This is how we start (Part 3)

__Are you #WiredForOpportunity?

“Most people would not be able to recognize an opportunity even if it bit them on the nose!” (A famous statement from one of my aunts). As an entrepreneur, I’m confronted with so many opportunities that I am often just overwhelmed. It’s like a wave that just keeps rolling in!

A few years ago (one Saturday morning), my wife asked me to go shopping with her near our home in London. (Yes, it happens to me, too; I’m a husband and a dad!) Like most husbands, I got bored after a while and stopped to have a coffee whilst she continued.

After drinking my coffee, I realized I was not carrying cash for the coffee. It was such a small amount.

“Why don’t you just swipe your card?” the shop assistant said.

“It’s called Tap and Pay. It’s for small amounts.”

“Tap and Pay. Swipe.” New terms to me!

I did it, then pulled out my smartphone and took a picture of the device in the shop.

I then sent an email to the CEO of Cassava.

“Take look at this,” I wrote. “This could be a very interesting concept for our mobile money platform. It’s called ‘swipe and pay’.”


“We can swipe using a mobile phone.”

“Let’s see if we can develop our own hybrid model around this concept. Instead of people swiping with a card, as they do in London, let’s change the software to use a mobile phone.”

The marketing guys decided to promote it as “EcoCash Swipe.” It would take months. Lots of iterations. Lots of mistakes, too, including a customer rejection of an earlier model.

It became a huge business for EcoCash and Cassava!

I’m not the only person in our organization who does this. All day we have emails flying up and down with this type of discussion. The more we get, the better it is!

__It is not true that “opportunity only knocks once”!

It is all around you, and the door is wide open! So why don’t we all see these opportunities? The reason is simple: You are not looking for them.

You have to be #WiredForOpportunity!



Keep your (entrepreneurial) eyes open.

The businesses that you see all around you, all started somewhere, and probably just like this.

As a young entrepreneur, I loved reading autobiographies by entrepreneurs on how they got started. And whenever I met an entrepreneur, I just soaked in how they moved from idea to start-up.


It gave me inspiration and it sustained me when things would get tough.

I tell you these little snippets for the same reason: Be encouraged today because you are on your way to building a really good business.

Today is not the day to quit!

To be continued. . .


by 27 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.

27 thoughts on “This is how we start (Part 3)

  1. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Happy Zhou [advising Prosperous] writes,

    brother use ctrade i bought econet shares via thanks to ctrade and its inclusiveness, convenience and easy trading friendliness. I have been watching this listing move quietly and seeking advise and making my move quietly. Shhhh! as Mr Masiyiwa says. interestingly i met a broker who advised me that it would require 1000 to open the account and trade manually. i prefer technology. so i remembered ctrade when it announced its launch. I wont say how much i invested but i did it from home. And simply chose a broker on the platform. All i had to do was confim if the transaction really went through. And it did. Hope you get to see this and use ctrade. I missed the circular but i am searching online for it. Thank you sir. I believe the approval of the listing is a big move too. In God we trust!

  2. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Prosperous Joseph writes,

    I sent a mail to Africainvest,asking them how to trade stock in Zimbabwe Stock Exchange. They gave me list of the brokerage firms. Most of them require a minimum deposit of $1,000 .
    The challenge is, the trading is not real time but the old style of calling the broker to execute trade.

    Since am from Nigeria, I will see to it. I want to have your company stock in my portfolio so I can transfer it to my kids.

    My reply,
    Sadly this is how we enforce an elitist system right across Africa.
    There is nothing stops these guys from creating mechanisms that allow ordinary people to participate in this or any other exchange in Africa.
    Years ago, we offered the ZSE an interest free loan to completely revamp their system. They turned it down.

    1 John 5:4
    “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.”

    Unless you learn to receive good, you will never recognize it, even when it is to your own benefit.

  3. Strive Masiyiwa Post author


    When I was about to list Econet Zimbabwe in 1998, I distributed free shares to staff, relatives, and friends who had stood with me.
    As I was about to give a rather large parcel to one particular friend, my lawyer said to me:
    “Even though you are giving this generous gift of free share, a time will come when people will not be told that you actually gave these guys these shares for free.
    I highly recommend that we make each one sign a document specifically acknowledging that this was indeed a free gift.”
    So he drafted the agreement, and each one of them signed, and we put the documents under seal. I have each document even to this day.

