‘Meet the Boss’ is How we made it in Africa’s interview series, where we pose the same 10 questions to CEO’s and executives across the continent.
Erfaan Mojgani, country manager, Kaymu Tanzania
1. What was your first job?
It was part-time when in high school, during the night and on weekends to save for my first car. I was 16 and worked in an ice cream store and a clothing shop earning US$6.50 an hour.
2. What parts of your job keep you awake at night?
One is, are my customers happy? Second is my team. Who is underperforming and why? Not because I need to fire them the next day, but how can I motivate them? Do they need a tough talk, an inspirational talk, or are they just underperforming because they’re not fit for the role?
3. Who has had the biggest impact on your career and why?
There is a lady I worked with for three months in microfinance. She had graduated from Harvard and had the opportunity to make lots of money, but she chose to work in emerging markets. She was still doing challenging things but having an impact on people’s lives. I had always imagined myself working in one of these fancy jobs in the corporate world for 20 years, then at 45 shifting over and working for a non-profit. But she made me realise I can have an impact from a young age whether it is working in development or in a business operating where markets are growing. She is the one who told me I could take my skills and education and work in an emerging market, showing me there was no reason to wait until I was 45.
4. The best professional advice you’ve ever received?
Have medium-term and long-term goals but don’t have them be so fixed. For instance, I have a vision of where I want to be in five years. What I am doing today makes sense in terms of the overall goal. I have gained skills, learnt about logistics, managing a sales team and so forth. All the things I’m doing make sense for my next job. The steps I’m taking are in my plan, but I also realise my five year goal might change in a year or two. If I said XYZ is my goal last year and today my personality has changed, my life has changed, my interests have changed… then my five year goal might change too.
5. The top reasons why you have been successful in business?
I am able to work with people from different backgrounds and personalities. When interacting with people I seek to connect with them and find solutions as opposed to just getting into a shouting match. I also start every day fresh. I know some will be tough. There are many times when I’ve worked past midnight. But even then I keep a positive attitude knowing it is worth it. I start the next morning expecting it to be even better. I am also willing to learn.
6. Where’s the best place to prepare for leadership? Business school or on the job?
On the job. Business school is a great place to get training, meet people, and getting exposed to a lot. But you are not pushed enough in business school. The way you get pushed for leadership is on the job. It is unlikely you can go directly from business school to a leadership role unless one of your jobs before business school forced you to be a leader and make decisions.
7. How do you relax?
Movies, sports and books. I am very bad at social media and emailing my friends and family because I spend so much time working, and when I get home I don’t want to see my computer. I prefer to read or watch a movie or sports.
8. How soon in the morning do you like to be at your desk?
I like to be ready to start by 7:30am, but usually make it by 8am.
9. Your favourite job interview question?
When interviewing somebody, I ask them to tell me about a time when they were faced with a problem such as a computer not working. And they do not have a manual on how to fix it. Or a customer asked a question and they didn’t know the answer. I want to see if they’ve ever been challenged – and how they solved the problem.
10. Your message to Africa’s aspiring business leaders and entrepreneurs?
Believe in what you do because it’s going to be tough. Whether it’s your own money you have invested or somebody else’s, you are going to invest your time and energy. So make sure you care about it and you enjoy it. There could be parts you don’t like, but you should care about the overall mission and enjoy doing it. I love saying that I am growing an e-commerce company in Tanzania. It’s crazy, it’s tough and its fun. You have to enjoy what you are doing.
And you should also ensure what you are offering can be adapted to what customers really want. Pilot it, see what they want and listen to their feedback. Even when you introduce a new product or service you have to be ready to make small changes along the way. And lastly, have people around you who are passionate and talented – because very few businesses can be built by a single person.
Erfaan Mojgani is the country manager for Kaymu Tanzania. Kaymu is an online marketplace that allows buyers and sellers to trade a wide range of products including home appliances, electronics and fashion.