Smartphones may never be the same. Alpesh H. Patel, CEO of ZmBIZI, is an award-winning global entrepreneur with yet another ground-breaking idea. Cirina Catania, the host of OWC RADiO talks to this very special guest about his new product and shares his incredible entrepreneurial story.
Alpesh Patel’s latest revolutionary project (more info at www.zmbizi.com) is an Android-based smartphone that pays you when you use it and comes with its own rewards wallet and debit card. The ZmBIZI was announced at CES 2020 and will be available in April 2020.
A veteran in the telecom industry, Alpesh generated $500m for Motorola in the eighties and went on to create the first African tech hardware startup and the world’s first Afro Emoticon character brand. That business was successfully sold to a $5B South African conglomerate and helped Alpesh launch a new wave of innovation.
Alpesh specializes in market strategies, entrepreneurship, intrapreneurship, results-orientated sales solutions, and emotional intelligence. He has been featured in more than 50 media outlets including CNN, CNBC, BBC, Forbes, GQ and Huffington Post. He is credited as one of the first tech innovators to come out of emerging markets and has worked with industry giants such as Visa, Vodafone, Western Union, and Uber.
Alpesh is also the author of “Tested” a published narrative on the trials of entrepreneurship. The book was nominated for “The best book of the year UK, 2018” and has received critical acclaim, wide press and multiple 5-star reviews on Amazon.
For more about our host, filmmaker, tech maven and co-founder of the Sundance Film Festival, Cirina Catania, visit cirinacatania.com.
If you enjoy our podcast, please subscribe and tell all your friends about us! We love our listeners. And, if you have ideas for segments, write to OWCRadio@catania.us. Cirina is always up for new ideas!
In This Episode
- 00:12 – Cirina introduces Alpesh Patel, CEO of ZmBIZI.
- 04:57 – Alpesh shares how he treasures his family values growing up in Indian culture where everyone in the family respects all family members, especially the elders.
- 11:45 – Alpesh shares how he became a millionaire at the age of 24 years back in 1990.
- 16:41 – Alpesh shares how he had a wakeup call when he moved to Africa in 1999.
- 21:45 – Alpesh shares how he started creating the brand Mi-Fone and how it expanded quickly into Africa.
- 25:21 – Alpesh shares how he lost his passion, causing an entrepreneur burnout, and ended up selling Mi-Fone to a large conglomerate.
- 29:48 – Alpesh shares his goal of making his new company called ZmBIZI, a new category on smartphones’ evolution.
- 34:41 – Alpesh explains ZmBIZI’s innovative and interactive audio and video player.
- 39:38 – How much is the ZmBIZI phone?
- 43:28 – Visit zmbizi.com to checkout ZmBIZI, the first smartphone that pays you for your on-screen interactions. And checkout Alpesh Patel’s book, Tested on Amazon.
This is Cirina Catania with OWC Radio. I met a very interesting dynamic person when I was at CES recently, Alpesh Patel, and we call him Alpesh P. He’s the founder of a company called ZmBIZI, which actually is producing phones that pay you to use them. But I want to backtrack a little bit if you’ll allow me, Alpesh, and talk about you and where you come from and what took you on this amazing journey that you’re on. How are you today?
I’m fine. Thank you, Cirina. And first of all, thank you for having me on your prestigious show. It was a great pleasure to meet with you in Las Vegas randomly so that we could see, and I’m really glad that a couple of weeks later we’re actually chatting again, those connections are always important to foster and grow as you go along.
We talk a lot about instinct on the show and when you follow that little voice inside of yourself, and I mean, we just happened to be sitting next to each other at a counter in the restaurant at the hotel, where we just both happen to be staying and started a conversation. But had we not done that, we would not have met, and I wouldn’t have found out all these amazing things about you. So I did ask you a question, where did you come from and tell me about your background?
So I’m a second-generation African Indian, my grandfather moved to East Africa in 1895. My parents were born in East Africa. I’m born in East Africa, I like to call myself-I’m not saying it’s the right term, but I normally refer to myself as a “bush baby” because I was literally born in the bush. My parents were on safari, and I came out a couple of days early, my mom did not expect it. This was in 1966, and it’s not like we had all the mod cons that we have today. So I was literally born in the bush. And they had to transfer me back to Kampala, which was about two hours away to the hospital to obviously receive the actual proper treatments, and yeah, that’s a product of the 60s. Born in Africa, I like to call myself Indian blood, but my heart is African, very much African. And we had a great life in Uganda, but unfortunately, it was all taken away from us where Idi Amin, the dictator, expelled all the Ugandan Asians. So, I like to call myself one of the original refugees, and we were only accepted by the UK, so we were forced out of Uganda, and we moved to the UK as refugees in 1972.
That was what they call the Exodus, right?
