Harare-based entrepreneur Kudakwashe Musasiwa turns everything he touches into gold and he believes it was his upbringing that paved the way for him Musasiwa rose to prominence during pastor Evans Mawarire’s #ThisFlag online campaign that became a rare way for citizens to vent their anger against Robert Mugabe’s misrule and force change.
He followed up that with prominent lawyer Fadzayi Mahere’s glittering, but unsuccessful campaign for a parliamentary seat.
After making that impact Musasiwa, who was born in Harare’s oldest suburb of Mbare and was raised in Australia, moved into business and his impact was instant.
He is the founder of the rapidly growing start-up — Fresh In Box — which connects farmers to customers through the use of modern technology.
Musasiwa (KM) told Alpha Media Holdings chairman Trevor Ncube (TN) on the platform In Conversation with Trevor that.
TN: Kuda as you are known you were born in Mbare in 1978 and you grew up in Australia. Tell me the experience so far, being born in Mbare, running around in Mbare and finding yourself in Australia. How has that shaped who you are?
KM: The one story that I can tell, which I think encapsulates my life as a young Ausie kid who was born in Mbare is that my parents got a scholarship for my dad to do his doctorate in Australia. So, we were plucked out of Mbare and dropped in the middle of Sydney.
TN: How old were you?
KM: I was a baby and that’s where I went to primary school and in those days there was no black people within the Australian setting at the time, the Aborigines were scattered in the Pockets and Alespring and somewhere else, there were no black or immigrants at the time. Australia is a very candid place.
People use strong language there. It was extremely racist at the time because no-one could understand you.
This is sort of when Michael Jackson had not yet hit the streets, Michael Jordan was not that popular on the screen and so forth. So, being a black child in Australia was an extremely difficult thing. I remember at primary school, parents picketing at the school so that I wouldn’t be allowed in the pool with their children and sadly the teachers agreed to this.
TN: What did that do to you?
KM: It crushed me for the teachers to allow that — the headmistress to allow that. I was given five minutes whilst other children were changing to swim after every lesson. It’s a very hot country.
TN: Did that make you a racist or you tolerant?
KM: It made me a person who started to lead a band of misfits, you know. It made me a person who hung out with a kid who had red hair, a kid whom everyone called a ginger. It made me somewhat an outcast and I believe sometimes an anti-authority personality comes from those fears. You know a non-conformist because I was never accepted as one of them in the 80s.
TN: Your dad is a man of faith, you do not explain that to me what happened?
KM: You know I believe there has been a journey that I have been travelling in my faith, being a son of a pastor you are brought up within the space of Christianity you are baptised at a young age. I was the youth chairman and so forthright. As you go to university you start to explore and you start to wonder.
I think that’s when I became more agnostic about my approach. However, I do feel that as I grow up. I am 40 now, I am going to 41. I do feel I am rekindling my faith and a lot of my belief and something in ourselves.
I think I am living testimony as a man who has lost everything twice that there must be someone out there who wants better for us other than ourselves.
TN: Lost everything twice, you failed twice.
KM: Well, I failed a lot of times, but I think as far as losing everything, twice.
TN: Talk to me about losing everything twice.
KM: Look, you know after 15 years of working in the United Kingdom we started two great start-ups, we had one called ZW.
I made quite a bit of money as a young man sort of in the UK at the end of my stay there and in 2008 I came back. We shipped everything that we had at least in the food containers including my beautiful Range Rover Freelander.
We used a Zimbabwean company, a black company and till today none of that stuff ever came. You know they didn’t pay the bill.
So, my landing in Zimbabwe, my triumph return home after so many years out there in the UK I came back and I had to start up from scratch and that was a deep lesson in the sense that things are things right those things were acquired by you know hard work so it is almost if you can work hard again you can acquire the things.
The second time I lost everything is after building all this up, I went through a terrible divorce you know I was married and I had a child.
She left with three children and you know I had properties and all these.
So, a second loss I would say losing your family, losing your own, losing everything around you that you hold value again things and starting again.
TN: What is it that done to Kuda?
KM: It liberated me because the person with absolutely nothing to lose anymore has nothing to lose.
So, it’s almost you are able to be far more adventurous. You are able to be far more provocative, you know I think it was during this terrible divorce period that I became far more politically aware, political conscious and less afraid to speak.
It’s the time that I started absolutely a new business from zero experience and these are things that I feel because you lost everything I didn’t, the barrier to being, to taking a risk if you have nothing to lose is much easier.
TN: Nothing to lose Kuda but what is the most precious thing to you right now?
KM: My family, you know and I think I re-married.
I have a baby you know my children still and I think its understanding that now at my age the clock is ticking downwards now and they absolutely depend on me to make the right decision, to make sure I keep sending them school fees, to make sure that they are fed you know, they are looked after, they are protected.
