The Time I Ran A Business In High School


In high school, I sold airtime1 at school in Swaziland. It initially started when I bought the bigger airtime vouchers which came with bonus airtime. Turns out that there was a limit to the amount of airtime I could transfer so with the help of a classmate, I found a place I could buy airtime cards at wholesale at a 6% discount.

Initially it was about ZAR200 (about USD13) but that sold out in a week. I eventually upped it to ZAR1000 and that still wasn’t enough. Eventually I found a trick. I would go around asking people for R100 telling them that I would pay them back within a week, netting the R6 profit. I thought I discovered something new before I realized that this is what rich people do where they borrow money to use it to make money (While it started with people in my dorm, eventually the whole school started buying airtime from me, even the teachers (who were the best customers by the way).

Even though this was definitely illegal, the school turned a blind eye to it. How do I know this? Well I expanded to selling (soft) drinks and a teacher who I had never sold to told me that I couldn’t be selling soft drinks unless it was for charity. The airtime was fine though.

While people bought a lot of airtime, and 6% is a high profit margin, debt collection was hard. I even got the nickname of tax collector, even though they actually owed the money. Now I know how Apostle Matthew felt. Also, having to run down town really took a lot of time away from studying. It also didn’t help how many interruptions I would get from people asking for airtime. Context switching is hard.

In all, it was an interesting experience. While I wish I did a better job with debt collection and keeping up supply, this was an interesting experience in my time in high school. Also loved how I had unofficial permission to do it.


  1. Call cards, prepaid phone credit etc.