Interview: ‘Starting a business in Africa not easy’

This week senior business reporter Melody Chikono (MC) spoke to Mautsa (RM) who says although he now sits on a number of boards for leading organisations across Africa, there still is a huge gap within the entrepreneurship ecosystem of Zimbabwe.

THE past two decades have seen Zimbabwe enact laws that allow indigenous Zimbabweans to own businesses, giving a lot of young people a chance into entrepreneurship. But due to various factors some businesses have folded along the way, while others are thriving. In general people have given up on looking for jobs in an economy that has largely informalised. Rinos Mautsa is an entrepreneur, who has made it and now runs successful businesses in the construction, ICT, hospitality, education and energy sectors.  His business operations extend beyond Zimbabwe, stretching to Botswana, Namibia, Malawi, South Africa and Zambia. This week senior business reporter Melody Chikono (MC) spoke to Mautsa (RM) who says although he now sits on a number of boards for leading organisations across Africa, there still is a huge gap within the entrepreneurship ecosystem of Zimbabwe. Below are excerpts of the interview:

MC: Can you take us through your entrepreneurial journey? RM: I was raised by a single mother after my dad passed on.

I realised that one ought to be creative to sustain the day-to-day demands of life. I learnt a lot from my mother who would sell farm produce to raise money for education for her kids.

Through that experience, I quickly mastered the art of selling and marketing. Whilst I was in second year at college, I raised money to buy a projector and home theatre, which I used for showing movies at college.

With this project I managed to raise money for part of my fees, and had some to spare, such that I even bought a car and started a grocery retail business.

After my first degree, I relocated to South Africa where I learnt about call centres.

At 24, I came back to Zimbabwe where I established the first call centre and software development company in Zimbabwe with presence in Zambia and customers across South Africa then.

In the same year, I went on to set up the Contact Centre Association of Zimbabwe (CCAZ), which is now one of the largest associations in the country.

In 2014, I established Chartered Institute of Customer Management, which is headquartered in South Africa with presence in over 10 countries.

Since then, I started following my passion and I diversified my empire into construction, tourism, energy and real estate.

MC: What have been the challenges and your success stories throughout this journey? RM: Starting a business in Africa is not easy, especially with limited capital.

The key challenges I faced were attracting and retaining the right talent especially with constrained cash flows.

I ended up getting into partnership with the right skills to help me scale in exchange for a stake in the business.

This has helped me to set up other operations using the same model.

Fact file: Rinos Mautsa

  • An entrepreneur with successful business interests in construction, ICT, hospitality, education and energy sectors.
  • His business operations stretch beyond the borders of Zimbabwe to Botswana, Namibia, Malawi, South Africa and Zambia.
  •  Sits on a number of boards for leading organizations across Africa.
  • He is the author of the bestselling book The Will of Time.
  •  His business prowess earned him several regional and international business accolades including the Desmond Tutu Leadership Fellowship Award, India – Africa Young Visionary Award, Crans Montana Leader of Tomorrow Award among others
  •  He is a holder of MBA from Midlands State University (MSU), Executive Leadership Programme from Oxford and PHD in Customer Relationship Management.

I anticipate that five years from now my construction company will be one of the largest in southern Africa with presence in over five countries as we have already started the journey complimenting the government in closing the gap of housing deficit by constructing hundreds of houses each year.

We are also bridging energy poverty through wholesaling LPG. This we have done through partnerships with established entities in the Middle East and Russia.

Despite having presence in 10 countries, we anticipate the Chartered Institute of Customer Management to have spread wings in Asia, Middle East and Europe.

MC: What can you say about your footprint and what are your prospects in respect to that? RM: I have learnt that imagination and understanding of one’s purpose is one of the greatest privileges for humanity. E

verything I am experiencing now I imagined growing up. I told myself that I will be in energy, construction and hospitality over 15 years ago.

I had a 20-year plan outlining most of the things manifesting now.

Since then a series of activities worked in my favour to point me in that direction.

MC: You are into construction and it is one of those industries that have in the past been hit by policy inconsistencies especially around currency. What is your comment on this? RM: The current environment is affecting all sectors.

However, with time we all devise strategies to bypass our present challenges.

It is not easy but we have to do something for us to outgrow our present challenges.

MC: What can you say about the future construction in Zimbabwe? RM: There is a housing deficit and a huge infrastructure gap in Zimbabwe and the region outside South Africa. T

his in itself is a huge opportunity that will create a lot of millionaires in the sector and the associated value chain.

We have also seen a number of players scaling into the region also. This is pushed by our workmanship as Zimbabweans and skills that are on demand across Africa.

MC:  The industry has also been victim of land baron scams. What key mechanisms do you think need to be put in place to ensure your clients are safe? RM: There are various compliance and legal entities involved from the start till the end of the approval process.

It is unfortunate that the ease of doing business is often preached and not practised.

We need to unify and use technology to speed up and monitor the approval process and development activities across the country.

Also, only reputable developers should be used.

MC: You are also credited with pioneering the first ever call centre development organisation in Zimbabwe. What can you say have been the key milestones you have achieved in respect to that? RM: I was in my early 20s when we started advocating for the usage of contact centres for service delivery. We were also pushing for employment creation through contact outsourcing services.

I am sure you are aware that we have the potential to create over 100 000 jobs in a year if the government supports this sector.

Very few people understood the concept including in government when we started.

We did not have this industry at all. Currently, we now have over 19 000 people working in contact centres supporting local companies and organisations in the US, Europe and Australia.

We have also grown from nothing to over 75 established omni-channel contact centres

MC: Many indigenous businesses have folded in Zimbabwe over the years. What can you say has been the general cause? RM: Speaking as someone who started from the ground, I think we have a huge gap within the entrepreneurship ecosystem of this country.

Running a sustainable venture with no access to proper capital is not easy. The financial sector in Zimbabwe has limited capacity to support scale.

I had friends who raised capital easily in neighbouring countries but in Zimbabwe they were just given a 10th of what they wanted.

This is further worsened by government policy inconsistency and mismanagement by company owners.

MC: What can you say about the Zimbabwean economic landscape as an entrepreneur? RM: Zimbabwe has some amazing opportunities.

If you can start and scale in Zimbabwe, you can succeed anywhere in the world.

Our economy has opportunities, unfortunately it is just a breeding ground.

Scaling is easier if operating outside Zimbabwe.

A proper support framework needs to be put in place for businesses with structures and potential to scale.

MC: What is your outlook for 2022? RM: I think the low rains and two-year coronavirus induced lockdowns will dampen the hopes for massive growth of the economy.

Also, from the past experience investors and funders will scale down spending ahead of any elections.

With the looming 2023 elections we might experience the same.

However, despite all these potential setbacks, I still think Zimbabwe is poised for massive growth post-2023.