Techpreneurs Tshepo Moloi and Desmond Mongwe share a goal – that of bringing tech into a township market that has been largely ignored.
The pair are working to solve the challenges faced by township-based consumers, and are also taking advantage of opportunities presented by this market, which has been estimated to be worth billions of Rands. Mongwe (35) is the chief technical officer and founder of MoWallet, an app that works to support township-based business owners. The mobile coupon app launched in 2015 helps township-based businesses to better connect and communicate with their customers by enabling them to advertise deals and vouchers on the platform. The app also allows for the distribution of food parcels, social products and loyalty programmes.
Last year, Mongwe won the #Hack.Jozi Challenge, a competition encouraging Johannesburg-based digital entrepreneurs to find tech-based solutions for the challenges that exist in their communities.
Moloi (31) is the founder and CEO of Stokfella which launched in 2015 with the hope of revolutionising South African stokvels. The stokvel market has for many years lagged behind in the innovation stakes however, the National Stokvel Association of South Africa (Nasasa) estimates that about 800 000 groups in South Africa collectively save about R49 billion a year through stokvels.
Stokfella is a financial management application for stokvels which allows users to not only keep a record of all financial transactions, but is also a scheduling tool that helps with the planning of meetings and with governance issues in the form of a stokvel’s constitution.
In a follow-up of our feature on powerful women in tech, SME South Africa takes a look at the industry through the eyes of the two young entrepreneurs that are serving a market that is sometimes overlooked.
They share their thoughts on what it takes for a tech startup to crack the lucrative township market and why listening to your customers is more important than being tech-savvy.
“It’s difficult and extremely challenging to be black and young in the fintech space”
SERVING A MARKET NOT USUALLY THOUGHT OF AS TECH SAVVY
Develop tech for the user not user for your tech – “Perhaps this is the reason why the township market has been neglected for so long. We have seen stokvels that one would consider low-tech, however, they have capable smartphones and are using apps daily. The challenge doesn’t lie in [the market] not being tech savvy, the challenge lies in how businesses can make the solutions not technically complicated. How do you as a techpreneur developing for a broad market make your solution easily palatable to your end user?” – Tshepo Moloi
Strike while the rod is hot – “Retail is always a market that uses cutting edge tech. It is always best to make use of the technology during the ‘golden rush stage’ (when the technology is fashionable and trendy) because that is when you have the opportunity to make it.” – Desmond Mongwe
WHAT MAKES A GREAT TECH BUSINESSThe customer comes first – “Always putting your end user in mind. Good techpreneurs build good solutions; great techpreneurs improve people’s lives.” – Tshepo Moloi
Build solutions for the world – “Programming is a technical skill that allows you to have critical thinking and build solutions that can scale.” – Desmond Mongwe
OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES IN TECH – HOW SOUTH AFRICA FARES
A double-edged sword – “South African tech startups have multiple opportunities given that we have such a steady and developed infrastructure to build on. For example, our finance infrastructure is considered to be one of the best in the world and this gives fintech startups opportunities to disrupt the industry. However; this is the biggest challenge as well. Because of such steady infrastructures; as a tech startup you have to disrupt instead of building new infrastructure as one would do in countries with a less developed infrastructure.” – Tshepo Moloi
Ecosystem is not entrepreneur-friendly – “At this stage, blockchain, bitcoin, wearable technology, IoT, drones and chatbots provide the highest level of opportunities. The challenge is access to market, distribution channels and networks, the current ecosystem does not really solve painful problems of entrepreneurs.” – Desmond Mongwe
MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT TECH STARTUPS
A startup is a startup – “That they are all developers. Yes, having a basic understanding of what is a code does help but being a tech-startup is not that. The first and most important thing is that all are ordinary startups. They struggle and face the same challenges as any ordinary startup.” – Tshepo Moloi
No need to reinvent the wheel – “Many people believe that startups need to develop everything from the beginning, that is not the case anymore. We now make use of cloud technology, use existing building blocks to build solutions and create strategic partners that come with client base and distribution channels in order to scale.” – Desmond Mongwe
“The current ecosystem does not really solve painful problems of entrepreneurs”
EDUCATING THE MARKET
Value in teaching and learning – “It is no secret that we learn better and faster with visuals than with hearing. Therefore, we took the approach that the solution must be visually straightforward with no complicated pie/bar/waterfall graphs for our target market. We then understood that stokvels’ education is driven by peer to peer relationships. We get invited to stokvels by a member who 90% of the time has heard or read about us in the media such as yours and has downloaded the app to show his stokvel peers how it works. This is where we get the opportunity to drive the message home and learn about the end user’s requirements. Adding a great value to our solution in forever evolving.” – Tshepo Moloi
Embracing new solutions – “My solution only adds value to an existing market, so no education was required but a change of mindset and [willingness to] use new tools to solve existing problems.” – Desmond Mongwe
THE ROLE OF TECH
Staying ahead of the trends – “It is quite important as you need to understand what is coming around the corner whether it is a new smartphone, new data transmission capabilities or anything that may affect your environment. For example, 3D printing is geared to impact the manufacturing, food, retails and health industry in a big way; what are you doing as a tech-savvy entrepreneur to prepare for this?” – Tshepo Moloi
Find the right balance – “To be tech-savvy is just 30% out of 100%, you still need business and networking skills.” – Desmond Mongwe
“The skill of being persistent; no one can teach you. You can only learn this from being in the trenches”
GOOD TECHPRENEURS – BORN OR MADE?
It takes preparation – “Malcolm Gladwell in his book called The Outliers writes that one needs 10 000 hours of practice of a skill in order to take full advantage of an opportunity that presents itself. The sports people say you are only as good as your last game as you might lose the next one if you do not adequately prepare. Therefore; I think for me it is clear; if you prepare and plan to be a techpreneur then it is possible for you to be a good techpreneur.” – Tshepo Moloi
The key lies in nurture – “No one is born with knowledge, skill and experience. We all learn through hard work, education and mistakes.” – Desmond Mongwe
THE BIGGEST LESSON FROM THE MARKET
Listen and learn – “They know more than what they let on. You just have to listen carefully and be humble enough to be taught about your own product.” – Tshepo Moloi
Winning over customers – “My lesson is about client acquisition, you need to have credibility, track record and case studies to secure clients.” – Desmond Mongwe
LESSONS GAINED ONLY FROM EXPERIENCE
Grit and perseverance – “Learning how to fail and getting back up again. The skill of being persistent; no one can teach you. You can only learn this from being in the trenches.” – Tshepo Moloi
Staying ahead of the curve – “Decision to know what platform and technology to use for business support in the next 3 to 5 years.” – Desmond Mongwe