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.