Image credit: Jeff Stamer

The Lion and the Ranger (Part 4)

__Keep your eyes open. There is something going on!

My first contact with mobile telephony was actually at university in the early 1980s in a telecommunications class. At that time there were small systems operating in the US. I had one question on my mind: Why can’t we introduce this technology in Africa?

Fast forward: I was now an entrepreneur running my own business, and focused on construction engineering. Having always subscribed to professional magazines, I knew about the excitement building up over mobile telephony in Europe and America.

There was no Internet where I could “Google” to learn the latest developments but I did my best to keep up, sometimes going to the British Council to read foreign newspapers! I would often spend hours in the library at the University of Zimbabwe, even though I was never a student there. I would go there to read periodicals on engineering subjects.

One day an American guy who sold “walkie-talkie” radios for the police forces came by my office and I began to pump him about this new technology:

“Do you know if there is anyone in Africa working on mobile phones?”

“There’s a guy in Zaire who has started operating a small analogue system. He set it up in 1987. Has about 3,000 customers.”

“Can you introduce me to him?”

“Definitely.”

A few weeks later I was on my way to Zaire (now DRC). Mobuto was still President. That was 1991.

I began to travel to telecommunications equipment trade shows. During one of those trips in Germany, I went straight to the Siemens stand:

“I hear you guys recently shipped a small trial digital mobile switch to Cameroon.”

“Where did you hear that?” the guy asked, quite surprised.

He introduced me to his boss, who introduced me to his boss. Eventually someone admitted they knew something. They were behaving like it was some kind of state secret! Eventually someone introduced me to the guys at Siemens South Africa. It was now 1992.

“Since you are so smart, you obviously know that soon a new standard will be announced called GSM,” the guy said laughing as I sat in their Pretoria office.

“Then things are really going to take off,” he said. “This game is not going to be analogue but digital.”

“Yes, I know.”

“What do you have in mind?” he asked.

“I want to set up my own business in Zimbabwe.”

The story of my battle for a license in Zimbabwe, and subsequent successes in countries like Botswana, Lesotho, Kenya, New Zealand, are well documented. I have chosen to recount this part of the story in the Lion and The Ranger series, because there are key lessons for entrepreneurs running through this theme:

# To get in early on new developments you have to be well read, and constantly learning!

Right now, even as I write, there are things emerging that are going to be bigger than anything we have seen before, including mobile phones, and the Internet. These developments are known best by people linked to a particular field, and who are determined to stay at its cutting edge.

__It does not matter what you are into, there is something going on there! It might be in cars, media, telephony, agricultural, manufacturing technology… something is going on!

# Once you spot an opportunity you must step up your learning about it. It will not come from one small write up. You will have to follow up, sometimes even for months or even years. There are no “short cuts.” You must apply yourself.

# Invest in yourself! See how I invested in both time and money to get the knowledge and contacts I needed. With your smartphone, in less than two weeks you could probably learn everything I took years to find out in those days…

Wow, you guys are so blessed! I could wait three weeks (or more) to get a reply to a letter for information. This now takes you a matter of seconds, on the smartphone you’re using to read this post!

# Act quickly. Don’t procrastinate!

“If you see a bandwagon, it is already too late!” William Goldsmith, once said… As a student I once worked in a restaurant and I learnt it’s not smart to order food when the kitchen is about to close. # You figure it out.

Finally, always remember: # Your mindset!

Maybe you are not yet as successful as you want to be, or you feel you aren’t successful at all…

# Every single lion in the history of the world started out as a cub.

To be continued. . .

by 16 Replies

About Strive Masiyiwa

Strive Masiyiwa is the Founder and Executive Chairman of Econet, a diversified global telecommunications group with operations and investments in over 15 countries. His business interests also include renewable energy, financial services, media and hospitality. Masiyiwa serves on a number of international boards, including Unilever, Rockefeller Foundation, the Council on Foreign Relations’ Global Advisory Board, the Africa Progress Panel, the UN Secretary General's Advisory Board for Sustainable Energy, Morehouse College, Hilton Foundation's Humanitarian Prize Jury and the Kenjin-Tatsujin International Advisory Council. He is one of the founders, with Sir Richard Branson, of the global think tank, the Carbon War Room, and a founding member of the Global Business Coalition on Education. Masiyiwa took over the Chairmanship of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) from Kofi Annan. He is also Chair of the Micronutrient Initiative, a global organization focused on ending child hunger and improving nutrition. In 2012, Masiyiwa was invited by President Obama to address leaders at the Camp David G-8 Summit on how to increase food production and end hunger in parts of Africa. In 2014, Masiyiwa was selected to Fortune Magazine’s list of the “World’s 50 Greatest Leaders”. As a philanthropist, he is a member of the Giving Pledge, and his contributions to education, health and development have been widely recognized. Masiyiwa and his wife finance the Higher Life Foundation, which provides scholarships to over 42,000 African orphans. In 2015, he was the recipient of the International Rescue Committee’s Freedom Award and was presented with a UN Foundation Global Leadership Award for the work of the Africa Against Ebola Solidarity Trust, which he chairs and helped establish to fund the deployment of African healthcare workers to combat the outbreak in West Africa.

