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When Rob Burrell left on a hike in Zimbabwe’s Chimanimani mountains in 2005 he didn’t think he would return with the idea for his first startup. But that he did – a solution to the pandemic fuel shortage plaguing his homeland.
Ferreting away at his computer on the edge of his double-bed in London, he began to develop an SMS based voucher system that would enable Zimbos abroad to send petrol and diesel to their loved ones back home. The system soon evolved to not only deal with fuel and food shortages. The result was mukuru.com, one of Africa’s first money transfer services to be driven by mobile (long before Vodacom’s Mpesa).
Featured in the The Economist as a business to watch, it was originally aimed at the Zimbabwean diaspora wanting to send cash home, but now services some 90 other countries. You can now settle a Mukuru remittance at every Pep, Shoprite, Checkers, Pick n Pay and Spar nationwide. Refreshingly, Burrell is not all business. He is also the lead singer/songwriter for Mann Friday, a cult band with a loyal following for years in South Africa, Zim and London. They just signed a record deal with V2 (Branson’s label after he sold Virgin) and toured the Netherlands.
#BestAdvice: Do something you’re passionate about
“There’s a ton of opportunities in Africa to make a difference to people’s lives. For us, it was how to send money back to your loved ones. Figuring out how to do that with the puzzle-pieces you have is the fun (and tiring) part. Clichéd or not, ‘pick something you feel passionate about and the rest will take care of itself’ is a mantra that I feel holds true. Also… try to snag a wife whilst you’re still in a rock band – odds are you’ll be punching well above your weight.”
*By Tudor Caradoc-Davies