Q&A with the Founder of Teljoy, Theo Rutstein


An intimate one-on-one interview with Theo Rutstein, the man who founded a revolutionary retail company in South Africa.

A businessperson of a bygone era looking back and commenting on how he feels about the changes and adaptations the business he founded has made in order to stay relevant in a different business world. 


1. What inspired you to start Teljoy and the rent-to-own model?

Ostensibly South Africa was a rich country with no TV in the 60s. I was enamoured with the moon landing in 1969 – while the rest of the world watched this moment in history on their black and white TV sets, we had to listen on wireless. So, it occurred to me that there would be an opportunity if TV came to the country. 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. We ran an advert on the four major Sunday newspapers that just simply said; “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?”


2. How did you come up with a name for the company? And what does this name represent?

The name should speak for itself. Its television enjoy. The slogan initially was “enjoyed with Teljoy”, and television at that time was our only business. We had to do it better, that was it: “enjoy with Teljoy”


3. What was the biggest challenge in starting this company and how did you raise the funds?

The biggest challenge starting the company was getting the number of subscribers that were willing to sign an agreement and believe in the dream. Our other challenge was trying to persuade 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.


4. How did you maintain trust and relevancy over the years?

Trust was embedded in the gene of the company. Basically the concept was “enjoyed with Teljoy” and the determination was that the client might not always be right, 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. That was the ethos behind Teljoy.


5. What would you change, if anything in the model?

I wouldn’t change the model just enhance it to work better with the times.


6. What has been the biggest milestone or your most memorable moment over the years?

When we first listed the business and it became a public company, there were probably at least 30 people in our business at that time, there were a few of them who became overnight millionaires. And I think just being able to bring a lot of people in to the business and allow them to grow. To also see the people that were in the company that did well after they left – I’m all about seeing people succeed.


7. What would you like to see for the future of this company and its people?

I'd love to see for the future of this company and its people the same as I would love to see for the future of this country and its people which is growth, the creation of more opportunities for more people. Being able to do our bit, to feed people who are unemployed, by creating jobs.


8. How would you define success?

For me personally, it's to create a sense of value and to let that flow through you, and be adapted, and be real within the framework of people that you can influence. You can never judge success by how much money you've got. It's always a problem. You can't judge it. As I say, your last success is as good as what it is. And then you've got something new to go for.


9. What piece of advice would you give someone wanting to become an entrepreneur today?

I think first of all, be real. Don't imagine that you can be an entrepreneur unless you prepared to really understand that what you're offering is better than what other people are offering. You need to have self-belief and the courage to go for it. Make sure that you find other people that will buy into that idea and provide finance.