I deserve money for my idea: The folly of developers

Developers at a tech event in Zimbabwe
Developers at a tech event in Zimbabwe

An advent enthusiast in mobile financial services I was more than eager to hear developers and VAS innovators alike fire away at Econet (Ecocash) for their “reluctance” to open up their network to applications and VAS at the recent Broadband Forum.

Not surprisingly was Econet’s calculated responses since they have had to answer to accusations for the length of Ecocash’s existence. The major accusation which is the fear of most developers is that MNOs steal ideas.

Through Spencer Manguwa, Head of VAS, Econet seems to stress a rather disturbing proposition that most developers cannot seem to organise themselves to sell an otherwise brilliant idea nor do they broaden their view to globalising their creations.


Attendees I interacted with agreed that some developers do not have the requisite skills or cannot be bothered to come up with a competent business model. They seem to think that simply because they have come up with an incredible idea for an application or service and they have spent sleepless nights developing the most sophisticated algorithm and code, they are by default entitled to economic earnings of some sort. They forget the critical essential of conforming their innovation to a business model that generates revenue and profits.

A look at some of the startup competitions shows a lot of promising teams pitching. Solidifying efforts by these competitions are the various Tech hubs that are coming up to try and support innovators. Unarguably the most successful of these are the ones that emphasise the need to produce a business centric model.

Manguwa went on to explain that some developers offer MNOs ideas and then expect them to shoulder the financial weight of implementation and marketing. While this is a welcome alternative to most, the truth is that one needs to come up with their own implementation model, in consultation with the MNO of course, and even go the critical step further to look for financiers to partner with the make the idea a reality.

The Silicon Valley model has not yet developed in Zimbabwe and Southern Africa so innovators must go the extra mile to source venture capital on their own.

Not taking anything away from the innovator, it is folly to think that ideas and innovations are a luxury of some and not others. Ideas are birthed daily and innovations conceived in minutes by anyone. It is very likely that one’s brilliant idea, especially living in one global village exposed to the same environments, has already been explored by countless other innovators elsewhere. The key to success, in most cases lies in the implementation.

The sore of the matter develops when one comes up with an idea, does little to assess and research on competitors because they are so convinced it will work, and then approaches MNOs to sell it. When the MNO then turns their proposition down, only to come up with a similar or slightly different service directly or via another partner, the developer feels they have been robbed.

That is not to say that they have not, but most times out of all, according to Manguwa, that same idea may be an application that has already been published in other markets or one that is being developed by another party. In that case it is then difficult for one to claim their idea stolen – (case in point:-The Econet Mobile Directory).

Dr Hapanyengwi (Director ICT – UZ) agrees with Manguwa and he jokingly suggested that innovators should register their IP with a limited period of three years after which anyone else can make money out of it, implying that so many brilliant ideas are never monetised and utilised as developers sentimentally want to hold on to them in their raw state.

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