Listen to me, child of Africa, (and indeed any entrepreneur from wherever you are): I know there are hurdles that appear so insurmountable to you right now. I’m here to tell you that you can overcome and reach your dreams!
Here’s a story some of you have read (parts of) before: When the government of Botswana issued a tender for two mobile licenses in 1997, they hired a team of international experts from Sweden to help adjudicate offers from five companies. (I’ve spoken at various times about the faith in God that led me to submit a bid but I will not talk about it today).
Then-candidate Barack Obama was propelled into the Presidency of the United States by what he called the Audacity of Hope, and I say (in the same token) that I was propelled into business by what I call the audacity of faith!
# Faith, hope and love; these three abide!
There were five bidders: MTN, Vodacom (in partnership with Botswana Telecoms), Bharti of India, France Telecom (Orange) and Mascom Wireless (the name I gave my consortium, which was short for Masiyiwa Communications).
The consultants advising the Botswana Telecoms Authority asked each bidder to come make a pitch and answer questions. A full day was set aside for each bidder.
Our competitors came in private jets. On our side, some of my team traveled by car from Harare in Zimbabwe (a day’s journey) because we could not afford air tickets!
# Did you know that Faith has a twin?
It’s called Grace!
# We planned meticulously.
# We rehearsed the bid questions over and over again.
# We set up a mock process in our offices, and got a team to act as the adjudicators, and ask questions.
# We practiced and practiced and practiced for two solid weeks!
When the day came, we appeared before a panel of adjudicators made up of Botswana government officials and telecoms experts from Sweden. The meeting was chaired by a leading Botswana lawyer called Mr Moses Lekaukau, a huge man with a thundering no-nonsense style.
I began my pitch by greeting the chairman in Setswana, their mother tongue. I then went into my pitch.
I can still remember some of the data that I used on Botswana’s demographics, its economic growth, the potential market… numbers, numbers, numbers!
After my initial pitch, they began to grill us on our presentation which was more than 900 pages: “On this page, you say that… Please explain, and what is the source of your data?”
My team and I knew that document like the back of our hands, and we enjoyed each question. The grilling lasted the whole day. I was fasting on that day, too!
A few weeks later the Botswana government announced the winner was Mascom Wireless and France Telecom (Orange) had come in second!
It’s is now 21 years since that “pitch.” We went on to set up Botswana’s and our own first telecoms business, which remains to this day the country’s number one operator.
Imagine my position at the time:
# No experience;
# Facing global competitors;
# No money.
I was also black. (In the minds of most people at that time, there was no such thing as a serious black entrepreneur).
__Never allow yourself to become a “grasshopper in your own eyes,” even if others see you as nothing more than a grasshopper.
Since then, I’ve pitched to some of the greatest investors in the world, and global leaders including in 2012 to the G-8 leaders. My greatest pitch though at a personal level was this one in 1997 in Gaborone, Botswana. I will forever be grateful to the government and people of Botswana for the opportunity.
Above all, I thank God for the audacity of faith that gave me an indomitable spirit that refused to accept my circumstances.
Author: Strive Masiyiwa