If you don’t know about it already, TechZim is a lively and comprehensive technology blog and research consultancy, with a focus on Zimbabwe. Started in 2009 they publish daily news and reviews about technology and ensure that it is pertinent to Zimbabweans. TechZim filled a definite niche in the market and has a growing following on Facebook and Twitter to prove this. Perhaps one of Zim’s most promising start ups, we took time out to chat to the founder and driver behind the project, Limbikazi Kabweza.
HN: Why did you start TechZim?
LK: I started it in 2009 just as a personal blog.
HN: Who is your audience?
LK: Our audience ranges from Zimbabweans locally looking to understand better the consumer services on the market especially those related to internet connectivity and mobile telephony, and also local and international businesses looking to understand the landscape better and engage with our local audience.
HN: Can you describe your business model to us?
LK: Our model is still mostly a traditional advertising one, the only difference being that we have a niche target audience which directly translates into value for our customers. We also do events and ICT research for local but mostly international clients.
HN: We know that Zimbabwe and indeed Africa is undergoing enormous technological development. This is plain for all to see. What do you think the biggest developments will be in Zimbabwe going forward? What are the challenges hindering this process?
LK: Mobile money services are definitely the biggest development, and locally that’s your EcoCash, Textacash, OneWallet and others. Mobile money is important as it enables financial inclusion whereby more ordinary people have access to financial services that are shaped to accommodate low incomes and micro transactions. The problem of electronic payments is inhibiting transacting online which means all the potential for internet and mobile based start up businesses is not realised as money can’t be exchanged conveniently. Mobile Money therefore creates a huge opportunity for businesses.
HN: Countries like USA continue to enjoy enormous economic benefits on the back of technology – I refer to the second dotcom boom and enterprises such as Facebook, which is reaping billions of dollars a year in profit. What has been accomplished in Zimbabwe in this regard and what can we expect in the future? Who are the players we should look out for?
LK: Businesses ecosystems like those in the US are quite mature and their components (education, entrepreneurial people, research and development, availability of funding) create a very conducive environment for things to possibly succeed. Such ecosystems take time to develop and we’re certainly not there yet. It’d therefore not even be possible to compare the two. Mobile, and internet via mobile specifically, presents a number of opportunities though. They globalise knowledge so much that gaps like that of education are bridged somewhat. It does not matter much anymore where you are in the world, you can still get access to most of the same educational material that an Ivy League student has. You can communicate and collaborate with smart brains in any part of the world via the internet, which not only keeps people here more informed but it also opens up their minds to possibilities never before considered.
Of course the challenges of funding remain, but even these are now being bridged by such innovation as crowdfunding.
Local players that made themselves relevant even with these challenges include start ups such as AppleVine (an SMS and payments solutions company). It’s nothing like the scale of Facebook but the spirit of entrepreneurship and commercialising ideas is strong nonetheless.
HN: Mobile apps are where it’s at overseas. Why are Zimbabweans using so many foreign apps and not developing their own?
LK: Mobile apps are the thing overseas mainly because of the penetration of smartphones. In Zimbabwe the smartphone penetration, compared to that of regular phones, is small. Maybe 10% of total mobile phones. Which just makes the case for smartphone apps not as strong.
Still, I can’t say we’ve been that aggressive with mobile apps. A few companies making apps for regular mobile phones include Avelgood apps, a Bulawayo based technology company that makes Nokia apps that have been downloaded millions of times globally.
HN: We seem to be in throes of a price war between our mobile service providers. This is, outwardly, a good thing for consumers. What’s your take on the matter?
LK: Well mobile wars are good only to an extent. The more they fight the more they get desperate and thin their margins so much it may start to hurt their businesses and the industry in general. For example, say they just don’t make enough to invest in future technology or increase capacity, the result is a very cheap service that’s also quite cheap in quality: congested networks, network unavailability etc… that said Zimbabwe has one of the highest mobile telephony and data rates in the region so there’s room for war yes.
HN: Where do you see TechZim in five years?
LK: Not saying.