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Master Currency: Zitulele Combi

Successful entrepreneur, Master Currency founder earned his stripes in the townships

David Mwanambuyu

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KK Combi

When you call the Cape Town offices of Master Currency the response is prompt and the voice at the other end is friendly and professional. It is on the basis of this thoroughness and attention to detail that Zitulele “KK” Combi founded Master Currency, a local chain of foreign exchange bureaus. Combi is a man of firsts.

He was the first person in South Africa to be granted a foreign exchange licence; the first black South African to win the local Ernst & Young World Entrepreneur award in 2000; the first South African to be crowned World Entrepreneur for Managing Change in 2001 in Monte Carlo; and the first black South African appointed as a judge for the World Entrepreneur Competition in 2002.

He holds directorships at nine associate companies and organisations.

Combi had his first taste of the corporate world at Old Mutual where he worked as a financial consultant. During his brief tenure there he was the salesman of the year, leaving the insurance conglomerate a year later to pursue a diploma in public relations.

This knowledge empowered him to spot an enticing investment opportunity in Gugulethu. There were no convenience stores, so he opened a self-service café in the township. For two years the business was a success until the outbreak of riots in 1985.

Delivery trucks could not access his café because of the violence and he could not replenish his stock. He sold the business and turned his attention to other pursuits. In 1989 he developed the first service station in Gugulethu. Next he bought a chunk of land with a view to developing a shopping complex, but the idea was aborted when his neighbour refused to co-operate.

Combi rezoned the plot and sold it for almost nine times the original purchase price. Subsequently he identified the Nyanga Station on the Cape Flats as a potential development site. With  30 000 people accessing the facility daily, he reckoned it would make for an ideal investment option. In 1994 Combi was granted permission to develop what is now the Nyanga Junction Shopping Complex. He was later to sell it to Southern Life for R45 million.

Encouraged by this success in property development, he spread wings to the Eastern Cape, developing a R20 million One-Stop Engen Ultra City in King Williams Town in 1995. With the advent of democracy, exciting opportunities were beckoning. That same year Combi travelled to the UK in search of ideas.

While visiting a London foreign exchange bureau, it occurred to him that hordes of tourists would be flocking to see the miracle nation. They would all need the services of a foreign exchange bureau. For the next couple of days he stood by the doorway of a London exchange bureau to observe proceedings.

It wasn’t long before the bureau manager spotted him and called him in. The manager wanted news on South Africa’s smooth transition to democracy and Combi offered to give it to him in exchange for an insight into the world of foreign exchange transactions. “It wasn’t easy to comprehend initially,” he admits.

However, a week later he got the hang of the business. Upon his return, and with help from former National Party Minister Piet Koornhof, he secured a meeting with the South African Reserve Bank. The Reserve Bank duly granted him a foreign exchange licence in 1995 and Master Currency was born.

The Reserve Bank prudently suggested a joint venture with Rennies Travel, to facilitate smooth transfer of skills. Since then Master Currency has been a key player in the foreign exchange market, positioning its outlets within easy access of its customers. The visibly branded outlets at the entrance to the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town are a case in point.

The company differentiates itself on flexibility, its strategy to offer faster, hassle-free, round-the-clock service. The company now employs 250 people at 20 branches in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria and Durban. With a gross annual turnover of R2 billion, it is ranked third in the industry and commands 12% market share. “Look out for opportunities, they are always there waiting to be discovered,” says Combi.

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Watch List: 50 Top SA Small Businesses To Watch

Keep your finger on the pulse of the start-up space by using our comprehensive list of SA small business to watch.

Nicole Crampton

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Entrepreneurship in South Africa is at an all-time high. According to Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), total early-stage entrepreneurial activity has increased by 4.1% to 11% in 2017/2018. This means numerous new, exciting and promising small businesses are launching and growing.

To ensure you know who the innovative trailblazers are in the start-up and small business space, here are 50 of South Africa’s top establishing companies to watch, in no particular order:

  1. Livestock Wealth
  2. The Lazy Makoti
  3. Aerobuddies
  4. Mimi Women
  5. i-Pay
  6. AfriTorch Digital
  7. Akili Labs
  8. Native Décor
  9. Aerobotics
  10. Quality Solutions
  11. EM Guidance
  12. Kahvé Road
  13. HSE Matters
  14. VA Virtual Assistant
  15. Famram Solutions and Famram Foundation
  16. BioTech Africa
  17. Brand LAIKI
  18. Plus Fab
  19. LifeQ
  20. Organico
  21. 10dot
  22. Lenoma Legal
  23. Nkukhu-Box
  24. Benji + Moon
  25. Beonics
  26. Brett Naicker Wines
  27. Khalala
  28. Legal Legends
  29. The Power Woman Project
  30. Aviro Health
  31. AnaStellar Brands
  32. Data Innovator
  33. Fo-Sho
  34. Oolala Collection Club
  35. Recomed
  36. VoiceMap
  37. ClockWork
  38. Empty Trips
  39. Vula Mobile
  40. SwiitchBeauty
  41. Pineapple
  42. The Katy Valentine Collection
  43. OfferZen
  44. KHULA
  45. Incitech
  46. Pimp my Book
  47. ART Technologies and ART Call Management
  48. Prosperiprop
  49. WAXIT
  50. The Sun Exchange
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How 28-Year Old Entrepreneur Adam Fine Is Leveraging The Global Phenomenon Of Five-A-Side Football

Adam Fine of Fives Futbol discusses how he leverage a global phenomenon and the value of strategic partnerships in business.

