Zimbabwean startups need to decide to either follow tech or the market

The one challenge that I have consistently seen with local startups, especially in ICT, is that they are trying too hard to show how much tech they know and doing little to interrogate and tap into the local market.

Most startups somehow assume that because they have done the best this, developed the best that, the best user experience or some such innovation or service, then the world should come running to them.

In fact, judging from recent startup competitions, most startups no longer even bother with the larger picture and simply develop mobile applications. Not bad in itself considering some billion dollar startups were simple apps, but that’s not all there is to it.

The truth is the world is more real than this. Zimbabwe, in particula,r just needs solutions that work and that are relevant enough to justify adoption costs. Zimbabweans only have an appetite for the basic services that do not exceed the equivalent of what they pay for in a kombi, and simplicity is key.

This is the reason why SMS-based news despite being exactly that, is the most adopted mobile content platform in Zimbabwe. So you ask yourself, like any typical techie, who really uses SMS anymore? Here is a simple response, in terms of subscription, how many alternative applications have been able to outnumber SMS to date?


I can vouch another example. The banks have their various mobile banking platforms, but the one popular application alternative to USSD is the eSolutions developed SMS banking. The SMS top up in any bank is arguably more popular than all the other platforms combined. Are the bulk SMS solutions not more applicable than Whatsapp today? How does your mother receive her cooperative meeting invitations today? A call me back is as good as free SMS?

Are the bulk SMS solutions not more applicable than WhatsApp today? How does your mother receive her cooperative meeting invitations today? A call me back is as good as free SMS?

Every startup meets the decision, to go tech or to go market. And while we are happy to see the latest tech the basic truth is you have to tone down the technology to provide what’s really needed. A solution to a really pressing problem in the community you exist in. The Econet InstaVoice service recognises this and it tries to bridge the WhatsApp gap. Even Facebook and Google realise that even though they have this huge data engine that every marketer would die for, they still have to

Even Facebook and Google realise that even though they have this huge data engine that every marketer would die for, they still have to work out the basics, provide connectivity, thus Facebook Zero and Internet.org.

A lot of techies and startups need to think outside of their bubble of tech buddies and realise some very few basics that seem to make sense.

Internet is not cheap: Despite all the noise, the Dream and Day bundles, the hobho Gig for little money, internet is still expensive. It will cost you an arm and a leg to get the “cheaper or unlimited internet”; which defeats the whole argument as there are only a few of us with that patience.

Smartphones account for a mere 20%: It’s very true and you can look around and say since everyone is actually holding a smart device then we are all connected. the reality is that less than 3 million people have a smartphone or simply, less than the total population of urban areas have a smartphone. Of those who, have smartphones, it’s likely that a sizeable portion lives only on social bundles.

SMS is still king: With the impact of WhatsApp and other Over the Top Services, SMS is still the preferred delivery channel after radio. It is still the most secure and widely used means of point to point or broadcast. This is true for individual, private and government entities relaying information.

Zimbabwe is not so tech savvy: While techies converge at various platforms, there are not that many wired that way in society. That’s why it makes sense for those vendors on the street installing WhatsApp, Facebook and Opera for a quick buck. Most of the regular people who use the internet at work don’t even know how to install applications.

Our startups locally need to aim for the global world, as it puts us at par with the rest of the world. The competition out there is rather steep, shoulder to shoulder with the Silicon Valley bred. One still needs, however, to make money. In that case, they should consider the local market.

I know that many people won’t agree, but the facts are stubborn. In terms of entrepreneurship, we are not there yet. But by not facing local market realities, we could actually be missing out on the cash cow that is our launchpad to the next real project.


  1. scripty says:

    What a reality check, and the fact that Uber will never launch in Zimbabwe,but do no be sad , all invention comes for neccessity, but reverse can also be true, because i dont think Facebook and WhatsApp where really neccesary before they were created

  2. Trevor Sibanda says:

    Lets stop giving excuses – Zimbabwean are lazy, they are not writing code.

    Technology can conquer the market – look at Whatsapp – most of us bought our first smartphone so we could be on Whatsapp, look at the DISH movement, people went on a frenzy buying satellite dishes because of what the technology offered them.

    Given enough code and shitty products products produced locally in use, there is a high probability we will have one which will force people to adopt the technology.

    Its easier to have the masses learn how to use a technology than it is to build a business based on the current market. Most of the time customers dont know what they want until you give it to them.

    Focus too much on the market and you’ll make some quick cash, but you’ll die when your users adopt new technology. Mxit anyone !

    The zimbabwe startup scene needs to write alot of code !!

    If the whole country plays lotto, chances are high someone will win.

    1. macd chip says:

      “….Zimbabwean are lazy, they are not writing code….”

      You nailed it!

      And can l add that they are loud mouth now everytime crying for someone to do something for them.

    2. Kr4f+ says:

      I m a self taught programmer and I ve never taken a CS class but I do projects for final year CS students. We sure are lazy.

      1. TheKing says:

        Sadly, you are part of the problem, or maybe economic conditions force you to write code for college students. By writing code for college students, you ruin their learning experience

    3. TheKing says:

      This is what I have always been saying. There are too many people talking and not writing code

  3. Say What says:

    Dayum! SMS? King? Tiri kumashure se zip ye skirt! Vanoti Ecommerce pa internet wat wat chimbogarai pasi.

    1. irie says:

      so how do we get kumberi seZIP yetrousers .. do we go kumberi by WAITING ..lyk wat yo are saying

    2. benson says:

      Lol funny comment I have seen so far

  4. Ignored Techie says:

    The world class apps developed by local Zimbos are there but you Techzim guys prefer to feature those that invite you to lavish launch parties or advertise on your site.
    Some apps are so good that you don’t believe a Zimbo can do it. The usual inferiority complex.
    Sorry guys I can’t give examples lest I run foul of seeking cheap publicity.

    1. Terry says:

      But i dont get you “IgnoredTechie”. Whats the point of having a great product if you dont market them to the intended audience. Give us examples of your apps or other worldclass app developed by Zimbos so that we are all aware of them. Or give them to Techzim so they give us do reviews.

  5. Emma says:

    true story this article. but there are no zimbabwean startups to talk about with apps on the market except blogs ofcourse this is zimbabwe, where blogging is the only startup model that works. can someone show me just 3 zimbabwe mobile based startups that everyone is talking about.okay not three just 2 okay just 1

    1. Talkmore says:

      Try “TanaMe” on Google Play Store

      1. TheKing says:

        Is that app Zimbabwean?

  6. Toki says:

    the problem with Zimbos is we all wanna do the same thing @ the same time. we nolonger want to be innovative. we are a copy_paste society. you know the story of vendors started with one fellow selling a few stuff, the next few months it was a whole population selling the same goods in the CBD. You are damn right people are lazy. zvafaira mumwe tese toda kutedzera. We have very good programmers in the country all we need is support from each and every one of us. Kwete kuchengeta godo seCooler box all waiting to steal your stage lights.

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