A family run business, barely eight years old, and already Mobicel has become of the fastest phone and tablet suppliers in South Africa. What began as a leap of faith in 2007 has flourished into a company that’s steadily racking up one significant achievement after another, and a brand that’s starting to become a force to be reckoned with in the mobile device arena.
The distribution deal Mobicel signed with the Edcon group in 2010 was the company’s first major breakthrough. Swiftly gaining credibility as a brand with high quality products at affordable prices, subsequent deals quickly followed with the likes of Game, Glomail stores, Cambridge, Pep and Ackermans. Among its most recent successes are the distribution deals Mobicel signed with The Foschini Group, as well as cellular giants MTN and Cell C last year.
Driven by one man’s determination, and fuelled by his unshakeable belief in his product, Mobicel currently distributes to 2,200 stores nationally and holds 13.1% of the tablet market share in South Africa, with a remarkable potential for growth in all sectors.
But nothing ever comes easy, and no-one knows that better than Chief Executive Officer and founder of Mobicel, Ridhwan Khan. “Success is often a long and hard road which is only attained by an absolute belief in your vision that is supported by an unwavering passion to see it materialise. You’ve got to make this something you live and breathe every hour of everyday”.
As a young boy growing up in Pietersburg, Khan had an inherent entrepreneurial spirit that he couldn’t put aside even whilst studying towards his B-Com degree. He couldn’t visualise himself in a suit and matching tie showing up for a 9 to 5 job. He knew that he had to get out and create something greater and more meaningful.
In 2001, Khan headed for London to find a new purpose. It was there that he befriended people in the cellular industry, and started a business refurbishing old cell phones. In 2002, he moved the business back home to South Africa where he concentrated on the informal market – a market where he saw the need for a better user experience without the bigger price tag.
Khan says, “There’s a definite gap in the market. People are hungry for affordable products with a great user experience, and our vision has always been focussed on delivering exactly that.”
Juggling multiple roles from New Business Manager and Consumer Analyst to Packer, Cleaner, and Driver, Khan resolutely built up his enterprise. By 2005, the business was selling over 50,000 units a month, Khan bought out his investors, and had established a solid reputation amongst his clients in the informal sector.
Khan attributes this success to his dedication to quality. “We stand by our product. Even in the early days, aftersales was a key component of our business model. We were one of the few suppliers that sold refurbished products with a guarantee at that time, and it gave us a lot of traction in the market.”
Yet for Khan, something was still missing. “We were flourishing, sure, but I was just a trader. I wanted to build a brand, to create something bigger than me.”
“We had a demand for 50,000 second-hand tier 1 phones every month. And we thought why not offer the people a brand new device, our own brand, with better functionality and cheaper pricing.”
In 2007 Khan took his biggest leap of faith. He shut down his successful refurbishing business overnight, used the cash flow to fund his new venture, placed the first order for a new phone designed to his own specifications, and launched the Mobicel brand.
The risk paid off.
Even though the first order was for a mere 500 phones, far below the required minimum order quantity, Khan found a way to piggyback on other orders, stuck the Mobicel logos onto the phones himself, and introduced the new brand to the informal market. Within months, his phones were flying off the shelves.
People eagerly bought into his brand’s ethos ‘You Deserve Better’. “For us it’s all about the user experience,” says Khan. “It may be a tier 2 product, but it’s not something that you buy today and it doesn’t work tomorrow. Mobicel is a brand that’s up there with the other big names. We don’t build for today, we build for tomorrow, and we stand by that.”
As part of his design process, Khan meticulously researches new launches, market trends and consumer demands, constantly keeping up with the wave of technology in order to enhance the remarkable user experience Mobicel is dedicated to delivering.
Khan also insists on rigorous product testing before launch. “We’ve got a rigorous quality standard, so we really put the device through a lot before we launch it.” says Khan. Just the drop testing alone requires no less than 10,000 drops to confirm that the product can withstand impacts without any degradation in performance.
“It’s not just about selling a device. We’re not just shifting boxes. We’re here to build a brand… to build a legacy.”
It was Khan’s absolute belief in his product that gave him the confidence to approach the Edcon Group in 2010 with a consignment and distribution model they couldn’t refuse. The quality of his product proved itself when just three years later, MTN approached Mobicel with an offer to introduce Mobicel phones to its national channel.
As an upcoming brand with a firm focus on providing an outstanding user experience without an outrageous price tag, there’s a lot of growth potential for Mobicel – particularly in the higher income brackets where the brand is, as yet, little known.
“I’m passionate enough to make this business work – irrespective of what the conditions are – and I will make it work. Nothing’s going to stop me.”