Warren Bonhein speaks to IOL about what drove him to start his own businesses.
1. Is Zinia the first business you started-up?
No it isn’t. After a few years in sales I landed up working at a small telecoms company where I broke every company sales record there was. I realised then that I could take my sales skills, energy and drive into running my own business so I started a PABX and Premicell business in the telecoms industry. I made my first million in the first year, and grew the business to a staff compliment of 50, billing a couple of million per month. I learnt a lot about running a business in those years and made some big mistakes too. You can never assume tomorrow will be great and my complacency cost me that business. I threw it all away at a young age and had to start again with not so much as a rand in my pocket or a business card.
2. What gave you the business idea?
I had seen the changes in the industry coming and moved from Premicells to voice over IP (VoIP). My only concern was the reliance on Telkom, and as result we started to test wireless networks and internet as an alternative. I found that none were living up to my expectations and this is how I began my own wireless Internet service provider. After a short while I realised the market demand for internet was bigger than for VoIP or voice. Over the years our business has grown and realigned to the market needs and today we offer a needed value proposition of all the best networks under one provider, along with the Zinia service experience.
3. How is the business doing?
The business is doing extremely well and we have worked over the last 7 years to establish a well-run business with tight controls. Zinia is a highly profitable multi-million rand business and we are growing 70 percent year-on-year since we started in 2009. We run like a big business with tight controls, a strong management team, statistics to inform decision-making and a process methodology that revolves around simplicity and innovation.
4. Did you always want to be an entrepreneur?
I don’t think I knew this was the plan when I was younger, but this has always been my nature. Although I was successful in my previous jobs, this was not my natural environment. I have a drive that exceeded the limitations of any job or company I’ve ever worked for. I’m not sure if it was lack of experience but I also wasn’t scared to try something, even at the thought of failure. I am not one to wallow on the failings but rather find a better way to move forward
5. What made you choose this career path?
I found this path by chasing the money! I started in sales straight out of school and went from stationary to vacuum cleaners. I only found my groove when I started working in telecoms, after asking a friend to get me an interview at company he worked for when seeing his new GTI. The scope and growth of the industry was the right fit for my high minded ambitions.
6. What's next on your list to achieve?
I have a goal to grow my company to be the first and only choice for businesses in Africa when looking for ICT services. I want to break all the traditional rules in this game to offer something so unique and special. This a mammoth task and so I plan to eat this elephant in bite sizes chunks.
7. What would you say to someone who wants to be an entrepreneur?
Many things can be said, but let me tell you the first few things I have learnt. If you are starting your first company, you don’t know as much as you think you know about business. Do your research and try lean on some successful people for guidance. Whatever venture you are planning, make sure you make money before you spend money. The lower the overheads, the lower the stress levels. Run your start up like a corporate. The tighter the controls the better handle you will have on things. And lastly, don’t be afraid to fail, but learn from it and never make these mistakes again.
8. Would you say you need a degree to get started?
I believe a higher education will only increase your chances of success. I personally didn’t pursue this path as I’m more of a doer than an academic. Theoretical will not beat experience, so don’t procrastinate too long if you want to get your life started. I have not had anything to fall back on so my sheer will has driven me to succeed, learning as I go.