A conversation with Zayne Imam about his life – where he’s going and where he’s been – brings to mind childhood verses of Dr Seuss. Born in Durban, raised in Johannesburg and now a proud Capetonian, Zayne started travelling to exotic destinations in high school as a travel writer and later as a business analyst for McKinsey and Company. After almost two years of being settled in Cape Town he’s ready to pack his bags again; this time he’s headed for Madrid, Spain, where he’ll pursue his MBA at IE Business School. Surely Zayne’s the kind of guy Dr Seuss had in mind when he said, “Oh! The places you’ll go! … You’ll find the bright places where Boom Bands are playing … Ready for anything under the sky. Ready because you’re that kind of guy!”
Zayne is also the kind of person the Foundation had in mind when they imagined the Foundation Pillar of Achievement Excellence. It is described as the ongoing pursuit of excellence with tangible and specific focus on setting goals and having the motivation to make a difference and leave a mark.
He remembers an incident in his childhood where he witnessed someone in fear of losing his job because of one single, uncontextualised moment. “I hated that so much hinged on that single moment [with little consideration of what else may have led to that moment] … [it] … left me feeling uneasy and has probably been a driving internal force for a sense of empathy and how being your own boss can free you from such injustice.” He also recalls often thinking that he would make a substantial impact on his community. Ever since becoming a Candidate Allan Gray Fellow in 2007 he’s adjusted that view to one where his impact could be on the world. The Foundation, he says, “channels their Fellows’ unique ambitions through an entrepreneurial focus, retains their individual identity and amplifies the potential impact the individual can have!”
Of entrepreneurship Zayne has had varied and in-depth experience. In fact, this is the achievement he is proudest of. Many might even consider it a luxury – allowing oneself enough in-depth time in an entrepreneurial space to assess whether starting up a business is something one would like to undertake. Zayne’s first foray into entrepreneurship came in the form of his involvement in the operations of the startup Rethink Education that gives South African school kids access to online content through a mobile system. Another entrepreneurial endeavour was his own: becoming the co-founder of a startup in a completely different industry – hospitality.
Five-Oh-Two started as a natural consequence of having frequent, wonderful dinner parties at Apartment 502 in Mandela Rhodes Place with his roommate. They wanted to “bottle” essence of what they experienced every time so that more people could experience it. They also realised that, given our overly digitised world, people are starved more for human connection than for great food and wine. Due to a lack of capital for starting a restaurant they started hosting “gastro-events” at different venues throughout Cape Town with different themes, chefs and photographers each time.
They have been in operation for a year and are celebrating the fact that it is finally profitable. Their hopes for Five-Oh-Two is that it becomes a viable alternative to eating out in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban and eventually Europe, where their envisioned Five-Oh-Two app will pave the way for them.
About his plans to relocate to Madrid in June this year, Zayne explains that getting an international MBA was something he never even thought would be possible. Halfway through his Financial Accounting degree at UCT he realised that it was not suited to his personality but still managed to finish the degree. He then did an Honours degree in Financial Analysis and Portfolio Management. His first work experience followed a similar pattern – 18 months after working at a call centre of a financial institution he realised it was not for him. He quit his job, spent three months in Thailand mulling over his future and then got a job at McKinsey and Company. “Getting this job was a huge step forward in my career,” says Zayne. It opened up networks and opportunities that seemed unlikely before. It also afforded him great corporate experience and, together with his entrepreneurial experience, will allow him to find the perfect in-between place within the corporate world and startup community.
As he navigates to that perfect in-between place Zayne will do well to remember the childlike but infinitely wise words of our dear doctor: “remember that Life’s a Great Balancing Act. Just never forget to be dexterous and deft. And never mix up your right foot with your left. And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)”