The life of a startup entrepreneurship is anything but easy. Anywhere in the world really. What is considered the normal failure rate is nothing short of scary and alarming.
Very close to all startup companies are headed for failure before they can become anything, again, anywhere in the world. The odds are stacked against the entrepreneur so much, any break anyone can give them is welcome relief. Anywhere in the world. But more so here. If the local tech startup ecosystem is to improve, we need to support each other.
Over last week, after reporting that Astro – a new local startup company in devices and exploring Software as a Service platforms – appeared to be lying about their products, some of the feedback we got from readers, was that it was wrong for us to mention this. That we are what’s wrong with the tech startup ecosystem as we are just pulling them down. That a startup has many struggles already without worrying about bloggers scrutinising them. The Astro founder himself, Munyaradzi Gwatidzo, went to the extent of showing us examples of glowing articles penned by other bloggers. Why can’t you be like them, being the message.
We love startups. We talk about them everyday at the office. Astro happens to be one of the few we talk about more often in terms of how they see the future that their competition seem oblivious to. That they are bold in the steps they take and raise money for it. Astro are not trying to be the best device company, they are working to be a platform company. They have made attempts and are working on payments, on a music market and we think streaming as well. They see a broadband everywhere future where smart TVs will be in average income families, and they are positioning already for that future. They are working to disrupt DStv’s market dominance in the future. We respect such boldness and risk taking in a local startup.
But then the lies come. Astro tells a room full of the media, ICT Ministry officials, Investors and key customers that they have invested in 8 months of R&D to come up with the world’s thinnest phone, which turns out to just be fables. The room applauds them; ministers, permanent secretaries, academics and the few investors that local startups are chasing, all marvel at the strides Zimbabwean innovators are making in spite of the odds.
That the startup is making a fool out of everyone is a small issue of course. The bigger issue is where do they draw the line? What else are they lying about and who else are they lying to? And what precedent are they setting in the ecosystem? And if we all line up as a herd supporting blatant lying, really, what ecosystem are we even talking about?
And when all this nonsense blows up in their face, like it has done before many times (even for Gwatidzo himself) how will this affect other entrepreneurs looking for support from the ecosystem. If local investors get burnt by these lies how does that affect other startups raising funds locally?
The frustrating thing, and what we don’t get yet, is why Astro has to lie in the first place. Slapping a company’s logo on phones designed and produced in China is itself not wrong. It’s done all the time even by the mobile operators. It’s a brilliant model as Astro doesn’t need to invest in R&D yet in these early stages when they don’t have the money for it. They can build a strong brand on this without needing to lie.
They don’t need to talk about how they design phones and how their innovative design is now the thinnest phone in the world. There are many creative ways to play with the marketing words without blatant lying and misleading the market.
Lying doesn’t help technology entrepreneurship locally. It hurts it.