That’s the story of advertising agency Director, Tonderai Tsara who started his operations from his house and now occupies a fancy office block in Gaborone.
In this interview he opens up to The Voice reporter, Daniel Kenosi about his business and life.
Q. Good day Ton. Please introduce yourself to our readers.
Thanks Dan. I am Tonderai Tsara, born in Gaborone thirty nine years ago. I schooled in Zimbabwe from a young age up until my A-Levels.
Q. I understand you then moved to South Africa. What were you doing there?
I was at the University of South Africa where I studied for a Bachelor of Arts in communication and sociology.
In my early life I had aspired to be a stock broker because I used to watch movies which related to stock exchanges.
I particularly liked a movie called Wall Street and I used to envy the guys who were shown making millions in just a few minutes.
It made me believe that it was a good way to get rich quick.
Q. What happened to the dream?
Unfortunately I wasn’t that good at science and maths.
I was more into the arts so I had to make career decisions based on my capability and grades, which is how I ended up in the advertising world.
(Laughs) When I am not busy I play soccer behind the national stadium in the dust at weekends but I wouldn’t say I am always fit.
There is an annual marathon coming up which I have entered for and I’m a bit unsure because I haven’t been training for a very long time, but we’ll see how it goes.
Q. You have stayed in many countries. What motivated the relocations?
Before I respond to your question- I remember that when I was at tertiary I had wanted to come to Botswana because this is the country I was born in, it’s a good country and at the time Zimbabwe was going through rough times.
I went to the UK and the United States for my gap year before coming back here.
I took my gap year overseas because I couldn’t get the national service (Tirelo Sechaba) certificate which was only available to citizens at the time.
Q. What do you still recall about your school days?
I still remember that my teachers used to treat me badly and most said that I would never become successful and that I would end up in jail.
Q. Why did they say such things?
I was a bit of a delinquent child but I studied hard at the same time even though I was not a straight A student.
I remember I strongly felt that being forced to study all subjects at school would be of no use to me and so I dropped four of them leaving only my favourites.
I didn’t tell my parents though I just kept it to myself.
Q. Please share more on your delinquent behaviour.
I used to group up with my friends and we’d smoke cigarettes together.
I remember we once called a fire fighting truck pretending there was a fire in my neighborhood and we just laughed when it came.
I was not the type of kid that parents wanted their children to be associated with.
I guess most of the naughtiness came from the fact that my parents spent a lot of time away from home which gave me a lot of freedom.
Q. Please take us into how you were raised.
I was raised by both my mother and father.
They were senior officials within the Government and they would mentor me in their spare time.
My father has since passed away.
Q. Do you have a family of your own?
I am a married man and blessed with the beautiful women in my life.
That is my wife Norma and our two daughters.
Q. Please take us into your company.
I am the director of Dialogue Saatchi & Saatchi but I am not the only brain behind this company, my wife is my business partner.
We both used to be employed by another advertising agency before setting up our own.
Q. Were you married to Norma when you set up this business?
We had dated before but by the time we started Dialogue we were just normal business partners and nothing beyond that.
As time went on, we got back together and the rest is now history.
Q. How was it starting a business similar to your previous employer’s?
It was tough and I remember at some point we attempted to borrow start- up money from our former employers but they refused and we had to put our end of year bonuses together to keep us going.
We started off operating from my house and I remember we used to insist on visiting clients rather than them coming to our office because the set up was not very conducive.
Q. What is Dialogue Saatchi and Saatchi about?
We are in the business of creating growth for clients through different ways; advertising, public relations, events and it can even be through an App or a screen saver.
Q. Advertising seems to be underrated in Botswana. Do you agree?
I would agree but then not everyone needs an advertising campaign or billboards to spread word out there.
Radio is one of the underrated advertising mediums in Botswana.
There are lots of ways one can promote themselves, such as through social media and other cheap forums.
If you are a small business you don’t necessarily need big speakers to be heard, you can just identify your target market and send a direct message.
Q. What challenges does Dialogue face in the market?
In the line of advertising, one of the challenges we face is measurement and research.
We often have clients from abroad who fail to place adverts in Botswana simply because there is no measurement or research of consumers in the country.
Another big challenge that can lead to success or failure in this business is the kind of talent that one chooses to work with.
Q. Are there any significant changes in the industry ever since you broke ground as Dialogue?
Botswana is being taken more seriously and we now even get clients abroad.
There is competition which is a good thing because it keeps all industry players on their toes.
We used to hire people to film commercials for us here, but we now produce everything to a high quality in- house. Just recently, Dialogue was engaged to shoot a commercial which is already airing in Zambia.
Q. How many employees do you have under your wing?
Mmm!! Eish! Ok. At last count we were thirty five. We are only operating from Gabs but whenever business arises outside the city we travel to attend to it.
Q. What does it take to be a good manager?
I was just reading Steve Job’s biography and I realised that despite being a creative genius he also had challenges as a manager.
You simply need to know your staff and motivate them.
Q. Please explain your fashion sense. I have never spotted you wearing suits and ties, you are always in casual wear.
(Laughs) I am not a suit and tie type guy.
However, when I attend meetings with clients who are concerned about dress code I do conform to their standards.
Once when I was abroad attending a meeting, a senior official who is known worldwide came into the boardroom in casual clothes.
That’s when I realised that wearing what makes you comfortable is good, however you still need to be presentable.
Q. You seem to be in love with convertible cars. Why?
I fell in love with convertible cars after driving my sister in law’s drop top for a day.
After the experience I bought a second hand Peugeot.
I now drive the latest Golf GTI drop top.
Q. Thank you for your time. What’s up for the weekend big boss?
If I’m not busy with business, I will be home with my family and go out for lunch with them.