A “How not to launch an internet based product” lesson from Econet

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Last week, after we attended the Econet VoIP launch we discovered that the product’s web platform, voip.econet.co.zw, was basically not ready for public viewing. This despite the fact that they told us about the web platform and made the website address very clear for everyone to see at the launch event. But still, we thought maybe it had probably been a crazy day for the web team at Econet and they’d get around to fixing it over night or the next day. So we let it slide.

It’s been a whole week and the site is still not fixed! Links still don’t work, and if you check out the pages they are hiding from users (by making links not work), you see the pages still contain default SysMaster (their supplier) information. Below is an article this writer posted on a personal blog about the issue. We’re publishing it here in the hope that someone at Econet will get the website fixed.

During his presentation of the new service, the econet commercial director George Barbaressos, wouldn’t disclose the tariffs of the new services. Close to the end of the presentation however, I saw a slide that had the web address of the web platform of the the service and took a photo of it:

As any guy would do I checked the website for any information we were not getting from the presenter, and sure enough the tariffs were on the website. I tweeted the web address to the Techzim followers so they too could find more details about the new service.

On checking the website again when I was writing the story, I noticed someone had taken down the tariffs and in place of the information put up the following image:

By this time I had already seen tweets that the website was quite broken so I accepted that this wasn’t ready for viewing yet and the guys were fixing stuff. Advised readers the same.

Still wanting to hunt for more information I clicked around the site. Most of the links were not working but eventually I clicked on Contact Us and it opened a page that, instead of providing Econet details, provided some “about us” and contact details of a company called SysMaster Corporation:

Googled the company and saw that it offers VoIP Billing, Gateways and other stuff. Kinda made sense then that Econet bought the VoIP system from SysMaster and they forgot to change this. The forgetting doesn’t make sense, it’s the “why SysMaster” that does.

This also explains other pages like the Econet VoIP “Terms of service” page which has information about a different company now called Norfa:

Eventually found that Norfa is actually one of SysMaster’s VoIP systems and the specific one Econet got, I presume. SysMaster, it seems, created a dummy company to demonstrate Norfa to its clients. The dummy norfa actually has a website:

So what’s the point? 

The point is that Econet VoIP launched today in the morning and they made the web address very visible during the presentation of the new product even though they knew the platform wasn’t ready yet.

The point is that if the web admin guy/girl at Econet was able to take down the tariffs quickly when we disclosed the web address on Twitter, how is he/she failing to just go in there and remove the default pages that come with the system?

The main point here is: how under the sun do you launch a product, one of whose main points of interface with customers is the web, without having the web platform ready? Doesn’t make any sense.

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  • Anonymous

    And they say I hate anything from my country! This is just bullshit . Disappointed once again after Telecel Econet is also Bullshitting people ! I need a gun

  • http://www.facebook.com/vmukandatsama Victor Mukandatsama

    sheer complacency. this will be Econet’s sucker punch soon enough if they do not pull up their socks. Watch out for these silent underdogs. Believe it or not they offer some better service than Econet.

  • JAYONE

    in true econet fashion its half baked with no support and lots of media fanfare 

  • JAYONE

    too true my firiend these guys seriously need to rethink their strategy it sucks 

  • Chirau

    Somebody needs to get fired seriously this can’t be the way the company intends to introduce new products why they didn’t bother to go through a simple thing like website links one wonders, if this is a reflection of things to come I doubt I would want to even use or hear of their viop service, let’s face it they have been better moments when econet has launched services on the market this is one they ought to forget like yesterday, then again when you are econet big doesn’t matter what you introduce people will take it up anyway whether it’s good or bad one wonders whether the company is still inspired to change your world certainly it appears they would wreck it, if you ask me

  • thnxtmvmnt

    Shows you, for some, websites are just nice to have’s…they don’t think we actually check them….

    they could have even done a one pager website…tht won’t even take a whole day! One wee???Come ooo-ooooonnnn!!!!

  • http://twitter.com/cshoko concern

    Econetsi….getting to big for its boots!

  • Tsitsibanda

    I think it becoming clear now that Econet has got incompetent staff. This is not the first time. Look at their whole website issue, Ecolife, broadband services and won’t even mention the stolen broadband advertising campaign. They are not yet at the level they should be at to compete internationally or even regioally. Econet has serious problems. They just do not have any real competition

  • Zifodya

    Too bad even big companies like Econet are doing this. I think their marketing is good but they will not deliver. Same with when they launched Ecocash, I remember going to one shop to open my Ecocash account. I filled in the form and I wanted to make the initial deposit then the lady told me that currently they cannot do the cash in transaction I was told to go to TN bank.

