THE BOTSWANA START-UP EXPERIENCE: THUTO GAOTINGWE
Connect Africa has had the pleasure of sitting down for an interview with Thuto Gaotingwe, Founder of Modisar and Asante Tech Group. Modisar is an application that helps farmers to continuously monitor their livestock, stay informed on key industry developments and keep abreast of calendar events such a buying and slaughter days. The Asante Tech Group is active in technology consulting while developing a suite of innovation products for mobile money, personal security, employee management and queuing management.
Read on to see how this business is taking off:
Tell us a bit about your background?
I am a computer systems software engineer who is inspired to develop software solutions that are relevant to my community. After studying at the University of Botswana, I worked as an intern before jumping into the deep end of entrepreneurship. My area of expertise is in mobile development: I started learning mobile development in early 2011, as more and more of my clients started demanding web apps that can also be used as a mobile app. So I started to learn more about developing for jQueryMobile, Window Phone and PhoneGap. When I am not writing code, you can find me somewhere in University Of Botswana Block 247 teaching my students how to solve life’s problems through code.
You have founded 2 companies, Modisar and the Asante Tech Group. Can you tell us where the idea for these companies came from?
Founded in 2013, Modisar is an app which is designed to make life a little easier for the farmers of Botswana. I founded this company with Tebogo Dichabeng – who is a farmer. In fact, there are more cattle than people in Botswana, and the agricultural sector has huge potential. Inspired by both a conducive national innovation ecosystem and with the idea to use our technical skills to improve agriculture yields, we eventually developed Modisar. We want to modernize the agriculture industry and encourage more youth to become farmers.
Shortly after starting with Modisar, I founded the Asante Tech Group with my business partner Justice William. It made more sense as developers to come together into one company. The idea is to leverage on each other’s skills – thereby developing more products that we can spin-off as companies with their own management, investors etc. The vision is to pool resources to be able to get good products aggressively into the market, as going it alone in a market as small as Botswana is very difficult.
Today we are a team of eight people and a growing number of products, for example: AsantePay, SecuredLobby, A+Secure, Modisar, Word Queues and WorkChooser. We are growing at a much faster pace now: at the end of this month we will have two more engineers, as we have more funding and better access to resources now. The challenge is to now focus on each individual product and on how to manage all these companies.
Tell us about Botswana as a market for Modisar and your product suite from Asante Tech Group?
Botswana is really a very small market, and when you talk about Modisar, farmers are not really interested in spending money on a piece of code, but rather on physical equipment like tractors or things that they can see and interact with on a more physical level. As an entrepreneur, you are continuously trying to figure out how you can get these people to commit money to buy our product. So, we treat Botswana as a launching pad: The idea is to test our product and establish a presence in Botswana, then go to other countries, especially Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and then South Africa, which is a highly competitive market, but we still believe we can penetrate the South African market.
Modisar currently has a user base of 14 000 farmers across the country. With our employee management software, WorkChooser, we have a contract with the Ministry of Transport which has implemented the software in more than 10 of its offices across Botswana. The biggest potential, however, has AsantePay – our mobile money suite. While it’s still early days, and we are finalizing integration with the bank part, we are looking at more than 50,000 transactions through this software.
What are you most excited about at the moment?
What excites me now is that we are currently in talks with a potential investor who wants to invest a good amount of money in our security applications. This will allow us to buy the security set we need to deploy our security application in Gaborone and Francistown. So yes, I’m particularly excited by the prospect of closing this investment soon.
What is the one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?
The one mistake I made in the early days, was to try to do everything by myself. There was a time when I thought I could design, develop, manage, and even do the marketing for my company alone. At that time, I had a team of two interns, but I didn’t give them any valuable work. I was doing everything myself, and they were just writing content. That resulted in problems with delivery and I failed to meet a lot of deadlines. The company suffered because of that, and I found myself in a place where I felt trapped. So I ended up being exhausted, overworked and I think I might have experienced a bit of depression at the time. That’s one thing I really don’t want to repeat, ever. So what we do now when we get a new team member, is to invest a bit of time adjusting to our new team balance. We also apply Scrum as much as possible to empower our team members, because we know that with them on board, we can work with ease, knowing that whatever we are working on will get delivered.
For fun: Any advice you would offer to people who are new to the world of startups?
To have a successful startup you need a great idea (including a great market), a great team, a great product, and great execution. But the glue that sticks everything together is you – the entrepreneur. My key advice is to believe in what you are doing. That fact alone is key for success. If you don’t believe in what you are doing, you might do it for a year or a few months, and then one day you just give up. You need to be passionate about what you are doing and believe in it. As for me, I really can’t imagine myself sitting behind a desk doing something I don’t like or I don’t believe in. That’s one thing I know for sure, and one thing that has prevented me from seeking out employment, even when things were really tough.