Our first mobile license was not Zimbabwe, as is generally believed:
It was actually Botswana, in 1998, several months before we were licensed by a Supreme Court in Zimbabwe.
The government of Botswana called for international tenders, from experienced operators. It was to be a "beauty contest", in which operators had to submit proposals on how they would provide services, if they won the license. Botswana is a country that does things very professionally and transparently.
Although I had lots of ideas, on how to win the tender, there was one big problem: we had never operated a cell phone network, and so we had no experience, to qualify as a bidder. Most people would have walked away at that stage, but I would not be deterred: I drew up a list of our the major telecoms companies around the world, and began calling them, to see if they would be interested in joining a bidding consortium.
I was turned down by virtually everyone I approached, but I kept calling and sending "faxes"( there was no email). Sometimes calling as many as 20 companies a day. In those days, the Internet barely existed, so it was also difficult to get information, like you can today.
Finally I found the Business Director of a major European operator. He told me they were interested but all his key people were on holiday, as it was July. I proposed to him that we would do all the work of preparing the bid documents, and they could have 25%, equity, if they joined us as "Technical partner." He agreed, and he sent a small team, a few days before the bid, just to review and see that we had not "misrepresented" their role.
There was also a requirement for locals to have shares in the company. I called all the "big guys" in Botswana, and they told me they were already committed with one of the other 20 bidders. The hotel where I was staying in Botswana, had a very smart local manager. So I said to him, "get some of your friends together, and I will give you some shares", he had no clue what it was all about, but agreed!
I decided not to use the "Econet" name because of the controversy in Zimbabwe. So,one of my colleagues said, "why don't we call it Mascom Wireless?"
"Mascom? How do you get that?" I asked.
"Short for Masiyiwa Communications"
"Mascom Wireless, will do. Now go register it quickly."
And that is how Botswana's largest operator got its name, and it went on to be become the second largest company in the country.
But let's not spoil, a good story, by getting ahead of ourselves.
To be continued.
In order to go to the next two posts of this 3 part series here are the linksStrive Masiyiwa : How we got the license to operate as Mascom in Botswana part 2Strive Masiyiwa : How we got the license to operate as Mascom in Botswana part 3More from Strive MasiyiwaHow we took over Lesotho a kingdom in the mountains Part 1How we took over Lesotho a kingdom in the mountains Part 2How we took over Lesotho a kingdom in the mountains Part 3