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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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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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25 Of The Most Successful Business Ideas In South Africa

Find out who’s making waves in numerous industries and how they managed to differentiate themselves in local and international industries.

Nicole Crampton

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“Disruption is all about risk-taking, trusting your intuition, and rejecting the way things are supposed to be. Disruption goes way beyond advertising, it forces you to think about where you want your brand to go and how to get there,” says Richard Branson.

South Africa has its fair share of innovative and disruptive businesses taking both local and international industries by storm. From cutting edge space technology to reimagined logistics, and innovative business models, here are 25 of the most successful business ideas in South Africa:

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Colin Timmis Says ‘Position Yourself For Success By Starting With The Numbers’

People pay first who they feel pressure from, so people will pay you when they feel pressure from you.

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Entrepreneur Colin Timmis founded South Africa’s first cloud accounting practice in 2011, Real Time Accounting. Then, a few years after being appointed as South Africa’s first Xero partner Colin became Xero Country Manager South Africa. Xero is the emerging global leader of online accounting software that connects small businesses to their advisors and other services.

Related: Pat Pillai On How He’s Helped Over 5000 Entrepreneurs Using 3 Key Steps

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Two 20 Year Olds Reshape Entrepreneur Landscape With New Social Investment Platform

The Merge vision is to become the ‘go to’, digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and to truly make a difference in the world.

Merge Connect

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It’s no secret that finding the right investor for your venture is a challenge that most entrepreneurs face. The current process of finding investment is one that is outdated, and limits entrepreneurs due to a lack of time, and network that is needed to find the right investor. But, this doesn’t have to be the case in today’s digital society, says Zander Matthee and Brandon Bate, co-founders of Merge.

“By making the Internet the middleman, we are able to connect with each other much simpler and faster than before” was Zander’s response. “We have taken advantage of this, and have created a digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors” added Brandon.

Merge is a social platform that connects entrepreneurs and investors. It aims to simplify, refine and accelerate the process of finding investment for entrepreneurs, and the process of finding investment opportunities for investors. From idea to developed, the platform allows entrepreneurs to present a brief outline of their venture to a network of all investor types. While doing this, entrepreneurs are able to browse through, and connect with investor profiles that suit their requirements.

Related: 8 Codes Of Success That Helped Priven Reddy of Kagiso Interactive Media Achieve A Networth Of Over R4 Billion

From Private Investors to Venture Capital, and everything in between, Merge allows all investor types to join. Investors have the opportunity to personalise their feed to suit their investment preferences, and will be able to connect with innovative businesses – that are looking for investment – at their fingertips. Only once there is a mutual interest in each other, are users able to enter a secure private chat where they can discuss further and share documents under the protection of a digital NDA.

The two boys became good friends during their time in high school at St Stithians Boys College. However, it was only in their last year, 2016, that they decided to pursue their dreams and create the platform. They didn’t know how to code, so rather ironically, they needed some form of investment to get the platform off the ground.

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“We knew we had a mountain to climb, but we believed in our vision and that we were really trying to make a difference, and if we could get others to see that, they would be onboard.” said Zander.

Related: Lessons From The Rich And Famous: Manage Your Money Like Oprah To Avoid Going Into Debt Like Nicholas Cage

Chris Peters is one of these individuals that bought into their vision, and became Merge’s first investor. As a successful entrepreneur and part time investor , Chris saw how much value the platform could bring to all entrepreneurs and investors alike. His marketing and strategic background gave him insight into how Merge could play a vital role in a lucrative space, Brand involvement.

“Entrepreneurship and SME development are two key factors that drive economic growth in developing countries like South Africa. That is why brands are currently getting involved, and looking to support entrepreneurs through various means. We have built a platform that allows these brands to successfully market, and execute on the programmes they have created to assist entrepreneurs.” said Chris

Merge was created to assist all entrepreneurs and investors in finding exactly what they are looking for, regardless of age, race, sex, financial position or social status. That is why anybody can sign-up as an entrepreneur. As long as you are determined and willing to work for your dreams. For too long has the investor space been seen as an “elite club for the select few”, and Merge is here to change that. Whether you’ve gotten your bonus at the end of the year and looking for new investment opportunities, or are an active investor, you can sign-up. Whether you’re currently working, or a retired industry leader, you can join as a mentor.

Their vision is to become the ‘go to’, digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and to truly make a difference in the world.

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