Talking business with the man behind Tanzanian startup Bongo LiveFollow @MadeItInAfrica
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Describe some of the challenges of bringing more people into the business.
It is absolutely necessary. It is very scary at first. You have to give away a lot of your trade secrets, such as trusting our code [with] someone else… Yes there are laws but they aren’t really going to protect you very much. So whatever you put on paper doesn’t really mean anything at the end of the day. It is very difficult to find the right people. There was one person who started who was a great candidate, all of the check-boxes ticked, and she disappeared after four days, without a trace. It was very upsetting at that point because it takes a lot of time and effort to really train and actually recruit that person, and they just disappeared. But that was a very interesting experience.
What risks does your business face?
One of the things that constantly worries me is not being innovative enough. How do we keep building new things to sustain our growth and to meet the needs of our customers? The nature of technology is that it gets easier and easier for people to copy you. So the only way to overcome that is to keep your customers happy and growing and to be constantly innovating so that [the competition] can just never keep up and you are always a step ahead. So that is definitely one of the risks that we face and I would say any technology business faces.
And I guess money, in terms of cash flow and funding, and talent [too]. I think those are some of the major risks. Not finding the right people at the right time at an affordable price – there is definitely a shortage of talent. Though I think we have been fortunate this last year so hopefully it will continue.
I read that you want to expand into other markets. Which ones?
I think definitely the neighbouring countries. Malawi, Burundi, Rwanda, Congo, definitely Ethiopia, are countries we would like to expand to. We are just at the point where we want to become sustainable locally and have a very solid product, before venturing out into a new market because each market is completely new. It’s not like the US where you move from one state to another where everything is the same, although just moving location slightly. The languages are different. The ways of doing business are different. You need a local network. You know, all of that took time to build here, and you will have to repeat that cycle to any new country that you go to. So that is really something you need to think about before taking the step. Or you work with a local agent. Those are things you really have to hash out before you take that step.
What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs in Tanzania?
I think in Tanzania, the important thing is to start. The market is still open and there are a billion problems to solve, especially with technology, and there are very few [tech] people here. The time is now to be the pioneer and grab the opportunity. So the important thing is to take the step and to start and then don’t give up because it takes time, it really takes time for businesses to mature and for you to see light at the end of the tunnel.
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