The most important to me is family.
TN: So essentially from the lesson we can be detached to things but we can’t let go our family. That’s what I am getting from you?
KM: Absolutely, I think things for me and this is why I proudly drive my old Honda fit as bashed up as it is.
Its proof to me that the days of my Jaguar are long gone, that used to give me value as a person can disappear but as a person you still have to remain.
You still have to be a dad, you still have a son, you are still a brother and so these are important lessons that I have learnt through these period in Zimbabwe that you know your family, the people around you will keep around you.
The energy is what is gonna keep you move forward. It’s not the things the we hold on to. If I think about it, I spend 15 years in the UK acquiring things.
TN: Which you lost?
KM: Which I lost and at that time my parents weren’t old, my friend. It’s almost like I wish I came back sooner, with nothing and try it again and been here and spend that time.
TN: They say life begins at 40 Kuda, just that and you have got beautiful wife, you have got beautiful kids. You showcase them all the time and you love spending time with them. Tell me how much your family means to you Kuda?
KM: Well they mean everything you know. I think everything I do is for them.
You know I take big lessons from my dad and my mom who you know.
I am very grateful they are still alive.
I am very grateful for the structure they brought into my life and amount of time they invested in me including going to church on Sundays as a family, eating together as a family.
There is a time when we had nothing you know as students in Australia mom is working as a care worker.
It’s not like there is wealth but there is a lot of wealth in love and a lot of wealth in in laughter, a lot of wealth in spending time together.
So, we didn’t grow up rich at all but I think my parents gave us a lot of happiness with the love in the family.
You know dad will pray together, we stay together, eat together you know it was always that and I think this is the things that I also carried through you know.
I spend a lot of time with my son, my daughters, you know making sure that they participated in the business, make sure they start their own businesses.
You know forcing them to do things they feel they can’t do even at a young age and I think this is the lessons I also take from my dad.
TN: You really have made impact, you being very modest, your involvement in #ThisFlag, your involvement with Fadzayi Mahere’s campaign. Talk to me about that as brief as possible?
KM: With #ThisFlag I was sort of like a techIE and a marketing engine behind that.
It was never supposed to be anything bigger than me and a couple of friends, me and a van putting up videos and try to encapsulate some of the feelings and some of the emotions that we had as a generation.
What it became was ridiculous, noone planned it. No one knew what was going to happen.
You know there is a time when you guys reached out to us because you saw that it was now becoming out of control like sort of.
All of sudden Evan is charged with treason. There was no central organisation there was no funding. It was just guys with their smartphones.
I think that’s time we realised there is so much power in this new social media where people can interpret and change ideas and the next lesson I learnt from even that power with the social media with the Fadzayi Mahere campaign was that you can win online but in real life sometimes you haven’t done enough you know.
Only we had the best campaign ever.
Everyone hails you for being innovative, all sorts of things, but at the same time when it came into the ballot box there was a lot of work that should have been done to understand the entrenchment from different party structures.
A lot of work that needed to be done to understand that sometimes the way you are seeing the world is not the way that the other 20 000 people in the constituency see the world.
TN: Can we go straight into the elephant in the room. Fresh in a Box, how did that all start?
KM; It started off by me and my brother Rufaro believing by getting into tomato farming we could get rich and then realising that tomatoes are perishables and they don’t have time for you to market and they need to be sold now and the pricing was going crazy.
Super markets would treat you in a very weird way where they know that perishable goods are about to deteriorate right and the pricing they were giving you, they were giving in real time gross settlement (RTGS)
The value of the RTGS was going down. We had no choice, we had to actually reach out to our friends and family on social media.
You know saying guys we have tomatoes would you like to take them off our hands and in doing so we reach this energy of other farmers, be it lettuce. Dennis, a guy who works at TelOne who had baby marrows that had become cocerts as huge.
Hey dude if you gonna sell tomatoes and let me also bringing you some lettuce, let me also bring you this so it was like purely a sort of mistake that Fresh In a Box started because we had farmed so many tomatoes and it was now y everyday harvesting.
TN: So we are here now, the company there, what does it look like? What is it taking you to fund it to get to where it is right now?
KM: Look we have no funding. No one has given us anything up to this point.
I mean our motto is very simple: we sell the first day to our customers and we deliver the next day.
We have booths strapped everything that we are doing right now to make sure that we leverage the best tags.
So you know in Zimbabwe, it is actually one of the best online countries in the world considering how many people use WhatsApp, considering our digital money you know.
So, we can sell our products quickly online to our people, friends, to our customers and can move that produce to them the next day.
I am using a socialism of delivery methods. Basically saying, look if you all pay the same time, the amount for delivery I have 20 people in Chisipite, it costs me less and if I have 100 people in Borrowdale it even costs me less.