Monique Verduyn

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Vital Stats

Nothing about Adam Fine is by-the-book. The 28-year-old entrepreneur describes himself as a slightly big child. He’s the CEO of one of the most exciting start-ups in South Africa, having leveraged the global phenomenon of five-a-side football to start a business that has grown almost as fast as the game itself. Not bad for a venture that was launched with the princely sum of R85 000 — Fine’s life savings at the time.

He started it in 2011, with a strong focus on corporate social investment and making a positive social impact. It was by forming strategic partnerships that Adam really managed to grow Fives Futbol. He’s opened pitches in prime locations that serve both the school and corporate markets, while still being accessible for social impact interventions in local communities.

Related: 3 Local Entrepreneurs Share Their Business Challenges And How They Overcame Them

Pivoting at the right time is key to growth

The challenge:

In the last 18 months, Fives Futbol has trebled in size, and achieved some amazing milestones — it now employs 50 full-time staff, and 80 part-timers. It’s one of the factors that drives Adam, as many of his employees support up to eight family members. It’s now also represented in four provinces and 15 locations around the country. By September, there will be 18.

Quick growth means you have to be able to pivot quickly when things do not go according to plan, and mostly they don’t, Adam says. “If things are not working you should be able to ‘pivot’, to shift your focus. And do it fast. It’s not a sign that things have gone wrong by any means, on the contrary, it means you have the insight to recognise that there is a problem with the assumptions on which you have built your business model. The decision to pivot is a big one, and not something to be taken lightly. It requires you to take a hard look at your reallocation of resources, and to do it with an open mind.”

The solution:

In Adam’s case, construction delays, councils taking their time to approve, or having to put money into rolling out sites as opposed to marketing, means the promotion of a new site will slow down, for example, because the business does not yet have a large marketing budget.

“When we run behind on the construction of a new site, R40 000 can suddenly become R100 000 — but here’s the thing: If a deal comes along that will probably harm your business in the short-term but enable significant long-term growth, sometimes you have to juggle what you have so you can make it work.”

The Lesson: Choose your investors carefully

Fine says he’s lucky to have a solid group of investors that he has cultivated over six years. “Their input is invaluable. They’ll say, ‘slow down’ or ‘have you thought of this?’, ‘have you factored in that?’ The ability to develop a good relationship with our investors has had a significant impact on the success of the company. Over and above money, they provide wisdom, guidance and connections.”

His relationship with his investors is key. While many entrepreneurs make it just about the money, Adam understood something else — he has a pretty cool brand with a great cause behind it. So, while investors are asked for money all the time, he was able to offer something more than just a business idea — alignment. He generated enthusiasm for the ‘why,’ behind the business. Like most of us, it makes investors happy to know that they are helping to make a positive difference.

And while it’s easy to bandy about the word ‘partnership’, Adam has worked hard to make that a reality. He set out to find like-minded people who are passionate about the business and the cause, which is why they are able to serve as great resources for advice and insight.

Related: Richard Branson’s ABCs Of Business

“The best way to ensure that you and your investors have a valuable and lengthy partnership is to make sure that everyone is aligned on the vision.”

This includes Adam’s team. The internal culture of an organisation is vital to its strength and growth. “Without our team we don’t have a business for investors to support — our people are critical to our success. They’re the executors of the vision at the end of the day.”


The Lesson:  The value of strategic partnerships

Much of the growth of Fives Futbol has been fuelled by finding the right sponsorship partners in key industries. To overcome the challenge of a limited marketing budget, Adam has secured sponsorships with big brands like Adidas, Total Sports, Debonairs, and Klipdrift, allowing Fives Futbol to use their access to communities as a marketing platform to derive income as well as scale. And it works both ways.

“Because we have a national footprint and a team of people, we run activations for our partners, which also provides us with an ancillary revenue stream,” he says. “Knowing how to join forces with other businesses has been a key factor in making the business successful. Our strategic partners have enabled the business to leverage their brand to give us more exposure. When it works well, a strategic partnership can be just what you need to speed up the growth of your business.”

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Watch List: 15 SA eCommerce Entrepreneurs Who Have Built Successful Online Businesses

The advent and advancement of the online marketplace has led these entrepreneurs to successfully build and grow their ecommerce empires.

Diana Albertyn

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South Africa’s ecommerce market is worth R10 billion per year. By 2021, the number of online shoppers is expected to have reached 24.79 million.

“Our recent research on SA shows people are browsing three hours or more on their mobile phones and 25% shop online. They trust local brands,” says Geraldine Mitchley, Visa senior director for digital solutions in sub-Sahara Africa.

These entrepreneurs have cashed in on ecommerce and launched successful online stores that have either established their dominance in the market, or are taking the e-tailing world by storm.

Here’s how these 15 ecommerce capitalists are making money using the Internet:

  1. Aisha Pandor
  2. Andrew Higgins
  3. Kerryn Tremearne
  4. David Davies
  5. Andrew Smith, Paul Galatsis and Shane Dryden
  6. Trevor Gosling
  7. Nicholas Haralambous
  8. Justin Drennan
  9. Neo Lekgabo
  10. Ryan Bacher
  11. Tracy Kruger
  12. Luke Jedeikin
  13. Tarryn Abrahams
  14. Sascha Breuss
  15. Antonio Bruni
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