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ZOL Startup Challenge Finalists: Ribe Networks

With just nine days left before the ZOL Startup Challenge finals, this short series will profile each finalist in the challenge, exploring what they hope to achieve and how they intend to do so. 

The founder: Hannibal Ndlovu
Sector: Communications/Instant Messaging
Product Summary: A local chat application with integration to leading social networks, email, and local services
Product Status: Beta testing

Ribe Networks is a local chat application that has set its sight on disrupting internet based messaging. It intends to do so by offering users across all mainstream mobile and pc platforms the ability to interact with peers through the lightweight and locally hosted Ribe Chat application. Users can link their Ribe account to Facebook, Gmail, Twitter, MSN, Yahoo Mail and others.

This is similar to what multi protocol chat applications like ebuddy, Nimbuzz and Digsby can do among others. Chat applications are hot property the world over right now as a result of the shift from personal computers towards mobile computing. Apple Inc is preparing to launch its much anticipated iMessage, while Samsung has recently announced its ChatOn application and Skype recently acquired the group messaging platform, GroupMe. Many other giants are probably in the process of responding, very few of those will likely have applications dedicated to African markets.

In a fiercely competitive market with many venture capital backed applications and global distribution models, Ribe’s relevance to Zimbabwe and potentially to other African markets is value driven. The startup believes that a locally developed, hosted and operated application can gain traction due to the following factors:

  • Local hosting will translate to better uptime and connection speeds
  • Local hosting will reduce airtime/data costs by minimizing bandwidth usage
  • Ribe can become a PAAS (Platform As A Service) to enable value added services locally
  • Ribe can provide relevant local content such as local weather forecasts and foreign exchange rates

Ribe underscored this in its pitch material by stating that it can work on almost any device with an Internet connection including desktops, laptops, tablets, pads and cell-phones. Ribe is mainly built for mobile and to work on most cell-phones. It is specifically designed to keep user costs low (as listed above) and also to prolong their chat sessions by minimizing battery usage.

It intends to maximise on localisation factors by deepening the reach of the platform to include integration with mobile banking platforms and a host of other payment based services. South Africa’s Mxit is to date one of the few mobile social networks in the world that has managed to fend off dethronement by Facebook. The platform has managed to do this by focusing on the needs of the customers and adding functions such as mobile banking.

A wider reaching example of this strategy is Snaptu, it allows feature phone users to be able to choose their own content such as localised or categorised news and to use social network services like twitter as if they were on a smartphone. Ribe has positioned itself as a fusion of the localised reach of MXxit with customisable modules like Snaptu‘s. The app aggregates other social networks while providing its own services and also serving as a platform for developers and consumer brands to leverage on.

The startup intends to scale by expanding into Africa’s greenfield markets with a local strategy for each focus market. Traditional business models are often difficult to scale due to cost factors. Chat applications like Ribe depend on viral growth however this in turn is heavily dependent on the quality of the product as consumers in this segment are extremely choosy and spoilt for choice.

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17 thoughts on “ZOL Startup Challenge Finalists: Ribe Networks

  1. Good article and nice to see local mobile messaging applications rise to the fore.  Surprising that biNu Messenger or local version Khuluma did not get a mention in this article with its rapid growth in popularity amongst Zimbabwean users over the past few months.

    1. Interesting what you say about biNu and Khuluma. more than hapy to have a discussion about these and possibly feature them. please contact us on news at techzim dot co dot zw

      1. Hi Muzukuru. Not sure what you mean by misleading. Nobody has claimed biNu is a “proudly Zimbawean product”. You will note that the article above mentions Snaptu, eBuddy, Nimbuzz and Digsby, none of which originate from Zim. But they have many Zim users.  As does biNu.

  2. Interesting product. My only point is that the guys need to focus on monetising their idea/product, as this is want investors want to see.

    Also I get the sense that a lot of entreprenuers are not looking at the broader pan-african landscape. Thats a potential market of 977 million people that can use your product.

