Taking the country side online

Written By : Source: FIJI DEVELOPMENT BANK. The internet is the ground on which every child born in Fiji post-1990, has cut their teeth playing. Well, for the children who
17 Jun 2011 12:00

image Written By : Source: FIJI DEVELOPMENT BANK. The internet is the ground on which every child born in Fiji post-1990, has cut their teeth playing. Well, for the children who live in the suburbs anyway.
If you asked these same children about playing pani and rounders, you’d probably get a blank stare followed by, “Are you actually speaking English?”
Yes, these are the children raised on Nintendo, Play Station, Xbox, Wii and networking sites such as Ringo (circa 2004), Bebo, Hi5, MySpace and now Facebook and the microblogging site, Twitter.
Love it or hate it, the internet is here to stay.
Don’t fight it, embrace it, use the technology to improve business and educate yourself – just ask Larry Page and Sergey Brin the creators of Google or Pierre Omidyar, the creator of ebay, the biggest online auction website in the world – about how they used cyberspace to make their fortunes. The internet can work for you.
Hendry Anreesh Daud Ali of Sigatoka and Madhukar Sen are two such entrepreneurs who, on their own, have ventured outside their comfort zone and decided to set up their internet and computer repair/IT shops in Cuvu and Tavua respectively.
Both were financed through the Fiji Development Bank’s Small Business Scheme (SBS).
The SBS is designed for any entrepreneur starting out or already has a business in operation.
The purpose of this facility is to help the applicant buy or establish a business including the purchase or construction of buildings, equity investment, purchase of plant and equipment including motor vehicles, provision of working capital and the acquisition of shares.
There is no maximum ceiling for this facility but can only be used by businesses with a turnover of up to $100,000.
Both in their early 30s, Mr Ali operates Angel Net Café at Cuvu, while Mr Sen operates Sen Technologies on Nasivi St in Tavua Town.
“A few years ago while I was visiting my uncle in rural New Zealand, I realised that there is always a market segment in rural communities for business.
“So when I came back to Sigatoka I did my research and found that the population of Cuvu was more than 12,000, which is quite big,” Mr Ali said.
“We also, have in this vicinity, two secondary schools close by and students know have to access the internet for research and other social activities. So the opportunity was always there.”
Originally from Olosara, Mr Ali worked previously for a foreign exchange dealership before he decided to go into business for himself in July 2009.
Cuvu is located about eight kilometres outside Sigatoka.
Largely a cane farming community, tourism is also big business in the area with a number of prominent tourism operations located in the vicinity.
The street on which the main Cuvu business centre is located is also growing fast and is reflective of changing times in Sigatoka.
Business these days continue to grow from strength to strength as Mr Ali complements the internet access side of the business by selling computer accessories and providing computer repairs and service support for residents in Cuvu.
The students do make great use of this facility – the shop is abuzz from 3pm to midnight.
The shop closes at 3am and re-opens at 9am (Monday to Friday) or 10am on Sundays.
Internet rates are at a bargain, costing a dollar for 40 minutes or $1.80 per hour and computer games go for $4 per hour.
With only one other competitor closeby, Mr Anreesh isn’t too worried because he has established a great customer-base and acknowledges that there is more than enough business for everyone.
In Tavua, Sen Technologies is snuggled around the backstreet of Tavua Town, across from the Post Office and if it weren’t for the eye catching green and orange Connect logo colours painted outside the shop, you could easily have missed it.
“I have always wanted to run my own business but it wasn’t until 2006 when I was able to start this shop with the help of the Fiji Development Bank,” Mr Sen said.
His Connect link is purely as a backup service and support agency.
An accountant by profession, Mr Sen worked as a credit controller in a number of places after graduating from the University of the South Pacific (USP) in 2001.
Finding the work experience largely unsatisfying, he decided to try something different and signed up for IT classes at NZPTC and the former TPAF (now under the Fiji National University-FNU) through distance education.
“Initially I wanted to open an internet shop in Suva, but I looked at Ba and then Tavua, did my homework and decided that Tavua would be the best location for my business,” Mr Sen said.
“It wasn’t easy in the beginning because this was something new for the people here then gradually business picked up.
“Now I have my steady group of customers who come back because they are happy with the service that my team provides.”
Since 2006, FDB has progressively financed his business for the purchase of computers, stock and working capital.
“I came to FDB because it had the lowest interest rate of eight per cent annually at the time compared to 13 per cent everywhere else and I continue to be satisfied with the service that the Bank has provided me over the years,” he said.
Recently, Mr Sen had a complement of six staff members but two have resigned and migrated.
His client-base also looks healthy with around 60 (mostly school students) on the list for the IT side of his business.
“I recruit diploma holders and I make sure they understand the importance of customer service because we provide, not only net café service, but also sell computer accessories, computers, we do repairs and after-sales support.
“They learn a lot while they are with me because they work in a challenging environment.
“I encourage and allow them to develop their leadership and management abilities.”
In the five years that he has operated his business in Tavua, Mr Sen said he’s seen a shift in people’s attitudes towards the internet and computers in general.
Now more people embrace the convenience of using Skype and the emails compared to the snail mail of yesteryears.
Access to the internet is relatively cheap at $1.50 per hour and its convenience greatly outweighs the handwritten letters of yore.
“I have no regrets in making the decision to go into business for myself. I have plans to extend opening hours from 8am-5pm (Monday to Saturday) to 8a -8pm (Monday to Saturday) and change my suppliers of computers from local to either Australia or New Zealand and maybe opening my second shop in Lautoka.”
As for Mr Ali, his future plans includes acquisition of agency service for a utility company as well as a money exchange licence which he has already put into motion.
He also plans on opening another internet café in Kabisi, about 10 kilometres away from Cuvu on the way to Nadi.
Kabisi is the main shopping centre before the turn-off to Natadola Road where several high end resorts and hotels are located.
The two men have certainly brought their rural communities into the 21-fast century.

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