How much mobile phone airtime street vendors earn a month

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Amai Blessing

Amai Blessing, after chatting with us at the Green Kiosk launch

When we attended the launch of Econet’s Green Kiosks two days ago, we were particularly fascinated learning some interesting mobile airtime sales figures from a lady who is currently operating one of these Green Kiosks. Her name is Jessica Kokerai but she told us she’s known in her community of Warren Park as Amai Blessing (Shona vernacular for Blessing’s mother).

So anyway, Amai Blessing told us that before she got her Green Kiosk from Econet, she used to airtime top-up cards at the Warren Park shopping place as an airtime street vendor. Then, she says, she used to sell about 400 airtime top-up cards a day. Now since the denomination of each Econet top-up card is at least US $1, this means she’d sell at least $400 worth of airtime a day. Warren Park by the way is a high density residential area in Harare.

Airtime street vendors get their airtime from authorized Econet dealers (like those operating the Green Kiosks for example), and from what we gather the street vendors get at least 8 cents of each dollar they sell. This means they make about $32 a day in ‘profit’. If we conservatively assume that they don’t work on weekends (not true for most) that’s $704 a month ($32 x 22 days). To put that in perspective, it’s way more than the below $500 figure that an average civil servant in Zimbabwe earns a month.

But Amai Blessing is not a street vendor anymore. She’s an authorized Econet dealer.

“I was a vendor, selling at the shops, but now things have changed. My business is growing” she told us. From selling an average 400 airtime cards a day as a street vendor, Amai Blessing says now she sells between 3,000 and 4,000 cards a day!

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Amai Blessing wouldn’t say the exact percentage of each $1 card of airtime that her business retains but information we gather is that authorised dealers like her on average keep 5 cents of each $1. If we take 3,500 as the average number of cards she sells a day, this means she makes about $175 a day (3,500 cards x 5 cents). Now a kiosk is not like an individual that takes weekends off, so let’s assume it’s open 6 days a week at least. That would give us a monthly figure of $4,550 ($175 x 26).

Now remember that the airtime is just part of the business. As a Green Kiosk operator she’s also an EcoCash mobile money agent and she also sells Econet Solar accessories like solar chargers and solar lanterns.

Also remember that we conservatively assumed all cards sold are $1, which is really not the case on the ground; airtime top-up cards also come in $5 denominations.

Again to put her income in context, in my previous life as an tech manager for a very large international NGO in Zimbabwe, my gross salary wasn’t even half of her airtime business.

21 Comments

  1. Wow! That’s amazing. Thank you for doing this research.

  2. JD says:

    How much tax does she pay?

    1. JamesM says:

      Hopefully nothing. She must retain all her hard-earned earnings and strengthen her purchasing power than pay taxes that land in a bottom-less pit. She’s an informal trader so she doesn’t pay taxes. If that burns you the answer is simple; do what she is doing.

      1. JD says:

        Feeling sorry for anyone when it comes to taxation has been the death of progress for Zimbabwe. What you may know is that the Govt is misappropriating public funds hence the demise of social services, but you may not realise that multitudes of businesses and individuals evade tax every year as they take advantage of lack of sophistication of the tax man leading to an even greater demise of those services. I know that many private doctors don’t pay tax (for example)… Emergency taxi operators pay a small ‘presumptive tax’ – which is nothing compared to what some of them rack up in business profits! Some supermarkets don’t bank most of their cash as they try to avoid the burden of proof of business volume!
        In short – If you guys can vote for the right Gov’t, we won’t need to talk about this tax issue at all. Tax must be paid.

        1. JamesM says:

          Fair enough. Businesses and individuals unwilling to pay taxes do so when evidence of irresponsible and downright theft by the national fiscus is right before them. Which is were we are right now. When you have ‘some’ diamond mining companies refuse to reveal what they earn let alone pay into the national fiscus with such impunity, who’s anyone to tell someone in Mabvuku to part with their hard-earned $$$. Given our situation retaining all you have earned is actually much better as that increases your purchasing power to the benefit of the overall economy.

    2. jizani says:

      Y pay tax which will will end up sponsoring Chipangano who will it turn terrorise her

    3. Magneto says:

      She pays presumptive tax I am sure just like Kombis

  3. Fascinating stuff! When you really analyse it, it’s amaizing just how much airtime one person can consume in a day, So no wonder some vendors end up selling that many cards a day. As someone living in the diaspora where the most expensive contract line costs close to 70usd per month with close to unlimited minutes, txt and internet, I can’t help but feel zim consumers are getting a raw deal from econet. At the same time I love the idea that if you ever lost your job and could find a corner to wait around and sell airtimeour with just 100usd float, after a few successful months you could be earning more than your average no worker!

  4. Aurther says:

    …very interesting just shows how tech is empowering people and has the power to eradicate poverty

  5. Ted Von Beefcake says:

    Good for Amai Blessing and all the other aspiring capitalists out there!

    Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

  6. Magneto says:

    It’s good that Amai Blessing is able to make ends meet and I am sure do more than just feed her family. But what about the $1.7mil Zimbabweans facing starvation? It is also mournful that in an independent country qualified civil servants (including the police) earn less than an airtime vendor! No wonder corruption is rampant.

    1. member says:

      Brother is that Econet’s issue, econet is not in gvt. If one person is benefiting from econent in this way, then thats good.

      1. Magneto says:

        Am actually crediting Econet (for being a positive force in our country) and posing a hard question to Gvt. A question that jabs and gores very close to the centre, right at the core of nationhood – have Zimbabweans at large enjoyed their Economic/Silver rights.

  7. chirau says:

    i find the 4000 figure very hard to believe. There are 86,400 seconds in a day. Assuming she does not sleep, she sells a card every 86400/4000 = 21.6 sec. I don’t know about you, but I simply don’t believe that. Factor in 8 hours of sleep and that number comes down to 14.4 sec. Not practical if you ask me.

    1. Magneto says:

      Statistical Averages do not always apply directly to real situations… For example Amai Blessing may have an hour in a day where someone buys say $20 bucks worth of airtime and in the next hour after that only $1 worth of airtime is bought. the average there for the 2hours would be ($20 + $1)/2 = $10.5 worth of airtime per hour when calculated. But it does not hold true to fact that she sold exactly $10.5 worth airtime during each of the 2hours. Remember mean, median, average from elementary school? 🙂

      1. Infinisystech says:

        mean, mode , median point of correction, mean=average

    2. Amai Blessing sells bulk to the street vendors. So she can actually sell 100 cards in, say, 30 seconds.

  8. Tapiwa says:

    iam interested in selling airtime on cell phones ,where do i go to get that service?? My email tapiwa166@gmail.com

  9. pee says:

    no wonder why Zim has got a high literacy rate,you guys you are very sharp minded your Arguments and Comments made my day more than the story itself ……Good like for Amai Bee and others who are benefiting from this Airtime business.

    1. pee says:

      I mean good LUCK

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