Econet Wireless Zimbabwe (a subsidiary of Econet Global), owned by Strive Masiyiwa came into being around the early 90’s. It was officially listed on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange on 10 July 1998. It was the first company to introduce 3G data services into Zimbabwe in 2009. In the telecoms industry in Zimbabwe, Econet Wireless is king. With a data traffic market share of at least 67%, voice traffic of at least 70% & an overall market share of around 65% it dominates the industry. Its share of the mobile market revenue stands at over 84%. Such a magnitude of success connotes that a lot of learning points can be drawn from its success. Let’s look at some of the key lessons:
Seek To Solve Problems (Don’t Seek To Make Money)
Problem-solving is the hallmark of entrepreneurship; when you set out to establish a business, seek to address a problem. Don’t venture into business with your primary motive being to make money – that shouldn’t be your primary focus. When Strive started Econet approximately 75% of Africans didn’t know what a mobile phone looked like, they had never even heard one ring. This is what drove Strive; he wanted to fill that gap and address that challenge. The aspect of making money becomes second nature & a rewarding consequence of your quest to address a problem.
Diligent Research & Study
When Strive Masiyiwa started out the Econet journey, there was one recurring question that always preoccupied his mind. Why are certain businesses so big? This question provoked him to study up & research on the histories & cultures of some of the world’s biggest businesses. Remember there isn’t anything necessarily new under the sun; therefore you do well by looking into how others before you have successfully done it.
Resilience & Long-Suffering
It is public knowledge that it took about 5 years for Econet Wireless to acquire an operating license. Strive & his team had to endure a legal battle with the government that lasted half a decade. Imagine 5 years fighting for an operating license, incurring expenses without any revenue – it only takes patience & tenacity. The global tech billionaire Elon Musk once said, “If something is important enough, you do it despite the odds”. That’s the attitude to have in order to be a successful business person – this is because hurdles are inevitable.
The 3 Ps Require Close Attention
It is important to ensure there is a symbiotic & coherent flow amongst those 3 entities – people, processes & product. For instance, Strive says he last discussed tariffs of Econet Wireless Zimbabwe in 2000 – this shows us the importance of not micromanaging people. Rather trust in the ability of the people (human resources) & the effectiveness of the processes. He also has pointed out that he doesn’t approve payments or cheques – again this shows the importance of having a robust 3 Ps ecosystem. The Econet Wireless subsidiary virtually hasn’t physically seen Strive in years but still flourishes. Even scaling up for Econet Wireless has been quite easy because of their formidable processes in place – processes are central to scaling up!
Strive emphasises that it’s not enough to just have an idea or to innovate. The most important aspect is the ability to effectively manage things – management. Starting something can be easy, but scaling up isn’t that easy; it demands one to be adept at management. Strive says, “if you begin to think about your business (whether you own it or work for it), like you would a well-managed sports team, you’ll learn a lot of very interesting lessons”. Therefore you must properly manage the people, processes & product (3 Ps). The success of Econet has been majorly premised on exceptional management of the 3 Ps. Another important management aspect is to put everything back into the enterprise; that’s why the company’s financial standing has been strong for years.
Don’t Be Myopic
Think long term; be in it for the long haul. Who would have that years after the setting up of Econet we would have Ecocash, Ecofarmer, etc – this is because when the idea was conceived, a long term perspective was adopted.
When you start out a business, focus initially on simplicity. Econet Wireless’ initial focus was just the provision of mobile phone services (SMS & calls). They then gradually & periodically added more intricate and elaborate layers of services over time. All this was done based on close studies of consumers’ evolving needs.
Be Careful With Business Partnerships
Be very wary of the kind of business partnerships & partners you engage with. It’s important that you conduct due diligence before committing to anything. As Strive built Econet Wireless he says that the challenges that he encountered emanated 9 out of 10 times from business partners.
A lot of Econet Wireless’ success came from Strive’s strong & upright moral code. This obviously is made evident from his unashamed indication that the study of the Bible & prayer to God has been his strongest tools. No wonder why he is a major player in philanthropic activities. It’s also evident in his modesty – e.g. he owns one car at a time. We see it in his generous dispensing of knowledge & wisdom through his Facebook page. We also learn the importance of having an upright moral code in how Strive has always shunned corruption. In his own words he once said, “It’s possible to be successful in Africa without being corrupt”.
I’ll conclude with a note on human resources. The ability to hire high-quality, competent & honest employees and retaining them is instrumental for the success of a company – he calls it the big secret. Early on when he was starting out, he once bought one of his engineers a top-of-the range car so as to ensure he retained him – it might interest you to know that he himself didn’t have a car at the time.