Q: Briefly tell us about PCG Software. How did it start and what was the motivation behind starting a software development company?
A: We are a multi-award-winning, youth-led company that was established in 2019 to develop homegrown, technology-driven solutions that address the business and socio-economic challenges we face in Botswana. I studied Computer Systems Engineering in the UK.
When I left for university, my plan was to stay overseas and become a software engineer at one of the top-tier companies like Google, Microsoft or IBM. But I had a change of heart during my final year when I was an intern at one of these multinational tech companies. I realised there was a need for my expertise at home and that I could have a much bigger impact by creating solutions for our developing nation. The idea of building a global tech giant right here from little old Botswana sounded very appealing to me and was motivation enough for me to come back and start PCG Software.
Q: What products and services does your company offer?
A: For the past three years we have primarily been operating as a software development consultancy firm. We help businesses, individuals and organisations with solving challenges using software solutions in the form of web-based or mobile applications. We developed an educational mobile gaming application called MogwebiQuest in 2020, which is aimed at improving the financial literacy of youth through an engaging and addictive business simulation role-playing game.
We are currently working with SmartBots and BDIH to develop the web and mobile interfaces for OneGov, which is Botswana’s digital platform for access to government services online. Besides contributing to the country’s digital transformation through this project, we are also working on two of our own projects called SumoTutor and CyberPlaza, which are software platforms addressing challenges in education and SMME development respectively.
Q: Please share with us what it entails to start a company specifically in the area of software development.
A: Being a software developer is like having a super power. You have the ability to take a problem or a concept, write what most people view as gibberish into a computer and create something amazing that has real and tangible impact. Software is ubiquitous in every industry. It has transformed the world around us and improved the way we live, work and interact with one another. So pursuing this trade was a no-brainer for me.
Establishing a software development company is not a walk in the park but the barriers to entry are very low. PCG Software started off as a one-man operation, with me spending nights on my laptop honing my skills and trying to develop my ideas into the next unicorn startup out of Africa. Opportunity met preparation when I entered and won a hackathon competition that culminated in the contract to develop MogwebiQuest, allowing me to build a team and acquire the resources to run a startup. We never looked back from there and have worked hard to become the company you see today.
Anyone can do it. We’ve all heard the stories of how big tech companies like Apple and Google were started in a garage. All you really need is a brilliant business idea, a computer and maybe an Internet connection. If you build a product that solves a problem for enough people (your market) or for a big client, then you are in business. The great thing about having a software business is that it is really easy to scale. Once you have set up your winning formula in one place, you can replicate it anywhere in the world and expand your market rapidly at relatively low cost using cloud services.
Q: Kindly tell us about the state of Botswana’s digital ecosystem. Is it thriving and being innovative?
A: In terms of technology adoption, I would say it is still slow. There is a lot of buzz and talk around digital transformation and 4IR but very little execution of it. At the same time, we have an abundance of talented innovators who are capable and hungry to solve the country’s challenges using digital technology. We see a lot of them developing apps and websites in the areas of e-commerce, food delivery and logistics, freelancing/job sites and so on. These are mostly consumer facing (B2C) apps.
But the truth is the local market is too small and too broke to sustain these kinds of enterprises. We could be more successful with Business-to-Business (B2B) enterprises, but for this we need big businesses and corporations to open up and co-create solutions to their challenges with local innovators. If they could invite us to become technical partners, solve problems and innovate around their existing processes, we would develop a thriving digital economy and build sustainable businesses that create employment for others.
Q: Enlighten us about financing a startup and the challenges that you have faced since inception of PCG Software?
A: Since our inception, there have been a couple of uncomfortable months where salaries were paid late or we had to take pay cuts. This was mainly due to clients not honouring invoice payment deadlines. For a small startup that operates on a hand-to-mouth basis, late payments are a huge problem. We also get a lot of dry spells in between projects and have to make whatever money we make last as long as possible. Our strategy for keeping afloat has been participating in innovation pitching competitions and hackathons that usually have prize monies and contracts as rewards.
This has worked well so far, but going forward our long-term strategy is to transition to a Software-as-a-Service company where we will monetise the solutions we are developing and also raise funds through Venture Capital funding and acquisitions. We see the government usually preferring to import tech experts for their solution needs and middle class businesses and SMME’s are yet to develop a sustainable appetite for digitization.
Q: We see the government usually preferring to import tech experts for its solutions. What is PCG doing to change this mindset and to develop affordable software solutions, especially for small businesses?
A: Yes, this is the case with the government and big corporations in Botswana. The norm has been to import tech solutions, but it is slowly changing. The problem with importing talent and solutions is that it comes at a very high cost in the long run to maintain and support the systems. We have seen many systems becoming obsolete after organisations invested millions in them because they were not updated to meet changing needs. What we’re doing to change the status quo is proving and demonstrating our capacity to develop world-class solutions through the work that we do. We put client satisfaction above everything and ensure that we deliver to specification, usually going beyond the call of duty.
With regard to affordable solutions, our CyberPlaza platform will empower small businesses and allow them access to a global market at a nominal fee. It is a hyper-interactive trade and networking marketplace that provides tools and services that will help them connect and collaborate. Its mission is to foster intra-African trade and help realise the aspirations of the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).
Q: How has the IT industry in Botswana been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and how do you see it thriving or surviving in the long run?
A: I would like to think the pandemic has been a blessing in disguise for the technology industry not only in Botswana but the world over. We have seen the fortunes of technology-driven companies like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos reach unprecedented heights during the pandemic. Consumer behaviours have changed and companies have been forced to adopt technology in their business operations in order to stay afloat. It may sound like a cruel thing to say but this is a welcome development for techies. We are getting more opportunities and our innovations are no longer such a hard-sell.
Q: How do you cope with being a young business leader in the industry? Has your young age ever worked against you or disfavoured you in nay way in business?
A: My age is a double-edged sword when it comes to being a business leader, especially in Botswana. On one hand, youth unemployment has been a prevalent issue for a number of years now and as such policies have been made by the government to give us preferential treatment and encourage us to start our own businesses to create employment. This has presented many opportunities and privileges that I get to enjoy as a young businessperson.
On the other end, my age becomes a disadvantage when it comes to bigger opportunities that have the potential to be life-changing. Somehow people think we are less experienced or less capable just because we are young. But in the technology sector, this is very far from the truth. Technology changes at a very rapid rate, so experience in years is not an advantage. What matters is continuous learning and passion. I may be more knowledgeable and capable from three years of dedicated learning than a 15-year veteran in this industry. I always maintain a positive mindset and attitude when dealing with people. I’ve learnt to read the room, speak up and demonstrate my potential in the right situations or let the ‘grown-ups’ shine in other situations to get business done.
Q: What does the future hold for PCG Software?
A: As already mentioned, we are transitioning to a SaaS company and through the R&D we’ve done, we are going to be introducing software products this year that are addressing challenges in education and SMME development. These solutions are designed to have a positive impact on our society, promote inclusivity and stimulate a digital economy that will improve livelihoods. This is an exciting period in our journey and we hope they will be well received by the local market. Our mission is to develop these homegrown solutions, get them right here at home and scale out to the rest of the world. In a few years’ time, we aspire to be one of the unicorn startup companies originating out of Botswana with products that have a global impact.