BACKSTORY: Yusuf Shaikh, business strategy associate at Yoco
The FM chats to Yusuf Shaikh, business strategy associate at Yoco, who has some Covid regrets
What’s your top tip for doing a deal?
Connect with people and understand their incentives. By understanding who is on the other side of the table and what motivates them, you’ll be in a better position to negotiate.
What was your first job?
My first (part-time) job was as a maths tutor for high school students. I loved it! My first (full-time) job was as a management consultant at the Boston Consulting Group.
How much was your first pay cheque, and how did you spend it?
A couple hundred rand after a week of tutoring, which I split into three buckets: a third for spending; a third for saving for a shorter-term goal (I’m a big techie so at the time it was a smartwatch); and a third for an emergency fund of sorts.
What’s the one thing you wish someone had told you when you were starting out?
It’s important to set specific goals of what you want out of your first job, and ruthlessly focus on achieving them, be it mastering the art of financial modelling, building compelling presentations or building networks. When you’re going through tough times in the job, remind yourself of these goals, and it makes it easier for you to push through.
If you could fix one thing in South Africa, what would it be?
The structural issues that discourage people from entrepreneurship; [we should] incorporate a stronger focus of entrepreneurship into our education system. Too often we’re told in school that we’re gaining an education to find a job. Yet what we really need to do is use that education to solve problems and ultimately create jobs!
What’s the most interesting thing about you that people don’t know?
I find a thrill in doing anything entrepreneurial: be it selling an old phone on Gumtree/Facebook Marketplace, or connecting two people who are looking to do a business deal — even when I don’t make money out of the process!
What’s the worst investment mistake you’ve made?
Not being greedy when others were fearful. The first weeks of the Covid lockdowns in March 2020 presented investment opportunities that few will live to see again. However, instead of taking advantage of these, I chose to remain fearful and not invest opportunistically.
What’s the best investment you’ve ever made? And how much of it was due to luck?
An opportunistic trade on a listed mining company — mostly due to luck!
What’s the best book you’ve read recently and why did you like it?
The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz — it’s a great book that provides practical guidelines about guiding a business through uneasy times.
What phrase or bit of jargon irks you most?
“Blue sky thinking” — it seems like a phrase from an era long gone …
What is something you would go back and tell your younger self that would impress them?
You may not think you’re the smartest or most hardworking person, but you’re incredibly resourceful, and you will achieve some pretty cool things at a pretty young age.
If you were President Cyril Ramaphosa, what would you change, or do, tomorrow?
Choose one sector to create jobs in, and ruthlessly focus on getting the job done. For example, tourism. I’d identify the top 10 tourist destinations in South Africa, capacitate a team and enable them to create end-to-end solutions that bring more visitors to South Africa, and address the primary risks that prevent visitors from coming here.
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