The Exodus, yes, where each family was allowed $100 allowance, and we had to leave within 90 days. Even our own country India, would not take us back; the only country that would accept us was the UK because we were British subjects. So we moved to the UK in 1972, an extremely harsh environment, especially for my parents coming from the warm tropical climate moving to a very cold, gray UK. Where multiculturalism had not really set in yet, it was still very race-driven, and people of my color were considered as second class citizens. So I give kudos to my mom.
Those were tough times.
Yeah, tough times.
So with $100 in their pocket, what on earth did your parents do to survive when you got there?
Well, this is where I say that the Indian way of living, the Indian way of doing business. I’m not saying that because I’m Indian, but we’re very resilient as a community. Because we have been through some tough times, and we kinda stick together. And really, it was all about just the cousins, uncles, and aunts coming together, each one getting a job. Unfortunately, 15-20 people in a four-bedroom house, but that’s just how it was in the beginning until people are making enough money to then get their own places. But a real sense of family community, to really make sure that no one is eating on their own. They’re all eating together at the end of the day, and that really teaches total resilience and overcoming those hurdles. I think it’s kind of ingrained from you from a very young age, and that’s what’s really even till today. That’s what just keeps me going. It’s just the fact that it’s not really how many times you get knocked down, right? It’s how many times you get back up.It’s vital for every successful person to have a real sense of family community. This teaches resilience in overcoming hurdles. Click To Tweet
Absolutely. And the sense of family gives you a very firm foundation. If you know that your family is with you, and you have that resource, I think you can survive anything. And that’s something that a lot of young people are missing nowadays.
Yes, because the family values are not there anymore. All you see today is everyone’s spending their time with families on their smartphone screen. Right? They have a virtual family, and then they have a real family. And they don’t talk to their real family, but they’ll talk to strangers on the phone. So the values have diminished. One of the things about growing up in Indian culture, I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Indian community, I’m sure you are. But they’re very much oriented towards respect. You respect your elders, and you respect everything around you. So, you are doing things from a position of grace, and you’re doing things from a position of not taking things for granted and knowing that you have to respect your elders because they have lived longer than you have, they just know more than you do.
Right. Yeah, I come from an Italian family. Part of my father’s side of the family was from Sicily, so it’s very similar. And when you talked about having dinner at the end of the day, all together, that brings back so many memories. Even when we got to be teenagers and didn’t want to do it, my parents insisted that if we were all in the same city at the same time, we sat down at the table and had a wonderful dinner together. Do you know that Americans aren’t even buying dining room tables anymore? They’re very few dining room tables being sold in this country. I’m amazed by that.
Yeah, it’s a shame.
It’s shocking. I was born with black and white TV, so I mean that the most amazing invention that I’d ever seen in my life has been the fax machine. We don’t even look at those things now. And so a lot of the values have diminished, and it’s just the world has changed. So classically, in the last 30 years, I’m very blessed to have lived in an era where I’ve seen the really old school, and I’ve really gone into the whole digital kind of world and being able to experience the best of both.
So there you are, you’re a young man. You’re in the UK. Where were you in the UK, and what were you doing at that time?
So I grew up in West London and had government schooling, government housing. And fortunately, the work ethic was always there in terms of studying hard, and I got to be able to go to the university where I did my bachelor’s in economics. And I always knew that I really had this travel bug in me. So, in my first term in university, I went to Morocco out of the blue; I just picked a place from the Atlas and said, I want to go to Morocco, and I want to buy things from Morocco, and I want to sell it back to the university students. So that was my first kind of entrepreneurial journey, selling leatherwear and things that I bought from the Moroccan market back to the university students, and that’s how I kind of financed my own education besides what the state was funding on my studies. But my living expenses were funded by my entrepreneurial pursuits, as you say.
To the extent that when I graduated, I’d already traveled about five or six countries, and this was like the mid-80s. And in 1989, I started selling phones in the UK. Mobile phones when they first came out, I was one of the first mobile phone dealers in the UK. It’s a fascinating thing that we were so used to fixed telephones with a rotary dial, and having this mobile device, I just found that really fascinating. So I’ve actually been in the mobile device ecosystem since 1989.
So, what phones were you selling back then?
I was selling the Motorola, the big Motorola brick phones. And again, with that urge to do something international, I went and put a small advert at the Hong Kong Trade Council on the notice board, saying that I supply mobile phones, not knowing anything. And all of this is captured in my book, the whole journey of what I went through. And six weeks later, I got a message, not an email. I got a message by the Council that there’s a guy in Hong Kong that wants to buy 183 phones. So that’s a very peculiar number, but also there’s no one else supplying this? And now I didn’t have the supply because I was used to selling one or two phones, not 183, but you know what I just said, “Yes, I can supply you.” Not even having anything concrete to be able to give to this guy. But he flew over to London with cash. I had to run around and secure the supply, and that was my real first test.
Yeah, and fortunately, everything worked out. I made a lot of money on that first shipment to the extent that he actually wanted me to come to Hong Kong and China to see the box being opened at the port in China. And it was a brilliant feeling.
Oh, that’s wonderful. One thing too before I forget, tell people the name of your book and where to get it.
