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Zimbabwe's at a watershed moment: Interview with Tatenda Furusa, Matchito
Upenyu Makoni Muchemwa,
February 28, 2012

Read Inside/Out with Tatenda Furusa

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Tatenda FurusaTatenda Furusa is one of the co-founders of Matchio. He has recently returned to Zimbabwe from the United States after completing his undergraduate degree in International Business, and has founded Mealie Media.

How long were you in the United States for?
Five years. I only came back to Zimbabwe for a month in total for two different holidays. The first time I came back was three months after I had left, for my brother's wedding. I needed to touch base because I was a little homesick. The second time was for the December holiday just before I graduated. It was good because it gave me the motivation to finish.

Considering that you spent so much time living there why did you move back?
I had always wanted to move back, albeit it happened sooner than I had predicted. I thought I would work there and explore opportunities in entrepreneurship and gain some experience and savings. I had a start up that was based there, which I ran for 18 months, with my co-founder. We ran it and when we measured a few metrics after a few months we found that the market opportunity for that kind of business was dwindling and our funds were running out. So we explored another idea, which we did research for, built some screenshots, and pitched it at a trade show, and got some decent feedback. But with that idea, even though we had a really good one, we couldn't get investment for it. Investors wanted to see something tangible. When I looked at the fork in the road, [my options were] to continue, maybe go on with my Masters, MBA or see what's happening in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe looked very promising. We're in an interesting watershed moment. Especially as an entrepreneur like me it's a great time to come into the economy and work your way up and see what you can achieve, what you can create and build. In America it's a very saturated market.

What is Matchio?
It's an idea that began in 2008. It was a shared problem that we experienced on our campus. Every time someone wanted to sell textbooks, furniture or anything else locally on our campus, we couldn't do so, because there was no platform for us to exchange or sell goods. There's Craigslist but it's very mass market, it's for every Tom Dick and Harry off the street. So we [asked ourselves] how could we create a local solution that's easy to use. We harnessed a business plan competition that existed already. My co-founder had actually won it the year before. I put a team together of different people with different skills. Finance, marketing, sales and so forth. Over a year we created a business plan, got letters of interest from a few retailers, advertisers and investors and we pitched and worked our way to the final round where we presented the idea to some venture capitalists and judges and we won. We won funding, consulting services for marketing, branding, and legal support. It happened a year before I graduated. When I graduated we launched Matchio on my campus and it was purely for textbooks. We got about 400 users signed up in two weeks; the reception was very high for a school of 6,000. Then we decided that the proof of concept had been met and it was time to try it full time. When other people were graduating and going to look for work, my co-founder and I gave it a shot. We spent the summer building the business. Listen

What have you learnt from that experience that you apply now in Zimbabwe?
Matchio was a great learning experience; the ecosystem was there to a certain extent. A lot of tough lessons were learnt. But I guess the quick thing was that you should be able to set milestones and goals per month, per quarter etc and see if you can meet them. There's no point in holding onto a project or idea if it's a drain on resources and time when there are other projects that you can pursue. You're always told to never give up, but maybe they should say never give up as an entrepreneur. You can give up the idea, but you should learn to take those skills and connections and leverage them somehow. Secondly, I also learnt about legal contracts, signing documents before you start a venture on any ideas and projects, with any employees or contractors that you have to protect your idea, company or ownership. That's something that they don't teach you in college. Keep going, keep persevering, but also be open-minded. Have fluid intelligence in your business. Look for feedback and also take decisive actions.

You've been in Zimbabwe for 6 months, what businesses have you established?
The first thing I did before I came back was to do some research. Technology and media had more strident factors in terms of deciding what to start up. It's very affordable to start up, it's very light to scale and it's an untapped industry here. I didn't have the advantage of coming back home and for example establishing a haulage truck business. It's very expensive. Whereas with technology, you get ten or twenty thousand [dollars], you build a prototype, see if it works and then grow your business at a much more affordable cost. It's all online, it's virtual. I've got no hardware or inventory and so forth. The business I set I set up is called Mealie Media. We're trying to create a company that's home grown, Zimbabwean through and through and offering content and media that's relevant to the nation. On the surface we're a consulting company for Tech. We've done some video production for the Zimbabwe Rugby Union, which they're using for their promos for the sevens tournament this weekend. And then we also do some basic web development for SMEs and we're trying to get into mobile apps and SMS. Essentially what I'm trying to do is have the holding group and then harness different mediums that can be used for marketing or driving business here in Zimbabwe.

What advice would you give to someone in the Diaspora who wants to come back and establish a business?
First, research and homework. Do your online research, read news articles as much as you can, check Kubatana or whatever journals of whichever sector you're in. Call people back home, who are there and ask them what's going on for raw feedback and the truth. Ask them what they would do if they had fifty thousand dollars. Thirdly, take time off and take a trip here. Don't come here for two weeks, or during December or January because it's just a bubble. Come through in August to September, in the last quarter of Zimbabwe's financial year when it's a little difficult to find money. Come back for a month, visit people, speak to people, and learn about what's going on. By that point you'll know if the pros outweigh the cons. It's a place where you'll definitely need a pool of funds, anything starting from, I think $5000 upwards. Capital that allows you to do your work freely and quickly is very important. Make sure, or try your best to get a joint venture partnership on your trip here, if you can work with someone who's been here for ten plus years or who's been here and never left. Or if you're going to start the business on your own give yourself a year to eighteen months.

Visit the fact sheet

Audio File

  • Why come back to Zimbabwe
    Language: English
    Duration: 1min 32sec
    Date: February 28, 2012
    File Type: MP3
    Size: 1.41MB

  • What Matchio is
    Language: English
    Duration: 1min 54sec
    Date: February 28, 2012
    File Type: MP3
    Size: 1.75MB

  • Lessons learnt
    Language: English
    Duration: 1min 12sec
    Date: February 28, 2012
    File Type: MP3
    Size: 1.11MB

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