More recently known as a shark on M-Net’s reality show, Shark Tank, Romeo Kumalo is a venture capitalist both on and off camera.
With more than 20 years of experience in the South African ICT sector, Kumalo is currently CEO of Washirika Limited, an Africa-focused investment holdings and private equity company that invests in the communication, construction, clean energy and ICT sectors, which he co-founded.
He is also a non-executive director and board member of Kalon Venture Partners, a financial and technology VC firm that finances startups looking for growth capital to scale their business.
On Shark Tank, he and his fellow sharks, Gil Oved, Marnus Broodryk, Vinny Lingham and Dawn Nathan-Jones, are challenged with finding the next South African unicorn to invest in.
For those looking to go into business, Kumalo’s advice is “get into business early.” He shared this recently in an interview with men’s lifestyle magazine, GQ South Africa.
“There are situations where people are confused or have different talents, but generally, people who are very successful figured out early on what they wanted to do.”
More entrepreneurial wisdom from Kumalo’s GQ South Africa interview below.
1. Have A Clear Vision Of The End-Goal
Be careful and clear about what you want to do, Kumalo says. The earlier you figure it out, the better, he advises.
“If you’re unsure, find yourself within a box; define your territory and then try different things within that space. Collect different experiences within an industry and then choose your direction.”
“Sometimes you want to go and get two or three years of experience and then start your own thing. It’s about the kind of experience you’re after. Ask what tools you need in your box to kick-start your career.”
2. Get Experience
When it comes to business, very few things beat experience, says Kumalo.
“And with that, there are frameworks which you create for yourself,” he says, “I think it’s important to get business fundamentals right; systems and processes and building the right focus. You need to have a business plan for yourself. My most important lesson has been to look at what I put into my toolbox. Acquire experiences to mould your framework.”
“If there’s one thing I could have done more it would have been to go out early in life and experience different markets. If you’re in your late 20s or early 30s and have the opportunity to work overseas, you should do it and don’t just choose the obvious markets like the UK and Europe; go to India, or Mexico or Brazil. The earlier you do that the better, because later on, in a highly competitive market you will beat someone else. Companies prize that more than anything. And if you’re not going to work for a big corporate, you’ll still win because no one can buy you those experiences. Harvard can’t teach you that.”
3. Arm Yourself With Knowledge
Education is an important part of getting there, says Kumalo. It matters in the real world if you’re qualified to be in a specific space, he adds.
“In your early 20s, you are filling up part of the toolkit and in your 30s your toolkit must be halfway there. Get tools and you can fix problems. So for me, both academic and practical experiences are an important combination.”
4. Sharpen Your Soft Skills Too
Building solid relationships is the foundation of a successful business, Kumalo says. You work out later in your career how important it is to establish these in business, he says. In the early stages of your career, you need to establish those. People management becomes so important later on because business is all about people. People do business with people they like and trust, so integrity is everything, he adds.
“Out of everything I’ve done, it really comes down to keeping your word. It’s so important that people trust you and [that] you’re a man of your word. In the end, that’s all it comes down to,” he says.