Oh, yeah. My book is called TESTED: “The Dream is free but the HU$TLE comes at a cost.” And it’s available on Amazon. It’s a bestseller in the UK. I was voted for the Business book of the Year in 2018 in the UK. I’ve been able to capture the really important parts of my journeys from birth till recently. And fortunately for me, I’ve got a very, very good memory, and I was able to pen this book in six weeks.
Oh my goodness. Well, Amazon, Tested by Alpesh Patel, that’s wonderful. Okay, so let’s go back. I’m curious about one thing. Did you ever find out from this gentleman why the number 183 phones? Because that is a very strange number.
Yeah, it was because, at that time, China was still a communist country and apparently the municipal council that we had sold these phones to had only enough for an allocation of currency, to be able to buy 183, I think they wanted to buy 200, but at the end of the day, with the currency calculations and the tax and everything, it just came exactly out to 183 phones.
Oh my god.
Well, that’s your lucky number, 183.
Yeah, well, eight and three definitely. And for me it was great because the first time I’ve been in China, then I was actually at the port when they came over, they opened the box, and they brought out these phones and the main guy just lifted his phone out of the box like it was a World Cup trophy. And we got entertained that night in karaoke, and by the end of that night, he’d already told my partner because he didn’t speak in English, he already told my partner and said, “I need another 200 of these.” So that’s when my first trading exercise began in the mobile phone business.
What a wonderful memory.
I immediately moved to Hong Kong in 1990. And I was in Hong Kong for six years, and I was one of the few guys who were selling high-end products into China. I was a millionaire at the age of 24 in US dollars.
Congratulations. Now, what was going in your mind back then? Because you’re very young, you’re obviously an amazing entrepreneur, and you’re a great salesman, you have all of this money, then what do you do?
The problem is, in those days, we didn’t have what we call mentors or advisers, or we didn’t have those support systems in those days. My dad was not a businessman. My dad was living in the UK; I was on my own at the age of 23-24, making all this money. Hong Kong was an extremely decadent place in the early 90s, before the takeover. And it was really, I don’t like to say, but it was wine, women, and song.
Of course, well, that’s the age, right?
And that’s the age. And you get carried away, and you start doing silly things, and you start lending money to people that are not going to pay you back, and you just write it off. And you don’t look at the opportunities. I’ll be presented with so many opportunities, but because my head was so stuck in the fact that I’m always going to make money from this gig. I’d like to call it a gig that I was blinded to any other opportunities, but I was presented with the opportunities. I didn’t have the wisdom; I didn’t have the know-how; I didn’t have the vision of being able to build on what I’d already set as a foundation. And that’s what I tell young people today, I was like, “Yes, live for today. But you’ve really got to think about tomorrow.”
I know, I wish I had somebody to help me do that when I was that age as well. Two things come to mind with what you’re saying. True friendships, and how to gauge when you have that kind of money, and you’re living that kind of life. There are a lot of people around you who like you said, you are loaning money to, discerning as you get a little bit older who your true friends are and who the good people are is one thing too—and then planning for the future. So you have so much you can teach younger people. So keep going. This is fascinating. So there you are.
Yeah, so, I mean, a couple of examples of opportunities that I just completely ignored. I was offered to have one of the first internet cafes in Hong Kong, to which I said, “Well, what is the internet? This is not for me.” And then I was offered one of the first GSM licenses in India. Through a contract in Hong Kong, he’s like, “Alpesh, you’re doing phone, would you like to have access to a license in India? enables you to sell my phone service?” And I’m like, “Nah, it’s too much work for me. I’m okay, and I’m making good money here and selling the handsets.” I didn’t really capitalize on the momentum that I created. It was kind of like my first real lesson in business; that is, don’t take anything for granted.The first real lesson in business. Don't take anything for granted. Click To Tweet
Right. And listen to the small voice that sometimes comes and says, “do this.”
Do you want to know one of my silly stories? I had a friend call me many years ago and say, “I’ve heard about this new technology. I’m buying the East Coast of the United States. You can have the West Coast of the United States.” And I said, “What is it?” He says, “Well, it’s something called the fax machine.”
Oh my god.
And I didn’t do it.
Yeah, good things always come to an end. That’s the way I look at it, and especially if you don’t diversify, one of the key things is to diversify as soon as you can by adding complementary products to your offering. Because I did so much in building trust with my customers, but I didn’t have anything to follow through on in terms of new product offerings. So I kind of like started looking at other ventures as the mobile phone business was becoming more and more competitive, and people were hearing about China. So the big guy started coming in from Europe, and they started setting up proper teams on the ground. I never invested in people, so it kind of became a bit challenging to maintain that business. And I kind of fizzled out, to be honest with you, I kind of fizzled out. And I was looking for the next opportunity, that’s why I then moved on to Japan. I went to live in Japan for a year, and then, from there, I got invited to South Africa. And that’s why I went back to Africa.