  • Chanyani

    I agree with the posts. The problem is deeper though. The sequence of problems is quite deep. Once you ignore the basic rule of faireness and integrity, all systems close. As a nation we have been through so much abuse (the taking out of the zeros, the empty shelves, no water, no electricity, no paper at zimra offices, no sofas at banking halls and no change .. etc). All this leads to lowering service delivery by the suppliers and lower expectations by the consumers. Basically both the supplier and the consumer are sleeping on the job (except you guys who are compalining.)

  • http://twitter.com/cshoko concern

    @7eb4f358ca52e40446d9481e822719fb:disqus i agree 100% and Zimbabwe, as a nation, needs a serious mindset change if we are to make a mark in the 21st century.

  • Anonymous

    hahahahah, this is ridiculous. I can’t expect this from a giant lyk Econet!!!

  • Hollywood

    Thanks GUYS at Techzim for bringing back DISQUS,its good that pple can post honest comments of what they really think about a service or product.Facebook is difficult to comment what is really on your mind because of identity. :)

  • Anonymous

    Thats what happens when you employ a lot of sales exec than tech engineers!

  • Kunta Kinte

    Irs surprising when a company like africom with all sorts of bad publicity seems to be getting it right when it comes to data. got a text today saying they reducing their commercial rates to 0.05c per megabyte from 0.11c making them the cheapest in the market

  • Prosper Chikomo

    People should not be making a huge fuss that Econet is using
    a white-label solution for its VOIP service

    Do you honestly, in all honesty, think that Strive Masiyiwa
    who worked for PTC and had experience with ancient fixed line telecoms at
    stat-owned PTC already had all the know-how and experience of setting up a
    mobile network and how to operate it?

    Heck, I say no. A big fat NO.

    If you really get into the
    details you will find that Ericsson (now SonyEriccson) engineers came and set the network up and then
    there was knowledge transfer to local engineers of running and maintaining the
    system.

    And still to this day, don’t for once even think Zimbabwean engineers
    can construct advanced networks and build advanced technologies like mobile
    network equipment. I have come to appreciate the bragging prowess of the
    Zimbabwean just because he is the “most literate” in Africa.

    When GPRS and 3G
    were implemented by Econet, it was not Strive Masiyiwa or Zimbabweans connecting the networks
    etc., NO.

    Engineers from ZTE and Huawei , and who make the equipment, came into the
    country and set up the things. All that Econet then does is maintain the system
    and collect money.

    Tabva ipapo, if you read the stories about the arrest of
    Africom executives on trumped up charges, you will notice that there were
    revelations of a Canadian company, Juch Tech, being involved in the set-up of
    the entire system.

    You can read about it here: . http://www.intozimbabwe.com/top-news/zimbabwe/3805-africom-espionage-case-collapses.html

    Somebody above also mentioned the well-know EcoLife case
    which involved a Namibian company lending its technological resources to
    Zimbabwean company, Econet.

    In conclusion, Zimbabweans, as far as I have seen and
    experienced, love to boast of being the smartest in Africa yet apart from the
    Gwatamatic, there is no advanced technological products you can point to and
    say was made by a Zimbabwean.

    I have even said it many times before on TechZim (to much
    spirited opposition lol) that we need people who can actually build the
    technologies rather than just brag about being developers and programmers when
    they just building joomla sites which even a O’Level can do intuitively.

    (I am no tech guru myself but if I find I can do something
    that someone with a masters degree in computer science spends his whole day and
    life doing…when I don’t have any training in computer science myself but I am
    just self-taught …. man …. i mean … I am not trying to be funny but it just tells me
    that either there is something wrong with him or his sense of imagination and
    creativity, or the education he got was not up to scratch.)

    South Africa which many Zimbabweans say is not as smart as Zimbabwe
    has built world class and world-leading technologies and yet Zimbabwe continues
    to brag on and on and on about how smart and literate it is and how it has the
    so-called “best education system” in Africa.

    Take South Africa’s Clickatell for example. It is worldwide with
    a SMS technology it built itself, rather than borrowed from some company
    outside South Africa. it does not even use a white-label solution.

    Econet reported US$140 million in profits after tax last year for the 2010 financial year, yet I can point you to many start-ups in the VOIP sector worldwide that were
    started from scratch with far less money.

    Even Skype was started with far much
    less money!

    If you really look at it, Econet is practically a airtime selling
    organization, the biggest juice card vendor in Zimbabwe, a seller just like OK Zimbabwe, and no technology developer like Apple

    Econet Wireless does not even have one single patent to its
    name unlike Telkom and SASOL.

    Even I myself can open an VOIP account with Norfa.com under
    its FAMILY PLANS- PERSONAL SAVER PACKAGE 1 and operate a VOIP business. Only
    thing that stops me is that I do not have a telecoms license issued by Protraz.

