The Lion and the Ranger (Pt 4) – Keep your eyes open. There is something going on!

Writen By Strive Masiyiwa (ORIGINAL)

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. . .

Image credit: Jeff Stamer

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