In my journey to find out more about African startups, I have met several interesting people. One of them is Takunda Chingonzoh, the Founder of TechVillage, a collaborative working space for early stage entrepreneurs based in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.
Takunda loves solving problems. He is a firm believer in collaborative brilliance, stating, “The next biggest disruption will come not from a single startup but from a set of connected startups working together to bring meaningful value to the market. Those who know me, know that I am an open book, I prefer simplicity over hierarchical complexity and believe that the only credibility that matters, is one’s ability to do as they say they will.”
The coolest thing about the TechVillage is the way they do their events. They have weekly conclaves - unstructured social meetups - every Friday. Next month, they will host The Techfest, Zimbabwe’s first ever multi-day, multi-venue tech-centered festival, aimed at celebrating technology Startups, tech, and innovation in Southern Africa.
“The Techfest is a blend of hackathon-style events, LAN parties, and a new take on pitching that we call Street Pitches, created to help founders, developers, designers, gamers, and entrepreneurial noobs (newbies) get the hang of everything", Takunda added. "The TechFest will help explore the state of entrepreneurship across the ecosystem and bring together the different communities promoting innovation. It is going to be an intense five days that will end with a roof top Neon party!”
I found the concept of the TechVillage extremely fascinating. "A lot of people ask me why we called it the TechVillage", Takunda says further. "It's simple – it takes a village to raise a child. Starting up is hard, and it always feels like failure is imminent. The reason why we have a low membership fee is so that founders can access most of our resources, infrastructure and tools, either from the Village itself or from other startups within the TechVillage, on very flexible terms. Startups grow using each other’s technologies - they are each other’s customers, vendors and service providers. In essence, you have an army of passionate people willing to support your start-up.”
Takunda's journey has also been quite interesting. “I started on my entrepreneurial journey when I was 19, in my first year at university", he elaborates. "To be honest, the biggest challenge I faced then was that few believed that a kid could build a successful company. You see we are probably the first generation that has grown up with entrepreneurial role models. Before this, the goal and dream were to climb the corporate ladder and so it is difficult because of we, in essence, are trailblazers."
Takunda interviewed US president Barack Obama at the 2014 US-Africa Summit held in Washington.
"We are building companies leveraging on technology using processes that are new and varied", Takunda adds. "Because of that, we have to rage on against an environment that hasn’t seen the light as yet, more so in a 'repressed economy' like Zimbabwe's. The beauty is that being a millennial entrepreneur means that it has never been easier to start and build. We leverage on the internet and technology to greatly lower the cost of doing business, while significantly magnifying the impact of said business – this is the TechVillage way.”
TechVillage is not Takunda's first venture. He has tried and failed numerous times over the years. The reason for this, according to him, wasn’t that the idea was bad, or that the execution was weak. In most cases, it was either the people and processes or the operating environment. "The enterprising people and the business processes they create are a function of the culture", he explains. "The environment dictates what sort of resources are available. So we made a conscious decision to focus, not on innovating and solving market problems, but on creating the infrastructure and environment that will help other entrepreneurs succeed where we failed."
Zimbabwe is an interesting place for entrepreneurial ventures at the moment. Given the scale of the challenges that the country faces, anything that works there will work pretty much anywhere else. The communities also serve to pool resources that founders can access in building their businesses.
“The Ultimate goal of the TechVillage", Takunda adds further, "is to help launch 100 startups by 2020. We currently are working with 35 teams, 18 of which are now functional growing start-ups. I believe that the next big disruption in our context will not come from a single rapidly growing startup, but from a group of start-ups innovating in related verticals and industries, that will combine their innovation to disrupt at a truly game-changing level. Our ultimate goal is to help put together this ‘startup syndicate’ through the spirit of collaborative brilliance that permeates all things TechVillage.”
Takunda also has many ventures he is involved in on a more advisory role, such as Velociti, a Bulawayo-based accelerator that builds on the foundational work that The TechVillage puts into building startups. He also mentors and advises start-ups like Foodie, Washen, Hackshack, Frello, Tipster, Need Energy, Neon, Room8, The Devshop, X-Beta, Hunch, The Startup Clinic, Vaycay, and Let's Go. These being some of the start-ups working from the TechVillage.
I asked Takunda to end off by sharing three tips on the keys to becoming a successful entrepreneur in Zimbabwe, and he believes that while success is a very relative term, it's important to build your startup or business on these three principles:
- Data Driven Decisions – Make decisions based on something quantifiable. Entrepreneurs must validate their ideas with actual potential customers as opposed to spending resources to building a startup based on numerous assumptions and “gut feeling.”
- Nobody cares about your idea until it solves their problem – while celebrating starting up is great, we must not forget that it is only the first step of the journey. People want to hear about solutions to their problems, not just ideas. Entrepreneurs must focus on validating their ideas and getting around to building and testing the product with real customers all through the design and building process.
- It takes a village to raise a startup - Starting up is very difficult, it’s a fact, it, however, gets better and easier when you are a part of a community of like-minded entrepreneurs each hell-bent on changing the world. The TechVillage is a way of life; we are open to new people joining all the time. If there is no entrepreneurial community in your city, then start one.
“We live in an age where all the information that we need is available on the internet", Takunda says in conclusion. "Passion is a great part of it, backed by a constant yearning and hunger for knowledge. I try and ensure that the ‘me’ that goes back to sleep at the end of the day is different from the one that rose up earlier that morning. It's part of the startup lifestyle; you learn as you execute."