Business & Finance

Justin Farnell: Connecting South Africa, One Community at a Time

Justin Farnell, an entrepreneur driven by a rich family legacy in technology and an Oxford education, discusses his transition from corporate life to establishing innovative internet service businesses in South Africa. In this interview, he shares his motivations, challenges, and valuable insights for aspiring entrepreneurs.

Justin Farnell’s Journey: From Corporate Halls to Empowering Communities

Introduction: Justin Farnell’s journey from Oxford University to the townships of Cape Town epitomizes the spirit of entrepreneurship. With a degree in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics, and a profound influence from his tech-savvy family, Justin’s path was marked by a desire to innovate and connect underserved communities to the internet.

Educational Background:

Q: Could you tell us a bit about your educational background? What degrees or certifications do you hold?

A: I went to a Catholic boarding school in England, excelling academically and in sports. I earned a place at Oxford University, graduating with a BA Honours in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics.

Home Environment and Upbringing:

Q: How did your home environment and upbringing influence your decision to become an entrepreneur?

A: Growing up in a large family meant competing for attention. My Grandpa Alan built a global electronics distributor, and my father John managed a leading Norwegian tech company. This family legacy in technology instilled a passion for innovation and the independence that comes with being an entrepreneur.

Journey into Entrepreneurship:

Q: Where did you start your journey into entrepreneurship? Was it a specific location or community that influenced you?

A: My entrepreneurial journey started after five years in London’s ISP scene. In 2003, I pursued a Postgraduate Degree in Entrepreneurial Strategies at the University of Cape Town. Volunteering with Habitat for Humanity in Khayelitsha opened my eyes to the potential of bringing internet access to underserved communities, leading to the creation of LAGUNYA Internet Business Centres.

Transition from Corporate to Entrepreneurship:

Q: What initially sparked your interest in leaving the corporate world to start your own business?

A: The office politics and hierarchical constraints of corporate life were tiresome. The drive to be a self-starter and the move to South Africa in 2007 solidified my decision to pursue entrepreneurship.

Q: Was there a specific moment or event that made you decide to take the leap into entrepreneurship?

A: Moving to South Africa and applying for a business visa in 2008 to set up Farnell Wireless CC marked my leap into entrepreneurship.

Q: How did your previous corporate experience help or hinder your transition into running your own business?

A: My corporate experience with multinational telecom companies was invaluable, allowing me to work as an independent contractor while establishing other ventures like the Lagunya Internet initiative.

Highs and Lows of Running a Business:

Q: Can you share some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced while running your business?

A: The Covid pandemic was catastrophic for my business, WiFiontheMove. The lockdown severely impacted my prime market, causing a significant downturn.

Q: What have been the most rewarding moments in your entrepreneurial journey?

A: Connecting people to the internet, whether through fixed wireless solutions in townships or providing WiFiontheMove for long-haul passengers, has been incredibly fulfilling.

Q: How do you stay motivated during tough times in your business?

A: My children and wife Phiwe are constant sources of motivation. In South Africa, it’s sink or swim, and I prefer to swim.

Financial Responsibilities and Motivation:

Q: What strategies do you use to ensure that all bills and financial obligations are met by month-end?

A: Increasing the Managed Services side of the business for recurring revenue has been crucial.

Q: What keeps you motivated to maintain the financial health of your business?

A: I’m planning a capital raise by the end of 2024 to scale up WiFiontheMove, necessitating a healthy balance sheet and positive cash flow.

Risks and Benefits of Entrepreneurship:

Q: What are some of the biggest risks you’ve encountered as an entrepreneur?

A: Dealing with unhelpful middlemen and government tenders requiring upfront supply before payment. I now avoid both.

Q: In your opinion, what are the greatest benefits of being an entrepreneur?

A: Choosing business partners, managing your own schedule, and the ability to quickly adapt and implement new ideas.

Adapting to Change:

Q: How do you handle economic downturns or challenging economic times as a business owner?

A: During lockdown, I diversified by consulting for telcos and helping an Ed Tech startup, reducing overheads by working from home and partnering with cloud-based tech companies.

Q: What steps do you take to stay ahead of rapid technological changes in your industry?

A: Staying informed through business publications, LinkedIn, and industry events such as those organized by WAPA and Africa Tech Festival.

Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs:

Q: What advice would you give to someone considering leaving the corporate world to start their own business?

A: Look before you leap. Research your market and ensure you have a supportive partner with a stable income during the business buildup.

Q: Are there any key lessons or insights you wish you had known before starting your entrepreneurial journey?

A: “Begin with the end in mind” – Stephen R. Covey.

Q: What qualities do you think are essential for successful entrepreneurship?

A: Self-belief, determination, strategic vision, and adaptability.

Contact Information:

Q: How can people get in touch with you if they want to do business with you?

A: Email: justin@wifionthemove.co.za

Q: Do you have a website, social media handles, or a contact email?

A: Website: www.wifionthemove.co.za

About WiFi On The Move: WiFiontheMove, established in 2018, is a leading provider of managed Wi-Fi services for the transportation industry in Southern Africa. Headquartered in Midrand, Gauteng, our founder and CEO, Justin Farnell, brings over 20 years of international enterprise Wi-Fi networking and roaming expertise to our team.

Branded WiFi Portal: The Linkyfi enterprise-class platform manages the passenger online experience. Branded login pages and feedback forms, together with remote access for coach operators to monitor passenger usage and collect profile data in real-time. WiFiontheMove contracts South Africa’s top auto engineers accredited by leading chassis manufacturers, ensuring reliable operation and compliance with vehicle warranties. The router is hardwired into the vehicle engine and is ignition powered on/off.

We have a strong partnership with Vodacom, South Africa’s leading data provider known for its extensive LTE network coverage throughout the country. Multiple SIM data monitoring via Vodacom’s converged platform caters to larger fleet operators. Fixed-price monthly data plans also remove the “bill shock” and management overhead for coach operators.

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    Webster Molaudi

    With over 20 years of experience in digital marketing, I possess a demonstrated history of success in overseeing online communities and executing digital advertising initiatives for esteemed brands such as Sowetan LIVE, SundayWorld newspaper, 3S Media, Peugeot and Citroen South Africa, RedSquare, Motus Renault South Africa and various private enterprises.
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