    If you hear Econet saying it is investing in R&D and it
    does not specify what the R&D is, you bet that the research being talked
    about is creating a package like Buddie, Libertie, and branding the juice cards,
    and surveying for optimum base station locations. It’s R&D will not be technology
    for which it can get patents that it can rent to MTN or Vodacom, or other telecoms
    companies worldwide.

    Anyway, Econet’s business model works for it.

    Only time will
    tell if Econet will really contribute anything technologically significant like
    Sony which was started amidst war time destruction with less than US$5000 but
    went on to develop its own technologies, get patents, and even have its employees
    win Nobel prizes and awards for contributions to science, and be one of the biggest
    100 companies in the world.

    Next time you hear Econet say this about its VOIP offering; “Our
    engineers are working flat out to resolve the problem. Any inconvenience caused
    is sincerely regretted.”

    You bet its “engineers” it will be some Norfa.com
    (Sysmaster corporation) employee abroad they will be talking about. (HA! HA!)

    And if Econet takes too long to resolve the problem, now
    that you know, you might
    just as well submit a support ticket directly to
    Norfa.com. HA! HA! HA!

  • Anonymous

    Not good at all tipeiwo change ve Econet

  • kevynjr

    True to that man and wise words

  • Tichafag

    i dont get your argument. this article is not about using a white label solution or even saying that Econet should manufacture network equipment for their own use etc.. read the headline … it says “how not to Launch an internet based product” and the focus of he article and people’s arguments are along those lines.. Econet can certainly do better than this. how do you launch a website that is half baked? one that is not complete. this is a web based solution we are talking about. in typical, ready… fire… aim fashion thats Econet for you.

    you do not launch a service and the primary interface to the system is down or has dead links thats a No No.. even someone who is just out of high school can tell you that.

    this shows you there is someone sleeping on the job. 

    i for one am not tickled by these services.. EcoCash and even this Voip service so i leave it to those that want to consume the service but … ya Econet has to up their game.. the level of complacency shows you how one has the mentality, “If i am the leader, why should i worry”. they should go and ask Standard Chartered Bank what not to do when you are a market leader. They never, 10 years ago thought that a local bank, CBZ would be the leading bank by deposits.

    i rest my case

  • Prosper Chikomo

    You said –“ i dont get your argument. this article is not
    about using a white label solution or even saying that Econet should
    manufacture network equipment for their own use etc.. read the headline … it
    says “how not to Launch an internet based product” and the focus of
    he article and people’s arguments are along those lines..”

    Well ….. If you did not get my argument I will tell you in
    other words.

    First, I never said Econet manufacture the equipment, all I said
    and explained if you read my post again was that they (Econet) just – in my words
    – “copy and paste” solutions. Econet need not have manufactured base stations
    etc, but my expectation of them is that at least they should have their own
    engineers do the set-up and even build the VOIP platforms. Econet should have
    in-house competencies for the services they offer rather than just borrow these
    competencies practically all the time, save for collecting money. With their
    kind of profits, surely they must invest in improving the competencies of their
    staff as well as developing and acquiring new competencies.

    PLUS -THE ARTICLE CLEARLY EXPOSED HOW ECONET IS PROVIDING / ROLLING
    OUT ITS VOIP SERVICE

    NOW, MY ARGUMENT IS THAT WHAT HAS BEEN EXPOSED ABOVE
    (SYSMASTER) CLEARLY SHOWS THAT ECONET ITSELF IS NOT INVESTING IN, OR CREATING
    ITS OWN TECHNOLOGIES BUT RATHER, IS BORROWING THEM ALL THE TIME, WITH THE MILLIONS
    IT MAKES EVERY YEAR. ECOLIFE IS BORROWED. VOIP IS ALSO BORROWED. THERE IS NOT
    EVEN ONE THING ECONET HAS CREATED OF ITS OWN AND WHICH IT CAN EVEN RESPOND
    BELOW TO SAY IT HAS A PATENT FOR.

    I know for a fact, for example, that Bharti-Airtel has
    patents for products it developed in-house. Skype I talk about also has patents.
    Surely, a company with enough money to start Skype ought to start its own VOIP
    product rather than just borrow technologies all the time.

    To recap:

    The article title is:

    -         
    -> A “How not to launch an internet based
    product” lesson from Econet <-

    And you said

    “ i dont get your argument. this article is not about using
    a white label solution or even saying that Econet should manufacture network
    equipment for their own use etc.. read the headline … it says "how not
    to Launch an internet based product" and the focus of he article and
    people's arguments are along those lines..”

    -

    The article, yes, shows us how not to launch an internet
    based product, showing how Econet made mistakes in the launch …

    But then again, in that article, it is revealed that Econet
    borrowed technologies from Sysmaster Corporation. It is that borrowing of
    technologies I have talked about/argued against. The article reveals this even
    with screen grabs!

