6 Lessons From The Strive Masiyiwa Town Hall Africa Series

Abu Okari | Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

Strive Masiyiwa believes entrepreneurs will solve Africa’s most pressing problems – and that we’re about to see it happen.

“There are a lot of Africans who are embarking on dangerous journeys across the (Sahara) desert and the sea in search of greener pastures. That doesn’t need to happen. You can build solutions that can stop that,” he said during his talk at the Accra International Conference Centre on the 7th of September.

Strive, a battle-tested serial entrepreneur and philanthropist, has built six multinational companies across media and telecommunications. The latest addition to his Econet Wireless group is Kwesé TV, a content company serving Sub-Saharan Africa. Econet started off as contractual business for carrying out simple electrical maintenance and plumbing work in Harare. It soon morphed into a mobile carrier and content distribution company, among others.

In the recent years, Strive has devoted his time to mentoring African entrepreneurs, mainly through his Facebook page.  The page has a growing followership of more than 2.5 million. According to Facebook, Strive’s platform has the most engaged following of any business leader in the world.  

This year, Strive started a lecture series that would see him interact with entrepreneurs across a number of African cities. This series, Town Hall Africa, is an extension of his Facebook page. Besides Accra, he has been to Lagos, Dar es Salaam, Lomé and Abidjan.

According to Strive, entrepreneurs are made, not born- and you don’t have to quit your job to become one. “It is a mindset. It is about finding solutions, being resourceful. Making use of what you have.”

This mindset, he believes, when coupled with the right skills, will transform the continent. He, like many, believes that Africa can now be transformed through knowledge, and not just through natural resources.

“We are sitting here, in a great cocoa and coffee producing country(with no major global coffee or cocoa brand), but Starbucks, (based in a country that produces little coffee) is a billion dollar business on the back of a brand. Where is Ghana’s Starbucks? I want to drink Ghana coffee in Johannesburg,”  he challenged the audience.

He asked producers in Ghana to think beyond exporting resources, about how we can go a step further to produce end products and enter the global market instead:

“We produce gold, we produce coffee, we produce cocoa. We got to be be number one in chocolates. I do not want to hear that we are number one in cocoa; I want to hear we are number one in chocolate. It is our generation who must change that.

“It is not about oil any more.  We can no longer measure our wealth with what comes out of the ground. We have to measure our wealth with what comes from our brains.”

Drawing on his many years of building several businesses in Africa, Strive shared a number of lessons.

  1. Start with what you have

Strive started his first business with $75. The business recorded revenues of  $ 3 billion in 2011. “I convinced my mother  to let me use the phone for people to call for me for odd jobs.  If I did the job, I never used the money. I used it for the next job.”

     2. Have values and stick to to them

Values determine your priorities, which in turn determine your business’ success level. This is something Strive learnt after he got his first big contract and went to the bank to get a loan. He drove to the bank in a sports car.

“The bank manager told me to sell the sports car and buy a pickup for my business. In return the bank would match whatever I got from the car’s sale.”

He would not buy a car again for a very long time.

  1. Focus on what you are good at

One of Strive’s first companies advertised expertise in electrical maintenance and plumbing. Strive himself was an electrical engineer, but he hired someone to handle the plumbing side.

He realized the “plumber” he thought he hired wasn’t an expert at all, and ended up with a toilet splashing water in the wrong direction, an unpaid invoice and the realization that he should have stuck with what he himself was good at.”

      4. Know your numbers/Raising money is the most important skill for an entrepreneur.

You should have a clear understanding of how capital works. An entrepreneur should know what he/she has and where to invest it. They should also know how long their company can run on what is available, including your ability to negotiate; ability to negotiate terms on credit is capital.

  1. Avoid taking dividends early on if you’re building for the long term

Strive doesn’t take more than 25% equity in businesses he invests in. He also doesn’t pay himself dividends for the first four straight years, no matter how profitable the business is:

“It is about values. Every entrepreneur should  develop the discipline of having a salary. That means you avoid taking a dividend from your company for the first four years.”

6. Ensuring you are ethical in your business

Strive noted that business requires a lot of effort and sacrifice; fortunately people doing business the right way are the majority. For Strive, he has one principle – if it harms anyone or society in any way, don’t do it.

You can follow Strive Masiyiwa Town Hall series via his Facebook page.

Do you want to gain invaluable skills on how to become a world class entrepreneur? Apply to the MEST Entrepreneur training program.