Wow. There’s something about that country that pulls you in. I can’t explain it. The first time I ever went there, I felt so enveloped by it. The spirit of the country is very strong. And the people have been through so much. So keep going, so there you are, you’re back in Africa.
Yeah. So I’m back in Africa and trying to see how I can make a living there, seeing that Hong Kong and China were closed off for me. But I still had all my connections in China, so I started bringing in some goods from China. And trying to sell them into the South African market and then consumer products like clothing and things. It didn’t really work out, and I started feeling the real pinch of “Okay, now what do I do here.” And then that’s in 1999, that’s when I met my wife. That was a really interesting story because the day I met her, I had no money in my pocket. And I think that really gave me a wake-up call, a feeling that I want to settle down with this girl, and make it a bit more of a permanent kind of relationship, but I need to find some income. That’s when I actually got my first corporate job. I got a job with a company called Harris Corporation, which is a very large US telecommunications firm. They wanted someone to run around Africa, selling expensive microwave radios to some of the poorest countries on the planet. And I was the one who put my hand up. I put my hand up because I needed a salary. Again, sometimes you’ve got to do things not out of choice, but because of necessity but again a blessing in disguise. It gave me a lot of experience in terms of running across Africa, talking to all the mobile telecom operators. I started creating some really good relationships, and I started to understand how corporations work in terms of their buying cycles, how technology is implemented into vast telecommunications networks. So Hong Kong gave me my hardcore trading skills, whereas Harris Corporation gave me my corporate training in terms of strategic selling. So selling equipment, packages of $1-2 million, getting teams together to work on proposal RFPs and how to bid for tenders and things like that. And that started really getting me going into this whole telecommunications ecosystem again, but from a more complicated background perspective. But because I’ve always been a salesman, and I’ve always been someone that needs to be in front of the customer and someone who’s very much out there in terms of the show. I found it extremely boring because I’m selling equipment, it’s B2B equipment. I’m selling to Chief Technical officers, and I’m not a technical guy. So I was like, well, this is great. I’ve got my learnings, but I really need to be in front of the customer. So that’s when I applied for a job to become a business manager for Motorola. Fortunately for me, I got the job 1.) because I had the African experience of running around and 2.) I knew about Motorola because that was the first phone that I sold back in 1989.
There you go. So you came full circle at that point, didn’t you?
I came back full circle, and I just fitted into that role, and that was my second corporate job. That was probably one of the most amazing rides in my life from 2002 to 2007. I went from business manager to becoming director of sales for the Middle East in Africa in a very short space of time. You know when the stars are aligned? My stars were aligned. It was like, nothing could go wrong.
Well, they align when you’re doing what you’re supposed to do. I see so many people beating their heads against the wall all the time, and it’s hard. But sometimes with tough love, you have to say, do you think you’re looking at the wrong path? Do you think maybe if this is difficult for you, you might think about something else to do, that you are also very good at that you might enjoy. You were doing not just what you liked at the time, but also you were following your correct path. And that’s exciting. It’s very exciting.
Yeah, we always say that failing is really good because you learn more about yourself, but failure to me is just another way of the universe, whispering in your ear that you know what your path actually lies somewhere else.An entrepreneur tries, tries, and tries and then fails more times than he succeeds. Click To Tweet
So you take those little messages that you get, but in terms of Motorola, I think it was not just me, I think it was also Motorola itself as a company was extremely successful in early 2000 because they had the v3, the razor phone. And Motorola today still makes the best phones in the world. Really, really good company, an engineering firm, but what led it down and why the demise of Motorola came is because of management. It was a people problem. But I rode the way that Motorola would be able to take this brand to the number one market share in a number of African countries and then move from South Africa to Dubai, where I lived for eight years. And the way to create a substantial business generating substantial revenues for Motorola over that four or five year period. That was my finishing experience in the mobile system because I then got the experience of marketing. I got the experience of retail distribution, and I got the experience of consumer communication. So if you add that to my technical background from Harris and my trading experience from Hong Kong, it gave me a very well rounded experience in the mobile device ecosystem.
There you have it. So is that when you decided to start Mi-Fone?
That’s it. Yeah. So when I left Motorola, I had offers with other brands, and I’m like, “You know what, if I go and build someone else’s dream,” I will always regret it, and I’m not saying I made the right decision and I’ll explain to you why. But at that time, I was comfortable enough financially to be able to say, “You know what, I want to go out on my own. I know enough people. I’ve got enough networks and connections to be able to go and do my own phone brand.” And those days no one came up with their own phone brand. This was 2008.
So tell people who don’t know what Mi-Fone was. I know you sold the company, but what was Mi-Fone back then? Because that was a pretty amazing accomplishment.
Well, Mi-Fone is the first African mobile device brand, and when I say that, I mean, all the phones today are made in China. But the design and putting together the whole thing was all conceptualized in Africa, similar to what Apple puts on their box designed in California, but assembled in China. We were designed in Africa but assembled in China, and we were an African brand because we had African shareholders. It was the first kind of, like, the indigenous brand of the continent. And we were probably one of the first tech hardware startups on the African continent. This is before the word startup was even mentioned.