    Within months, one of my friends sold his shares, despite my strong recommendation not to.
    He then lost all the money in property investments that went wrong.
    He later alleged that I had somehow managed to dupe him to sell the shares he had sold, and now wanted me to give him a fresh allotment!
    My wife was once picked up by police when she travelled to Zimbabwe, and questioned about the shares for the whole day. This guy was using a senior intelligence officer who actually sat in the room whilst the police supposedly interrogated my wife. And yet it was all just an exhortation sham using law enforcement.
    Our lawyer who understood what was happening demanded access, and produced the document which showed the shares were originally a gift. She then gave the police an ultimatum to either release her or she would approach the courts. She was released. This was total lawlessness, using captured state institutions. That is what some of us had to put up with.

    Imagine what would have happened if my astute lawyer had not taken that precaution.

    In my mother tongue, my mother would simply say:
    “Kura Uwone” which means “grow up and see for yourself”.

  4. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    The cost of bread in Zimbabwe!

    Let me put the proverbial “cat amongst the pigeons”:
    A loaf of bread in SA costs R9:50.
    It costs R30 in Zimbabwe!

    80% of imported goods in Zimbabwe come from SA. It is not uncommon to find those same goods costing anything above 3x the cost.
    The people who pay for a lot of goods are Zimbabweans living in SA, through their remittances.
    The cost structure [labour and goods] in Zimbabwe is distorted by the “arbitrage of the United States dollar, as a currency of settlement for Rand imports.”
    If everyone in Zimbabwe quoted their customers for goods and services in SA Rands, it would go a some way to eliminating the Dollar Arbitrage. This is not the same thing as joining a Rand Monetary Area, or Customs Union which is a much more complex process.

    This one can be done overnight, and even voluntarily.

    Zimbabweans living in SA, that send remittances could also demand price parity in Rands.
    It would improve quality of life for our families and also improve general liquidity.

    Don’t get me wrong, this is not what you have to do to fix Zimbabwe’s economic woes…that is a whole different story…

  5. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    When I listed my company in an IPO, very few people in the local investment community initially understood how valuable this new telecom sector was. Most these investors were chasing well established companies in tobacco, mining and brewing. They mocked and made fun of me from their little clubs where I was not invited.

    My share value traded below the listing price for more than six months. We were referred to as the “dog” of the exchange!

    I travelled to London and met some international investors, and showed them what my vision was. Then they started to buy and the price started to rocket.
    The local investors were shocked.
    Then a group of these local investors got together, and began to manipulate the price, whilst accumulating huge volumes. They planned to take control of the company and remove me from management,
    They smeared me, and told lies to scare away other investors.

    I came within a whisker of losing control of the company.
    I fought with that group of investors for years…and years!
    They literally believed the ZSE was their personal property, and even when some of them were forced to leave the country by the economic crisis, they tried to keep the same control using powerful proxies.
    Never imagine that corruption is confined to the public sector. Cartels that try to capture opportunities to themselves are always there.
    We must fight them, and denounce them for what they are!
    Their tactics from a corporate perspective were often as dirty as anything I faced from members of the Central Intelligence Operatives, and secret police.

    Brothers and sisters, I have been sifted as wheat, this is why I’m able to strengthen many of you.

  6. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Sisi Rose writes,

    It can be done, Nigeria and China made the agreement to buy each other currency. As I import from China I pay with Yen as so it very cheap and I make gain compare to dollar.

    My reply,
    I celebrated when I saw this particular agreement. I congratulated the Nigerian government through some of my Minister friends.
    Other African countries should be doing the same, not only with the likes of China, but most importantly amongst themselves.

  7. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Remember my series called #Eaglestorm!

    The eagle is unique in its ability to spot opportunities in a storm or difficult situation. Even when others are scurrying for cover, the eagle begins to hunt for opportunities created by the storm.

    Just when things look really discouraging, and there is a storm all around you, keep your eyes open wide, because there are opportunities out there!

    When I got the mobile license in Botswana, it was at a time when Zimbabwe was the “big brother economy”. I know some of you can’t imagine that today!
    Anyway, I went to see every single institutional investor in Zimbabwe asking them to invest in Mascom. They turned me down. I was so discouraged, but I kept praying. I then went to South Africa…it changed my life forever!
    I have so tuned myself to hunting in storms, I now think it’s normal!

    Remember for most foreign investors, Africa is a place of sudden and often violent storms, followed by bursts of sunshine. To change that perspective, we must work hard, very hard, very hard!

