This is the first profile in a series on young Zimbabwean entrepreneurs venturing into new industries.
Entrepreneurship is a buzzword in Zimbabwe. Calls for young people to get involved in business and start their own ventures have come from politicians, newspapers and parents. Being your own boss sounds appealing, and some of the country’s biggest business success stories have come from individuals who have decided to step out of the conventional and start their own enterprise. Strive Masiyiwa. Simbarashe Mhuriro. Divine Ndhlukula. And despite what you may think of him, yes even Philip Chiyangwa.
“It’s a certain lifestyle that I’ve always wanted.”
Tinashe Jani is one of the people driven to start his own business. It’s a world that’s familiar to him. After all, his parents were entrepreneurs. “They (his parents) run their own businesses. Sometimes they switch from selling wax to selling ice. I’ve seen businesses start, businesses that paid my school fees.”
Even though his parents provided for him, they also made sure that he worked for some of the extra luxuries he wanted. And in 2008, still a high school student, his journey into entrepreneurship began.
Tinashe’s first business venture was stocking and supplying Celltone products.
“It was challenging,” Tinashe says, reflecting on his first entrepreneur experience. Having to think about volume and product, as well as dealing with clients and customer service, taught him that there’s more to starting a business than having a good idea. “It’s not enough to just have a dream. You have to sell the dream.”
“I looked for something that had computers and business, and Information Systems was that thing.”
Ten years later, and Tinashe is still an entrepreneur, with six or seven (he can’t remember the exact figure) ventures under his belt. Currently studying a Masters in Information Systems at Rhodes University, his focus is now on cryptocurrency and their potential disruption of traditional banking systems. The combination of “the geekiness and business aspect” is what drew Tinashe to Information Systems, after an unsuccessful spell as an accountant. “It was fun but it was a bit rigid. It didn’t allow me flexibility in terms of who I could be.”
Home is home – but is it best?
Now in his final year of study, the question about where he’ll be next year lingers. Is going back home part of his plans? “I’m keeping all my options open,” Tinashe replies, shrugging his shoulders. Of course, home is home. In a country with high youth unemployment, entrepreneurship is often presented as a natural and easy solution? Can’t find a job at a company? Just start your own.
“The fact that there aren’t systems and structures in place for us, we resort to entrepreneurship.”
“Most of the entrepreneurship in Zim would be qualified as hustling, because there aren’t jobs and people need to provide for their families.” But even though its benefits are praised, Tinashe doesn’t believe that Zimbabwe creates a good environment for entrepreneurship. It’s mostly done out of necessity, not by choice.
Tinashe’s current business is Study 263, a company that uses Bitcoin for financial transfers between Zimbabwe and South Africa.
“It’s actually very problematic (that entrepreneurship is seen as an avenue out of unemployment). It’s like saying every child should be a doctor. Not everyone is meant to be an entrepreneur.” As important as conversations around ownership and business (especially when it concerns ownership of resources and capital), it should be a choice to start your own venture, and not something done out of desperation or unemployment.
Time is money. And stressful.
Not to mention that entrepreneurship is hard. When it’s touted as the solution to unemployment, no one talks about how difficult and draining it is. For Tinashe, overcoming hurdles around age has been a huge factor. “Most people will trust you because you’re 40, even though a 20 year-old could also say something meaningful.” He leans forward and clicks his pen as he talks about how he’s had to look and sound older than he is so people could take him seriously. In some cases, he’s had to get someone older to go with him to meetings to make him seem more legitimate.
“Most of the things we’re into now, our parents don’t know about. We are meant to be authorities in these fields, but we’re not.”
Despite the stresses and challenges, Tinashe remains confident. After all, there have been others who came before him, trailblazers who overcame the odds to become success stories. Whether he goes back home or not, Tinashe has hope that Zimbabwean entrepreneurs everywhere can become success stories in their own right. As he likes to say, “there’s enough space and opportunity for everybody.”
Cover photo taken by Mako Muzenda