If I’m understanding correctly, you at the time wanted to bring devices into the marketplace so that young people could afford them. It was less than $100. Right?
Yeah. I mean, I wanted to bring low-cost connectivity to millions of African consumers. And I saw the issues when I was with Motorola. I saw the gaps that Motorola was not filling. And those were the gaps that I wanted to fill because I was small enough because I was nimble enough, I could fill those gaps pretty quickly. And in my first month of operating in April, I received my first order, and I was revenue generating from day one. So it was not like a Silicon Valley startup, where you don’t generate revenues for a long time. This was like revenue generating from day one because if I didn’t generate revenues, I couldn’t pay my bills. So again, I come from an old school of entrepreneurship, which is, you buy something for $1, and you sell it for $3, whereas the Silicon Valley model is you buy for $3, and you sell for $1 if you know what I mean.
Yeah, I’ve never quite understood that model. But I think to put this in perspective, back at the time wasn’t the iPhone selling for like $600? And you came on to the marketplace with something that was equally as good.
Our phones were $20, Mi-Fone started at $20 feature phones, these were not smartphones. These were feature phones, but that’s what the majority of Africans could afford back then. So we expanded very quickly on the continent. The first phone that actually got me a lot of international press was the Obama phone. Because the day Obama became president, we launched a phone in Kenya called my Obama phone.
Oh, I love that—what a great idea.
I figured out if people are putting Obama’s face with a T-shirt or a coffee mug, I can put his face on the phone.
Oh my goodness. So fade out fade back in here we are years later I’m meeting you, and you’re showing me this phone that you have, basically, that pays people back to use it. And tell us what some ZmBIZI is unless I’m skipping over too much. Am I missing a huge chunk in here?
No, I’m just saying that we ran this business in Africa for eight years, it was all completely self-funded. I couldn’t raise a penny, and we came up with the first FinTech offering in Africa in 2011, which was the debit card that came with the phone again, too early for its time to work. FinTech was really an invention, and we had to shelve that project because of obstacles with the banking regulations. They look at us as a disrupter, so we’ve tried a lot of things, I push the envelope a lot. And that’s what happens when you have very little funding; you become more creative, you actually become much more innovative when you don’t have funding because you have to survive somehow. And the only thing you can rely on is your wit and your brain. So we were able to come up with A lot of innovative offerings into the African market that kept us going for eight years. And it finally got to the stage where I really needed to get some money into this business. And I sold a majority stake to a large South African conglomerate.
A lot of lessons learned from that was not the exit that I wanted. I wrote about it in the book. I did have an exit. We would again be the first tech hardware startup that went on to a proper exit in Africa, selling to a $5 billion conglomerate. But I wrote my book, Cirina, that I could have ended my book, I got into my private jet, flew off into the sunset, and wouldn’t be telling the truth. The truth is when entrepreneurs exit, there’s a price to pay, and you basically lose your freedom, you’re losing a lot of things that you had taken for granted in your journey, and especially when you become part of a big corporation. And I started to see that the difficulties of running this business when it takes two to three months to get approvals, and the financing was not as agreed, and then there were a lot of issues. So basically, I kind of lost the appetite for the passion that I had. And one of the things that killed my spirit in Africa was when I took Xiaomi to court. You know Xiaomi is a very big Chinese brand, but they also had the “mi” on their phone. And I had the “Mi” on, and I registered my brand all across Africa years before they even came. So I went to court with them, and I wanted injunctions, but I did not have enough money to sustain the court cases.
I Understand. I saw a lot of that with people I talked to at CES, a lot of these tech developers have the same problem anyway, go ahead. So what happened?
It kind of killed my spirit and I’m like, you know what, I’m done. I cannot be fighting in this continent, I love this continent, but the systems and the corruption and the bureaucracy and all that kind of really stifled and kind of killed my spirit. And that’s when I actually had entrepreneur burnout. I’m firsthand experience of what burnout is like, and it’s not a nice feeling, feeling mentally, spiritually, you’re just finished. And that’s when I took time out, and I said, “You know what, I want to write a book.” And I spent six weeks writing the book, and it took me another six months to print it, edit it, self-publish, and market the speaking rounds. So 2017, I really spent a lot of time promoting the book, and just really looking at, okay, what’s really next? And then I came across this opportunity in what I think is a market that I have not conquered yet, and it’s the United States of America.
And that’s why I came up with this idea with some partners that the next evolution of smartphone technology is where the consumer is at the center of everything. So we’ve developed this brand called ZmBIZI. ZmBIZI again, the minority play on Amazon is ZmBIZI being a very prominent African River. It’s a river that sustains five countries. It’s a river that sustains 300 million people. If you think about the phone, if you think about the ecosystem, what I showed you on the phone is a central river with tributaries and those tributaries feed sub- ecosystems. So we have this brand called ZmBIZI, and by the way, it was abbreviated for tech purposes, but also the “Biz” being business, it’s a business tool. And really, if you look at the back of the phone, which I showed you, it’s transparent. So you can see the inside of the phone, we want to be a transparent company.
