5 Excuses hurting Zimbabwean startups
Without acknowledging where we are going wrong we never better ourselves or grow our business ventures. Neither can we succeed in building iconic African businesses. Many people ask me why we never hear of a big investment in a Zimbabwean born startup. Could the reason be, we have no discernable startup culture in Zimbabwe? Why do we not see millions of dollars flowing into South African, Nigerian, Egyptian startups? Why do we not see Angel investors jumping on early stages businesses Zimbabwe? Why do we not see corporate investors targeting growing startups in Zimbabwe? Why do our startups not make the cut at International Startup competitions? Why do investors not pick Zimbabwean startups? Is it because we don't have any or is it because our startups don’t make the grade? I have been trying for over 3 years to find answers to these questions.
In my preliminary assessment, I have come to the conclusion that 5 things are contributing to the stunted growth in Zimbabwe’s startup ecosystem and must be addressed if we are to move forward. I am quite passionate about the startup ecosystem and have invested both my time and money in playing my part in building entrepreneurs and solving everyday challenges in my country.
Excuses: I dont have the capital.
This is by far the biggest excuse that limits or stops startup development in Zimbabwe. While it's true that startups struggle to get funding, they do so because they are not ready to be funded in most of the cases. It can be confusing because how can a startup be ready without accessing funding. It boils down to the startup culture. Most startup founders will not move an inch to understand what works or what doesn’t in their domain and as a result their ideas are not tested or refined, something which is necessary to get funding.
Startup founders see the lack of capital as the only hindrance to the growth of their business venture and often wait for funding that never comes. They don’t move an inch with their idea until someone is willing to give them money. They wonder why nonone investors in their idea. This speaks to the point i highlighted earlier on the need to unlearn unhelpful habits.
It is a very complicated subject and one that I am trying to understand even more in my quest to assist startups in our ecosystem. It's not that funds aren’t available, but that they aren't accessible to everyone who needs them. Take for example the Potraz fund, the fund invested in 6 startups that we haven’t had much about since the investments were done in 2018. The debate becomes whether we are funding the right startups and is the process optimal? I will not be drawn into this debate at this time.
I can do everything on my own. I don’t need help: All i need is money to do it.
Being independent has its own shortcomings that block us from benefiting from collaboration and co-creation. This is by far one of the biggest hurdles in Startup land in Zimbabwe. There are too many one man startups. I want to do it on my own and get all the credit. I want the accolades and the recognition that comes with it. Without teams we won't grow. Check out the startups in South, North and East Africa, they have teams a CTO, COO etc. In Zimbabwe we have a CEO who owns 100% of their idea and we wonder why we don’t move forward and grow our ideas. I know I am being too general and it's deliberate. It's the norm rather than the exception. In fact it's almost widely accepted among startup founders that you own 100% of your idea. It's fashionable but where does it get us? Nowhere!
If I share what I am doing, my idea will be stolen and i will lose out
Many founders go to the grave with their idea. Related to the last point this is by far one of the biggest reasons startups fail to validate ideas and build viable products. Startup founders don't want to share their ideas with anyone for fear of the idea being stolen. There have even been whole articles and attempted lawsuits! Not that it doesn't happen, it happens all the time not just in Zimbabwe but in more developed ecosystems too. But here it's worse and crippling. What's the solution? I don't know. What I do know is that it needs to stop if we are to have a vibrant ecosystem that allows ideas to be refined and developed.
I can't find the customers
A poll we ran in May 2020 reveals this as a big problem. Customers are not to come if you are not solving a problem they care about. Most Zimbabwean startups fail because not enough time is spent understanding the why of their business. I love what Simon Sinek says about the subject and finding your why. I have written about it here.
My market is Zimbabwe and its big enough for me to build a business on
After investing thousands in a brilliant solution that works in Zimbabwe and has amassed the numbers, many founders relax and fail to realise that in Africa there are 1.2 billion people facing similar problems. In fact, to reverse this logic, when starting a venture Zimbabwean founders limit their scope and focus only on the market they know because it's easy and comfortable. Investors look for businesses that have an expansive addressable market. One of the good examples of why this is true is Econet Global. When Strive realised success in Zimbabwe he did not sit back and bask in the success of Econet Wireless Zimbabwe. He expanded quickly, even borrowing to take advantage of the opportunity, after proving that it worked in Zimbabwe. Leveraging off his supplier networks and skilled engineers he replicated his success in other markets.
The painful truths are what haunts us day in and day out as entrepreneurs and until we exorcise them we are going nowhere. Yes it is like a demon, that’s why it needs exorcism. One thing is clear, we must unlearn all this to be successful. This is the difficult part because it is how we were brought up in our families. Do well in school, be better than your next door neighbour son or daughter and be secretive about what you do lest you be copied.
This is what's wrong with our startup culture in Zimbabwe and why we are not seeing many of our own homegrown startups making it in the big league.
Not believing in one's abilities is the reason why many entrepreneurs fail. Our own startup heros like Strive Masiyiwa who launched Econet over 21 years ago, Phillip Mataranyika the founder of Nyaradzo can show us one of two lessons. Starting from very humble beginnings they pursued their passions with zeal and gusto, never looking back but building block after block on top of their passions, communication and decent burials respectively. I am yet to see this kind of passion in the startups that we are building today. A desire to dominate and be big.
Just last week Sir Richard Branson posted on LinkedIn how proud he was to be working with Strive Masiyiwa, things they both care about saving lives during the covid19 pandemic. Many entrepreneurs wish for similar endorsements and wonder why they never come. A clear purpose is what brings like minds together and this is something many entrepreneurs lack. It takes many years of hard work and knocking on doors, some that get opened and others that get shut in your face, while others don’t open at all. Yet these entrepreneurs keep on at it for years and years without tiring only fine tuning their models as they go. Notice how when they become successful they share their success resulting in even more successes. This is very important especially in the Zimbabwean context where sharing is a touchy subject as already highlighted earlier.
Take for example this inspiring story of Joe Njagu, he successfully launched a movie that is going onto Netflix today after spending USD8,000 upfront! Did he do this on his own, no he collaborated and negotiated with many people to make it happen. It has come through. The Cookout Movie is airing today on Netflix and putting Zimbabwe on the world map becuase people like Joe did not make excuses. Was it easy? No!
Let us collaborate and co-create more together. Yes our situation may be different, and i may have been a bit insensitive but all the things I said apply even to me as entrepreneur who also wants to succeed. Lets unlearn our bad habits and become comfortable doing the things that make us uncomfortable. Is it easy? No but it's the only way.
- Posted on 1 June, 2020
- by Administrator