We first met Tatenda Furusa on the sidelines of Zimbabwe’s inaugural BarCamp early this year. While he briefly mentioned his startup at the event, it only required taking a look at the product to understand just what he is up to. Matchio is the kind of product that just feels right, it was after all built in the land that birthed Silicon Valley and a plethora of the world’s greatest internet platforms. It might not be Zimbabwean through and through, however it represents a very powerful and dynamic skills base Zimbabwe possesses in its diaspora. The more l communicated with Tatenda and delved into various Matchio documentation, the more Geoff Goss’s one swallow doth not a summer make resonated in my mind.
Tatenda’s journey as the lead founder of Matchio began at Bradley University as a junior student pursuing a degree in international business. After partnering with three other co-founders, the team focused their energies on building a marketplace that would enable students at Bradley University to trade books among each other. The core value proposition here was that students often had to fork out ridiculous amounts of money to buy brand new books, yet those very books could be found amongst students who didn’t need them anymore. With entrepreneurial chutzpah and enough passion to see them through sleepless nights, Tatenda and his team built Matchio and quickly attracted users at the university.
In 2009 the team entered Matchio as a contender at Bradley University’s Project Springboard competition and came up tops as winners. Besides the US $10,000 cash prize the team also picked up US $120, 000 worth of services that included marketing, office space, legal and advisory services. Matchio then expanded to six other universities and began sizing up verticals like apartment services and daily deals. The startup’s business model is based on annual subscriptions and advertising. A wave of competition entered the market through a US Congress directive for universities to offer book rentals while Chegg.com (the dominant player on the market) has raised a collective US$ 120 million to date, giving Matchio fierce competition.
After graduating in May last year, Tatenda worked on Matchio full time and continues to work on the product from Harare, while a partner has relocated to Silicon Valley. According to him the continent (Africa) is the exact opposite of his experiences in America. Whereas America has very few ideas (left) but plenty of capital, developing markets like Africa are awash with opportunities but lack a Venture Capital or Angel investment culture. While this may be true, the landscape is changing as early stage investors are beginning to zero in on the continent. What Zimbabwe needs is a success story that can encourage a startup culture and angel investment.
Zimbabwe’s socio-economic and geo-political stability will result in reverse migration. This wave will bring in knowledge, experience and global connections that can best be unlocked if a local ICT ecosystem exists. That ecosystem will be a direct outcome of increased collaboration between the Ministry of ICT and the sector’s stakeholders.