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ZOL Startup Challenge 2011 winners: Where they are now

ZOL Startup Challenge 2011

ZOL Startup Challenge 2011Last month, as we prepared to hold the ZOL Jumpstart Challenge 2012, we contacted the winners and finalists of the challenge in 2011 to check on the progress of their products and companies. The 2011 winner was Mukela Travel, a startup building an online reservation and hospitality management platform. The runner-ups were Softwarehouse with a product called Hardware Inventory, and Sadomba Mahari who were working on 3D animation software.

From interaction with the Zimbabwe based leader of the Mukela Travel team, Takudzwa Mhlanga, the startup has not made much progress commercially since 2011. According to them, they have had difficulties raising money to proceed at the pace they should have.

We didn’t get a response from the Sadomba-Mahari team on the state of their project. We did manage to get in touch Matthew Hood, founder of Softwarehouse, and below are the responses he provided on the state of the product and the difficulties they have faced so far.

What is the state of Hardware Inventory now?

Softwarehouse is doing well, unfortunately we have not had the time or man power to dedicate to making Hardware Inventory (rebranded NetSnitch) the success we feel it can still be.  Softwarehouse is currently involved in a number of very exciting projects for clients in the horticultural and financial services sectors, unfortunately NDAs mean I cannot go into details on any of the financial products at this time.  We have also released a Premium and Micro Finance application and a Procurement and Stock Handling system, both of which have started being adopted by clients here and replacing their existing systems.

With so much on we have unfortunately not been able to push NetSnitch hard to the market.  We have however made a few sales and it is currently running on a couple of hundred machines at various organisations.  We found the most interest from an IT support individual who maintains a number of Private School’s IT infrastructure, their main need was to monitor hardware changes and easily create asset registers for their regular audits and budgeting sessions.  Based on his requirements we are working on a number of improvements to the system and added further functionality, when time permits, for example monitoring all printer usage by user on the network.  We are hoping to have all the changes completed by the end of the year and still want to push sales of NetSnitch in the new year.

Up until now our main business has been focused on bespoke, one off development and while there is a great need for this service in Zimbabwe we, as a company, are starting to move towards Software As A Service as a more profitable long term model, we have a number of applications which would be suitable for resale in Zimbabwe and externally, NetSnitch included, and are now in a position to take this plunge, probably in a partnership with another Zimbabwean company better suited to the sales and support side of a Software As A Service business, the exact arrangements are not finalised but we are very excited about the possibilities.

What are the challenges you have faced growing it? How have you overcome them?

Probably the biggest problem we faced was trying to devise a pricing structure.  We wanted to bill NetSnitch on an on-going license basis and keep the per machine cost very low so it was available to any company.  However such a model is only profitable when you have a large install base.  This highlighted our next challenge, as a small software development house we did not have the time and personal to handle sales and support effectively, it is also a big commitment to hire such staff without the guarantee of revenue to support them.  This is one of the reasons why we started offering IT support companies the option of being a reseller and earning a commission to push sales and handle installations.  We feel, due to the size of the company, forming partnerships with others already capable of filling the roles we cannot is a prudent move.


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12 thoughts on “ZOL Startup Challenge 2011 winners: Where they are now

  1. would be interesting to hear Goss’ take on these entities. If they won on merit…would he at least have decided to invest in some of these start ups which seem to have prepared dump registries for purposes of presentation only

  2. Disapointed with the winners performance…So much potential there. So little done. Talk about giving Africans a bad name at how when you try give them a “Jump start” the money disappears into “expenses” that never lead to the final product.

    And as for Software house, keep at it. Hard work and inovation pays off in the end.

    1. Disregarding your (self)loathing for Africans, business is more than just an idea. Even in Silicon Valley, the traditional hub of tech-startups… there are thousands of startups that struggle to make it even with feasible-sounding ideas. They just dont make the light of day. Just google crowdfunding, venture capital etc…note the start-ups….ask yourself a year later… how many will actually make a mark.

      Facebook itself has had a protracted struggle figuring out how to commecialise its network. It is only recently that they reached a milestone. Same thing with Yahoo…one the top ranking websites, globally. Its share price rose only recently after Mayer took over the rains and brought in “her google” into it. Same thing with Twitter.

      Now, Mukela is young. They are still figuring it out. Bear in mind that the profile of the team and the idea they have does look like a cocktail for success. Ideas on paper wont always translate to money. That is where the million dollar question is. And that is business (tech or not).

      Am sure if they hang in and figure out the right recipe, it will work. That is business! Failing is a large part of the road to making it.

      1. keep in mind, that all the teams who won were interviewed and needed to have a solid plan to build their startup if they won the prize money. and they did win prize money! its not as if they were just given a handshake and were wished the best of luck based on a random idea they presented. they were provided with resources to “jump start” their startup. i actually think that audits should be done and these companies should at least provide some kind of proper feedback to the sponsors who provided them with prizes. this at least will establish some kind of accountability

        1. i actually think that audits should be done and these companies should at least provide some kind of proper feedback to the sponsors who provided them with prizes. this at least will establish some kind of accountability

          Audits? Its a competition, not an investment

          1. well ask yourself this question, why should ZOL continue to give out thousands of dollars to winners of jump start, if the winners are not actually doing anything constructive with it? (and apparently dont need to provide any form of feedback to them on what happened with the money they had received?)

            seems you basically just need to have a business plan that will work in theory and is relatively water tight and convincing. then dress up in a suit, and do some public speaking for a few hours and you’ll have free cash and free internet! seems like a free for all fest to me!

  3. Dubious adjudication leads to dubious winners & now check the progress, its gone by the wind

  4. Without a doubt, Sadomba Mahari know their subject matter (3D content creation) very well. And seem to have a solid grasp of whats needed in developing related software. But I think it would be a long time coming before they compete with established commercial and opensource tools. If I were them, I would use those talented efforts to create specific plugins in those industry standard commercial apps(like Maya, 3DSMax, Modo, Cinema4d, ZBrush etc. In that industry there is certainly alot of money and people are prepared to pay those very high licensing fees for those apps.

    Just one, high quality and much needed plugin would be worth the effort. IMHO if they focus all their efforts on one item, they will cetainly make waves. The 3D content creation pipeline still has opportunities and gaps that are potential money earners. Anyways, just my thoughts

  5. just say a big thank you to all the staff at ZOL for all the work (and the money!) put into Startups, the Challenge and the tech ecosystem in Zimbabwe as a whole. The impact of this effort will be felt well beyond this year’s Startup Challenge. It’s really great working with you guys!

  6. i was disappointed with the winners from the onset. it is my opinion that the joomla-based reservation website was nothing out of this world, certainly not in terms of innovation. However, the team was dapper and articulate, coupled with the compendious demo video, that obliterated the judges ‘better’ judgement. As Zimbabweans we should look for innovation first, especially with regards to startUps. While startUps take a while to take-off the compelling ones have a better chance.- Just my two cents, hope the judges review our comments and the events and learn from all of this.

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