The man who brought TV to South Africa

Teljoy is a South African company famous for introducing the first television set to the country, and this year marks 50 years since it was founded.

The company now operates as an online retailer, stocking appliances, electronics, and furniture.

Since its founding, Teljoy has evolved along with the development of technology, closing its brick-and-mortar outlets and servicing thousands of South Africans on an online marketplace.

The company was founded by Theo Rutstein in June 1969, who said that it was a gamble to get the business off the ground as there were no televisions in South Africa at the time.

“When I registered the company and started advertising our offer ‐ a television in the home of every subscriber at a time when there were no televisions in the country ‐ we had no idea how long it would take until we could actually deliver the product to our customers,” Rutstein said.

Rutstein was enamored with the moon landing in 1969, and noted that while the rest of the world watched the broadcast on their black-and-white televisions, they were relegated to listening to reports of the landing on wireless radio. It occurred to him that there was a major opportunity to bring television to South Africa.

“I went to the UK to have a look at what the market was like, came across the rental concept and then applied it to South Africa when I came back,” he said.

Teljoy then ran an advert in the four major Sunday newspapers which simply read: “TV will come, when it comes, there will be a shortage of supply. Where will you be to watch the first broadcast, in your own home or with your neighbours?”

Theo Rutstein
Teljoy founder Theo Rutstein

Eager investors

Rutstein said that in the beginning, a number of subscribers were willing to sign a subscription agreement even though the offering was a non-binding proof of concept.

“That actually gave us something to show anybody that I wasn’t dreaming, that there was a business model, and I took that business model to four banks to talk to them about funding,” he said.

“To my amazement, all four of them wanted in. So we had a lot of investors that were willing to put money in at the time that we started.”

The biggest challenges faced by Teljoy at its outset were the difficulty of attracting a reasonable number of initial subscribers, and the struggle to convince the government to bring television into the country during apartheid.

“They were concerned that they would not be able to block foreign propaganda. However with the public and media pressure we managed to bring in the first TVs to the country in 1974,” Rutstein said.

Success and Entrepreneurship

One of the biggest factors which contributed to the success of Teljoy was its commitment to its customers.

“Basically the concept was ‘enjoyed with Teljoy’ and the determination was that the client might not always be right, and probably isn’t, but they pay the salary and the only way that this business is going to work well is meeting the commitment to the client,” Rutstein said.

“That was the ethos behind Teljoy.”

Rutstein said that the most important thing needed to be a successful entrepreneur in South Africa is a firm grasp on reality.

“Don’t imagine that you can be an entrepreneur unless you are prepared to really understand that what you’re offering is better than what other people are offering.”

He also recommended that aspiring entrepreneurs exhibit confidence in their ideas and seek investment for their product or idea.

“You need to have self-belief and the courage to go for it,” Rutstein said. “Make sure that you find other people that will buy into that idea and provide finance.”

Theo Rutstein’s tech and business choices

MyBroadband asked Rutstein about his tech and business choices.

What was your first‐ever business?

I worked with my father to build a highly successful property and liquor business.

What was your first job and what was your salary?

I am a qualified lawyer, studied an LLB and then became an advocate. I first worked at a brewery. I can’t recall the salary, but I earned peanuts and on the odd occasion an almond.

Apple iPad Pro 1

How did you get into the tech field?

When I saw the opportunity to bring TV in to SA and officially expand the business to appliances, electronics, and tech.

What laptop do you currently use?

Microsoft Windows laptop. However I prefer using my iPad.

What smartphone do you currently use?

iPhone X

What is the best gadget you have ever bought?

I’m not really into gadgets but love motorcars.

iPhone X 3

What was your best ever investment?

Teljoy – starting a successful rent-to-own company in South Africa.

What was your worst-ever investment?

Trying to start and invest in a solar panel business.

What is the best business advice you have ever received?

Don’t panic – everything can be solved and always works out.

Now read: Thank you for standing behind us – Huawei South Africa

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The man who brought TV to South Africa