  8. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Johnson writes,

    But sir, how is it possible for a set of people to oust you from your own company?

    Is it possible by (financial or whatever) laws?

    My reply,
    This is the challenge that all entrepreneurs who want to grow their business into a big company must face:
    #1. To make a company bigger, you need bigger capital. Bigger capital comes from equity investors who can be venture capital, private equity, institutional investors, or private individuals. In return for the capital they take shares in the business, and even if it is 25%, they will make you sign agreements that make them “co-owners” with you. This is normal business, and there is nothing negative about it.
    Most of the world’s leading entrepreneurs and billionaires own very few shares (%’tage wise).

    #2. When you sell shares to the public in an IPO, you no longer “own” the company. There are rules over what you can do.

    In my own case I owned directly less than 40%, and the guys who wanted to control the company could have done it by getting the backing of shareholders who owned 51%, at a meeting to vote against me.
    I knew about their plot, and they were confident they had the votes just before a crucial meeting. Right up to the morning of the vote they had all the votes they needed.
    They even had a CEO lined up to take my place.

    They simply underestimated me…

    “My Strength is made perfect in your weakness”.

    If you focus on attaining knowledge, there is never anything to fear, even if you are holding just 5% of the company you founded.

  9. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Mary asks,

    U travel to London to meet with international investors. Now my question is how did you come about this as in how did arrange for this? Did you organize a seminar or these were your friends?Junior class Sir.

    My reply,
    As I have written before, I spent years studying how companies raise money in order to grow. I knew [and continue to learn ] about how capital is raised.
    For instance I knew that most of the guys who buy shares of companies are doing it on behalf of huge pension funds based in New York and London, and to a lesser extent South Africa.

    For the entrepreneur reading and studying is the same as a football player who trains every day!

    When the attack was being planned, I moved into gear, and outflanked them completely.

    It was beautiful!
    I felt like Drogba when he scored those beautiful goals at Chelsea!

    [He is now is very good friend of mine, by the way!]

    No stress Mary. This is a game. I’m just teaching you how it is played.

  10. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Kako writes,

    You were a cub who envisioned himself as Lion. Your struggle inspired me Dr. Masiyiwa

    My reply,
    When this happened I was no longer a cub. I had been in business more than 10 years. I had fought a five year bruising battle with the government of Robert Mugabe. I was already plotting to expand to other countries,

    I was not a cub. They thought I was a cub!
    I was a young lion coming into his prime. All they did was to help me horn my skills for bigger battles ahead.

  11. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Thubelihle Ncube writes,

    Strive Masiyiwa I agree 100%, the use of the US$ as the anchor currency has created this problem yet we do very little trade with the US. When we pay in ZAR in Zimbabwe, prices will come down we will reduce the import bill (because we end up buying the goods here anyway than send money) and the street forex traders.

    My reply,
    If this were an exam I would give you an A+!
    I rest my case.

  12. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Mary writes,

    It’s amazing how much information we have access to in this generation.
    Do you have a phone that can browse the internet?
    Do you have data?
    You have no excuse!
    Chief this year I’ve made good use of the internet to learn courses on various topics and it amazes me how easy and cheap it is to learn these things. My life has been transformed tremendously. Thank you Chief for this one.

    My reply,
    This is so beautiful!

  13. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Mugikuyu writes,

    Hi sir i have never heard you talk about the beauty industry!! Do you believe in the market and would you invest in a startup from that area?

    I made a beauty app that works just like uber where you dial a beautician straight to your doorstep and they come groom you at your comfort. With the right team this could change habits in africa

    My reply,
    I know a lot about this industry as I sit on the board of one of the largest companies in the world involved in this industry.
    Whilst I cannot invest in it personally, I think it is an amazing industry. The opportunity for this industry in Africa, has barely began. You are on the right track. You are also very smart. I saw something similar in Indonesia through Gojek.

  14. Stephen Kamugasa

    In the Latin, it is said “opportunity has hair in front, behind she is bald; if you seize her by the forelock you may hold her, but, if suffered to escape, not Jupiter himself can catch her again”. Far from being intimidated by the seemingly overwhelming nature of Africa’s problems, I think we should instead be excited by the opportunity which appears to exist to make a real and practical difference. I endorse your thesis entirely.

