away, and also finish researching and designing the actual map itself. Worse, it means that instead of having a lump sum of around $40,000 coming at me in two payments between January and June next year, I have only what I’m able to earn in ad and map sales which will be significantly less (due to printing way fewer maps) and spread out over a longer period of time.
It was a bit of a shock to the system when I got the news but nothing is insurmountable. I don’t love all of the extra sales and business stuff associated with making these maps, but I figured it all out in Kampala so I’m sure I can do the same in Nairobi. I guess the time crunch is my main concern since I want to be back in Portugal by the mid-March 2019. But these things happen and I did have this nagging feeling that it might not work out. The most annoying thing, though, is that I would have spent my time in a much different way when I was in Nairobi in February had this deal not been on the table. Instead of focusing so much on producing the map itself, I would have been meeting with as many people as possible and showing them my idea, selling ads, and trying to set up a business. Instead, now that I’m back here, I have a crazy amount of work to cram into three months.
The New Plan
But I’m pretty flexible when it comes to business and I’m not too stressed out about the whole thing. I’ve tried to partner with other people previously and it’s never really worked out. Doing my own thing lets me play around with the numbers a bit more. I only need to earn enough to make me happy and I don’t have to worry about pricing things or producing huge numbers of maps so that it’s worth it for my partner as well. Plus, it means that I don’t have anyone else to consult with and that the whole idea will live or die based on my work alone – a slightly scary but also empowering feeling.
So in the end, what I thought of as a huge blow could actually turn out to be a blessing in disguise. After a bit of number crunching, I think I can plan things so that I reprint all of my maps each year instead of every two years or more. I’ve found a printing company in Nairobi that’s cheaper than the one in London and printing in East Africa means that customs fees are less for Uganda and Rwanda and zero for Kenya. Plus shipping can be by bus and will be drastically cheaper. This means I can afford to do smaller print runs and possibly even charge less for each map. A smaller print run also means I’ll have to charge a bit less for the ad spaces, but I’m hoping this will make the spaces easier to sell.
Crunching Some Numbers
When I thought I’d be working with a partner in Nairobi, we were talking about printing 10,000 maps to last about 1.5 to 2 years. Selling all of those in that time would have been a challenge, but he seemed up to it so I was on board too. For my Kigali and Kampala maps I’ve been printing 5,000 at a time, only because that’s the only thing that made financial sense given the expensive printing and shipping costs. Doing large print runs means a lot of maps a lot to manage and store, which can be a logistical challenge. More importantly, things in these cities change so quickly that reprinting every 2.5 years is really too long between maps.
Based on previous sales, I’d likely print around 2,500 maps each for Kampala and Kigali and start with 3,500 maps for Nairobi to last for 12 months before reprinting. I currently sell my maps wholesale for around $5 and then they’re sold on for about $9. To make sure the maps move more quickly, I’d like to get the final sale price down to closer to $7 with a wholesale price for around $4. I sell ad space for $0.10 per map (and the cover space for $0.25) so a smaller print run will hopefully make ad sales easier to get (or renew).
With this model, my finances look pretty good, especially for a single person business that I only work on for a few months each year. The tricky part will be getting the reprints all timed so that I can do them all on one trip. It’s not a business that will make me rich, but it’s something I love doing that will allow me the time and money to build things in Portugal.
Living Between Portugal and East Africa
What it all adds up to, I hope, is a great balance between life in Portugal and East Africa. I have it in my head that I’ll spend around April to December in Portugal, head home to Canada for Christmas, and then shuffle off to East Africa each January for three months to reprint and distribute all of my maps. I’d spend a month in each place to do the research for the reprints which will be tight, but with some planning and preparation I think I could get it done.
Once my distribution networks and advertisers are in place, that’s the hardest part done. The making of the actual maps is the part that I love and wandering around East African capital cities to research my maps (while avoiding the winter) is, for me, a perfect way to spend my time. I love all three cities and, right now, I can’t imagine life without some time in this great region of the world.
My initial plan was to commit to being in Portugal 100% but I think I’m still a bit too nomad-y to do that yet and this is a great compromise. My plan in Portugal once I get my land will be more focused on building and planting trees rather than things that would require me to be around year-round like having animals. But my current passion is building and getting to spend eight or nine months building a house and making things in Portugal and the rest of my time doing research and design work on my maps in East Africa would be the best scenario I could imagine.
So I think the disappointment of not having a lump sum in 2019 to put towards my land might have resulted in something better and I’ll adjust my plans to fit in with whatever my budget is at the time. Maybe it means a smaller piece of land, maybe it means begging and borrowing for a bit extra, or maybe it means delaying things a bit until I have some more money in the bank. All will be revealed in the new year and I’m excited to see how things unfold!
But now… I’m in Nairobi and I have some serious map work to do. I’ll be here… walking around, eating all of the things, lingering in cafes, meeting random dudes who want to pose for photos with cars, enjoying the friendly Kenya vibe, and soaking up the glorious sunshine.