If I have five people in Kuwadzana it costs me a bit more but people in Borrowdale I have to subsidise those.
So, we are able to logistically get to more people.
With some great logistics partners of other young entrepreneurs who have come up and said look I have two vehicles, we are able to move our produce quickly.
So, if you see our structures right now we are still very lean, our team is still very young.
TN; What numbers are we talking about?
KM: We talking about 15 young people right now who are working.
I am the oldest in the team. My wife is the MD, Brenda Zarai is the general manager.
We have a bunch of great guys who are held up like Bokang, working on the websites.
How do we make it easier, you know shopping online if some doesn’t want to use online they can use WhatsApp and how do we capture those orders, put them in an optimiser system and this is just using stuff that pretty much is open source to us and available to anybody.
TN: So technology has been very key to your success?
KM: Absolutely, its 100% of our success, us being able to enlist the 1900 or so farmers who now supply our boxes.
Watch: Kuda Musasiwa In Conversation With Trevor (Part 1)
TN: How many farmers?
KM: 1900 young farmers, all around Harare and in Bulawayo, some in the Midlands and using technology, being able to pluck them into a growing schedule so that we know our supplies has now given us the ability to do great things.
We can all supply hotels and catering companies. We now able to do business and supply supermarkets, which we are doing now.
So, we have, the scale has been great because we can be the biggest horticultural farm and actually own a very small plot of land in Glen Forest, which is awesome.
By having everybody registered on one place so that we can centrally organise each other we are able to produce a lot individually but together as a collective producing a huge amount .
TN You bought the farm in Glen Forest, have you?
TN: You clearly making good money to be able to speak of investments?
KM: It’s a combination of things. I think we need to be very clear.
It’s a combination of having, I guess I really need good support structure as far as farming is concerned.
Its a combination of having great relationships that have made us able to get the proper landing at Glen Forest.
And also people who believe in us enough to be able to see that a non-productive piece of land can become productive if you give it energy.
So you will be shocked at how easy it is for a young person who has the energy to get a plot of land in Zimbabwe right now. You will be shocked.
TN; Talk to me about that
KM: If you don’t try you will never know.Zimbabwe has got some of the most fertile land and this land since the land reform programme went to waste.
The farm we took over used to generate over USD300 000 a month in selling roses and you know exporting green beans and all sorts of great stuff and when these farms were taken over it became a shell, nothing literally what you see right now is what was left 20 years ago.
You know busted green houses, old packing sheds. I mean you can probably see that the guy left when he was kicked out, that type of thing.
TN: But you have got title deeds to this land?
TN: What’s the future for Fresh In A Box I mean what would you want it to look like in the next five years?
KM: Well, we want to grow a bunch of what’s in our box, ourselves just to supplement our supply chain. We also want to use it as a dam wall plot for the best practice using the best tech, using bio chemicals and bio fertilizers trying and get a really great standard of crop.
For fresh in a box I would like us to continue to not be vegetable company or shopping services, we want to be the best for experience for customers anyone has ever seen.
I think that’s what I always tell my team, you don’t sell vegies, you sell the best experience you know, if someone has a bad experience then they just don’t come back with their money.
We wanna make sure that we are always on top of our game and provide absolute excellency in service and the quality of the produce because we strongly believe that in five years every young Zimbabwean child no matter where they live should at least have half their plate as living food grow and nurtured in Zimbabwe.
TN: I think any lines that you have looked at, what you would want to produce yourself from your farm in Glen forest?
KM: We really are passionate about you know the produce that other people like you know the produce that other people are ignoring.
We would like to get stuff like that.
There is a bunch of different types of vegies that used to be grown in Zimbabwe that have since sort of disappearing.
We are gravitating to cabbage, rape and so forth.
So, we would like to reintroduce the bunch of you know different type of vegetables and I believe you know going back to that organic way that Zimbabwe used to farm to get a much better type of product for our customers.
I think we get higher value for them if we sell them on the markets and we so may be getting into the export market again.
As a team we would love to start exporting to different countries as well.
TN: You haven’t started exporting?
KM: No yet.
TN: Any regional strategy and international strategy?
KM: Well regionally speaking as far as our website is concerned, our techie, in the beginning we designed for scale so we already have things like Impessa, Mnet and Airtel imbedded in our payments method already.
So, the jump to say going to Kenya will be far easier for us right now and we hope in the next couple of months.
We are having great conversations going on with people in Malawi, people in Rwanda .
We have some guys in Gambia who came to see us.
We would love to be able to replicate that on a massive more scale because we believe that Africa is the breadbasket of the world.
So why not, what we are doing is not necessarily unique I think. What we can put together is unique and that is franchisable.