I love it. It’s beautiful.
So explain to people how this is gonna work. This is fascinating to me. And there are so many different aspects to this. I’ve got a lot of questions for you, things that are going around in my head.
If I was to release a phone again, for the sake of doing the phone business, I would be the last person to do it, and it’s a dog’s game. The phone business is probably one of the most cutthroat industries on the planet, and I’ve been doing it for 30 years. I’ve seen big giants fall, and I’ve seen big giants get even bigger, of course talking about Apple and Samsung. So we are not in this game to compete with Apple and Samsung, we are in this game to create a new lane. It’s a new category. My aim is to create a category king in the next evolution of smartphone devices where the customer is at the center of everything. So if you imagine the seven lanes driving from LAX to Beverly Hills, imagine just an 8th lane where there’s not much traffic. And that’s the lane that we created for ourselves, which is to say that this is the phone that rewards you. It rewards you for your searching and rewards you for your shopping, It rewards you for paying your bills and rewards you for sharing information. And all those rewards are captured in what we call the ZmBIZI rewards wallet in the form of points, ZmBIZI points. When those points get to a certain level equivalent to $50, you then just press transfer, and it goes into your ZmBIZI Debit Card because every phone comes with a prepaid card.
What a great idea.
What you’ve done here is you’ve taken the whole loyalty ecosystem, but you’re removing the need to be confined to certain catalogs, and all I have to buy this toaster or this kettle from this merchant. No, to give the power back to the user, let the user decide what they want to spend their money on. And the best form of that is cash. So you give the user cash on a card, and it’s up to them, they can go to the ATM, go to the grocery store, buy some milk and cookies, and do whatever they want. And that’s giving power back to the user. But in the process of having a prepaid card, you’re helping the user to also- and remember the target market we were after is not like people who are high-income people; this is urban generation Z, multicultural Millennials, black, Asian, Latino, white, kids that follow hip hop, kids that follow music, kids that are creating tomorrow’s trend, but kids in school who need to build up their credit profiles, kids who want to have that flexibility of being really rewarded for their interaction on the screens because kids are spending a lot of time on their phones that they’re just not getting anything back. Maybe they’re getting lots of depression, but we want to give something back to them.
So I asked you a question when I first met you about the first thing that hit me was okay; you’re targeting young people. What’s the security? How do parents monitor this and know that their children or their older children are in an arena where they’re safe?
Well, the thing is, for example, as a parent, the phone can be bought for the child, but the child will not get the card because you have to be over 18, so you have to pass KYC. These cards are issued with our partner FIS, which is one of the largest processing companies in America. So we follow compliance rules, to be able to give cards to a qualified person and if the child is given the phone, the parents are the ones who actually get to monetize from that because they’ve got the card. But the child is going to be on the phone, and the child’s going to do whatever they’re doing today on the phone. We’re not asking you to change your habits at all. Whatever you’re doing today on your iPhone, or your Samsung or whichever phone you use if you just do it on a ZmBIZI phone, but at least it’s gonna pay you.
Very interesting. This is fascinating. Now you partnered with THX. What was that?
Yeah, so what I’m saying is that what we wanted to create also is that the phone that pays you is it comes with a debit card, it comes with the rewards wallet, you’re going to monetize from all your activity on the screen on the ZmBIZI part of the ecosystem because we’re sitting on an Android screen. The problem is that we don’t only want to be seen as a company that’s only monetarily interested in you as a consumer. So we had to bring other experiences into this. So the audio experience is with the premier sound company on the planet, which is THX.
Now we’re the first mobile device to have THX special audio embedded in the phone. Because again we’re nothing special, no one’s ever heard of us, but why did THX agree to this? Because they are very much in tune with the target market that we’re targeting, they know that young population. And THX, as you know, is George Lucas‘s company and they have brilliant sound technology.
So to be able to bring that into a phone, where it doesn’t matter if you put a Beats by Dre or you put a Yamaha or a Bose, or you put a cheap Chinese $1 headset, you’re going to get a sound that’s very personal to you. Again, putting you in the center of everything as a consumer. THX powers our phone, and they have logos on the back of the phone.
That’s awesome. You’re also involved with iHeartRadio, probably for that reason, right? Take advantage of the sound and Afro music and your video player.
Yeah, iRadio. So monetary rewards, audio rewards, and then visual rewards. So we’ve got this brilliant, innovative, never before seen interactive ZmBIZI video player embedded in the phone, This is the first video player, I think I demo it, I don’t know if I demoed it to you, you can actually play with the video with your finger. So you interact with your video with your finger. You can’t do that on an iPhone or a Samsung today. So you can fast forward slow motion, you can cut it, and you can share it with your social media network. So what we’re doing with the video is basically what iTunes did with people; they made everyone a DJ, what Instagram does with people they made everyone think that they’re the next big photographer because of the filters.
