Engineering entrepreneur Hisham runs several companies in Mauritius. He’s overcome many issues in building his businesses, including finding funding, but enjoys the challenge of working as both a business owner and a hands-on engineer.
Hisham Rojoa followed in his father’s footsteps to become an engineer, and believes that reading his books and magazines as a child helped to influence his career path. Now the owner of several businesses in Mauritius, Hisham began his working career in the telecoms sector.
Hisham walked into his first job at Mauritius Telecom directly from university in 1998, where he undertook technical, sales and marketing roles, later moving on to mobile operator Emtel, where he set-up the international gateway and coordinated all legal and regulatory aspects of the company.
An engineer who had garnered a great amount of sales and marketing experience, he next moved to the African IP address registry AfriNIC in 2006, taking on a communications and marketing role.
It was at this time that Hisham first got a taste for entrepreneurialism when a Swedish friend who wanted to set-up an international newspaper printing business in Mauritius approached him. He came on board, providing capital for the business, and it wasn’t long before he had some business ideas of his own.
“In 2008, I left AfriNIC and decided to set up a new company, PlaySMS. I felt that I was not making full use of my skills and that the only way to do so was to set-up my own business and propose solutions that I wanted,” he explains.
“As its name suggests, it was focusing on SMS applications and also mobile content. As a new partner, Vincent Kong joined in 2009 and we decided to create a new company Storm Edge, as the previous was too restrictive. Today, these two companies operate mostly as one and it is only for legal and regulatory purposes that some services are offered through PlaySMS. Today we work as a consulting (business strategy, marketing and ICT) and software development company.”
Hisham has hugely enjoyed managing his own companies, but some of his highlights include developing the first SMS betting system in Mauritius and being the first social media agency in Mauritius, designing a range of Facebook applications for the Mauritian Market.
“We are currently the leader in social media management in Mauritius,” he says proudly.
Two of his biggest current work projects includes implementing an online work permit system for the government - the first of it’s kind, and working with Coca-Cola on a route to market digital system to be implemented across East African territories in coming years.
Although the businesses are going well, Hisham has had his fair share of problems to face, including sourcing start-up funding.
“One of the main issue was access to finance,” he explains. “Banks in Mauritius were not keen on helping new entrepreneurs even with a good business plan and work track record in the largest companies in Mauritius. The good thing was that the investment required for some projects was not very high.
“We used our own funds initially to procure any equipment that was needed. Since all the software development was being done locally, our costs were very low and we did not have the need for significant funds. However, this did prevent us from initiating all projects we wanted as early as possible.”
Hisham found that there are several cons to being a business owner. These include no income security and huge responsibility.
“You’re individually responsible for the future of the company, its people and its liabilities - these are big responsibilities to live with on a daily basis,” he says. “You also need to be to be a self-starter and have the ability to boost up the entire staff: you can’t just be a good manager anymore, you have to be a real leader!
But on the flip side, he’s found that there are also many benefits.
“You’ve got more freedom - there’s no bureaucratic red tape,” he enthuses.
“You’re no longer limited - you can be flexible in terms of your vision and objectives. In addition there’s the bonus of a super swift decision process - once a decision’s been made solutions can be developed and implemented.
“I also enjoy using and developing new and innovative solutions and also encouraging companies to move to paperless operations,” he adds.
In just five years Hisham has proved himself to be a successful entrepreneur and the businesses continue to grow. Staffing has moved from the original two partners to nine full-time staff, two part-time developers and a ten-man team of freelancers. They deal with the country’s biggest companies and continue to be awarded the most interesting and innovative projects.
Although he looks after three businesses, Hisham is lucky enough to be in a position where he’s able to continue working hands-on when he chooses.
“The newspaper printing business is currently managed by my wife and I provide only technical advice with regards to the printers and any other technical issue,” he says. “I act as the administrative manager for the other companies dealing with HR, finance and legal issues, which represents about 20 per cent of my working time.
“The rest of the time my work is spread between doing consulting, project management and system design. I definitely have a hands-on approach. I like to coach new engineers and technologists who join us and I work with on a number of projects on how to approach a new project and work effectively.”
Looking forward, Hisham has big plans for his businesses. He plans to export the companies’ expertise to other countries in the Indian Ocean and Africa, using the work in Mauritius as a showcase. He believes this will help him to increase the number of local and international partnerships, allowing him to fast track the businesses development.