16 thoughts on “The Lion and the Ranger (Part 4)

  1. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Afterthought 1.
    As I studied how to get into this new business called “mobile networks”, I thought of all kinds of entry points. I contacted potential manufactures of mobile phones to get dealerships. I heard about a Finnish company moving from timber into electronics and was betting big on mobile phones. Back then it was not a household name… Nokia! I was ready to try out anything to get into this new game.

    Reply
  2. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Afterthought 2.
    In this series I have talked about things like Virtual Reality, electric cars, augmented intelligence, and so on. I could have just as easily been talking about developments in other fields. The list is endless. You are better placed to pursue developments in your own field of interest. I’m interested in teaching you principles that will help you spot opportunities, and then execute on them.

    Reply
  3. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Afterthought 3.
    During my visit to Kinshasa, as we drove through town, I noticed that there were a lot of men, dressed in great suits and colorful clothes, who were speaking very loudly on their mobile phones. “Wow!” I thought, “So many people have phones already!”

    “Unfortunately, those are dummy phones which they use to impress girls!” said the guy I had gone to see. The guy was charging $3 per minute and had only 3,000 subscribers. That is how the industry worked in the early days.

    Reply
  4. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Afterthought 4.
    Imagine there are guys who still call me to tell me they can get a mobile license in this or that African country. They just don’t understand when I tell them I’m not really that interested. I can buy an existing telecommunications business, under certain conditions, but start a new one from scratch? That does not make business sense!

    Reply
  5. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Afterthought 5.
    Is it possible that in future we will not rear animals for food at all?

    When I heard that people like Bill Gates and Richard Branson have invested in companies that produce “meat” which does not involve rearing an animal, I was totally intrigued and wanted to find out more! First of all, I read everything I could find over the Internet during my spare time. Finally I got my chance to actually visit a company called “Impossible Foods” in California. Yes, I tasted the “Impossible Burger,” and I could NOT tell it apart from normal meat! The “meat” had “blood, fat, texture…” It was “meat,” yet it was not from an animal, but plants! This was a few years ago already.

    Fast forward: Recently my daughter, who is a student in America, told me she went to one of the first restaurants which specializes in selling only “Impossible Burgers.” You have to queue to get one of these burgers, and they’re very expensive.

    “It’s amazing! In a few years, we will not need cows!” she said excitedly.

    Before you express an opinion, just take time this week to study this development. Do a bit of research. If you have Kwesé Play, there’s an amazing documentary on Economist Films which you can also see and share your thoughts with others.

    Reply
  6. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Chris writes,

    Just like you said, every industry is now technology driven.
    Impossible Foods’ scientists discovered that a molecule called heme is a key factor in how meat behave. Heme is the molecule that gives blood its red color and helps carry oxygen in living organisms. Heme is abundant in animal muscle but is found naturally in all living organisms. Plants, particularly nitrogen-fixing plants and legumes, also contain heme. The heme molecule in plant-based heme is identical to the heme molecule found in meat.
    To produce heme protein from non-animal sources, Impossible Foods selected the heme found naturally in the roots of soy plants. To make plant-based heme in large quantities, Impossible Foods’ scientists then engineered a yeast and used a fermentation process very similar to the brewing process used to make some types of beer.

    My reply,
    Well done.
    Next what will you do with this knowledge yourself?

    Reply
  7. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Afterthought:
    Last night I watched Shark Tank in the US.
    I never miss Shark Tank.

    Mark Cuban said something to a young man who wanted to quit school and pursue his venture:
    “Go to university and finish your studies. Take every opportunity to increase your knowledge, because the greatest competitive advantage to an entrepreneur is knowledge.”
    I totally agreed with him:
    The modern entrepreneur is someone who lives their lives as a “compulsive learner”!

    Reply
  8. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Kweku writes,

    Dear Strive Masiyiwa
    I have been pursuing the trail of a disruptive technology for a year now but this post just showed me I am thinking way too small, i am inspired by how you fiercely pursued knowledge, its something i have come to realize many people down play.
    Your faith in pursuing this technology has greatly paid off.

