Top Zimbabwean tech failures of 2014 we can all learn from

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Back in June I had an opportunity to meet a Tel Aviv based entrepreneur whilst covering PIVOTEast in Nairobi. During his presentation at PIVOTEast he spoke a lot on the different two startup ecosystems he had been exposed to, namely Silicon Valley and Tel Aviv and the prevalence of failure seemed to dominate his insights.

We kept in touch soon after PIVOTEast and he was one of the people we had lined up to come to Zim to be part of the speakers at the ZOL Startup Challenge.

He was keen to come and present on the role of failure in Startup Ecosystems but due to costs the project totally tanked but I still remained curious as to what was his lecture on the role of failure was all about.

One obvious role of failure is the lessons it presence to the failing startups and the ecosystem at large. We would like to explore this in the context of our startups or startup products that failed in 2014 and look at the lessons we can all learn from them.

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Feel free to identify and share some other local tech startups or products that failed in 2014 and the lessons the ecosystem can gain.

The Astro Mobi Store

When we heard that Astro was building an an android based mobile marketplace for local content creators (musician, authors, developers, etc) we were naturally cautiously excited.

Excited because there was and still exists a gap in terms of a market place for purely local content. Cautiously because Astro was trying to give locals (both content publishers and consumers) an alternative to Apple’s iTunes or Google’s Play store without any compelling value proposition.

Well, there was some value proposition that I guess publishers did not buy into. Astro claimed that content submitted to the Mobi would be encrypted and programmed to work only on Astro media players and readers thereby protecting the publishers work from piracy.

During a consultative meeting with artists in March, it became apparent to Astro that content creators where not interested in piracy fighting technology but rather, technology that would give them access to a huge paying market.

The project failed and went through a series of botched launches but what is the lesson?

Astro failed to identify the real problems facing their target market. In the end they “solved” the problem that nobody really cared about.

The Techzim Store

Obviously we are mere mortals and fail a lot. The Techzim Store which we killed sometime this year is only one of the many experiments that we totally flunked on. Whilst popular within the community, managing the Techzim store’s merchandise, payments and delivery was a nightmare especially in the absence of supporting infrastructure for e-commerce here in Zimbabwe.

The other problem is Techzim is still a very small startup in terms of headcount. We had no dedicated personnel managing the store and there was always something more important to do. The result? We responded late to orders, service was poor, merchandising was horrific, so naturally the store had to go!

We were motivated by adding another “cool” vertical to our model. We however had no working knowledge on running an e-commerce enterprise nor did we invest in the skilled personnel to do the job. The store became a drain, diverting focus from our core.

BOStv goes dark and fails to see the light again

In the absence of anything that can be classified as local television entertainment, BOStv quickly rose to fill the gap by broadcasting popular SABC soapies via FTA signals. The problem was that by operating as a FTA, BOStv was outside it’s licensing parameters and the authorities swiftly moved to pull if from the airwaves.

BOStv tried frantically to come back on air but it never happened as the company faced a host of challenges.

From my conversations with the BOStv MD Nyasha Muzavazi, it seems BOStv failed to raise money to operate as a paid satellite channel as per their licensing framework, an arrangement that would see it compete against MultiChoice. Most importantly, and as was the case when our conversation ended, it appears BOStv failed to re-secure the paid-subscription broadcasting license they had violated by initially operating as a FTA channel.

Zimbabwe has tough regulations when it comes to tech and communication. The broadcasting sector is very sensitive and if you gain license in this sector, retaining that license should always be on the priority list. Make sure not to screw it up by breaking rules. 

GOtv also went dark and never came back.

2014 has to go down as the dark year in broadcasting.

GOtv mysteriously went off air on 31 January leaving thousands of subscribers stranded and clueless about what was going on. Initially the outage was attributed to “issues beyond our control” but after sustained pressure from the media, MultiChoice finally issued a statement with a partial explanation on the blackout.

GOtv was a partnership between MultiChoice Africa, the Zimbabwean government through Transmedia and Skynet, the MultiChoice Africa franchise owner in Zimbabwe. Transmedia, owned a 30 percent stake in GOtv while MultiChoice Africa and Skynet control 60 and 10 percent respectively.

Apparently, our government began to demand a controlling stake in the venture under the indigenisation policy, despite the fact that Multichoice Africa was bankrolling the venture. T

The shareholding impasse was never resolved and a good, popular product was lost.

This has been said a million times over. Choose your partners carefully. In retrospect and given our government’s record on respect of agreements, this should have been a partnership to run away from. MultiChoice Africa suffered a great deal commercially as it had to refund thousands of viewers on decoders.



4 Comments

  1. MJ says:

    Working on my own e-store thingy, will have to do more homework i guess. launching sooon.

  2. Nonvestor says:

    That indigenisation law is worse than sanctions.

  3. Jeff says:

    Failure is important in the long run.. I hope well meaning entrepreneurs understand this.. The greatest successes have come from failure… Excellent article

  4. LoveJ says:

    yoh. i didnt know you guys once tried an e-store… you always seem good at what you do 😉 . i gues i just learnt something… admit when you ain’t skilled in an area and be humble enough to withdraw and prepare enough, while you do what you good at.

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