Right, that’s true. Oh my gosh, you’re making me laugh.
But that’s true. So we want to try and help kids to be able to edit their own videos because today’s video editing is not that simple on the phone.
Yeah, it’s getting easier, but it’s still not that simple. You have to have a certain amount of skill in order to make it.
Right. But with the ZmBIZI video player, it’s extremely easy to just shoot your videos, edit it, and just share it with your social media network. So we wanted to capture all those three experiences to be able to give you what we call a holistic 360-degree experience.
There’s also some health tracking you can do too, right?
Yeah, we’ve got telemedicine, so you can call a doctor based on your zip code, you’ll get a live doctor who gives you a 15-minute consultation. Again, you pay for that consultation; you’re going to get a reward. We’ve got a diagnosis, health tips, we’ve got a student finance platform. So it’s a platform with the Israeli tech company that we partnered with, which is like a student marketplace. So you know that student debt in America is really bad, but black student debt is really bad. And what we really want to do is empower a lot of these kids to not be scared to go to college. They’re scared to go to college, not because they’re scared of the people in college, but they’re scared of taking on the debt. So we’ve got this platform that matches students with investors. Now, this is really great because an investor invests $30,000 behind a student’s education, and the student pays that investor back over the next five or ten years from their income, right? So it’s called an income share agreement. And if the student doesn’t have a job, they don’t have anything to pay back because it’s not a debt, and it’s not a loan; it’s an investment.
That’s interesting. Wow. So here’s an aspect to this called FileFlex that I was very interested in. It’s remote access. It’s not putting things into a cloud service that you buy, but it’s remote access to your own storage where you don’t have to store. I’m telling you the way I understand that, and please correct me if I’m wrong. You don’t have to store all your videos and your pictures on your phone and worry about transferring it and things getting lost and things getting complicated. You can access your media directly from where you would normally store it. Is that correct? Do I understand that?
So it’s like a remote file sharing kind of application?
Remote file sharing with your desktop. So basically, your desktop can sit on your phone, right? So today, if you go into the FileFlex application, you can see your desktop files. What you get for the first year, we give you a free cloud service unlimited storage. So something that you would pay to Google or Apple for $2 a month, we’re giving you $30-$40 worth of free cloud storage included in the price of the phone for free. So you can store all your videos, all your movies, etc. in the cloud. It’s not going to take up any space on your phone.
So it is cloud-based. Okay.
Yeah. More and more people are mobile; more and more people are operating businesses on the go. Now you’ll be able to access files from your desktop.
And that’s secure?
Very secure. Yes, I want to make it very clear that we are like a department store like Harrods or Selfridges. We have just worked with very, very qualified partners. So if you look at our sound partner, the best in the industry THX, if you look at our media partner, probably the best in the industry iHeartRadio, if you look at our card partner FIS, probably the best in the industry. So we really handpick these partners. And what we got here, Cirina is a curated offering, to give the consumer trust and convenience, all wrapped up within a 6-inch screen.
Well, I went all over CES, and this is the one innovation that really piqued my interest. So when are these going to be available? What’s the price point?
So as soon as we did the event launch showcase in Las Vegas, last week, we released our website so you can go into ZmBIZI.com right now, and you will see the whole offering it’s $389, including the free card and the free one-year storage. It’s a mid-price device, and I think people are going to love it because many features come with it. It’s in the pre-order phase, so we’re just taking pre-orders right now with a $25 deposit, and the actual product will only ship towards the middle to end of March. So, we’re also pacing in a very manageable manner, because we’re going direct to consumer,
I love it. Well, I’m putting my $25 down. I want one.
I would love to send you one of our first batches. I’d love to get a review from you. This is a simple Android phone. Again, we’re not targeting iOS users or anything, we’re just targeting people who are used to the Android ecosystem, but they just want to try a new device that is actually going to reward them. So we’re really excited about this.
You just put your own cellular service onto the phone, right? In addition to the apps that are on the phone.
Yes, correct. The phone currently works on AT&T and T-Mobile, although we are in talks with other carriers too, for a bit more of a longer-term strategic alignment as we go along over the next few months.
This is amazing. You have such an amazing journey, and you’re so inspirational to so many people. With everything you’ve overcome in your life and how far you’ve come, but also it seems to me that looking back on what I know of your life, you have that ability to be pretty honest with yourself about where you are, and where you should go next, and a lot of people don’t do that. I think that’s pretty unique.
