Nadeem Juma established an international school ten years ago at the age of just 19, and is the co-founder and chairman of a research and development (R&D) company that developed and deployed the first mobile banking platform in Tanzania. Juma is also the co-founder and chairman of AIM Group, the first new media agency based in Tanzania. How we made it in Africa’s Dinfin Mulupi engaged the self-confessed serial entrepreneur on digital marketing, Tanzania’s technology sector and the ‘dos and don’ts’ that investors should be aware of before entering Tanzania.

How did you get into business?
I am a serial entrepreneur. My first startup was an international school called Dar es Salaam International Academy (DIA) when I was 19. I was inspired to start the school because Tanzania has an emerging middle class like the rest of Africa, but there was a gap in the market in regards to quality international education at an affordable rate. A lot of them were going to boarding school in Kenya, South Africa and Swaziland and this was a barrier for people thinking of settling in Tanzania. The school has grown significantly in the last ten years, and is now one of the leading international schools in Tanzania.

In 2004, I co-founded E-Fulusi Africa, a research and development company focused in the mobile payment space. E-Fulusi developed and deployed the first mobile banking platform in Tanzania. One of E-Fulusi Africa’s earliest developments was the EFMTS, an independent switch that connects the four main mobile operators in Tanzania, thus allowing mobile technology solutions to be hosted, managed, and implemented. About two years ago we established AIM Group, a new mediaagency. In the last 18 months AIM Group has expanded from a team of three to 25 and currently works with 10 major brands in Tanzania.

East Africa has made major strides in technology but Tanzania is conspicuously lagging behind. What is the problem?

We have a major shift happening in Tanzania. The highest numbers of university graduates are in the ICTfield. The problem is they are not getting proper skills and quality education required to perform in their fields and hence a lot of them are moving into customer care, network administration and junior positions. We are seeing a lot of self learning happening though. The establishment of incubators and innovation spaces has offered developers a platform to access the internet, devices and other services that they require. Developers are making apps, but we need to do more in improving quality. In terms of churning out great products, I think it is way too soon for us (Tanzania). Developers are not yet making money because of the challenges in distribution and monetisation. In Tanzania we are also shy to publicise our successes and abilities. I would say this is cultural – compared to Kenya where individuals are always marketing and publicising their achievements, big or small. Buyers also don’t have faith in local capacity. They think, “this is homegrown, will it stand up to the IBMs of the world?” Again, we need to give more support to Tanzanians and learn from our neighbours where often the first opportunity is given to homegrown solutions. There is not enough seed capital, and even the little money floating around comes with a lot of strings attached.

How long before you start churning out tech millionaires?

The potential certainly does exist amongst companies that started early and have been in the space for awhile, like us, and I certainly think, as we get more [exposure], we can be tech millionaires soon. In the short term people are going to come up with great technology and they are going to be acquired by big players. These will probably be either international players or Kenyan and South African players looking to get into Tanzania. In the next 15 to 24 months we are going to see a lot more great technology coming out of Tanzania; our mobile money is picking up, internet penetration is going up and as these things happen we are going to see better apps and better technology that is going to generate great revenue in the long-term, help us establish Tanzanian capabilities in the market, and hopefully create a few tech millionaires.

There is a perception that it is difficult to do business with Tanzanians. How true is this?
From our experience travelling in other countries, I would say Tanzania is one of the hardest markets in East Africa to crack. We have a lack of systems, processes, institutions and organisations to support the growth of the market. I would say we are five years off, if we want to be at Kenya’s level. However, there is a shift, in the technology sector specifically. We are starting to see great leadership. We have the ability to get so far, but the drive has to be in everybody; from the entrepreneurs, investors and government. Building that goodwill, will take time.

Describe some of the challenges you face at AIM Group.

One of the major challenges we face is lack of capacity in Tanzania and this makes recruitment a big challenge. However, with the right training and environment, new hires have the potential to become some of the best developers. If you invest in your employees, within three months, their capacity improves significantly.
AIM Group is a new media advertising agency. How effective is digital advertising in Tanzania?

Mobile and internet penetration is going up almost everywhere in East Africa. Brands need to be present in this space. Those who go in first will be reaping benefits ten years down the line. The challenge is convincing companies that they need to be visible and having conversations in this space.

Why the reluctance amongst brands given the success of mobile technology in East Africa?

This is because traditional marketers don’t usually understand digital marketing. They understand above the line marketing perfectly well. There is always a fear around the word technology. We spend a lot of our time educating our clients and involving them and their traditional agencies. We have to show them how it benefits them. If you try to fight with their traditional agencies, which have the big spend, they will cut you out. Once one major brand goes digital, others follow. We have seen this in Tanzania, from one major brand 18 months ago to 13 major brands now.

What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?

Be ready for failures and never give up. If you don’t have a string of failures behind you, it means you have learnt nothing. Failure is a big part of being an entrepreneur. If you want to be successful, you have to collaborate. There is always 100 other people who have the same idea as you. For Tanzanians that is a big challenge; we are always worried about collaborating. We need to get over that handicap very fast.

What are your future plans?

Our goal is to grow on the continent. We think there is a great opportunity in the digital space in Africa. We are in our growth phase. In the next 12 to 18 months, we want to have an East African presence and then move from there. In AIM Group, we sit in a very good space right now. We are in a market where we were the first digital agency (in Tanzania) and so we had the first mover advantage. This makes it easy for us to attract investors, partners, clients, and global digital players. That said, it also attracts competition that have learnt from our failures and successes. Our challenge right now is taking our own advice and realising that if we want to grow, we can’t do it alone. We are currently travelling a lot across Africa looking for the right partners.

Any pointers for investors eyeing Tanzania?

There is a perception that Tanzania is a high-risk market but if you do research, you will realise that it is not as high risk as most people think. Investors need to change the way they come in. Investors want to come in and exit in 24 to 60 months and make massive returns on their investment. Coming in with that mindset is not going to work. Make sure you are coming in for the long haul. Make sure you are adding real value and don’t come in with the mindset that you are going to ‘save’ people. There are great things happening in Tanzania; put in the money and let people grow with it.


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