    1. one always starts small. More opportunity to learn from mistakes(in code, business model & service) and then expand at a later date…thats a layman’s explanation of what we call “Beta” in the tech-world

      1. Barcamp is not the place for people who are still trying, this is a competition where we expect people who are fundis at what they do to struff their stuff not win by charity. 
        You are abusing the word Beta, every great product has at one point been in Beta stage, but thats no excuse for inferiority or plundering.

  3. Seriously i dont see how this chat thingy will make an impact as a startup or for that matter an innovative idea. Competitons are suppose to stimulate new ideas not stimulate googlers and copycats. All this guy did is take some peoples ideas and apply them to Zim with no addition or subtratcion. Is that what this whole competition is all about, to see who can cannibalise an app and apply it to Zim scenario. Seriously! really! munechokwadi?

    1. Tinechokwadi!

      Sileqiniso ngakho khonokho!

      According to Barcamp(

      The focus is on mobile and web startups but if you have a great desktop
      internet application or some other nice fusion of offline and online,
      you’re most welcome.

      That already qualified his Ribe as a submission. I think originality and innovation is in the context of Zimbabwe. We would be very enthusiastic to have these same, already existing products locally in our country. It has already been mentioned how we would benefit from such from bandwidth to locally-generated content which the majority of us endorse.

      What idea is truly new? Why re-invent the wheel.

      Do you know what innovation is? It is a derivative from the Latin word innovatus, (noun form of innovare “to renew or change”)

      1. Seriously you are defending the undefendable. take your time on google and find out how many apps are doing exactly what this guy is doing, plenty plus…. in case you are banned on google, let me know, can give you links to keep you reading till Sunday.
        if Barcamp is looking for innovation, which means “The act of introducing something new” in simple terms, then this dude has not done anything except plundering other peoples ideas and rebranding.
        I am sure barcamp is interested in individuals who bring in new and exciting new ideas that sell, ideas help society at large, ideas that better mankind, not ideas that are fast approaching their best before date.
        Dude, please be objective, he might be yo friend and all but the fact remains, there is nuthing new in what he has done. List just 2 things that are new that he has done, just 2 . 2chete!If this is what Zimbabwe puts in the top 5 then we are very far… we need to do some catching up.

  4. Out of 10, this is how the judges should have done :

    The following Judging criteria will be used:

    –  Originality of Concept =  0  ( for cannibalism /plagiarism)

    –  Polish and Appeal       =  4  (website is plain, no creativity)

    –  Indispensability          =  2  (the market is flooded)

    –  Relevance to market   =  6  (but not for long)

    –  Team’s skills and background = 2 (1 point for googling 1 point for duplication)

    This is the worst i have seen, Mukela was a breath of fresh air though not so unique, but loaded with new strategies. Waiting to see the review on the hardware thingy cz the internet market is flooded with plenty plus of those some of which are freeware! That hardware dude will have a hard time.
    C u Monday@ the Finals. Will be there, hope they will allow the audience to air their views on the competition cz i seriously want to say something.

    1. Am sure the judges have good reason for considering the people they considered. It is also on Beta version, surely you cant expect him to get it right the first try. Even at Google, the hub of innovation with all its truly brilliant minds, can Beta test for years(ref Gmail and Google Search).

      I think you need more exposure in the tech landscape.

  5. Go for it. I like the spirit. If the accounting systems market still permits new applications, then the chat market is virgin teritory. What chances of Facebook incoporating local payment systems. Go for it

  6. I scheme Hannibal Ndlovu should use his skills to create something else. There are loads of chat apps great work on yours too bro but perfect it. I was on my nokia and cant sign up an account, the mac desktop version is 26MB and i run it and cant signup either. please perfect or help me get in so i stop using nimbuzz and mixxit. I will proudly use this app once i signup thanks

    1. Hello PindilemhanduWe sorry to hear that you are having problems and apologies for this late reply.Please send us an e-mail with some details of the problem, Phone model and error message/failed stage of sign up,you can use the form found here you

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