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Why Tengesa failed. Startup founder shares with us

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Kombis

In October 2011 a new local classifieds service, Tengesa.com, launched. The service was designed to target primarily mobile web users, a part of the market largely ignored by other marketplace services like the popular classifieds.co.zw. About a year later though, Tengesa was shut down. When we asked one of the founders earlier this year why the website has been down for so long, his response was that they had just let the hosting run out.

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Tengesa were not the first to try their hand at classifieds in Zimbabwe, but they were the first to try it differently and to put noticeable effort in building a solid product and concept beyond the usual install-opensourceclassifieds-software-and-launch that pervades the market. Tengesa did offline ads on public transport minibuses, populated their website, did promotional giveaways. But they still failed.

tengesa-on-kombisA few days ago we contacted Colin Pringlewood, one of the co-founders Tengesa, to get some insights into what happened and what, if any, are the mistakes they think they made with the startup. Colin was kind enough to share what they learnt as well as offer some advice to other young people. Here’s what he shared:

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I was trying to start a tech company without actually knowing anything about coding, which i learned was a big mistake, so i have now taught myself how to code meaning i can build what i want instead of having to pay someone and try and direct them to build what i want.

I underestimated the length of time it takes for things to happen, i think that if you know your product is good, you have to take a long term strategy to making it work which can take years, and not think why is the whole of Zimbabwe not using your product by day 3. So don’t give up your day job.

Even though tengesa failed, it wasn’t a complete failure I learnt a bunch of lessons that only experience can teach you, hopefully bringing me closer to success next time, little things like how to approach people and present yourself can make a big difference.


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27 thoughts on “Why Tengesa failed. Startup founder shares with us

  1. Network effects, and Classifieds’ got those strong. Good try all the same, but couldn’t you keep it running by itself? Reminds me of Dan Shipper’s recent Pandodaily piece titled “Why are we in such a rush?”. If overnight success takes years, then we should let it.

    Can’t wait to see what you work on next.
    Big fan

  2. I disagree that you need to be able to know how to write code to build a tech start-up. Building a team (with skills which compliment each other), or the ability to lead a team of developers are skills far more important than writing code. IMHO

    1. He didn’t single that out as the reason his venture failed. I think the point he made is that it’s probably cheaper and more efficient to be able to prototype your own vision. As a failed project, that was money down the drain. While time is worth money, better time than money for me 🙂

      1. Well said Farie and good article too! I have a friend who has become serial in startups. Approached me needing development work. I summed up the issue he has:

        1) He does not understand the actual process of development so

        – he could easily be charged more than he should be or

        – he could under estimate effort in his plans because of that lack of knowledge(meaning blowing budgets to developers)

        2) The lack of basic development skills/understanding means every idea, even just to try out requires an expensive resource(reliance on developers). As we all know…prototyping is an essential part of the lifecycle of a startup before committing resources to an idea, giving you a chance to pull out. For the sake of prototyping, this would be a waste of money if one could easily learn how to develop.

        The advice I gave him, dont pay for my services… LEARN HOW TO CODE! Just basic knowledge to get by and to be able to clearly define requirements to developers when necessary, and to understand what the heck they are doing. And to also only need the developers when its certain the startup will work(post-prototype).

        1. If you cant explain something to a 4 yr old, then you don’t understand it well enough your self. Similarly, If you cant tell developer what to develop, then you don’t understand it yourself or you don’t know what you want! That’s why things like SDLC and Prototyping, came into being….to help in such situations!

              1. Was addressing the idea that “If you cant explain something to a 4 yr old, then you don’t understand it well enough your self”. That statement is simplistic and naive.

                You mention SDLC. What is analysis and why is it necessary? In layman’s terms, is it not part of a process needed to help define business/user requirements? And to translate those into clearer and technically understandable requirements for the techs/developers? If grown people who are intelligent and very much aware of their line of business HAVE to be assisted to define THEIR requirements, the whole 4 yr old thing you mention is truly naive and simplistic.

                You also mention prototyping, whose sole purpose is to explore & assist in the definition of unclear or uncertain or unknown requirements. That is why prototyping came into being.

  3. I believe its more in the ability to put together and lead great teams than being hands on. Its okay to gain an appreciation of coding but best to learn to dream, organize and motivate.

  4. I’m not sure how code would have helped. Even though I don’t know what happened behind the scenes, what I can say from a user’s perspective is that the site was brilliant. Simple, loaded fast on ALL devices. Isn’t that all you need from a coding perspective? I mean look at brainstorm.co.zw – that site DOES seem to need a bit more on the technical side. It hardly opens, and simply won’t work for your simpler dumbfone devices: but thats half their target market! Whoever designed Tengesa for Colin REALLY KNEW THEIR WORK! IMO it’s still the best mobisite I ever used. Maybe he feels it needed some more features and thus he needed to learn coding? NOT SO! its didn’t needs anything more, Tengesa just needed a good roll out strategy, but as a site itself was PERFECT!