  15. Strive Masiyiwa Post author


    Before I start anything, no matter how good it is, I always ask myself “can I stay the course?”
    There are a lot of truly brilliant people out there, but they often have nothing to show for it because they quit too easily.
    If I start something, I will not quit! That’s me!
    Consider this FB page, for instance:
    I have stayed the course with you.
    Week in, week out. For over five years.

    No excuses about being busy, or traveling.
    I make time. If I know I’m going to be away I write several of them.
    I made a commitment to do so!

    Remember the words of the Prophet Jeremiah:
    “If you have been wearied in fighting with men on foot, what will you do when the horseman appears?”

    If you struggle just to follow a two page write up, what will you do when you have to run a business proper?

    #Stay the course, in anything you start.
    Be persistent, consistent, and patient.

  16. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Mary writes,

    Recognizing an opportunity is itself a capital, the biggest one than the finance need. We must change our thinking that finance is a constraint. It isn’t. It first start with you, your readiness.

    My reply,
    You are absolutely right!

  17. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    A wise old king once said:
    “A wise man sees trouble afar off and hides himself.
    He gets out of the way, makes himself scarce.”

    There is always that intersection between faith and wisdom:
    “When do I use wisdom and when do I use faith?”

    When I spoke about all the precautions I used when I was a young person to avoid motor car-related accidents, someone asked: “But were you not being fearful, instead of using your faith?”
    No, I was being wise.
    Someone listened to me, and saved their life.

    You cannot see a storm coming and say: “I will get through it because I have faith.”
    If you see trouble “afar off”, and take measures to protect yourself, it is called wisdom.
    When I look at newspapers every morning, I’m scanning as much for opportunity, as I scan for trouble. Trouble can be issues like foreign exchange, or interest rates. A disputed election in DRC …

    There is no need to be fearful, but always a need to be wise.

    Listen to the wise King. Listen to His voice: “A wise person sees trouble on the horizon, and takes all necessary precaution. These are troubled times.” [my paraphrase from the writings of King Solomon, better known as Proverbs]

  18. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    One of the challenges of running a listed company is that you cannot move with the agility of a private company. Our subsidiary in Zimbabwe is public listed which means we have to do everything with the shareholders.

    You must try and convince people who sometimes hate you so much they have completely closed their minds off.

    As the largest shareholder I noticed that Zimbabwe was headed for a major foreign currency crunch nearly five years ago.

    Although our debt levels were very healthy, I was concerned that if there was no foreign exchange to pay interest the company could easily collapse.
    I took a decision to pay off all foreign denominated debt immediately. It came to $130m. We did it by a procedure called a Rights Issue. Some of the smartest most experienced investors, actually voted against it, and called me “alarmist”, others just derided my teams who went to see them. Others demanded that I lend them the money to follow their rights—we actually lent some institutions foreign exchange to follow their rights!
    If we had waited just six more months, the company would have defaulted on its loans, and been in serious trouble.

    Remember the words of the wise king?

    Never allow yourself to be like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car.

    Act, and act now, when you see trouble!

  19. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Yvonne writes,

    With opportunities roundabout you and I please tell Sir Strive Masiyiwa how do you focus on the road chosen. Why did you choose telecoms over construction??
    I ask because this is my dilemma. I don’t know which of my business ideas to zero in on. I run a start up already. but there’s this idea that’s been tugging at me…but then again i always have an idea…I need to focus yet i do not want to ababdon whats started and yet i am not on for regrets. Can you say something that could me out in the least way possible??

    My reply,
    This is a typical entrepreneur’s challenge. There is nothing wrong with having lots, and lots of ideas. This is the key to innovation. What is important is to channel your ideas into one business area. This helps you to skill up, and scale up more effectively.
    I chose telecommunications because my degree at university was electronic and electrical engineering. Even when I was in construction, I did the electrical part of construction.

    Where diversification takes place it must still be driven by synergy.

    I have said this before:
    “The opportunities in every industry are the same. The fact that Aliko Dangote made his billions in cement does not mean I will succeed if I go into cement. Bill Gates made his money in software. The opportunities are there for you to succeed, in what ever you do with skill and passion.”

  20. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Town Hall Meetings:
    I will not be doing anymore Town Hall Meetings this year because of business commitments.
    I will do one event in Egypt in December which will be screened on Facebook.
    After that I need some vacation.

    I will try and answer questions through this platform as I have always done.

    Let’s see what opportunities emerge next year.


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