    Faith in business is risk and your story is just one of rewarded risk founded on wisdom and insight
    Today am going to spend my day thinking bigger and narrowing my focus to achieving one block at a time.
    The goal is to think longterm and be aligned to be carried by the wave that is coming!

    My reply,
    If you follow the path I have taken on Kwese TV, it is very similar to our mobile business venture (Econet Wireless).
    I did not just wake up one morning and say “hey let’s build a Pan African TV network.”
    It was a process that began years ago once I realized that one day TV would migrate to the mobile phone.
    I kept tracking the developments, and following until I felt it was time to act. The rest is history.
    Last night millions of people watched Joshua VS Takam using their mobile phones than on actual traditional TV sets.

    Reply
  9. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Afterthought:
    Earlier this week, when I was in London, I attended a dinner for an organization called The Elders, which is chaired by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan (banner picture).
    He will be 80 next year. His passion for peace in the world, always leaves me totally humbled.
    #Salute. Respect.
    Next year we will also celebrate 100 years since the birth of Nelson Mandela.

    Reply
  10. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Kwese Family:
    On Kwese TV we will have 75 x channels before the end of November. There will be an additional 5 channels switched on this week.
    Any channel that starts as “Kwese xxx”, is a channel we created ourselves. These channels are unique to us as a broadcaster. I’m very proud of these channels.
    Some of you know about Kwese Inc the channel for entrepreneurs.

    This week we will be launching our newest channel in this category:
    Kwese Family. It has taken us more than 2 years to put this together.

    Can anyone give me a list of all the Kwese owned channels?

    Reply
  11. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Afterthought:
    The population of Africa is expected to rise from 1.2bn, to 4.5bn by the end of this century. Many people on this platform will actually be still alive!

    Using the current techniques in food production means we will not be able to feed ourselves. So even if you are passionate about agriculture like I’m, you have to be interested in anything related to increasing food production, with a very open mind.
    This calls for very holistic approaches which are sustainable, and don’t harm the environment or people’s health.

    You know by now that I don’t look at the future of anything with fear or dread. There is no need to fear the future or changes and challenges it brings, as long as we don’t just sit around doing nothing.

    Reply
  12. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Kibet writes,

    Am in online education as a business and it’s a huge opportunity as technology advances and internet speed improves, as well as cost to access internet is coming down, and smartphone price coming down as well and the young population in Africa. Oooooh I feel inspired!!

    My reply,
    I’m also in this business. Welcome!

    We have a company called Cassava EduTech. It is part of a business called Cassava Fintech which looks at financial technologies related to mobile phones such as remittances, insurance and mobile money.

    In Cassava EduTech we focus on how mobile phones will be used to drive education. We have a number of platforms including Ruzivo which looks at primary and secondary school education. Ecoshool which looks at University level education. We also have Muzinda Hub, which trains computer coding.

    Reply
  13. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Afterthought:
    Zaire (DRC) was considered the ultimate basket case as a country, at the time. A few months before I arrived the country had riots that resulted in major parts of Kinshasa being burnt down.
    Most people would have dismissed such a place, or said “can any good come from Zaire?”

    #It was important that I visit what was the first mobile network in Africa, at the time.

    I did not hesitate once I had checked out how we could go in and out, and was assured of our security.
    I looked for people who had actually been there recently, and talked to them about the situation to build an accurate picture,

    #There are some lessons, I want you to glean from this part of the story, from an entrepreneurial point of you:

    Can you list at least 3 lessons from [just] this part of the story?

    Let’s engage. It will make you a better entrepreneur.

    Reply
  14. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Afterthought:
    When launching a new venture, or developing an existing one; the most important messages I try to convey to our people is this:

    “If everything is a priority; nothing is…”.

    Even when you have a great vision, you must still be systematic, methodical, and disciplined in your implementation.

    Some things may have to wait, even if others think they are important.
    Stay focused.
    #People;
    #Product;
    #Process.

    Reply
  15. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Breaking on Kwese TV:
    Three new channels went up last night!
    Wow, I can’t wait to get back to Africa to see them for myself.
    Another four channels will go up tomorrow!

    Meanwhile, I will give one month free service to the first person (from any country where Kwese operates) who tells me the following:
    1. The names and channel numbers of (at least 2) of the 3x channels.
    2. At least one show that you saw on any of these 3 new channels.

    Please state your country and follow the normal quiz rules which are on the Kwese.Com website.

    Reply

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