    Unless of course it is wrong for me to talk about a content
    in the article that is not highlighted and somebody would rather have me just
    think and discuss issues along the lines of just what he himself thinks, has
    understood, or wants me to say, or what everybody else is focused on ; perhaps
    in the interest of wanting the discussion to be just about the Econet mistake
    only, and not anything else the article highlights.

    While Econet bungled up the launch, certainly they got
    exposed for using Sysmaster, information which even ill-intentioned people can
    use for malicious purposes if they know the vulnerabilities of SysMaster’s VOIP
    solution. But then again, I suppose it would be wrong to bring that argument up
    (the exposure of the solution provided) because people are supposed to discuss
    in one line of thought only, despite that being something the article can
    reveal.

    Opinions and analyses are diverse. Two people can read the
    same content and come to different conclusions and even catch the attention of
    different aspects of the same piece.

    I therefore do not need to go with the arguments of some
    people here as I comment from my own brain.

    You cannot control what people think, or what interests them
    in the article, or even how they feel about it.

    Sadly I find, for example, many blog owners everywhere, even deleting comments of anyone who dares think differently as if to imply to commenters what to think. Wasn’t it Apple which said – “Think Different”

    Hope it now makes sense.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tcmundondo Tirivashe Mundondo

    Hie Limbikani, you remember the comment i gave on your first coverage about this issue, yes this is exacly what i mearnt

  • Sipho Sibanda

    I have no pity for them last year when I told them they were doing it wrongly , they had no time to listen to me.

  • Tapiwa ✔

    I’m sorry – do you expect people to actually read through that entire, uh, comment? the article is 621 words, your comment is 717.

    I’m not trolling, I’m genuinely amazed at how passionate you are about the subject.

  • Pindile Mhandu

    they are still the leading provider and most of you use their network anyway without need to liaise with their website, whats the fuss?

  • Prosper Chikomo

    Whether people read it or not is not my concern. I am giving
    my own view and exercising my freedom of speech, and in the context of the content
    of the article. Indeed I am passionate about it. I was only too happy to find
    that there are other people who see Zimbabwe and Africa the way I do when I read
    the article by Ken Mufuka in the current Financial Gazette. It just sums it up!
    ICOULDN’T HAVE SAID IT BETTER MYSELF! http://www.financialgazette.co.zw/comment/11419-african-dreams.html

  • Prosper Chikomo

    I was just going through some Techzim pages just now when I landed
    on another Techzim page that also talks about this Econet voip and I read the most
    sensible and genius statement I have ever read on techzim in my life at http://www.techzim.co.zw/2012/01/econet-launches-econet-voip/
    and it was by Edson Chikobvu whose thinking there I describe as nothing but brilliant.

    Edson Chikobvu, in a comment said this about Econet Norfu VOIP: – “… thats expected of small companies without
    resources and capital. surely econet can create their own custom made
    platform/solution.i dont see how this is their product. its closer to a
    franchise”

    That is the best comment I have read, EVER, on Techzim, and I am
    happy there are people who think like that. It is people who think like that who will see Zimbabwe delivered to a better future. And please do read the article by
    Ken Mufuka. Borrowing foreign technologies all the time will not take Zimbabwe
    anywhere.

  • Wonder

    kikikiki, so why are you hiding behind Hollywood?

  • http://www.facebook.com/duwayne.goddard Duwayne Goddard

    I don’t know what the fuss is about econet and websites. this is from a company that can’t even offer simply web solutions like giving you information on their sms  centre number or trouble shoot an issue like getting the “3G” settings.
    Their home website doesn’t offer anything except the fanfare that is their logo.

    And then whats the point of having voip if the bandwidth that is supplied by Econet is not even enough to use whatsapp?

    Maybe one day when guys like telone (who is giving great service so far) overtake them, they will stop and rethink their strategy.

      

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Prosper! That was very informative. Ignore the negative comment. This is a free forum and everybody’s free to air their views!

  • real IT news

     this is my own opinion. techzim is full of nonsense. you guys dont now what your doing. you are no different from herald or dailynews. you are always reporting negetive stuff about tech companies, and how things should work. your do not have no love for this countries tech companies. f you really have faith in this countries tech companies, y is your website hosted outside Zim. you guys are full of bull crap…. this website is all about negativity….. a real techy wouldn’t tolerate this nonsense. we want tech news, not some silly blogging.. be real

  • Kunta Kinte

    Zim companies have been going through a lot and we should salute those that achieve. a bit of criticism should help cause these techzim guys also report positive news I believe . But I get your comment on local hosting for a site supporting local ICT. they should have a zim domain . I still thik positive and negative is required to build ourselves as a nation

  • http://www.techzim.co.zw L.S.M. Kabweza

    thanks again for the feedback!