StudyMate Journey Part 2: Validating and Piloting the Concept

(Continuation from: StudyMate Startup Journey: How it all started)

The last blog post on my StudyMate journey ended after I developed a  concept for  StudyMate. I then realised it was not going to happen overnight, I had to invest a lot of my time and sometimes money to see it succeed. To actually go through with it I had to validate (proving whether this concept was viable or not) and also whether it was a problem in all the other schools or not. This meant going from school to school not all of them of course but a sample of the population of the schools surrounding and a few in different provinces. This was not a joke, It was a lot of work.

Success

I had to first get permission from the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education (MoPSE) before embarking on my research exercise. – You can imagine me, an 17 year old kid knocking on the grand oak doors of our ministry of education ( when I had not even finished my own education to begin with.) I was worried, I had judged myself even before they did. In my zest to get this done, I went on to print 250 questionnaires…. only to realise that before going with the questionnaires to schools they had to be reviewed by the Provincial Education Director’s office. I crafted a letter directed to the MoPSE offices and before approving, it was reviewed and I had to make a number of corrections and this meant a loss of getting rid of all those questionnaires I had already printed. Lesson learnt: know the right way to do it especially if it involves the authorities, because it can be costly on your side.

The process took about 3 days and after that I went into the field, I was armed with the approval letter from MoPSE, with my partner at the time, Hebert Ruwaza, together with the Questionnaires.  Another lesson, you need a team, you cannot do it alone.

Fast forward about 4 weeks later, we had validated the problem, we now needed to have our platform developed, a prototype at first to scrutinize how the platform was supposed to work. Unfortunately, we did not have the money to have it developed and have it run as a pilot.

Piloting the concept

After some hard conversations with some of our mentors and advisors at the TechVillage, we opted to pilot using the resources that we had. Imagine moving from the dream that was in my head, the amazing platform with all these cool features….to a Whatsapp group…. A WHATSAPP GROUP!??

But we had no money, so, with momentarily crushed dreams, we did it. It was better than not doing anything. At first it seemed like it was going to be a lot of work…it turned out to be even more work, then something magical happened. I think they call it the “uptick” I don’t know, but it all became easier from there. In just those 20 months we have grown with these WhatsApp groups from just 3 of them to over 60 that we have today. (Each group has 256 students) and we have helped over 25 thousand students across Zimbabwe through those WhatsApp groups and we are currently helping more than 12 000 today and the numbers are growing.

Always Pitching!!!

When I look back at this, I think 12 000 users trumps a platform with all those features any day. Now we can attract (and are looking for) resources and funding to build a platform to house our 12 000 users, and growing! If you are interested in assisting us please get in touch with us. While we didn’t know it then, not having money helped us solve the chicken and egg problem that most “platforms” are plagued with. To have a growing platform you need users, to get users, you need the value ( which people mistake to be the platform) and to build the platform you need money, those with money…want to see users….you see what is happening here?  That is the other lesson, the app/website/platform isn’t the thing that people are paying for, it isn’t the value or the product, it is the delivery mechanism for the value. Do not mistake the ice cream cart for actual ice cream, you will open that thing and find….(nothing!)

Read More… (StudyMate Journey Part 3: What’s happening now and what’s in the pipeline)

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