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On the way back home from the mother in my previous post, I decided to sleep over in a small town, and at dinner that night I would see the most beautiful thing that I have ever seen, a thing that for me represented the future of the world, a thing that for me was revolutionary, a thing that I believed would change the world like nothing seen before, that evening for the first time in my life I saw a mobile phone, I begged the owner to let me have a look at it and we drank a beer together, I was hooked, I discovered my destiny.

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The next day I walked into Teljoy, a mobile Service Provider at the time, and negotiated the right to sell their products in the East of Johannesburg.

My sales office at the time was selling mobile phones and SIM Cards from the boot of my car next to the road, I had no real funding to do anything else, but I was armed with everything that could possibly be known about mobile phones, I read and researched everything that could possibly be available on mobile technology, I knew every phone, every service, I knew everything, and very fast I became the go to guy for anything mobile related, I loved it.

Next to that road, selling from the boot, answering thousands of questions, I met my future business partner, and we embarked on what still remains one of the most exciting journeys of my life, that of owning our own fully fledged mobile phone store.

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We approached two elderly gentleman that owned a mobile phone store, one that they wanted to sell as the market and industry they felt was not for them, the shop was named MOBTEL, and the moment we saw it we just had to have it, and would do anything to make that dream a reality.

With no real money in the bank and a relatively steep price, the only way to finance this was to sell nearly everything we owned, our furniture, our cars and even our garden tools, and being without transport I bought a second-hand bicycle from a pawn shop to get to our new business every morning and back home in the evening, it was fantastic.

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MOBTEL in a very short period grew to be the most successful mobile store in South Africa, and we loved every minute of it, the constant thinking of the business, how we can grow it, how we can market and promote the business, what we can offer, how we could compete against the big retail stores, the business consumed our thought 24 hours a day.

Our partnership model was a simple one, all the money made during the day we split 50/50 at day end, and any payments that had to be made we paid 50/50 from our growing cash in our safes, we withdrew money from the bank every day for all credit card transactions, we believed in only one thing, cash… we did not understand any other model and never even thought about drawing up income statements, cash flow projections and the like, hell we did not even know what it was at that time, you could say we were cowboys in business, but hell it worked.

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MOBTEL at the time was ahead in many respects, we had the largest and busiest installation workshop in the country, we had the only installation workshop that could facilitate large rig trucks, we did field services, we had expert knowledge on all the products and services, we had a phone repair center, we trained customers in specific workshops on using the technology, we exported into the rest of Africa, we had a sales force going out to corporate customers, and we were the only shop that bought and sold their own mobile phones directly from suppliers across the globe, it was a great period indeed.

It is within the last part of buying and selling phones that our MOBTEL success story came to a grinding halt.

The mobile world was young, reckless to some extend and definitely a bit crazy at the time, constantly people would be walking into our store looking to buy and sell thousands of phones for some big deal somewhere, this was a time when we knew we were in an industry just waiting to explode, and we got greedy, without even realizing it, we had new cars, drove around with bags of cash, and in general enjoyed the good life.

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We started trading in phones, buying hundreds of phones at a time from a variety of sources, several times, in cash, real cash in plastic bags. Then we went big, we went for a deal of thousands of phones, Siemens S1’s, we arranged to have the phones delivered at our store, we opened the container, inspected the first layer of phones, paid the cash, and the sellers left, when we started to pack out the phones we realized we were scammed, all the underlying boxes were filled with bricks, some were empty, none had phones, our world came crashing down, we could not absorb this loss, and in the weeks that followed we lost everything, the shop, our assets, our friendship, it was the end of MOBTEL.

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This entry was posted in Africa.
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