I think at the end of the day, we just have to look at ourselves and just keep on reinventing ourselves. I just believe that some people’s time comes when you’re 22, like Mark Zuckerberg, and some people’s time comes when you’re 60. I think like Oprah Winfrey and all these guys who got a late start in life. I think everyone’s time conscious now. I believe that we have a certain amount of wisdom to be able to identify those opportunities and then capitalize as well, although I don’t mean that in a bad way. What we’re doing is very much conscious capitalism. I know it is really about the user, it’s about sharing, I really believe in sharing some of our income back to the user to really create a sense of community because I think that’s lost now with a lot of these big tech firms. It’s become a one-way street, and it’s become a very cruel world as you can see as well. And I think, especially the young people, I think we need to embrace a little bit more into this whole thing because the next big thing coming to Cirina is 5G. 5G is going to change everything, and that’s the next big thing coming, and we need to be prepared for that.
Boy, we need to bring you back again because that’s a whole different subject and one I’m very interested in. I do believe the world is a tough place, but as I travel around, I find wonderful people, young and old, everywhere I go. And I personally focus on that. I focus on the good people, I focus on their hearts, and I focus on their amazing minds and the goodness that you can find if you just allow yourself to see it. And call me Pollyanna, but that’s just the way I’ve always been. And I think you’re one of those people, and I think that you’re a survivor. Obviously, you’re an entrepreneur, you’re a tech innovator, but you’re also a really good person. I think that the reason you’re so successful is because you have this great mind, but you also have the ability to build relationships. And that’s key. So you’re now part of the OWC Radio family, and I hope you’ll come on again. I really enjoy speaking with you. Tell people again, where you want them to go both for your book and for the website.
It’s been a real pleasure to speak with you. And thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak about myself and also ZmBIZI, in terms of the offering that we have. ZmBIZI is available on www.ZmBIZI.com, and we are really excited to build this community as we go forward. People are going to start hearing about us via our campaigns on the radio, and so the events that we’ve got planned across. The book that I wrote, Tested, is available on Amazon right now, and it’s available on Kindle. It’s also available in Audiobook if you’d like to listen to a voice like mine because I narrated it myself. I’m really excited about doing something in the US. I think the US is really a great market, and I’ve learned to really understand America for the last couple of years. I was there 22 times last year, just in and out having business meetings and just really understanding such a fascinating country. And I really want to look forward to learning more about the US as well. So it’s an exciting journey for everyone.
Well, we welcome you here. And thank you so much for taking the time out of your very, very busy day. And everyone listening, you know what I tell you get up off your chair and go do something wonderful today. I want to say thank you to Other World Computing for sponsoring this podcast. It gives me the chance to talk to wonderful people like Alpesh. And I’m very, very grateful to have a wonderful day, everyone and Alpesh, thanks again for your time.
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- Idi Amin
- Uganda’s Asian Exodus
- Hong Kong Trade Development Council
- Business Book of the Year UK – 2018 Shortlist
- Silicon Valley
- Obama Mi-Fone
- Barack Obama
- George Lucas
- Beats by Dre
- Mark Zuckerberg
- Oprah Winfrey
- Cherish the values your parents or guardians taught you while growing up. These same values have helped hone your outlook and identity on life.
- Be brave in pursuing your entrepreneurial dreams. It’s not going to be easy, but if this is what you’ve dreamed of, everything is worth it.
- Make sure you have a support system. No man is an island. You can’t achieve everything you want to without help from key people in your life, such as parents, friends, and mentors.
- Build a strong business foundation to withstand any hurdles that may come your way. Aim for longevity and sustainability in every business decision.
- Don’t take anything for granted and don’t burn bridges. Business opportunities and accolades come and go, but what matters most is the impression you’ve left with them.
- Keep offering something new. Stay updated with current trends. Be innovative when it comes to your products, services, and customer service.
- Invest in people. Your employees are your best company asset. Train them, hone their skills, and build an indomitable company culture so everyone is eyeing for the same goal.
- Avoid burnout. Take a break and refresh your mind. When you have had enough rest, you become more productive.
- Reinvent, pivot, modernize. Don’t get stuck into one business mindset alone. Skills and knowledge eventually get obsolete. It’s best to stay ahead of the curve.
- Check out Alpesh Patel’s website to find out more about ZmBIZI.
If you work in tech and haven’t heard about MacSales.com, you’ve had your head in the sand. Other World Computing, under the leadership of Larry O’Connor since he was 15 years old, has expanded to all corners of the world and works every day to create hardware that makes the lives of creatives and business-oriented companies faster, more efficient and more stable. Go to OWCDigital.com for more information.
Here’s the company’s official mission statement:
At OWC, we’re committed to constant innovation, exemplary customer service, and American design.
For more than 25 Years, OWC has had a simple goal. To create innovative DIY solutions to give you the most from your technology.
Beginning with 100% compatible memory upgrades, reliably exceeding Apple’s maximum RAM specs, OWC’s product offering has grown to encompass the entire spectrum of upgrade and expansion possibilities, all with a focus on easy, DIY setup and installation.
Our dedication to excellence and sustainable innovation extends beyond our day-to-day business and into the community. We strive for zero waste, both environmentally and strategically. Our outlook is to the long term, and in everything we do, we look for simplicity in action and sustainability in practice.
For us, it’s as much about building exceptional relationships, as it is about building exceptional products.