IT has been a terrific year for Zimbabwean tech entrepreneur, Spencer Matonhodze. In line with global trends where the Covid-19 pandemic has unlocked growth opportunities for tech focused enterprises, it has been boom times for Fanset International, the firm he founded. To spice it up, the Zimbabwean businessman was last week recognised on the international stage for his efforts to create job opportunities in Zimbabwe, where deindustrialisation has pushed firms to the brink as lockdowns mount. An Italian foundation, E4Impact, awarded Matonhodze the Gian Marco Moratti Award 2021 after beating competition from a string of impressive entries from across the globe. Our senior business reporter Melody Chikono spoke to Matonhodze about his global exploits this week. Below are the excerpts from the interview:
MC: Congratulations for scooping this award. How did this happen? Can you tell us what this award is about?
SM: This is a top entrepreneurship award which is awarded to outstanding businesses by the E4Impact Foundation. The award is given in honour of Gian Marco Moratti, who was an Italian billionaire and entrepreneur. Moratti had a passion for developing other entrepreneurs. This year it was awarded to the best job creating ventures in over 15African countries where the E4Impact Global MBA is offered. To be eligible for the award one had to be a business person who is an alumni of the MBA programme. So this year 1 300 businesses were eligible from which the winner was chosen.
The criteria for winning involved looking at ventures that have created the highest number of jobs, the venture’s business growth potential and ability to create more jobs in the future. After scoring the highest marks from the jury in all categories we emerged as the winner. We are really grateful to the team at Fanset International for winning this prestigious award.
MC: Of what significance is this award to Fanset International.
SM: This comes at a time when we are upscaling the business. It comes as a big endorsement of our business model and a stamp on our future plans. It also has a monetary award that we will use to further scale up the business. The most significant part of this award is the exposure that it has opened up for us.
Since winning the award, we have received a lot of calls from all over the world from potential investors who would invest in our business or to partner with us in one way or another. It is like the award created a stepping stone for us to ride to the next level. Back at the office, it has pumped up the team who now believe more and more that each one of them matters. They are now confident that their contribution to the growth of the business is not in vain.
MC: Tell us about the innovations that helped you earn the award?
SM: We presented our three verticals of the business which are Murimi247, Rtnload and Fantracker. They are all interlinked with the FANtracker service being a cut across the verticals in what I call the well/tsime (tsime is Shona for well) strategy which is a situation where an entrepreneur builds additional innovations off a current service or builds new innovations that positively impact each other. Just to get into the specifics, Murimi247 (Murimi is Shona for farmer) aims to bring back the glory in agriculture by enabling on-demand farm mechanisation.
So a farmer will be able to get any farm equipment that they need, when they need it regardless of where their farm is located or its size. Farm equipment owners can make extra income by renting out their equipment to other farmers on the same application.
MC: And tell us about Rtnload
SM: Rtnload is a logistics information and operations system for trucks which enables online requesting, scheduling and management of logistics operations for both local and cross-border logistics. It basically targets to be the enabler of trade as the continent becomes more integrated as the African Continental Free Trade Area gets implemented. As you may know, Zimbabwe is a member of the African Continental Free Trade Area and is geographically positioned to be the logistics hub of the continent. Smart logistics will be a key enabler of trade in an open and integrated Africa. Both services feed from FANtracker which enables the monitoring of tractors on Murimi 247 and trucks on Rtnload.
MC: From your explanation, you had a convincing entry
SM: This model is what made the jury give us top marks and, of course, our number of employees has grown from a small company of five employees in 2018 to now over 50, which is great for our employees and for the economy in general.
MC: What have been your key focus areas since you commenced operations in Zimbabwe?
SM: We have created several successful innovations, including the Fantracker Advanced Fuel Monitoring service, Usage Based Insurance Technology and now Murimi247 and Rtnload. We basically focus on creating innovations for solving key user problems in markets that are big or have potential to grow big in the future.
MC: What can you say have been the challenges you have experienced in pursuing your dream?
SM: Some of the areas that we operate in will need cooperation from regulators and from different government agencies. For example, for the Rtnload platform to work fully for cross-border logistics, we need revenue authorities from various trading countries to accept digital submission of shipping documents and it is not easy to get.
Another key challenge is that we develop and launch some very new products which need a lot of customer education and adoption usually starts slow. But we are happy our services now enjoy higher adoption rates as more and more people start to believe in technology-based services.
MC: How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected your operations?
SM: Largely Covid-19 has positively affected our business. As more people stayed at home, they started to realise that you do not necessarily need to be out there to get a service, you can simply request for a truck to carry your goods online using the Rtnload application.
This has driven more and more users to our services and we have realised tremendous growth during Covid-19 period as more people come online. Of course having to work from home has been a challenge especially when we hire a new team member. It has not been easy to integrate them into the team. It would have been easier with face-to-face interaction.
MC: What’s your comment on the technology space in relation to the pandemic?
SM: The technology space has not been spared from the effects of the pandemic. But in most cases it has been positively affected. We have seen some tech companies growing to be unicorns in a short space of time. Investment into the tech sector initially slowed down when the pandemic started but it quickly picked up. It has been really positive across the key start-up markets even here in Africa.
MC: What’s your comment on the technological innovation space in Zimbabwe?
SM: My first comment is really that the tech scene in Zimbabwe has the most potential. But it is still in its infancy. There are a lot of opportunities in the sector which if exploited, can create very valuable businesses.
What I have also come to conclude is that the sector works best if it’s like an ecosystem or a bubble of new tech ventures. That is what will make it attractive to investors. It will also create a good tech talent pool which is needed to grow the sector further.
MC: Tell us about your vision for Fanset in the next five years?
SM: We keep focused on executing our strategy and we are obsessed with serving our customers. That will remain our core focus as we build a high impact company serving millions of customers and employing thousands.
MC: What’s your key message to those aspiring to venture into the tech space?
SM: My key message to aspiring entrepreneurs is they should get started. There is no better time to start than now. Just be clear on the problem that you want to solve and how you will solve it then go out and execute. The unfortunate reality is entrepreneurship in general and in the tech space in particular is the most difficult job. But the good thing is it is the most fulfilling and can be very rewarding.