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The Time I Ran A Business In High School

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In high school, I sold airtime (phone credit) at school in Swaziland.

I started by buying the bigger airtime vouchers which came with bonus airtime. That didn’t last long since I could only send a limited amount of airtime a day. With the help of a classmate, I found an airtime wholeseller which netted me a 6% commission.

I started with ZAR200 (about USD13) but that sold out in a week. I upped it to ZAR1000 and that still wasn’t enough. Then I found a way to keep up with demand. I would go around borrowing R100 telling them that I would pay them back within a week. Since I always sold out, I had no problems paying people back while netting R6. I thought I did something nobody’s ever done until I realized that’s called leverage which is what rich people do– just at a 0% interest rate.

While this was definitely against school rules, the school didn’t care. Heck, teachers were my biggest customers. They only had a problem once I started selling food out of my dorm room, which I could only do for charity1.

Although airtime was in high demand, I struggled with getting people to pay me. I even got the nickname of tax collector, even though they actually owed the money. Now I know how Apostle Matthew felt. Also, having to run down town really took a lot of time away from studying. It also didn’t help how many interruptions I would get from people asking for airtime. Context switching is hard.

In all, it was an interesting experience. Only regret is not being more assertive with debt collection.

  1. I still sold instant noodles for myself however. ↩︎