    1. Ones need sbasic understanding of coding. If you have bucketloads of cash yes…you may not but if you have a tight budget you will need it. It helps you not be overcharged and helps also developing basic prototypes for testing & demos without outlaying signicant amounst of cash

  5. me thinks Classifieds inspires confidence, tengesa may have needed to earn peoples trust first.

  6. I was trying to start a tech company without actually knowing anything about coding, which i learned was a big mistake, so i have now taught myself how to code meaning ican build what i want instead of having to pay someone and try and direct them to build what i want.

    Strongly disagree. Wont waste time explaining.

    I underestimated the length of time it takes for things to happen, i think that if you know your product is good, you have to take a long term strategy to making it work which can take years, and not think why is the whole of Zimbabwe not using your product by day 3. So don’t give up your day job.

    Again, disagree….. If you have some Project Mgt knowledge or experience, you will know something called PLANNING

    Even though tengesa failed, it wasn’t a complete failure I learnt a bunch of lessons that only experience can teach you, hopefully bringing me closer to success next time, little things like how to approach people and present yourself can make a big difference.

    Now, I agree!

    1. Short sightedness definitely can make you fail because you underbudget and over estimate revenues…which as the author says can lead you to fail. You can plan but plan short term as well so the point is you really need to anticipate breaches of expected life cycles of a product and then budget accordinly

  7. i think tengesa failed by implementing mobile only strategy, they should have had a desktop website + a mobile site, mobile app & good marketing.

    Yes many people in Zimbabwe access their websites via mobile but I believe that many do transactions via desktop. They also needed a long term view to their business due to the fact that there is still no critical mass for web only based business models as of yet but they could have been the catalysts to change that.

    The marketing team should have also realized that a classifieds websites works at scale that is to say that it needs a lot of buyers and sellers using the platform.

    So in the case of Zimbabwe this would have necessitated introducing people to the internet, bringing people who would actually use Tengesa on a mass scale to trust the internet medium specifically Tengesa as a marketing and buying platform

    Some of the target market would have been

    1. Informal traders (zimex folk, mupedzanhamo folk, boka floors folk, farmers (maize, cattle e.t.c), literally all zimbabweans who buy & sell

    2. Car sellers (individual & institustional)

    3. House sellers (individual & institustional)

    4. Diasporans

  8. Knowing how to code does certainly help. It means you can prototype, change, build as and when needed without forking out too much to developers. But do agree that in the end its more than just the code that has to be concentrated on. A good balance of skill is required across the board. Start-ups with partnerships/co-founders do then seem to go that extra bit further in comparison. While some are concentrating on code (and not have to pay developers) the other focus on planning and marketing at the same time.

  9. burnt too much money without first understanding where their typical customers where. the kombis were good but not enough of them and also beyond that they didn’t connect with their market much. too much money spent on newspaper ads, on ad agency doing the artwork, on programmers

  10. Well tried Tengesa.com. In the business world you just have to learn from your mistakes, dust yourself up and get back up again. I applaud anyone who tries something and fails, than sitting back and watching others from the sidelines. Well done to all Zimbo trying out new or different things in the Tech world. Thankyou to TechZim for this platform, however (i might be wrong to say this) you seem to have a bias to a certain tech company(s) and hence some of your articles seem like you are advertising for them. We surely have many tech companys (startup or old) in Zim that are doing great work… I praise you all Tech loving Zimbos out there…

  11. Some success is down to lucky on timing and market readiness, so the author must keep refining his idea, it may succeed if relaunched with improvements later

  12. In times like these I often put my head to the side and sing that famous song. “Kumbira kumbira chirema mwana achazvara …..ouh wait! ”
    Put my open palm forward then bravely ask for the domain name in the name of kindness. Pleeeaase pretty pleeasseeee

  13. I loved Tengesa.com…l was huge fan. I was one of the first people to win an X2 in their promotion for signing up on their website. They came took a picture of me with the phone and posted it on their FB page. As l told the guys then, you can’t buy users unless you have really deep pockets. It was an expensive publicity stunt. A branded new X2 was going for $180 and l thought that money could have been used to buy Google ads, Facebook Ads, paid for years of hosting on some platforms. Most startups make the mistake of trying to monetize too quickly, the average startup takes 3 years to get started and the focus of the business should never be to make money, it should always be the desire to fulfill a need in the community…making money is an added benefit.

    1. Well said. “the focus of the business should never be to make money, it should always be the desire to fulfill a need in the community..”

      If I had any better a voice I’d ding that and credit you for it. #On-Point

  14. Nothing beats doing it. And one mans lessons don’t necessarily apply to everyone. Have noting but total respect for this guy. All the best in his next venture

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